I just spent twenty minutes staring from my balcony at the city I call home. It’s nice to be home. Now, I’m sitting on the floor of my apartment amongst a mess of clothes and half unpacked bags. There is a small pile of souvenirs sitting at the foot of my bed; a necklace for Angelle, carved bowls for Chris, a piece of jade for my Mother, a hand-woven wine carrier for Andy, and on and on; just trinkets.
I have other souvenirs that aren’t in the pile. They are stored in more abstract places. They are small boxes with little labels. Their contents are made of emotions.
Some of the labels on the boxes are the names of the children I met and are full of heartbreak. They’re the boxes that I filled with the moments of wanting to cry. They come from when I was close enough to the suffering that I no longer just watched it; I felt it.
One of the boxes is labeled with an image of a small child in a dirty yellow t-shirt. I will forever see her image in my mind as she follows me through a Nairobi market, persistently hoping for a few more shillings. She never spoke; just looked up at me with an open palm. I have her box. It is a box of sadness.
I have other boxes that are full of anger. They were filled at those moments when a child’s suffering made me so angry that I wanted to scream and shake my fists at somebody. I didn’t always know who to shake my fists at. Was it the government, the apathetic commuters, the parents, or the sky? Even when I did know who was to blame, I had to store my angry emotions in a box to sit dormant.
The boxes of anger are labeled with the names of the exploiters and the abusers. One of the boxes is labeled “Mama Kanini.” She is the modern day Fagin, the career criminal from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Like Fagin, Mama Kanini makes a living gaining the trust of street children and then using their desperation for her own gain; skimming off the top of donors’ generosity, putting children to work, letting the fingers of children pick pockets to fill her own coffers. She has a smile that deceives and a slyness that exploits. She makes me angry with emotions that I hide in a box.
There is a box of anger for the policemen who intimidate, harass, and beat children who live on the streets. I hate their attitudes, their smirks, and their trigger happy fingers. Honestly, I hate them. But, I could never show it. I just put that hate in a box.
These are boxes that I don’t like carrying around. I’m not proud of feeling sadness and anger. But, my boxes are the result of the realities of the world we live in. What do I do with these souvenir boxes? Should they sit at the top of my closet until I can forget them? Or should I give them to people?
I live a few blocks from the White House. What if I left a couple of boxes with the man at the gate? Would they get to the President? Would he learn about the sadness of the girl in the yellow t-shirt?
I go to school across the street from the IMF and the World Bank. Could I give them a box of my anger about the Kenyan police officers who kill the innocent?
My friend Brittany works for USAID. Could I ask her to deliver a box full of the suffering of poverty to her boss?
The Kenyan Embassy is a short walk from my apartment. I would love to sit with their Ambassador and lavish my souvenir boxes on him. Would he appreciate the box with Mama Kanini’s name on it? Would he appreciate the countless boxes with children’s names on them? I would give him boxes for children who have been orphaned by AIDS, beaten by parents and neighbors, and turned out by poverty.
I want to give boxes to everyone. I want people to know what happens in our world. I want people to know about children who feel things that most of us wouldn’t dream of feeling.
These children live thousands of miles away. But, what is a thousand miles? A thousand miles can be spanned by a day of air-travel or by a one second Google search. These children aren’t thousands of miles away. They are sleeping on our streets and digging in our garbage. They are asking for our spare shilling and a piece of bread. They are the children who play in our neighborhoods at night. They are the children who should be in our schools. They are our children. No matter what part of the world we live in, they are our children!
Posted By Jonathan Homer
Posted Aug 23rd, 2008