I’d see the kids most days, hanging around the tap, filling their big plastic bottles then slowly walking home, bare feet asbestos to the Namibian desert. Always smiling, moving, jumping, elbowing, like kids once did here, before the screens. But I wanted to avoid them. It’s not that I’m an asshole, but I am, it’s just that - being white - I was a mark and a cash machine.
I’d always avoided them, but on the last day, they caught me filling twenty-litre bottles. The moved in close, close enough to smell, them me, me them, them smelling like I’d smelled many times myself when I’d not washed my clothes for a month or so. It always amazed me how clean and tidy kids were in even the most difficult of circumstances in Africa, like how working class kids often have better, cleaner, trendier clothes than the middle classes grubby hand-me-downs. Water here is a luxury.
They moved in closer, not saying anything, just whispering, more nudging, a little giggling, then up came their little hands, grasping for something I had no intention to give.
In Iraq convoys once handed out sweets, hearts and minds. Soon kids would swarm up into the roads as they came by, and more sweets would be forthcoming, like a Pentagon Ice-cream van. But then the wars stepped up and soon they didn’t stop, not for anything, and just mowed them down.
I gave them a huge bottle each to carry to the car, asking them their names, their ages, daft questions adults do when they don’t know what to say, while still ignoring ‘give me money’ hands. Soon pity whimpers turning to conversation. “Do you want a banana?” I asked, and their heads rocked, turning to the other with glee as I handed them out, block and ready for the bin. “Would you mum like some food?” I asked and they nodded again, chewing away. I filled a bag with stuff we’d only throw away. It seemed like treasure.
Vanessa walked up and said hello, more whispering. Then one child, the oldest, lifted up her hand and touched Vanessa’s hair, as tangled and wild as the bush. “That’s racist” I whispered, as a joke. But no one heard.
A Snicker's bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram