The Rollercoaster Called “Tenele-Bell”

So Tenele never showed up Friday, right? Well, I got a letter later that day from Ayanda. Tenele had written me a letter and asked Ayanda to deliver it to me. She said that she still wanted to go to school but that her boyfriend, Cedric, wouldn’t let her go.

Ayanda proceeded to tell me more about this Cedric fellow. Apparently, he had met Tenele from the bar that she “worked” at. Tenele is VERY well known around Manzini, which is a sickening thought, so many guys would still come looking for her even after she stopped selling her body. So on the one hand, it seemed like Cedric was protecting her from some of these other men, because all she had to do was mention his name and the other men would leave her alone. While Tenele is well-known, Cedric is well-feared. But of course he still does Tenele harm, and one of the things was trying to prevent her from school. He tries to control her, and Ayanda informed me that Tenele would “need permission” from him to come see me. Fortunately, he “lets” her come see me but would tell her how long she gets to spend with me. When Ayanda told me that it all made sense why Tenele would always count the hours she spent with me for a day and leave at random times, saying she needed to go home.

But Tenele was so crushed when she couldn’t go to school so she told Ayanda that she didn’t care what Cedric said…she was coming to see me the following day so I could get her in school. So when Saturday came around, I was overly thrilled when Tenele showed up. We spent all day Saturday getting all the other kids who I had registered their school uniforms. We had a Land Cruiser packed with kids: Johannes, Pununu, Ayanda, Tenele, Nomphilo, Khanyisile, and Bongiwe. Tenele and Nomphilo had mended things over and it looked like they were all getting along very well (except for Bongiwe and Tenele in the beginning who had a long and drawn out almost yelling argument in SiSwati, which I had NO idea what they were talking about. I found out later Bongiwe didn’t like Tenele because Tenele had at one point dated her brother and Tenele didn’t like Bongiwe and they called each other prostitutes and both denied being one. [That info was all thanks to Ayanda who is such a doll and answers my questions even though she hates me asking.])

So, it ended up being a fabulous day! We took a picture together with their new uniforms!

Then Tuesday was the first day of school. I cannot tell you how AMAZING it was to see Tenele and all the kids in their uniforms. They looked so beautiful. It was one of the proudest moments of being here. Tenele would run up to me during school and I made sure to give her plenty attention to ease her way back into school. She came the next day and the next day! I was so excited. On day three she excitedly pulled me aside at school and said, “Mary-Kate! I promise I will stay in school…all the way to form five!” And looking at the raw joy of commitment, I believed her.

But day four came, the day after her promise…and she didn’t come. One of her classmates and close friend (actually her step-sister) told me that she wasn’t coming anymore. “What?!” I was baffled. It was so out of the blue. “She has a problem,” Winile told me. Apparently something had happened yesterday afternoon in her class and she and her group got yelled at by the teacher. They had gotten kicked out of class for the remainder of the day for not following directions and Tenele thought she was kicked out of school.

A few hours later, Tenele buzzed me. I called her and she was crying really hard on the other end. I thought something horrible had happened. “Are you okay, Tenele?” I asked in earnest. “No,” she managed to say. And I couldn’t make out the rest of what she said because she was crying. All I heard was something a teacher and school. “Okay, are you at Mangwaneni?” I asked. “Yes,” she responded. “Okay, I’m coming for you sweetheart, hang tight.” I was sure something else had happened to her. I couldn’t believe she was actually crying that hard, she didn’t even let me see her cry like that when she was stabbed. When I got there, she of course pretended nothing was wrong, but explained the whole situation at school and how she thought she had been kicked out. I explained to her that she wasn’t kicked out and that she could come to school early Monday and I would meet her in the morning to talk with her and the teacher. She eagerly agreed and said she’d be there on Monday.

Monday came…no Tenele. Tuesday came…no Tenele. Wednesday came…no Tenele. Nomphilo told me that Tenele was not coming anymore. I was crushed. I was confused. What had happened over the weekend that had changed Tenele’s mind?
But I still had hope she would come back, if only I could talk to her. And then Bongiwe told me that Tenele had sold her school uniform that I bought her. I was heart-broken. I was angered. I was fuming. I was disheartened. I was literally breaking inside. And the whole week showed it. There were so many emotions going through me, and there still are now. I haven’t seen my child since I left her that Thursday when she called me in tears. I haven’t seen her in three and a half weeks. It’s killing me.

She is such a rollercoaster. She is so up and down. Though I haven’t seen her, she did write me one more letter and gave it to Khanyisle to give to me. I will post it in the next blog so you can read it. But basically, it seemed like she was saying goodbye. At this point, I knew that there was nothing more I could do for her. I had offered everything, more than I had ever thought. I tried so hard. I spent so much time and love and energy chasing her…I gave her food, clothes, school, love…it is the most painful thing to know she threw it away. When I heard she had sold the uniform, it felt like a slap in the face. But I know it won’t end there…I know there will be a rainbow at the end of the storm.

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