11/17/2013

Blantyre School of Crime


There is no bold proclamation announcing its existence. The press carries no adverts announcing its aptitude test yet, silently, the school exists and producing graduates day in and day out with varying qualifications. For The Big Issue Magazine (Malawi), I wrote this article and I hereby publish it.


The streets are near deserted. It is a Sunday and this is not least expected. The sun, almost as if it intends not to do what it is doing, is gently sliding into oblivion for the day to pave way for darkness and some stars.

In the opposite direction are coming some little boys. Their ages hover around seven and ten – nobody is even entering the teens, at least roughly judging by the looks on their faces. Their clothes are dirty, their feet naked and their faces unbathed. It is not strange. The boys have dressed according to their trade: begging.

The woman walking towards them has a MK 5 coin ready to disperse it to these boys and then proceed with her journey to the bus terminal. She always helps such children and, of course, with a heart that wishes she had a lot to give out or even just some magical powers to get the children out of the street.

The streets are no safer place, at least for children.

To her amazement, none of the children asks for anything. They just silently pass by each other. Have they gotten a lot for the day? Maybe yes, maybe no. They might even be just tired of being at the receiving end of insults from people who do not know their story and who think begging for them is a hobby. Those of the general populace who do not know that for some of these children being in the streets is as a result of death of their parents and the hypocrisy of their relatives, others it is even because of the failing of the institution of marriage.

The woman walks on, hurrying to the bus terminal, trying to push the image of the children out of her mind.

However, she does not walk for long. From behind her, somebody tugs at her handbag that was hanging loosely on her shoulder. It is tugged with a force and, in succumbing to pain, the handbag is let loose from her safety.

Turning around, she sees the children – they are three in number – running away with her handbag. There is her everything in that handbag: a purse that has a passport, an ATM card, the only cash she was left with, an Identity card and every other valuable.

The children take a turn, their dirty heels still mocking her as they run in a goodbye waving fashion, and they run into some incomplete building. Gone for good.

Seems like a scene taken out of a movie – maybe a Hollywood blockbuster aimed at negatively portraying Africa and her children but it is real.

For that woman, Marianne Chikakuda, it is something she saw with her eyes.

“I could not believe it that it was those children who had done that to me, leaving me stranded in Limbe for even my phone was there,” she says in taking back the steps down memory lane when in daylight she was robbed.

“And, there were people coming just behind me. I just wonder where such children, as young as they were, plucked such courage and never were afraid of being caught. What if they had been caught?”

It is a good question she asks, a question the majority can ask yet research says such children can never ask themselves such a question.

According to a study conducted in Cairo, Egypt, in 2010, many children that live in the streets are exposed to various ills and dangers among them sexual violence. To escape this, most of the children resort to drug abuse with the end result that their personality is altered. Thus, they live with few ounces of humanity and compassion exists in little drops in their blood, if it does at all.

The research might have been conducted in a place miles and miles away from Malawi yet the findings resonate well in the local setting. Street kids, the sight of them in daylight and a better place, might not be unnerving but the moment one meets them in an awkward place, everything changes: their outstretched hands that endlessly clamor for some cash suddenly tighten into fists and the ‘God bless yous’ their lips pour out when you drop a little something into their open palms are replaced by curses when they tighten the grip on your neck in demand of money and your personal effects – cell phones being chief of them.

It is a sad reality, somehow fictitious yet when one encounters it all the fiction associated with it shrinks to pave way for a real, naked and uncensored shock.

And, it is in the streets that the children are robbed of their conscience and humanity or rather it is there where the collision of their conscience and humanity happens; and, in that collision the two things that make us develop sympathy – conscience and humanity – are victimized; they die at the spot.

Possibly well meaning, the government of Malawi started removing the children from the streets. They, however, never went any further. It is an exercise that starts as if it is a dream and, like most other dreams, ends midway before anyone makes sense of it.

The children themselves, some of them in their postgraduate classes of crime in the city, declare blatantly that they will never leave the streets. They claim it is their source of money. One can easily buy their argument but not when that one is, or met a similar experience to, Chikakuda.

“Government must remove those kids and even by force, I say,” Chikakuda says as a solution to the problem. “Otherwise, our cities will remain jungles in which we will be afraid to venture in.”

For now, it appears the cities are already the jungles where the marauding beasts are not men with muscular arms or trotting with guns but young kids whom, time and again, have been said to be the tomorrow of not only this nation but this world.

One wonders then what kind of tomorrow we will have with such as its guardians: little boys who instead of being in class learning how to develop the nation are in some nameless and faceless college learning survival which, to them, is losing control of all humanity and relegating the conscience to some dustbin of inexistence.

The government, on the other hand, operates on the dream, perhaps a hallucination, where they wake up one day to remove all the street children and then, midway to that, stop it. And, when they are busy shutting down some substandard education institutions, they forget closing down this school that trains our youths in unexpected and strange programmes.

But, who can blame them?

If they only knew where this school is; perhaps, they could have done something. How can they but when in passing through the city their cars fly at a strange speed while being guarded by gun-trotting officers in military regalia.

They do not even know of the existence of this school, you can bet.