Pedro is only 13, and yet he’s already a bread winner for his family. He qualifies to pass as one of those we refer to as Street Kids. The only difference though is that Pedro isn’t a child of the streets. He is a child on the street which simply means he’s only available on the streets in the morning, and goes back home to be with his dear family in the evening.
In what may leave many with jaws dropping, his mom is only 37 years old and yet she has 8 children! Pedro’s parents must have been in a hurry to fulfill what is written in the scriptures, “Go ye and fill up the earth…..” The family of 3 boys and 5 girls is merely separated by 1 or 2 year age difference; one of them a breastfeeding baby!
Before moving to what is euphemistically referred to as the “Big House,” Pedro and his family lived somewhere else with their father, a carpenter by trade. One fateful morning, he gave a bit of money to their mother for food and left home for some odd jobs as he normally did. That was the last time they were ever to see him!
Once they were in 3 months rental arrears, the landlord threw them out and confiscated their entire property. That’s how they ended up at the “Big House” where they now have to cuddle and endure long nights on the cold floor covered by a thin layer of sheets.
Except for his eldest sister, Patricia, who has since eloped with a sugar daddy in another part of town, Pedro and his family share space in one of the rooms which is as small as a toilet in the “Big House” in Mulenga, a sprawling shanty compound out of the city of Kitwe in mineral rich Zambia’s Copperbelt province. Well…..this is nothing but the outcome of amateurish and shambolic architectural work partitioned into smaller rooms to accommodate 25 tenants altogether!
Since they have to share one communal pit latrine, you’ll often see queues as desperate folks wait for their turn to relieve themselves. Obviously unable to withstand the pressure much longer, kids end up squatting behind the pit latrine although some of the adults are equally guilty of defying the laws of nature by resorting to ‘Stone Age’ methods of answering the call of nature; well…….under the cover of the blanket of darkness, of course! They don’t have to bother that much though about excrement being dotted here and there as stray dogs that seemed to be aware of the nocturnal activities at the “Big House” would surely come and do the needful.
The Big House is a complete mosaic of the squalor and poverty you expect to encounter in any given shanty compound you may think of. It’s characterised by heaps of decaying garbage, overgrown grass, cardboards for windows while the walls are smeared with dirt and oily substances. Excrement seeps from the overflowing pit latrine and commingles with leaking water from a burst pipe. Toddlers could be seen scooping water from the improvised drainage and use it to soften the clay soil which they use to fashion out toys…….baby dolls and cars, oblivious of the overpowering stench and the risk of possible infection.
During the day, they’ve to grapple with an endless flow of flies annoyingly whizzing around in their quest to lick the sweat of unwilling individuals! It even gets worse at night as they’ve to contend with all manner of bugs…..if it’s not rats that seem to be in contetion with cockroaches scurrying around the place nibbling this and that, it’s bed bugs stinging them as mosquitos equally claim their fair of blood.
Pedro’s mother isn’t that well. She claims her husband left her with a disease which she refuses to disclose. Her body is frail while her skin complexion is pale. Unfortunately, she has been sapped of energy to engage in strenuous activities.
As his peers can be seen excitedly flocking to school, he picks up his sack and heads into the opposite direction – to the dump sites to scavenge for scrap material such as empty cans or plastic bottles. As the day wears off, he happily heads back home and declares whatever he has raised to his mother. Even if it’s not a fortune, at least it’s enough to get them enough food for the day…….talk about hand to mouth!
Pedro has to go to the dump sites every other day save Sundays when they have to go to church and get comforted by soothing messages from the pastor – a bespectacled diminutive man with the ability to peep into the future.
“No situation is permanent!” he reminds them every Sunday. “Pain may endure for some time, but joy comes in the morning. I see your breakthrough coming soon!”
In the meantime, years come and go, and yet their condition remains the same if not getting worse.
Prince Bill M Kaping’a