Based on a true story.
It was Friday early in the morning around 04:30 and it was very cold, when my grandmother woke me up. At that moment I was irritated and dizzy, because I was beginning to feel the warmth of the blankets and enjoying my sleep.
I jumped out of the bed fuming. I was scared because my grandmother was furious. She was shouting and screaming at me. I quickly ran out of the house to relieve myself. All I could hear was the whistling of the cold wind blowing from west to the east.
Everybody was running around preparing for work. I was getting ready to go to the kraal. But the problem was there were no clothes for me to wear. Not even shoes. And I always wore big sizes, dirty and old clothes because I was sharing clothes with my cousins. They were careless and rough.
Finally I found a blue work suit, but it was big. I put it on without any problem and quickly ran to the kraal barefoot before my grandmother screamed again. My feet were cracking the snow that was scattered on the grass.
I quickly grabbed an empty bucket, rushed to the kraal and separated the cows from their calves. I started milking the cows, and within thirty minutes I was finished with all three cows. I opened the kraal gate and took the cows to the forest, leaving the calves in the kraal. And I came back running to take the milk to the house.
At that time I couldn’t feel my hands and feet because of the cold and the wind that was coming from the river bank. Our house was situated next to the river.
I was shaking and shivering. I quickly started a fire and put the black pot on the fire so that I could make some tea for the whole family before they could leave. I was busy chopping the wood while still waiting for the water to boil, so that the elders didn’t struggle with the fire when they woke up.
My aim was to take a quick bath before I could do anything, but there was no time for that. Most of the time we bath at the end of the month when we are going to town during school holidays.
On that day the elders were going to the local clinic and it was far away from the farm we stayed in. When they were busy preparing themselves, my brothers and sisters went to work. I took an axe and went to the forest to chop wood.
When I came back they were already gone. I took an empty bucket and went to the river to fetch water. My cousins were also there to help me. There were other people from the area. They were enjoying themselves, dancing and singing as the elders were gone.
We started doing stupid things that we do when our elders are not around. We cooked, made tea for ourselves time and again. And we even started hurting and playing with the calves, chickens, birds and pigs.
We started misbehaving. We started kissing and touching girls like elders do. We were only between the ages of twelve and fourteen. We ended up having sex.
We were lying to ourselves by thinking sex was just a game that elders didn’t want us to play. Some of the girls agreed to sleep with us but we forced ourselves on others and beat them. We were wrong. It was rape but we were unaware then.
We were swopping girls amongst ourselves. We went on almost the whole day. Some of them were enjoying themselves but others we screaming and crying. When the elders arrived we acted as if nothing had happened.
We made them tea and starting chopping the wood, cooking, herding the cows and milking the cows before sunset. Others were cooking for the dogs before my brothers went to hunt. Mostly we hunted at night during the week from 08:00 till around 03:00 in the morning. And during weekends we used to go fishing at the river.
Life was not easy at all. We did hard labour with our elders during school holidays, and they would only reward us with sweets and fruits.
When school opened we used to wake up early in the morning around 03:00 and prepare ourselves because the school was too far. We walked two and half hours to school and most of us had no shoes. Our elders earned peanuts. And sometimes the farmers would threaten and sometimes beat us on our way from school.
Sometimes the bad stuff that we were doing felt like a day-dream. We were young to force girls to sleep with us; that was rape. We had no right to beat them because that’s abuse.
Most of the time we did the same on our way from school. The girls were scared to tell their elders because they were strict. They always beat us very badly, and were abusive both emotionally and physically. You would be beaten up more than six hours.
They were always right even when they were wrong.
And most of them abused alcohol especially towards the end of the month. I feel like bursting into tears when I think about the things that I passed through. I mean wearing dirty, old oily clothes. I walked bare-foot through cold, sunny and rainy weather.
Sleeping on an empty stomach became a norm. You would sleep without bathing, scratch and rub yourself the whole night. One thing that annoyed me mostly was to hunt at night until two o’clock in the morning. Sometimes we hunted until three o’clock even when we were going to school that morning.
But it was a lesson. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.
Tell us: What did you do when the grownups weren’t around?