She skillfully dug through the white walls of the sticky fibers that covered up a large, yellow and juicy flesh. The anxiety with which she tore the jackfruit, held me in the same position, and made me watch her every move. The manner with which I looked on, each time she placed the fruit in her mouth, led her to find a need to communicate.
“We have a lot of fruits in our home”, the ten year old said, “Sometimes I pack and go with it to school”
I smiled at her, and found this the best time, to look deep into her story. I squeezed out a question, “where’s your school? I would like to visit one day”
Joan: “It is very far. Koch–Ongako primary. It is so far away from home and I have to wake up very early”
Me: “what happens when you don’t?”
Joan: “eeeh.. Auntie, you get beaten up badly. Sometimes I don’t even go home for lunch. If I ever did, the walk back would make me reach when school is done.
I burst out into laughter, for that was an experience I had never had in my life. Hearing about it, and watching a ten year old talk, like it was normal, and fine, was seemingly very interesting.
I continued, with my interview. “So Joan, what do you have for lunch when at school?
Joan: “Sometimes nothing, I wait till I get home later then eat. “
Me: “Nothing! Don’t you cry when you have nothing?”
Joan gave me a look that only a 21st century teenager would understand. The type of look that means “Really? How can you ask that? OMG! Like you don’t know! Have you ever gone to school? This is exactly what happens!! I mean it’s the in thing!!
She laughed a little girls laugh then said, “auntie, we are so many who come with nothing. Some people don’t bring anything till the term ends.” And she ended this with another, “am so better than them” giggle.
My face turned pale, and I began to hurt inside. I remembered all the days I packed Safi and biscuits for break, and still told mum it was not enough. The time I called from school and told them to bring me school pack. Here was a girl who had no desire for all these things. Was she just humble? Did she not know of the existence of any of these? Is it poverty? I asked myself. Then looked up and said,
“Joan, is there a girl in your school? One who brings all the nice things? Biscuits, soda, bagiya or popcorn?
Joan: “No, nobody”
Me: “Okay, what was the best thing anybody has ever brought? Something you really admired”
Joan looked up, as though scanning through a pile of papers then whispered, “oh! Yes, some girl one day brought boo (a traditional dish among the Acholi ) and Kwon Kal (millet flour)
I smiled at her, and she looked away shyly. Then she said, “Auntie Poni don’t worry. I have an eating group at school.
How brilliant, I thought
“We come together in groups of five, then each person brings whatever they can and we share”
Thoughts rushed through my mind. Here is a young woman, who has discovered the advantage of cooperation. Young, energetic, talkative and knows exactly where she comes from. This is great potential for the country. A young speaker in the making. A clever woman, who could be the one to save this country one day. She sits there, each passing day, ignorant of her true potential. Unaware of all the opportunities that lay beyond her village. Something better that lies ahead of her. A better education. A key to all the luxuries the world has to offer. My heart bleeds for my people.
Here is a young woman, who has not been to the city. Does not know what it looks like, and might never get a chance to stand in the middle of its wildness, and lively youth that walk around enjoying life. Completely blank about the internet, social media, and water proof phones. Her life is already comfortable enough. Her knowledge is sufficient to her. She feels safe, she feels like this is all the world has to offer. My heart bleeds for my people.