“… I don’t know the reason but I always feel persecuted, whenever a person disturbs my area, I feel like it’s an attack on me. I learnt that word yesterday: I overheard my father pronouncing it from the dictionary, he spoke out the meaning… persecution.”

(She pauses )

” Here, there are many birds, but they only come out in the morning. Once it’s hot, they rest in the shade. My mother says they’re like people, they’re lazy!”

(She pauses)

“In school, my teacher knows how to use her GSM like a computer: Sometimes she sends letters & then my other teacher’s phone rings!” 

(She pauses)

“One day, I’m going to have a big house that I will have a big celebration in, with all my family. I’ve seen it before: Sometimes, I stop in the town centre & watch the TV. It has satellite & all the people sit on the ground & watch the TV. You can watch films, the men like to argue whenever football is on the TV. But I can’t stay when they show other women, they have a time when you can see fashion but I must return to fetch water because my mother is sick. “

(She pauses)

“I don’t know anywhere, this is my home. We have some farms around us but everywhere is bush. Sometimes snakes come to visit us but the neighbor’s sons kill them, because our house are together.”

(She pauses)

“Snake meat is good, they can sell it for very expensive. In the city, they like to eat python.”

(She pauses)

“My brother is after me, then I have 2 sisters. They’re very young, so I must take care of them a lot. My brother helps to clean the house. He can boil water & cook some food from the stove. But we only use that when my father is around. The kerosene is expensive, so we use the firewood that the traders sell us. They pass by every two weeks.”

(She pauses)

“It doesn’t matter if I don’t go to school a lot, my mother says I have to be a woman so that they will find a man for marriage & provide for the family. We sleep together in one room, I’m waiting to make it better. They don’t know because I don’t tell them but one day when I’m going to get money, I’m going to build a new house for them & we will have smooth floor & windows & iron door. They will think I’m rich because it’s going to have a generator set & a ceiling fan & radio. My brother & sisters will have a big bed & radio. My mother will have her own TV, a new one, so she can watch all the fashion inside her bed.”

(She pauses)

“My father came back yesterday but he has returned in the afternoon. He works at the coast in the town, he collects rubbish & sells. Whenever he comes back he always brings something along. We’ have collected a wall clock, a teddy bear, a little table, even pots to cook. Yesterday, he brought some books with the dictionary. Daddy was a postman, the post closed down & sacked him. When the war broke out, we lost everything. I was little, my brother was inside my mother’s stomach when we ran away with my father, into the bushes. We were hiding from the militia. I still remember there were other families with us, all of us were crying. When anyone would hear something, we would all be quiet. Then when it go again, we would cry again. We lived in the bush for 9 months, my brother was born there. All the families supported my mother & they prayed for my brother. They always said he was special, that he is a blessing to us. One of the men told me to watch after him because my brother will become our guardian.”

(She smiles)

“After the war, we did not return, everywhere was burnt down & it was not safe so we returned to the coast. They formed a community there & this our home. My sisters were born here, they are twins. Some girls here have been taken far away, to the city. They are going to sell their body to buy food. Their mothers here are upset but they are feeding their children. One of them, I know, is from my class. She is 13, the rest are 15, maybe 17.”

(She pauses)

“I haven’t eat since yesterday. I always get headache & my stomach hurts. When we were hiding in the bush, we would eat big pig & everyone would eat together. There was plenty food because there was no money, many animals & bush. We had a fire in the night and slept because the animals were afraid of fire. I can’t give my body to a man & collect money for it. I am special. I wouldn’t know how much to tell him to pay. My father is abused sometimes because he smells bad, when he returns from work, but they don’t know he used to work in an office. He was a postman & he can read & write. He has finished school! Many who abuse him don’t work, they just sit around all day & look at people everyday. My mother tells me to stay away from them… I don’t like them!”

(She pauses)

“Money is bad: People kill each other for money. People steal & do bad things, all because of money. But I want money! So that I can have a lot, to buy my father an office again & a car. He will wear nice clothes & smell good all the time. And then I want to marry a gentleman. He will take care of me & treat me nice. I want many children & my brother & sisters will know them very well. And when they have their children, they will all play & grow up together.”

(She smiles)

“I dream one dream & it always return many nights: That I will be a queen of town & a very important lady. I will be on TV & not the one sitting on the ground. I will wear a long, royal dress & many jewels. I will provide work for all women & all the girls will be given many good meals every day, so they will not be hungry anymore. And they won’t have to sell their body for bad price. Because they’re special, too. I will make a school for them, where they are taught to do anything they want & when they leave, they will become everything they want. I will make peace everywhere so that there will be no more war & nobody will have to live inside the bush. And they won’t have to sell snake for money or kill big pig to eat. My mother will have a doctor visit her & treat her at home & she will become well & play with us. I won’t be walking early in the morning before school to fetch water from the next town, again. I won’t be carrying heavy jerrycans for 2 hours every day to my house, so that we can eat, drink, cook & bath. I will buy a water pump, like they have in where I take water.”

(She pauses)

She looks out into the bright, empty, dried-shrub-covered landscape, marked by a few Baobab trees, amid the scorching heat. In her hands, she’s holding a little branch: She had been peeling at it ever since. She’s clothed in rags: Her blouse is so dirty it’s brown & her shorts are, in several places, patched up – her father’s work. Resting against the wall of her home, she sits on the ground outside, in the shade; listening to the eagles vocalizing & watching as they glide through the sky, hardly flapping their wings for minutes. She looks at the poster on a wall, opposite her. It’s a news article, tattered, with the bold headline ‘SUPERSTAR: AFRICAN POP PRINCESS ON WORLD TOUR; PROMOTES OWN RURAL POVERTY ALLEVIATION SCHEME’. It’s got a large image of a smiling adolescent girl in large sunglasses & designer clothes, holding a naked child & surrounded by local villagers cheering her. That must be what it’s like when you’ve arrived! Next to the young girl is her jerrycan, ready for refilling from the next hour’s walk.

She looks deep at the image, gradually returning to her reality. Her stomach is still churning & her headache’s worse.

“I know you understand what I mean.” she says, still looking at the poster, in a heart-breaking tone. As she looks back out again, into the open, blazing-hot, barren wilderness, she mumbles quietly to herself:

“We are the same!”

The above writing is a work of fiction, based on real issues, to paint a picture of the combination of sociocultural & economic conditions that breed abject poverty & create the ecosystems necessary to torment & exploit rural girls, in the 21st century. Any resemblance of the characters to any people living or dead, is purely coincidental. The writing is composed in subtle forms of African vernacular English.