Thursday, June 16, 2011

I was 11 years old when I ran away from home

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 na├»ve 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?

35 comments:

tiah said...

Sounds like one heck of an experience.

Unknown said...

Great story, Damaria. :) I ran away to the end of the driveway and hid behind the pine tree. I was sure my mother would be sorry and would call the police to come find me. She didn't. She told me later my red hair made it impossible to hide behind a green tree. And I thought I was so clever. :)

Here in America in my neighborhood, there aren't any street children. But monks from our meditation group who visit regularly have come from Haiti, Bengal, Brazil, and all parts of the world where poverty forces families apart and into the streets. We fund the monks so they can do the service that helps lift people from these situations.

po said...

Wow. I threatened to run away many times over the years but never made it. The worst was when I was living in Botswana, and some friends and I organised a breakout from school. We hid in the bathrooms during one lesson and ran outside, but a prefect caught us and asked us what we were doing. We said we were sent to look for something for a teacher. Haha I was so spooked by being caught that I never did anything like that again. I must have been 7. I think on the whole the kids who are on the streets are those running away from terrible situations. I suppose a less terrible thing could cause someone to run, but most of those kids have had terrible home lives. When I see them I feel such hopelessness. Which does not help them I know. But that is what I feel.

Pamela Moeng said...

Hi, all. Being back in the USA is bringing a lot of memories long forgotten to the fore. I never ran farther than the crotch of the old apple tree in the backyard, and usually to avoid helping to wash the dishes for our family of ten. Street kids pain me, but some are there willfully and some really are there because life at home was bad. SA has a big problem but other countries also struggle with the challenge. I'm glad my children are safe at home.

Anne said...

your story is cool I say. I never had the chance to run away from my home because I already had phobia when I got lost in the supermarket when I was still young. So for that reason I never tried to run away because I was afraid to get lost and my parents will never find me. But your story sounds so adventurous.

Anonymous said...

I walked down the street, turned around and went home because these guys were chasing me... I just realized how great my life is.

TJ said...

At the minute i feel like that because my mom has being shouting and being mean to me i just wnat to runaway.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way, no kidding!

Anonymous said...

Hey I really want to run away but it won't happen because I'm to afraid of loosing the best.what should I do please help me somebody?

Damaria Senne said...

Speak to your parents. If you believe that they are the problem that makes you want to run away, speak to another adult who can help you all to resolve the situation. Maybe your school counsellor can help you work out what you need to do? If not, speak to your uncle/aunt/grandma/grandpa/church pastor..

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid of my parents,they try to kill me!!

Damaria Senne said...

Speak to your uncle/aunt/grandma/grandpa/church pastor..someone you know you can trust. or maybe speak to your school counsellor. They are legally obliged to help you.

Anonymous said...

Damaria I feel like running away but I am only 10.I need your advice on what to do please!

Damaria Senne said...

Speak to your favourite teacher or school counsellor as soon as possible. Tell them what your problem is and why you want to run away. If you can't tell them in person because you feel shy/nervous, write them an email. You have to ask for help from someone who has the power to help you.. someone who is near you and would have a better understanding of your life and can speak to you in person at some stage. There are many people in your life would would be able to help you, or whose job it is to take care of you (your school teachers, for example). Speak to them please

Anonymous said...

I have holidays from school.My parents won't let me on email,online games ect!What can I do?

Damaria Senne said...

Hello Anonymous

Might I suggest that you use the time/opportunity like the one you had to comment on my blog to contact any of the people I mentioned above. Your biggest challenge is that I can't offer you any practical help and you need to use the resources you have to find someone who can do so.

Damaria Senne said...

P.S. Not being being allowed to play online games is NOT abuse. It may feel like it, but surely you have other real-life/offline things that you can do?

Anonymous said...

Are you trying to help me or not damaria I need to know!!

Damaria Senne said...

I'm trying to help you. But, it seems to me that you're not listening to me/my advice.

Let me repeat, my advice is that you speak to someone in your life.. someone who is close (physically) and whom you trust to listen to you without taking other people's side or who is legally obligated to help you, like your school counsellor. That's the only useful help you can get.

You read my biography and you know I'm just a writer and don't have the skills and/resources to do anything for you beyond giving advice. It is however up to you whether you take that advice or not and being persistent with me is not going to change my answer. It just makes me wonder if I am in indeed talking to a 10 year old, or if someone who should know better thought it would be funny to pretend to be 10 and play games on me.

Anonymous said...

Every one I know thinks I'm so bad/stupid/smelly ect.thats why I can't use your advice.I'm sorry for not telling you sooner damaria

Damaria Senne said...

I'm sorry you feel that you are bad/stupid/smelly. But here's the thing.. the people who are LEGALLY OBLIGATED TO HELP YOU? They don't even have to like you. It's their job to do so. So they will help you even if you are right and they think those things about you. Though I DO THINK YOU ARE VERY WRONG to think that's how they see you.
So even though you are so afraid these people see you as bad/stupid/smelly, be brave and speak to one of them anyway. You have nothing to lose for asking them to help you and everything to gain if they do help you.

Anonymous said...

Look Ive talked to my dad and family but they say I'm talking s**t I now really need you on what to do.

Damaria Senne said...

OK. What did you complain to them about? What do you need help for, especifically? And what kind of help do you need?

Damaria Senne said...

Sorry, I meant to say Specifically.

Anonymous said...

I complained about how they make me feel like I belong and things like that.P.S I am not ten I am 16 sorry for that and maybe I think not letting me on online games is ABUSE!!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry ment to say how I don't belong.

Damaria Senne said...

I see. I'm not sure how much you talk to your mother at all, but what I learnt over the years, and what I constantly tell my own Baby (who is 16 too, BTW), is that feeling as if you don't belong when you are 16 is normal for many teenagers. Unfortunately. It's just one of those rough times when many things seem to rub you the wrong way/or you feel that your parents/family don't understand you and they don't want to listen to what you have to say. Someone wise said to me, when I was around that age, that I will grow older and will then have more control over my life and more choices.
In the meantime, do you have a hobby beyond playing video games. Think about the things that interest you and start doing them. Learn to paint. Play the guitar badly. Start a small garden if you can. Try your hand at cooking and baking. For Baby (who is 16), it's reading, photography and blogging, another friend's 15 year old son plays rugby and recently started learning to play the cello, another friend's grandchild bakes the most marvelous cakes and cookies... explore every hobby you can do and can afford.
I suppose what I'm saying is find something that you enjoy and then do it... find people who like to do what you do and chat with them about it (what DO you enjoy doing, beyond playing games?)
You'll probably dump some of the things; do others badly. No matter. The experience will be good for you anyway.
Another alternative is to find a part-time/weekend job. You could job hunt, or if that's tough (it took Baby a year to get a job on her own), maybe your mom or dad have a friend who owns their own business and for whom you could play slave over weekends? Baby is having a blast working as a waitress for an event management company and she also gets to keep the cash she earns, which doesn't hurt at all:)
Now that our winter school holidays have started, she's spending a week shadowing an editor friend of mine for the week. That involves going with her to work in the morning, attending all the meetings my friend is attending, joining some journalists on their assignments when possible and basically, making them all coffee, running errands for them and being their slave. There's no pay for that, but it's good experience for her to see how the world of work works.
Also keep in mind that you will soon be 18. Old enough to go to university/college and to find a job. Time flies.

Anonymous said...

I already mentioned that they won't listen to me and I don't have a hobby!Everyday I argue with myMOM,and when my dad comes home from work I argue with him.I miss my old life with them.P.S I am an only child!

Damaria Senne said...

Since you don't have a hobby, START one. When you're home with your Mom, every day try to do one nice thing for your Mom. When your dad comes home from work, do one nice thing for them. I know it sounds like you will be the one giving in, but you will be doing something positive to build your relationship with them. It won't alwayswork - sometimes you'll fight even when you've done something nice for them. Sometimes you'll feel like you're the only one trying. But do something nice for them anyway. They will appreciate it, you'll see.
And yes, I get that you are a child and things are generally rough. (There is not enough money in the world that would make me want to be 16 again). But you'll get through this.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention they don't want anything to do with me.What would you do?

Damaria Senne said...

1. Start a hobby to keep busy and to do things you enjoy.
2. Make a conscious effort to be nice to them regardless of whether you think they are nice to you back or not. You live in the same house, so you need to get along until you grow up and can leave.
3. Study hard and make sure you get very good grades. It's not just to please your parents. That's your ticket out of their house (good grades ensure you do get accepted at universities and colleges and you can choose where you want to go. When you get bad grades, you end up having to go to whoever will take you, which sucks).
4. Get a part-time job if it's possible.
5. Spend time with your close friends. I'm guessing since you're 16, they can come and hang out with you, and you can also go to their house and do the same? If you don't have friends to do that with, start making new friends.
6. Do chores around the house. It will keep you busy AND earn you parent-approval points. BTW, don't wait for your parents to ask you to help. Freak them out and start doing dishes etc.
We used to laugh at Pappa, because everytime my baby brother went outside and started mowing the lawn or weeding the garden, Pappa's response was not, "Yaay! Thanks for helping out." Usually he'd look at my baby brother and growl" What do you want? Whatever it is, I don't have the money for it." It became the family joke because truthfully, Pappa was right.. baby brother did want something and Pappa would end up finding the money anyway:)
7. Which brings me to the next point - Accept that the roiling emotions in your are normal. Most people at 16 are NOT the epitome of emotional stability. But you can recognise the feelings for what they are and then make an effort to control them.
8. Try to start a conversation with your parents by leaving your computer/laptop/whatever with this page open and let your parents see it. You didn't write your name, so they can't be 100% it's you. If your parents arev feeling as lost at most parents are when fighting all the time with their teen, they may end up reading it. Your feelings and issues are already here, so you won't have to explain yourself much. But it will start a conversation and the most important thing is, your need to talk to your parents.

I used to tell OB and Baby, "the biggest thing that scared me about parenting teenagers was WHAT I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THEIR LIVES. I told them, even when it's bad/you're afraid it's bad, I will feel better knowing the worst, because we can start doing damage control. When you hide things from me, I can't help you and you will keep hurting and whatever the situation you're in will get worse. So talk to me and tell me what is the matter."
I suspect your parents also want to know why you guys fight so much... why they don't understand you.

Anonymous said...

They won't let me do any of that stuff!It seems that your not listening to me Damaria!!!!!!!!

Damaria Senne said...

What I think is that, you don't want to hear what I'm telling you because I'm not agreeing with you. I think you expect me to change my answers somehow. Read the answer above. There are things that you could do mentioned there which your parents would approve of (e.g. you being nicer to them and doing chores without being asked).
I also think it's easier to keep digging for answers from a stranger instead of gathering your courage to fix your relationship with your parents. In the end, it's all up to you to fix this... not some stranger on a blog, no matter how much she may empathise with you. To me you sound like your parents love you... you guys are just having a hard time communicating.

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