For many a person, the question of whether or not to use soap when bathing is an inane question. Afterall, how else does one rid themselves of the dirt, but to use soap? This is not so for a family of four in Oshilulu village in Okahao constituency of Omusati region. For this family, the most pressing preoccupation each day is where to get the next day’s meal. They only eat once a day, and their meal consist of soaked mealie meal flour. Soaked because cooking the flour into porridge would dwindle the family rations, hence it’s soaked so that the portions are stretched until the next cycle when they receive another bag of flour from the drought relief programme.
Not to mention the fact that the water they use and consume is stolen, drawn from the neighbours wells and boreholes at night, when the neighbours are sleeping. The family has no energy to dig its own well, and no money to pay for the use of the neighbours’ either.
The family consists of 43-year-old Nelago Nashilongo, her two children, and her elderly mother who left her own matrimonial home and husband, to come care for her daughter. Nashilongo is HIV positive. And suffers from acute depression.
Nashilongo is a mother to five children, but one has sadly died. Each child has a different father, and only two bothered to help with child caring. She is now left with two children whose fathers have vanished entirely, denying any responsibility.
So Nashilongo’s mother, Hilma Amwaalwa, stepped in to help. That decision too, led to a broken home, and quite certainly the end of marriage for Amwaalwa. In coming to stay with her daughter and assist where she can, she left her matrimonial homestead against her husband’s wishes. Which in itself is abadonment of marriage, as far as Amwaalwa’s husband is concerned.
“The day that shook my heart was when my daughter started walking naked without a single cloth (on her body). When I received a report from a caring neighbour, I told my husband that I have to go take care of my daughter, he refused, but I surrendered my marriage for her,” said Amwaalwa when New Era Weekend visited the homestead.
None of the two children who now live with Nashilongo have ever, in their entire lives, seen the inside of a classroom. They cannot read or write.
New Era Weekend visited the family in the evening, a time when many village homesteads would be preparing supper. The Nashilongo family was seated in the cooking area of the homestead patiently waiting on the tradditional wild spinach boiling on fire. Wild spinach has sprouted thanks to the recent rains, much to the relief and joy of the Nashilongo household.
“We say this year we are lucky that we have received some rain. We have harvested wild spinach and have something to eat,” said the matriach Amwaalwa amid smiling faces around the cooking fire.
Before the rain they would wet maize meal flour and eat it uncooked for fear of finishing it before the next round of the drought relief food distribution. Rarely is the drought relief food distributed with relish, or cooking oil, often it’s just the flour. “If we cook porridge, the flour will finish. We will wet a little of the flour once a day so that we would have something to eat,” they said.
Amwaalwa says, the fact that Nashilongo gave birth to children without fathers and has no means of earning a living by herself has been a disturbing factor, that motivated her to leave her matrimonial homestead after seeing her child suffering.
“Imagine I am the one that named these children. The children, do not have surnames, they aren’t baptised, (and have) no national documents. It is very disturbing,” said Amwaalwa. The children, Nangula and Aludhilu, are aged 16 and 17. They do not go to school because Nashilongo constantly wants them close by her. Perhaps because of her depression and abadonment issues caused by the men who fathered the children, she does not want the children to leave the homestead for long stretches of time.
The mother refused the children to go to school claiming that they are fine at home and she doesn’t want them out of the house. The children don’t even have health cards, required at hospital.
“As you look at them like that they do not go to church, they don’t go to school, they are just home. I don’t know what to do, it is too late now,” said a frustrated Amwaalwa.
“I am very old and my daughter is not feeling well. How are we going to get water? All we can do is wake up early in the morning to get water from the wells that are not locked so we will get water for drinking,” said the 59 year old Amwaalwa. At that age she still has some years to go before she qualifes for the government pension grant.
“Whenever the medicines of Nashilongo get finnished I have to go call the police to take her to the hospital because I cannot afford to pay transport,” she said. Amwaalwa said she did plead with officials at the home affairs office in Outapi to come take Nashilongo’s fingerprints and those of her children for national identification and birth certification, but they refused. The two children told of their wish to once again taste the traditional beverage made with sorghum or fingermillet, oshikundu. The last time they had that taste on their tongues, they say, was when they were very young.
To sleep, the the family shares one roof in which the children sleep on the floor while the elders share a mini bed that is made of palm tree branches. There is no mattress. They have put together old clothes for comfort. Amwaalwa says they are lucky her husband gave them a blanket for the cold, which the children are now using.