Monday, March 10, 2014
A Moment in the Life of a Girl
I'm not sure what sets a moment apart in a trip full of "moments" but it always seems that there are those little snapshots of life in another country or in someone else's shoes that stick in your mind and won't move on as quickly as others. Such was this moment, in a bus full of forengi's (foreigners), waiting on the side of a very busy road in Sheshemane, Ethiopia. Our team was waiting for four guys we'd sent ahead to buy supplies for a building project we were working on. There was some confusion as to whether they were going to head directly to the site or whether they would rejoin us on the bus, so we pulled to the side of the road in a very congested street in Sheshemane. Out the window of the bus, I caught sight of this little girl staring at the bus full of strangers with fascination. She was maybe four and quite alone. No one from the nearby markets or on the street seemed to be watching her or looking out for her. Seated near her, on the curb, was a man who looked as though he lived on the streets. He kept whistling at her and then motioning her to ask for money, gesturing with his fingers and hands that she should approach the bus. She ignored him but he persisted. She moved a little away from him as if a little nervous of him but she was so fascinated by the big bus and strange looking people, that she stayed. Finally, he stood up and picked the girl up, putting her on the bus. A couple of the guys at the back and I had watched it all unfold but the people at the front of the bus assumed that this was his little girl and that he was just showing her off. One of my team mates, Dave, a father of a small girl himself, jumped out of his seat and was halfway to the front of the bus, yelling at the guy to get away from this small child. The man saw Dave approaching and skulked away, leaving the little one on the bus. Dave explained what had happened and Deb, leading the team, picked up the little girl and put her back where she'd been standing before. And then it happened: nothing. Nothing at all. She continued to stand in the gutter, watching us watching her. No frazzled mother distracted for but a moment came to sweep her up. No aunty in the market or woman nearby even reacted to a strange man picking up a small girl and placing her on a bus full of obvious foreigners. Nothing. In fact, when we scanned the street, no one even had flinched or looked twice at the idea of a small girl being placed in what could be a potentially dangerous position.
It sticks with me because this is the vulnerability of children in countries where they are orphaned or living in poverty, with no one to watch over them. Children like this small girl are at risk of being whisked into cars or alleys or back rooms and abused without anyone even noticing their absence. I don't know this girl's story or her name or her situation but what I do know, is that in an instant, just one of many moments we witness when travelling... the vulnerability of children in poverty is exposed. And it sticks with me most of all because I don't know how her story will end. Or what will happen when there isn't someone with a parental instinct to shout and stand up to those that would exploit her.