As today is National Youth Day, I'm going to share a story from my own childhood. I was 11 years old when I ran away from home. I can’t even remember what the fight with my mother was about. All I remember is that I decided to move to my Aunt’s house, some 200 kilometres away.
From the beginning, I knew money for the trip would be a problem, but I had a plan: my friend Rahab’s family owned a shebeen and she had access to the cash as people paid for the beer. I was sure she wouldn’t mind giving me some of the money to pay for the trip (God knows why!).
Secondly, it was afternoon when I decided to run away from home. Rahab lived about 7 kilometres from my house – a very long walk. There was no way I could start on the long trip that day.
There again, the fact that Rahab’s house was a shebeen came in handy. The whole family was used to having strangers in the house, so who would notice one extra person spending the night? I packed some clothes, wrote my goodbye note explaining that I was going to live with my aunt, and left.
I didn’t walk far before I bumped into one of my uncles. He operated a taxi service on the route I was walking. He must have suspected that something was wrong, because he stopped and asked me where I was going.
“I’m running away from home to live with my Aunt in Heidelberg,” I said, then explained my plan to spend the night at a friend’s house.
“Sounds like a good plan. I don’t have passengers for now, so I can drop you off at Rahab’s house,” he said.
Thinking about it today, I realize how naïve I was to be grateful for his help. I didn't even think about the fact that an adult person in my family would know where I went and could make sure that my parents could come get me.
Sadly, while Rahab was happy to see me, she couldn’t give me the money that I needed to travel. She also couldn’t give me supper, because we couldn’t tell her mother that I was in the house. I was afraid that as a grown-up, she would feel obliged to take me back home.
The worst thing, though, was that their liquor business was open until dawn, and once the customers started getting drunk, they spoke loudly, sang, argued and generally made a lot of noise. By morning, I was exhausted, hungry and didn’t even mind when my father’s car pulled outside Rahab’s house.
“It’s time to go home now,” he said.
My father and I did not speak about my aborted try for independence on the way home. We talked about school, my friends, things I like doing, even books, but not about the fact that I ran away, spent the night at a friend's house and he was dragging me home. My mother, who rarely let any wrongdoing slide, was in the kitchen when I arrived home. She served my siblings and I breakfast, and afterwards, I just slid into our Saturday morning routine of cleaning the house, doing the laundry and then relaxing outside in the garden.
Life went back to normal (with the usual conflict between kid and parents) and we never spoke about the fact that I tried to leave. I'm not sure if they were afraid to raise the subject – in case it escalated into another shouting match and I decided to run away again or they decided that a night away at a shebeen, and seeing how other kids lived, would teach me to appreciate my own very normal/placid life. Or maybe they decided that since I demonstrated how well I could botch a runway attempt, they didn't have to worry about future attempts, which could be just as bad. As for me, a night at a shebeen was so traumatic for my over-protected self that I didn’t dare repeat it again.
But these days, when I see street kids who clearly managed to successfully run away from home, I sometimes thank God that I was an inept runaway. I realise that some of the kids run away because home is worse than the streets, but sometimes I also wonder if any of these cases are similar to mine, in that they ran away over a situation that could have been resolved. Only they got lucky (or unlucky) and no one stopped them and they managed to get to where they wanted to go, only to find that the situation there is worse than home.
Question: How do you feel when you see street children, looking tired, filthy, and begging at the robots or street corners?