Gill sat with the book on her lap for a long time, no energy left to turn the pages and face the heartache and unfairness of one small boy’s life that represented so clearly the lives of so many small children living on the streets, forgotten and discarded by society.

Later, when she had returned to what was now her new home for the next half a year she had pursued the rest of the story from the Social Work team and anyone who had or still has contact with Peter.

Peter had learned some of the tricks of the trade whilst living on the streets and he hitched rides and walked the long and harsh journey to Arusha. On arrival he was immediately identified as a new but one who bore the look of not being a newcomer to the streets. This made him a threat to the crews of long-term hard-core street boys. Maybe he came looking for a new territory. His first few days in Arusha were brutal and hard, the law of the streets dictates that the strongest always win and Peter had been beaten severely by one crew of boys but stubbornly refused to submit and give them his allegiance. Peter was quoted in one report as has having explained:

“It’s OK I was the new kid in a new town, I hadn’t proved myself here. Hey man, life on the streets has to have some order you know?”

The report stated he had shrugged his shoulders almost nonchalantly.

“They don’t see me, they just see a piece of s*** who’s all alone. It doesn’t always have to be other street boys,” he told one Social Worker later when asked about this time. “Guards, police, whatever … I’m just a piece of s*** to them.”

He was focussed on finding these white rescuers the boys in Dar had spoken about and the network of street vendors, kids and workers at the bus station soon identified him to the Social Work team from the nearby centre for street kids in Moshi.

On arrival at the centre he had explained he wanted them to take his sister and care for her, he had come looking for them or someone like them. He was documented as being young, aloof but respectful and highly focused on his sister. The decision was reached, Peter could not be helped without first helping him to resolve the issue of Habiba. The Social Work team also knew the chances of a positive resolution to this were slim. They agreed to take him back to Dar.

On arrival at Dar es Salaam the report quotes:

As we stepped off the bus I watched Peter change, his body language took on typical evidence of aggression and power. He suddenly adopted a loping, rhythmical walk as if he were listening to a private music channel. He looked around, wary but confident. He was back on home turf and he wanted the street boys to know this.

They returned to where Peter and Habiba had lived with his mother, where they learned that Habiba had gone to work as a house maid for “a man”. Peter’s mother’s friend was evasive and unfriendly; clearly Habiba had either been pushed out or maybe sold for a bag of rice or beans. There was no trace of her.

Peter’s reaction had been one of quiet shock and horror, his life had clearly lost all meaning. He was taken straight back to Moshi, the Social Worker wanted him to be cared for emotionally at the centre. He had grave concerns re his mental state after the news. Peter was described as being “too quiet”, the anger was there but not showing yet.

The Social Worker returned to Dar es Salaam to locate Peter’s extended family and try to find word of Habiba, what he learned there, together with Peter’s story book pieced together events previously told.

Peter jumped the wall and left the centre after a week or ten days, the anger had still not manifested itself and he had been sullen and unfriendly with the other kids, try as they might the care givers could not get through the emotional wall he had created around himself. He had given up little information in this time apart from lies. The kids often made up stories when they first arrived at the centre, it was a defence mechanism, trust isn’t given easily or quickly. The kids want the food and clothes from the centre, the centre wants their story to enable reunification, so the kids create a story hoping everyone will be happy.

“That’s not telling lies,” Gill had tried to explain. “That’s just fibbing.” She had quickly given up trying to show the difference, life in Tanzania is simple, if one word covers it, why have two or three?

Peter had returned to Arusha where he was quickly lost in the depths of street life. He ran away every time one of the Social Workers from the centre saw him. But they never gave up on him. They kept looking and they kept listening to reports of him, he was respected amongst the kids and his friends talked of “no-one messes with Peter’s friends”.

It was a year before Peter started to talk to the Social Worker’s and a further month before he agreed to return to the centre. It was at this time that he started to tell his story via the pictures. Over the next year or so he jumped the wall five times and each time he returned he had slipped a little further, his dreams had faded more and the light in his eyes had dulled.

Gill learned of the violence that the Social worker’s believe Peter had experienced on the streets, they knew he had been the victim of a gang rape initiation at some point, probably early on in Dar. He had only told of it once but his attitude led them to believe he felt that it had made him stronger on the streets, a man.

Like all the kids from the streets Peter’s attitude to sex was dismissive. His direct contact with HIV through his mother left him aware of the issues but he dissociated any risks to himself from any sexual activity in his life. There are corrupt and inexplicable people that have used Peter and all of these kids in such a way that they are left with little or no respect for their bodies. Street kids’ bodies are just an asset.

Today, Peter is back on the streets, he is a leader of sorts and he tries to look after his crew, he maintains contact with the centre and is a regular at the drop-in centre, where he can at least wash and clean himself two or three times a week. He shows no interest in painting or drawing pictures that the centre can then sell to raise funds, despite his clear creative ability. He does sometimes sit and make beaded jewellery with the others but usually he just hangs out watching.

As Mary had told Gill before.

“You can’t save them all. We just have to do what we can do. But Peter and all the others like him will always be a part of our ethos; we will never give up on him.” Gill looked at Mary sadly nodding her head at the truth of Mary’s words. Finally after a few moments of silence Gill summed it all up.

“Yeah, but Peter has given up on Peter.”

***

If you want to know more about helping the real boys and girls behind this story please follow this link: 

$9 less than £6 or €7 per month feeds one child three nutritious meal a day – each month 

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4 thoughts on “Searching for Habiba

  1. Such a touching example of familial love. Even though Peter is having to tough out his existence the sole focus for him is the bond to his sister. And it’s such a sad tale that Peter has given up on himself. In some ways I hoped there would be a good resolution to this tale. Reality, however, is reality!

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