By Shannon Wilson
I drove to the interview with water, a cell phone and some money in my Guess wallet. When I arrived I saw clay huts with straw roofs and small children dressed in slightly discoloured rags. Vast kilometers of the surrounding land were empty.
Two babies covered in dry red mud sat on the ground, one crying and the other still. A woman of about 50 watched over them. I was unsure of how to approach them. My privileged upbringing held me back.
My thoughts were interrupted when the babies’ English-speaking uncle, Shibani, introduced me to his father. I held my hand out to greet him. Looking puzzled by my gesture, he cupped his hands together twice while bending his knees in unison- the typical Shona greeting and show of respect. The old man’s beard was ash grey, his straw cowboy hat rested firmly on his head and his trousers were tucked tightly into black gum boots. He could speak little English.
I was then introduced to the woman watching the babies, their grandmother. She is dressed in dirty clothes herself, a blue flower printed shirt, with a red and green headdress to shade her lined face from the sun.
I was there to talk about the babies, who were a year old and whose mother had died during childbirth, leaving them with their destitute grandparents. As I looked around at the barren land, it was evident that they, and everyone around them, were struggling. There were no crops in the fields, no cows or goats in sight; food was scarce and there was no sign of water anywhere. I had not imagined their situation being this dire. It seems ridiculous now that I could have gone there expecting to just write the article, help the babies and move on with the next story. I wanted to do more to help.
The children’s grandmother, Erin, could speak English. She said, “I want them to be okay. To have food. We have no food for them.”
There I stood in stark contrast to a woman 30 years my senior. She was starving. I was dressed in new, clean clothes; she was dressed in brown stained sheets and a shirt. I was born into privilege and she was not.
I asked to photograph the twins for the paper. Erin frowned and said, “I have to change them. They must be clean.” She went into the small clay hut with the twins and when she returned the boy twin, Lungile Ndlovu, was dressed in a clean, bright navy blue and turquoise striped shirt and the girl twin, Lydia Ndlovu, had a purple long-sleeved shirt on underneath her pretty denim dress.
With the babies dressed, the family assembled. I took their pictures before leaving. I gave them what little money I had on me and I debated giving them the rest of my half-eaten sandwich. I decided against this. It felt wrong to give them what I had discarded. It would have been disrespectful.
I drove away in the comfort of my car and the faces of those two small babies stayed imprinted in my mind.