Conversation with a Street Child

Town for dull chores like Post Office and dog dip; Omo may make dogs brighter but sadly does not keep ticks at bay.

As I park I am accosted by a trio of street children; this isn’t uncommon – they do it to everybody, in the hope of making a few shillings by looking after your car: ‘ta chunga gari, mama, ta chunga gari’, they plead.

There are hundreds of kids living on the streets of towns across Africa; Arusha isn’t any different. Hard lives: punctuated by violent abuse and painful brushes with the law which they try to dull with dope and booze and glue.

One of the three today demonstrates particular initiative, helping me to re-park my car because he’s concerned my rear end is sticking into the road. He guides me with an important air – back and forth and left-hand-down-a-bit. When I – finally – turn off the ignition, I agree that he can look after my car whilst I’m gone.

When I return from the Post Office, he’s still there, leaning proprietarily against my car. I hand over 300 shillings (mere pence, but enough to buy some breakfast).

‘Don’t spend it on bhangi – dope – or cigarettes’, I tell him, ‘or beer’, I add.

He looks outraged and tells me that he does not drink or smoke – he’s probably no more than 11 – and will spend the money on clothes or choos (shoes). Then he asks to shake hands, so we do, African style, and he says that he will remember me and help me to park my car better next time.

The money wasn’t the point (these kids aren’t that hungry; local street vendors are generous with bread and fruit); engaging with him was: according to a friend who works with street children, they crave non-abusive contact: a smile, a brief conversation, a hand shake.

It’s not much to ask is it?

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