A day in the life of a farm child


SCHOOL life was hard for the mine children, but it seemed even harder for those from the farms.
At the mine, immigrants and their families were the least educated and therefore the least respected.
They were at the very bottom of everything.
In the classroom we considered ourselves above schoolchildren from the farms. They walked a long way to get to school.
For those who had longer distances to walk, it meant getting up and setting off at the first cockcrow.
The forests were dark and wild.
The children from the farms said they watched the sun glow and rise over the horizon as they walked to school.
Because of the long distance, they sprinted on bare feet all the way to Patchway Valley.
I can never forget the sight of my friend Chinai standing in a queue at the school gate.
He bowed his head, stared at his feet and cowered behind older boys and girls. The prefect on duty wrote down the names of all late comers.
On Friday they got caned for arriving late nearly every morning.
Later in the day when school broke up for lunch, I used to take Chinai home with me.
There we shared with my siblings the boiled plain maize mother always cooked the night before.
It was the poorest food any family could eat, but seasoned with a generous amount of salt and washed down with water, it filled empty stomachs and stilled the rumbling within.
Tired and sleepy, the result of a combination of getting up at dawn and sprinting long distances, Chinai often slept for a while on a sack under the mulberry tree. I would sit by his side and keep the fat green flies from settling on the scabies he seemed to get on his legs and arms every summer.
No matter how often I saw the dry blood on the raw cracks on his feet, I never got used to the awful sight.
How Chinai managed to run to school and back to the farm everyday was hard for me to comprehend.
Although the majority of us, mine children did not go around wearing shoes except maybe on Sundays and on some special occasions such as Christmas if we were lucky to own a pair, we did not have to walk through thorny bush areas.
I could not understand why farm children used the paths in the forest and I suggested that my friend use the roads used by the farmers.
“Have you ever tried walking barefoot on grit or loose gravel for a long distance?” asked Chinai.
“Yes I have,” I answered.
“Do you forget that the area around the underpass is sprinkled with quarry stones?
“I know the pain of walking on them.”
“Now try to imagine three or four miles of it,” he said.
“It is unbearable.
“If you cut through the forest paths you can avoid the grit.
“But the forests have their own problems.
“Most of the time thorny bushes scratch and graze my feet and thighs, making them itch and bleed.
“It is not so bad on the way back home because with the last few rays of sunlight we are able to pick our way through and avoid the brush.
“I do envy the fortunate children of the bwana who do not have to endure the hardships we go through.
“They are driven to their good schools for ‘Whites Only’ in their lovely warm cars. There are times I wish I were born white. They have everything. And us, what do we have?”
“Hardly anything,” I said.
“Very true Masauso.
We have so little it isn’t worth noting.
We do not even own our very lives.
Van der Byl is king at March Hare farm.
John Brown is master of Montana.
Susipenzi is lord at Potters Farm.
Their children are little bosses just waiting to step into the shoes of their fathers. They rule the land with might, believe me.
Each time I pass by the homestead of the bwana I tremble with fear.
The beasts they keep as pets come growling after me, their bare teeth ready to sink into my flesh.
“Akuki always repeatedly warns us never to run or the brutish dogs will tear us to shreds.
This is easier said than done, especially with fierce growling and sniffing right next to me.
I keep imagining that anytime the dogs will jump onto me.
I shake uncontrollably and I can hear my teeth gnashing.
And what do the miserable pikinini bwana (the young bosses) do?
They find the whole thing amusing, something with which to brighten their dull lives on isolated farm homesteads.
Above the noise of the dogs growling, you can hear their masters’ voices shrill with laughter.
It takes a lot of effort and willpower to remain motionless.
Akuki advises us all the time that no matter what happens, we should never ever bend down low and let the dogs tower over us.
He says once you do that your life is as good as over.
The dogs, according to him, are the type that can sink their teeth into your throat and kill you there and then.
Ratiwera (Rottweiler), I think he calls them.”
“He-eyi, vinango azungu niwooyipa mutima nditu (some white people are cruel honestly).
“I don’t suppose that at this stage they can continue laughing, surely Chinai?” I asked, shocked.
“I suppose not, but the dogs are so vicious they can maul you and be done with before their masters can come to your help.
We believe that some of those beasts are trained to challenge and harass black people.
Vazungu think that we cannot be trusted.
They suspect Akuki of always looking for an opportunity to help himself to sugar, salt, and soap as soon as the back of bwana is turned away.
But then again, my father says with the little he is paid, which is hardly enough to buy a bar of soap, very few of us can blame him.
Once in a while he helps himself to the meat meant for the master’s pets, especially if his own children are starving.
As far as abwana are concerned anyone loitering around the farm must be looking for a chance to steal crops.
We are all regarded with suspicion.
Their dogs corner you until their masters call them away, but only after sniffing all over you and making sure you have no stolen goods on you.
Should you panic and run away that could very easily be the end of your life.
I understand it happened once at Potters Farm.
The young son of adhiraivha (the driver) was going up to the homestead when he saw the ferocious beast charging silently towards him.
Ignoring his father’s pleas urging him to stand still, the young boy bent down to pick up a stone with which to shoo the dog away.
He never stood a chance.
It was over within minutes.
They say it was a horrific death.
As if that was not enough, the owners of the dog blamed the boy for the whole tragedy.
They accused him of teasing the dog.
Then they said he worsened the situation by provoking it to attack when he reached down to pick up a stone with which to challenge it.
They said that their normally gentle pet had no choice, but to ‘defend itself’ and its territory.
Mother says the dead boy’s mother died of a broken heart soon after.
He was her only child.”


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