Literary Zone

Short Story-Journey into the Unknown

15 August 2011 at 02:42 | 1110 views

By Hilda Goitsemang Busani, Gaborone, Botswana.

Edited by Bakar Mansaray, PV Special Correspondent, Edmonton, Canada.

Part 1: Childhood Experiences

Joseph Chipinga was born and grew up in the Zambian Copper Belt in the small town of Kalulushi, Zambia. Going to school was hard for him as his parents were poor and could not afford to provide him with basic stuff, including proper school wear and school items.

He was from a family of six, the only boy amongst five girls and the youngest in the family. His childhood was a sad one as he never experienced life as a child, enjoying being a child and being well looked after. He never experienced life of playing like other children, with proper toys nor receiving gifts. He made himself toys from the clay mud and toy cars from empty shoe polish containers. A ball was made from old clothes that were thrown away. He was faced with dilemma of performing tasks which were of older people at a very tender age and this he did for a good part of his childhood.

His sisters were married and were staying in other parts of Zambia. He had very little or no communication with them, due to the distance and lack of communication services. Joseph was living with his elderly, ailing parents whom he had to care for. He quickly learned to cook and do washing for them, do housekeeping at home as well as keeping the yard clean.

At times it became so unbearable for him as looking after two elderly people were draining him. At times, he had to call neighbours to help him get his father out of bed to take him to the bathroom. On other days the old man refused to eat because whenever he tried to eat, he vomited. This is something that Joseph hated doing, cleaning up the mess but he knew he had to do it as he was the only help to his ailing parents.

There were hardships he faced at school, like lack of school uniform, no writing equipment, and going to school hungry. He was becoming a problem at school for other children as his numerous requests from them were becoming unbearable. Some children felt pity for him and assisted him when they could but others thought he was a problem and did not want to be associated with him. Joseph felt a sense of isolation and going to school was becoming more and more painful for him. There was also great concern from teachers, regarding his school work as he never had time to do homework let alone have someone to help him with it. As such, his school work did not get any better.

He left school when he was in Standard Three, to concentrate more into looking after his parents who were now too old to look after themselves. His father became blind and needed to be guided here and there all the time. However, when he left school, Joseph was able to read and write.

Joseph’s mother was not too much of a problem. She would always guide him on what to cook or which neighbour to ask for ingredients in order to prepare food. She knew the people well who could help, as these were the ones she visited when she still managed to walk. Nowadays, her feet could not carry her far and some of the time she was forced to crawl.

It was not long after his father’s death that his mother also passed away. Their passing away left an empty hole in his heart because he loved them very much and they were the only people that gave him a sense of belonging. He was comfortable in their company. Life in the Zambian Copper Belt became harder, harsher and unbearable, as he was now living alone and leading not so comfortable life.

Although looking after two elderly people was a mammoth task, Joseph missed them and wished they were still alive. He often wished that if there was a chance to ask from God for the dead to come back, he would ask for the return of his parents. His sisters, who were far from him, could not assist him socially or financially. They had no power to dispense off family finances to help him.

In most African cultures, the men as head of the family take charge of the family finances and women have little or no say on how things are run in the home. Men normally concentrate more on the cattle, field, welfare of their own family and relatives. In this case, his brothers-in-law had no obligation in assisting him in anyway as they did not feel it was their responsibility to take care of him.

Josephs’ sisters were aware of their brother’s plight, but there was nothing they could do to assist him. Thinking of his suffering only made them miserable. They were not working but depended on their husbands who were making a living by working in the Copper Mines.

One day, Joseph sat down in deep thought, not knowing what to do next, or where to go for his next meal. Just then a thought crossed his mind that he must do something about his situation. He decided the best he could do, is to leave Zambia and go to a nearby country.

Long time ago he used to hear his father talk of people working in the South African mines, and so he pondered over this idea. He started making inquiries about the mines in South Africa. He got the feeling that once he was there, he would be employed and be able to feed and clothe himself. This got him excited and he saw this as the answer to his miserable life.

Joseph was now 18 years of age. He had something to eat, as after the passing away of his parents, he was able to do odd jobs for people in the village, like gardening, baby-sitting, helping in the fields and in some instances cleaning their houses.

Part 2

The Answer is Borne

Joseph did not have any luggage to carry or a travel document to get him through the borders. With his vague thoughts of the South African Mines, he set off on the journey bare-foot. It was a gruelling journey through thick forests that were infested with wild animals. Hunger was not a bother to him as the wild fruits were available to keep him going.

The journey took him several days and he was getting tired and confused of where he was, and how far away he was from South Africa. At last he came across a dusty road. It looked liked the last vehicle that had passed through that road was like a week ago.

He decided to rest for a while. Whilst resting under a tree, he heard the noise of a vehicle. In fear of getting into trouble, he thought of running away to hide in the bush until the vehicle had passed. But as the sound of the approaching vehicle became louder, he decided to brave it. What came to his mind was that this could be a chance for a ride to the South Africa Mines.

On the dusty road, a delivery truck approached him. He waved to the driver in the hope that the truck may stop. Fortunately for him, the driver brought the vehicle to a stop. There were two men in the vehicle which he learnt was coming from Malawi.

“Where are you heading, young man”, asked the driver.

“I’m going to the South African Mines”, Joseph replied.

“That’s several days journey, you know”, added the driver’s mate.

“Why are going to the mines?” the driver enquired.

Joseph hesitated and lied, “My ailing parents sent me to go and search for my uncle who was a worker in the mines, up to last year.”

Touched by his story, the men gave the young man a ride. They were very kind to him and noticing that he was hungry, they gave him a piece of bread and some water to drink. Feeling comfortable for the first time since he started his journey, he immediately fell asleep and remained like that for most of the trip.

It was in the evening when the truck reached Gaborone. It was here that the men explained to him that this was how far they were going and told him that South Africa was still some 380 or so kilometres away. They gave him directions on how to get there.

Joseph decided to carry on with his journey, now that he had some energy after a rest. He was getting excited that South Africa was now not so far away. The road he took from Gaborone was leading towards Lobatse and along the road he boarded a bus that was for public transport.

The bus had a few passengers, as it was in its last trip for the evening. With a shaky voice, he told the bus driver that he was from Zambia and was on his way to South Africa and did not have any money with him to pay the bus fare. The bus driver allowed him in, saying at least he was honest. He said young men of his age often got into the bus and only when they had reached their destination that they would start coming up with all sorts of excuses why they cannot pay or sometimes even run away.

Regarding his journey to South Africa, the bus driver told him that he would not be able to reach South Africa that day, as it was late. Joseph, who did not quite understand the distance in kilometres, asked the bus driver how many days it would take him to reach his destination. He was told that it was half a day’s journey by bus. He became very excited knowing now that he was coming closer to realising his dream.

(To be continued)

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