Friday, 7 February 2014

Helping Is Easy, Part II

Day 2: Reality

I expected to see a happy rabble of kids playing soccer on the dirt field when I walked by in the morning; I was hoping to join them for a kick. But the field was deserted. A couple of kids were disconsolately kicking their old plastic-bag-ball between the houses. They looked up at me then turned their backs and walked off, leaving the ball where it lay in the dust.

Frankie, the organiser from yesterday, was coming towards me.
'Stevie... problems', he said. 'Some boys they took the ball and they came into town and they did sell it for moneys.'
'Oh no' I said.
'And also the girls, they are very mad. They are saying it's not fair the boys get given a football, and yet still they have no netball.'
'Oh no' I said.

My view of myself as the generous visitor suddenly crumbled and transformed instead into an interfering foreigner. The elation from yesterday was replaced with a sick, hollow feeling.

'What have I done? What should I do now, please tell me what you think is best'.
'Stevie, maybe if you can manage you can give a new football and also a netball, and I can keep them with me and make sure they do not get sold for moneys again.'
'Ok if you think that's the best.'

I got the balls and Frankie called a meeting of all the boys and girls to talk about how it would work. He was speaking Chichewa so I could only follow his body language and that of the group. This time there were few smiles, the mood was almost somber. He spoke in harsh tones, like an angry school principal and the kids looked at me from time to time with expressions I could not interpret - what was he saying, and what were they thinking of?

After it was over and the group quietly dispersed I said 'thank you so much Frankie, you helped me a lot.'
'It's ok Stevie. But you know I have no job and little moneys. I have my three kids and wife to look after.'
'That must be tough, maybe there is some way I can assist you. I'm volunteering here though, so I don't have much money either.'
'That's ok Stevie, anything you can do is some help.'

I stayed in the lodge another day or two before leaving for my school in Zomba, sixty kilometres away, and I was afraid to go out and walk past the field, afraid to see those kids giving me that look I could not understand. Two days in the country and I had already been the cause of disturbance in a community and had given a vague promise of help to a family I was in no position to assist. An early lesson (that I was to learn many times over) that sometimes helping isn't easy.

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