Bit of a play on some very old-fashioned words to a hymn there …
One of my strongest memories of living and working in Namibia is of waking up just after dawn and hearing small children a-singing. These were the lucky ones who had a school to go to – walking long distances in order to reach their lessons. Their favourite songs as they marched along were ‘Jesus Bids Us Shine’ and ‘Jesus Loves Me! This I know.’ Both of them are huge hits with kids in southern Africa – a product of the old-fashioned missionary school approach.
I also grew up with these songs ringing in my ears. If you were not fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough according to my husband) to have been born n’ bred into a world of Sunday Schools – you probably won’t be aware that the words of that particular hymn, ‘Jesus Bids Us Shine’, are all about light and darkness.
In the midst of planning the Great Trek Back to Namibia I was teaching the words of this song to both of my children (whilst my husband griped in the background; “Please! No more! I can’t stand it! Sing your Robbie Williams stuff. Or even Andrew Lloyd Webber instead, if you have to!”) and it suddenly occurred to me to explain to the kids about how stark the contrast is between the light and the dark in southern Africa.
Darkness, even in the height of the summer, falls fast. So, those of us who love our evening BBQs (or ‘braais’ as they are called in southern Africa) wouldn’t be able to see much after 7pm there. And for the families who dwell in shacks in the former townships – especially those in the poorest parts of the areas known as ‘the informal settlements’ or ‘the squatter camps’ – their lives are ruled by a simple lack of control over the light and the darkness.
Where there is no electricity, you are forced to use candles. Where you use candles, the reality of a shack fire and horrific injuries and death are all too real. And because more often than not, in these kind of conditions, the only toilet available is named ‘Go In The Bush’, those of us who are used to slurping our Horlicks at 9pm would be considered to be nutters to set the bladder up for such a test.
So, imagine that you are a small child. Infant school age. And that you need to pee desperately in the middle of that darkness. Sure, the stars and the moon shine far more brightly in Namibia than in Yorkshire but would you want to take the risk of leaving the shack and the grown-ups and hopping out to the bush for a quick widdle? Snakes…scorpions…wild dogs. And the rest.
Of course – the alternative would be to wet your pants. Or the worn-out blanket that you share with your brother and sister. But you only have one pair of pants. And no running water for your mum to clean the blanket in the morning. You wouldn’t dare to be so silly.
This is the scenario that I regaled my children with (yes – I’m a laugh a minute to be around, sometimes!) But before you think of calling social services and reporting me for being a morose old bag – the conversation (and the dreadful hymn singing) actually developed into a new idea.
“Why don’t they have torches there?” one of my two asked me (I can’t remember which child, thankfully. Good job really, as they’d no doubt start squabbling over Intellectual Property Rights or something.) So, I explained about the lack of money to buy incredibly expensive things like batteries for a torch.
And then we hit on The Bright Idea. Wind-up torches! Everyone loves a wind-up torch (“Well – the slugs don’t do they? When they see Daddy out there on his midnight slug patrol. Daddy is so weird about his cabbages…”) But yes – wind-up torches for those of us who happen to live in much more affluent countries are a great deal of fun. They are oh-so handy and also quite easy to carry in suitcases …
But much more importantly – the more wind-up torches available, the less reliance on candles, the less scary (or lethal) ‘what could I be crouching on?’ moments in the bush and certainly a greater sense of safety for people who need to be outside during the dark hours.
So we sent an appeal letter to each child’s school. Not only did we end up with donations of over 60 wind-up torches but we were blessed with all kinds of flourescent and glowing implements – bracelets, stickers, small toys etc for the children in Namibia (Netherton Infant and Nursery School and South Crosland Juniors and their parents … you are bunch of little champions!)
(Part Two of the challenge was this; handling dozens of small torches and trying to convince customs officials in 3 different airports during a period of 24 hours – that you are not trying to either a) build yourself a bomb whilst in transit or b) set up a ‘Glowing Thing’ business when you arrive at your port of call. But I won’t bore you with that side of things.)
Suffice to say that the torches arrived and were distributed by us in the poorest corner of Epako in Gobabis, a place that contains over 5,000 people and yet you won’t find on your maps of Africa (but more on why that is, tomorrow) and yes, not a single child or adult knew what these gadgets were.
But you should have seen the grin on their faces when the light dawned.
Thanks for bringing them the lights, you lot.
MORE TOMORROW …