A Token Plastic Elephant, my silent promise


The story of Rudi

A token plastic elephant, my silent promise

A few months back, I met an incredible woman. She was walking alongside a dusty, endless road, very slowly and noticeably too old to be carrying a small child on her back. I stopped and asked her where she was going and would she like a lift? She said ‘No, she is almost home.’ I asked if the child was her grandchild to which a brief story came tumbling out. And while she makes up one in millions of the same story, it wasn’t any less shocking.

I took a photo of her and gave the child a small plastic toy that my kids could quite frankly do without. She thanked me and continued walking. It seemed silly, silly to give her a little plastic made-in-China elephant after listening to her brief tragic story, like I had missed the point. But what she did not know is that I had quietly promised myself that I would find her and that I would help her.

A month or so later, after finally printing the photo of Rudi, I went in search of her. I found her house and 2 of her grandchildren, Toni (9) and Kapesi. (2) Rudi was out working in her rice shamba (paddy) and had left them at home for the day.

The following day I returned and found her lying on her little reed mat in the darkness of her mud hut, cuddled up to Kapesi. She emerged from the hut and saw that I had come with a photo. She immediately embraced me and kissed me on the cheek, repeatedly thanking me for the printed image.

Kapesi did not wake, he was in a deep sleep. She explained that he was feeling lethargic because he had not eaten that day. It was 3pm and she had no food to give him.

Toni sat quitely, observing the meeting from a distance. I learned that Rudi also had a 3rd grandchild living with them, Lourdes, who was 17 and who I did not meet that day. Rudi began to talk and tell me her incredible story of surving a war and how she got to where she is today.

She is a single grandmother and has been for many years. She had 6 children. 5 of them are dead. The 6th ‘child’ lives in another town and has not made contact with her for many years. She’s not completely sure where he is. Her first child who died, left her and her husband 9 grandchildren to bring up. Some of those children have died, the rest have grown up and left. During that time, her husband also left her and returned to his home village in a remote area on the the Zambezi River. She has had no contact with him since. I’m not sure why they separated.

In her final years, she has recently taken on yet another 3 grandchildren, belonging to 2 of her children, now dead. Lourde’s mother died of aids and Toni and Kapesi’s mother died of a tooth abscess when Kapesi was just one month old.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but I still can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
Hellen Keller

UPDATE: To learn about Rudi’s life story, click on this link: https://africafarandwide.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/the-fallen-angel-in-the-pit-of-poverty-rudi/  “She walked barefoot and semi-naked through lion territory. She hid in burrows of wild animals to avoid the bullets of ruthless soldiers. She sacrificed her marriage of many years. And now she lies helpless at the bottom of the pit of social rank, alienated. She struggles to survive and not only to survive, but to support and protect 3 grandchildren.”