The Star (Nairobi)

10 November 2012

Kenya: In the Pink Corner - I Wish It Still Took a Village to Raise a Child

opinion

I wish it still took a village to raise a child

I know I hate people commenting on how I raise my offspring, but I wish it still took a village to raise a child. Big city living has taken its toll on neighbourliness and community responsibility and I don't think it is necessarily a progressive thing.

Personally I am blessed to live in two places - Kampala, the bustling messy capital, and Jinja, a peaceful one-street tourist hideaway. Most young people drift to the big city for employment, but when it was time to settle down and do the family thing, Hubby and I felt called back to our semi-rural roots. There are opportunities a big city provides, but there are also things it cannot give you. Let me illustrate.

There are vehicles that ply the route between Jinja and Kampala. Naturally, some of them are owned by people from Kampala, while others are Jinja-owned.

Being a regular commuter on the route, I have come to know where each of these groups can be found. One day, at a bus stop (in Kampala) frequented by Jinja-owned vehicles, I was sitting in one of the minibuses waiting for it to fill up and head out to Jinja.

I observed two women and a little girl coming in. One of the women was obviously the mother of the girl, but it seems she was unable to travel at the time and had decided to send the girl on to Jinja with the second woman. As soon as the mother exited the minibus, the little girl started to cry, and did not stop until the bus was full.

The driver and conductor asked why the child would not stop crying, but the irritable child-minder refused to answer them. The driver, who was all set to leave, turned off the engine and hailed a nearby policeman.

You see, there had been a recent spate of kidnappings and the driver said they would not be part of transporting a wailing child 80km without verifying if the woman with her was her mother.

So the cop took the woman out of the bus and we all had to wait while she rang the mother. She had to come back to the bus stop, verify that she was the child's mother and place a phone call to the waiting father in Jinja. The whole exercise took about 30 minutes, but everyone in the bus waited patiently while the matter was resolved.

On the flipside, there was another child-related incident which played out in the centre of the Kampala taxi park. A seven year old boy known to our family decided to go from Kampala to Iganga - a distance of about 120km - on his own.

His parents had been out of town for a few days - his father on a business trip and his mother in Iganga for a funeral. During this time, the housekeeper charged with his care had apparently been mistreating him.

So he raided a drawer containing his father's loose change, walked 7km to the Kampala taxi park, and boarded a taxi to Iganga. By God's grace, he had enough money and he got there after an uneventful 5 hour trip. However, these were 5 hours during which his parents died 100 deaths and the housekeeper was held for questioning by the Police.

No one in the Kampala taxi park thought to question this little boy, or establish his safety - all they ascertained was that he had taxi fare.

In fact, it was in Iganga, in the gathering dusk, that someone asked the little lost boy if he knew where he was going. Fortunately he could name his parents and, being a small town, it was not long before a relative was found.

His parents had already left for Kampala in a hurry to look for him, and all their friends, family and church mates had received phone calls and texts to look for and pray for the little boy.

For me, these incidents underlined why I will always be a village gal at heart. We may not have a shopping mall worthy of the name on our one High Street, but I know my children will never be wandering the streets, lost, as long as we are part of this community.

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