It took me more than a year to write these following few sentences. And even though I’ve already seen a lot in this world, my trip to the Republic of South Africa and visiting the suburbs of Johannesburg, was something I found very impressive. Particularly it was about watching kids that are being brought up in conditions that we would call far from the so-called real childhood. At least in a way that we consider as good, safe, joyful childhood. Childhood that we ourselves want to give to our children.
On the other hand, maybe the idea of childhood that we know, is not so perfect, either? Not all of us had homes that were full of warmth, love and understanding. Can a family of alcoholics or drug addicts create a home that is better than the one that is poor, but full of loving people, who are close to each other? Is the lack of toys and other pleasures of childhood worse or better, compared to having parents, who are constantly at work and have no time for their children?
As I was walking along the streets of Soweto or Alexandria - I’ve seen poverty and hunger, and immediately after that, I’ve seen children’s faces that were smiling. That’s when I realized that what seems to be the nightmare of the African ghetto to us – to them is everyday life. It’s hard for them, but they find joy anywhere they can, reaching out their hands to welcome anybody who catches their interest, for example by looking a little bit different. They play just as much joyfully as all the other kids in the world, even though they don’t have wonderful toys and they don’t know how to play computer games. But did we know how to do it? A dozen or so years ago, a lot of us were able to find joy in getting an ice-cream from a cake shop, a bubble gum or a can of Coca-Cola. Having such items became something normal to our children today. Another toy doesn’t bring them as much joy, as it used to bring to us. Times are changing. It takes so little to stop remembering all that. We forget fast, as we get used to something better.
However, there is an essential difference between these two worlds. Between our world, which is the world of an average European citizen, and the other one, which is the world of an average citizen of the capital of the Republic of South Africa. Where children die in the streets and nobody announces this fact on television, wondering what might be the cause of it. In that world, everyone knows that what very often hides behind the snow white smile is hunger and diseases. Each day might be the last one, even though, in spite of everything else, the day is always sunny. And despite the fact that poverty in the Republic of South Africa is on a much lower level than in other regions of Africa, the sight of the poor areas of Johannesburg will stick in the memory of anyone, who experiences that.
I visited houses that belonged to very poor people. I visited houses of those, who were dying of AIDS. Finally, I was there among unsupported people, who suffer from diseases and will die alone. Death is present everywhere you go, but the children living next to it, are always smiling. It’s an incredible sight. It’s something that pushes you to take actions. You feel like you want to help them, or at least give them something that would bring them joy. And obviously, these little kids know how to be thankful, they know how to appreciate this.
A year ago, I sent a package containing a battery controlled toy car to one of the kids I had met in Soweto. That was when I realized how important such a gift was to him and to his whole family. They were careful not to destroy it. When the time for playing was over, the toy went back to a glass cabinet in the room. It looked the same after a year, even though its batteries had been exhausted much earlier, and even though all the other kids in the street used to play with it. Nothing is only mine or yours here. Nobody has any possessions, so all of them are enjoying this little bit of happiness, in the form of a plastic toy. Enjoying the smallest things is the most beautiful sight one could possibly imagine. And it’s only hard to accept that not all these kids will have a chance to grow up and have their own children... But today, their minds are occupied by other things, and they look happy. This is how I want to remember them, trying as hard as I can to push away the thought of the fate that might await them.