Life Lessons
"A Beautiful City"
   She walks around the Beautiful City. Rarely seen, even less acknowledged and then usually with a huff and turning away of a tilted head. Those,
who come upon her unexpectedly, hasten their step. She works whenever and wherever she can. To her no job is too menial or dirty, because it is
her daily bread that she works for. Also it’s the daily bread for her family of four.
   Her name is Mwila and she didn’t come from the Beautiful City. Once she lived in the Village, went to school and played with the other children.
However when Mom got real sick that life stopped and they all had to come to the city to get medicine and make Mom better again.
   Life in the City was so strange to her. There were no family, friends or even neighbors to talk with. Everybody rushed around. No one greeted her.
Most people told her to move away with a harsh tone in their voice. You know; like barking village dogs when they are surprised and suddenly see
someone. Then they get all scared and angry at the same time. She could not understand why they treated her so badly. They did not know how
much Mwila wanted to go home and leave the Beautiful City for “G” (Good)! She only came to have her mom get better.
   Mwila’s Mom was getting worst not better. The cough was louder and longer at night, especially on the cold nights. At night mom would sleep
alone. She said the doctor told her if she stayed too close she would make the others sick too. So Mwila slept huddled up with the baby and her
younger brother for warmth and protection. Mwila would sleep with one ear open in case mom called or coughed too much. Then Mwila would get up
quickly and see what she could put on the fire to burn. Mostly paper but some twigs and sticks at times. The warmth helped mom a lot.
   Before her Mom could see the doctor or get the medicine that she needed at the big hospital, Mom had to pay for a thing called a scheme card.
Mom told Mwila that with it, the medicine would cost less. The medicine still cost too much money and they didn’t have enough to buy it and also pay
for transport home to the village. So for the past months Mwila, her Mom and two younger brothers stayed by a large tree near the railroad tracks in
the Beautiful City. Here they could at least stay, sleep, cook what food was found and work to get the money needed to go home. Mom mostly had to
sleep in the sun for a good part of the day to make it through the night. So it was up to eleven years old, Mwila to find piecework (daily employment)
and her brother to stay at the tree to watch out for Mom and the baby. Some days Mwila would carry the baby with her on her back as she worked
cleaning and sweeping out the yards and gardens of the “Apa Mwamba” (wealthy) people of the Beautiful City. Her brother used to follow her to the
market and helped gather and pick up the Kapenta or other small dried fish that fell on the ground when the marketers made their transactions too
quickly. There were also the dry beans and other dropped vegetables that no one wanted. Once in a great while she would be given a small piece of
used soap. Some days the pickings were good and the Marketers kind.
   Then the problem was the Big Boys who went around demanding payment form them for being allowed in the markets to scavenge through the
discarded waste of others.
   Soap was a luxury and so was finding a private place to wash. Mwila realized it was the sores on her head, arms and legs that kept the Big Boys
off her. They often threaten her, but never went through with what they said they would do to her. She feared the Big Boys and the small ones that
moved around with them like a pack of wild dogs, for she heard that they were all sick inside.
   The small ones she could and did fight off hard enough for them to learn not to bother with her. Finally when the smaller street boys would see
her, they just called her names or threw whatever was close at hand at her. Mwila ran, sometimes faster than the seeking missiles, sometimes not.
More cuts; more sores, less Big Boys!
            Once Mwila told her mom that she was offered some big money to work at night sweeping out the local taverns and bars. Mom slapped
Mwila hard across her face and warned her never to go again to those places where men drink! Through her shock and tears, Mwila promised mom
not to go back ever again.
   On Sundays, Mwila would go with mom and her brothers to stand outside the Churches of the Beautiful City and listen to the preaching, hymns
and prayers. She loved to see the happy choir people come and go in their bright colored robes. For sure that would be how heaven would be for
her. Washed clean, dressed nice and greeting people with a smile rather than how life was here and now. Sometimes when the choir was
practicing hymns outside she would daydream that she was part of it. Mwila would sing and dance making all the right gestures to her brothers to
encourage them. Mom would hug her and say one day she could be part of the choir back in the village.
   However with each day in the city the Village seemed to move farther and farther away. Eventually Mwila would just think about finding food for the
day and perhaps a used piece of someone else’s soap. Mwila didn’t like smelling. It made what the small boys said about her sound true.
   Then one day Mwila and her family were gone! The area was clean. Even the cardboard boxes and plastic bags that made up their city home were
swept away. Just the large tree remained.
   I inquired after them and got different stories. Some said her mom died and after the funeral a relative took Mwila with the two boys back to the
home village. Another person said that some “Well Wishers” heard about them and gave them transport money to reach their village. So the four of
them went back home. Others said that Mwila is seen from time to time moving around the Beautiful City in the different poorer compounds with her
baby brother tied securely on her back.
   Whether it is Mwila or one of the vast numbers of girls who live each day working for their daily bread like her, it is still a rough life out on the streets
for a girl child. Add to it the fact that HIV and STDs are so easily transmitted in exchange for a bottle of cola with a small pack of biscuits or a “Brown
bag” of glue, that the odds of eventually becoming infected are too great to think about. So many of the street children stop thinking about it all
together. It is just too scary! Besides today they need to concentrate on working for their daily bread.
   There has been a great effort made by the Zambian Government and others to solve the plight of street children. Much has been done to feed,
house, clothe and educated them. Yet even more needs to continue to be done to protect them from becoming infected and in turn becoming
transmitters of the HIV virus and other transmittable diseases.
   However, first we have to open our hearts and our eyes and see them. Once they are no longer invisible to us, then we can accept them as our
children and not someone else’s responsibility or Society’s problem to solve.
As long as there is one child on the streets.

Mwila is still out there walking around the Beautiful City.