I can’t say for how long I have known Salvador. He started to appear on my neighbourhood when he was around six years old. His poor family sent him to a school situated in the “rich” area of the town. Clever boy he was, he soon discovered he could study in the morning and spend the afternoon begging for his empty belly and the needs of his family.
He learned the art of street wisdom and the ways to please potential donors. He fell for our family as we fell for him. At first I didn’t see Salvador amongst so many others like him. But one day he shouted very laudly “Andy’s mom!” and our relationship started at that precise moment.
In the years to come he would never call me Seabell, because in African tradition if you have a child you became socially too important to have only your own name. You are much more than a name, you are already someone capable of giving birth. Your status increases a lot.
He knows everything about us: the days we go out, the usual hours to go to a certain place and how we feel in different occasions. Very respectful, he learned to be polite as a chevalier. He opens my door and helps in any he can. If we don’t give him a coin, he blinks his eye to show complicity: “Next time!” or “Today you don’t have to, it was a good day for me!”
Long ago I felt compelled to take him under my protection but it was impossible because he has a family that he also loves and protects. I saw Salvador growing in the streets and learning more there than in the schools. I remember phases of his growth: times when he looked sleek and times when he became very fat because he was spending a lot of the moedas (coins) he received buying the cakes of a local patisserie. Today he is a grown man. From time to time I ask with concern: “Have you seen Salvador lately?” Depending on the answer, I start to see images of him: Salvador in a South African mine, selling his lungs to feed his family; Salvador with street girls, learning love the hardest way and possibly getting a deadly disease; Salvador selling or consuming drugs…
If we don’t see him for more than a week, we ask the dozens of other children just like him for his whereabouts: “Where is Salvador? Is he all right?” Usually the answer reassures me but I know, deep inside, one day I’ll hear the words that are painfully written on my mind. I also know that on that day a part of me will dive into the deepest pool of sorrow.
I haven’t seen Salvador for more then 4 years now (2012). I still worry about his fate. This town grew immensely and I comfort myself with the vague notion he is one in the crowd making a living. The cinema points to a human quality lost because of the metropolis. I agree. Nobody can teach certain simple things like the need to protect children. That has to be felt and changed from the inside. Even though organizations and other institutions can do a lot, it’s the families and society in general that must learn ways to improve the present and future of Mozambican children.
Photos by Ismael Miquidade.