The red sun sets and everyone begins to prepare supper, which for us is maize meal pap (porridge). The weather is chilly outside and there is a fog. The kitchen fire is burning low. My torn hand-knit purple jersey tries its best to provide me with the warmth I need as I tug at its sleeves in an attempt to keep my fingers warm. I do not complain for it is better than nothing .I am grateful for the little I have. My name is Thandeka, I am an AIDS orphan. My parents passed away when I was in tenth grade and my relatives squabbled over my custody. None of them wanted to take me in because they thought I had the pandemic, which, fortunately, I do not.
I was then taken to the village to live with my grandmother. As I sit there, consumed by my thoughts, I suddenly realize that the light in the kitchen hut has grown dim and I light another candle and set it in a metal cup near the entrance. Just then, grandmother walks in carrying a few dry twigs with which to fuel the fire.
‘Good evening gogo,’ I say to her in a respectful tone as I jump up and collect the twigs from her arms and strategically place them between the logs of burning firewood.
‘Evening my child,’ she smiled, a toothless smile nonetheless.
Being a well trained child, I had already finished preparing supper, pap (isitshwala) and beef stew with pumpkin leaves, grandmother’s favorite. I make her a comfortable place by the fire and serve her with tonight’s meal. I can tell from the sparkle in her eyes, she is pleased. I politely excuse myself and go into the bedroom hut to do my math homework under candlelight. I wish we had electricity in our village like the people in town do but as the saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride .I study hard because I want to be a doctor. I want to curb and eradicate the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic which is devouring my beloved Africa. With that thought, I fall asleep.
The cock crows early the next morning, I yawn as I stretch. The time is four o’clock, it’s still dark outside. Regardless, I have to get my chores done before I leave for school; some three kilometers away. I rush to the stream to bath and fetch a pail of water. I sweep the yard after smearing ‘cow dung’ on the floor in the huts to keep them smooth. It reminds me of ‘cobra’, the floor polish used in town houses. I realize that I’m running late so I quickly pull my green cotton dress over my head and set off for school three kilometers away.
It is late June; the harsh winter gale slaps me square in the face as I run through the overgrazed fields. In the nick of time, I step into class panting, out of breath. My feet are dusty, my rubber slippers are equally covered in red earth but I couldn’t care less. I made it to school on time, that’s all that matters. I’m one of the few girls who attend school in my village. Blinded by the male chauvinism, the majority believe that education is unnecessary for girls. It’s a man’s world they say.
Most girls my age are married with more than two children. I count myself lucky. I have bigger plans than to become a cattle-herder’s wife. My dream is to someday to make Africa a better place for the girl child.. This is my home, my Africa; I have to do my part and hopefully make a difference. Momentarily, the English teacher walks into class. Immediately, the class stands to their feet. He is a (comrade) or former war veteran. No-nonsense was his ‘nom de guerre’ and still is to those who don’t really know him. Sir ‘No-nonsense’ is the epitome of a disciplinarian, we all know that.
‘Good morning class, today we are writing a class exercise, a brief introduction to an open essay. You have ten minutes to do this and I will randomly ask one of you to read their introduction to the class.
At that, a smile forms on my lips, I know just what to write, I have so many issues to voice concerning the plight of the girl child. Without further ado, I grab my pencil and set to work:’
‘My Africa; you who are the cradle of mankind; my home, my pride. It is you who has seen the rise and fall of many great kingdoms and chiefdoms. You have been home to some of the finest warriors in the African history; the likes of Shaka the Zulu, Nyatsimba Mutota, Mzilikazi, and King Jaja of Opobo, the list is endless. Along with many other continents, you developed and flourished, evolving with modern civilization. However, some of your social, cultural norms which were undoubtedly respectable in times past have now been outdated. The girl child should no longer be treated according to customs of old. Africa, please give the girl child her freedom. She is not so different from your sons. Let her go to school, let her live her dream. Deliver your daughters from forced marriages, male chauvinism and gender based violence .Oh Africa, allow her but equal opportunities in this…’
Pens down, time up, No-nonsense turned sharply on his heel and glared straight at me as I barely managed to pen the title: “My Africa.”