Tenele Update Continued…
I arrived back in Swaziland the beginning of this week. One of the first things I did was call Tenele. Still dead. I talked to Thembi and found out Thembi had the same results. I called Tenele every day this week…same result. I just had a bad feeling and was really started getting worried about her. On Friday(yesterday), Eilidh and I decided to go to Mangwaneni. I was praying that I would find her or find some idea of where she is or how she is doing from people at Mangwaneni. “I know it’s not going to happen,” I muttered to God about seeing Tenele there, “but please, I just need hope…something…”
Upon arriving, I met Pununu, who eagerly greeted me with a big hug. My, how tall he is getting! We exchanged greetings and talked about his exams. Then I asked if he could help me find Ayanda. While I was gone for the week, Ayanda apparently came to the volunteer house looking for me three times! What a sweetheart! So we embarked into parts of Mangwaneni I had never been before. We finally made it to a cement hut at the end and Pununu knocked on the door. An older man came out and they exchanged some words in SiSwati, and Pununu disappeared around the corner. “Just wait here,” the older man told me.
“Unjani bobe?(how are you, father?)” I asked, to make small talk. He replied to the greeting in SiSwati and then we made small talk to pass the awkward waiting time. Soon I heard Ayanda’s excited laughter as she came running around the corner. “Ayanda!” I exclaimed as she basically flew into my arms. We quickly left to travel back up to the top of Mangwaneni and that’s when Ayanda told me that the man was her step-father.
“He sometimes beats too much,” she said nonchalantly.
“Does he beat you?” I asked.
“Eish. Just yesterday!” she exclaimed. But she quickly shrugged it off and said she usually doesn’t stay with him. The more we talked, I asked if she knew where Nomphilo lived (Nomphilo is one of Tenele’s friends). “Nomphilo? No. But Tenele’s here.” Ayanda knows all about my mission to help Tenele.
“She’s here?!” I nearly jumped out of my sneakers. “Like… here as in right now?” I needed to clarify that I was understanding her English.
“Yes, she’s been staying here for a couple weeks now.”
“Really? With who?”
“I… don’t know…”
“Can you take me to her?”
Both Ayanda and Pununu just laughed at me. “Ah, Mary-Kate…” she hesitated. It took some coaxing but eventually Ayanda gave in and the three of us set off to find Tenele.
They took me through different parts of Mangwaneni when I was mauled by a group of little kids yelling, “Umlungu! Umlungu (white person)!” As I was preoccupied with the kids, Ayanda disappeared, so I turned to Pununu to ask if they found Tenele.
“Up there,” he nodded to a few young women who were staring at me…actually, more like glaring at me.
“She’s hiding,” Ayanda called as she reappeared.
“Hiding? Why is she hiding?” I said loud enough for all of them to hear. There was some laughter and muttled talk I couldn’t understand. “Tenele!” I called.
“In the green hat,” Pununu softly offered.
Sure enough, in-between two glaring faces, a third one with a green hat appeared.
I waved eagerly, not put off by the opposing looks. “Tenele! Buya sisi!” (Come here, sister!)
She laughed and disappeared. I waited a few minutes longer with the kids while she slowly showed herself and came closer. You know that “sixth” sense we sometimes have? Well, I just knew something was wrong by seeing her approach, and it was like my heart sank without even knowing why. But when she reluctantly accepted my hug, I knew exactly why. Her eyes were so glazed over; she had this odd, fake smile plastered on her face, and she tried her hardest not to look at me. Either she was very, very drunk, or high…or both. Whatever she was, it was heart-breaking. She lingered not but a moment, and at my inquiry of where Nomphilo was, she then bolted back to the other girls (who were still watching me with magnetic eyes) and basically shoved Nomphilo down to me. Nomphilo had this shameful smile on her face, too, like she didn’t know what to do when I tried to talk to her. She looked back to the other girls, who were laughing hysterically, and I knew there was no point in trying to talk to her because she had no idea what I was saying.
She went back up to the girls and Tenele came back down. Seemingly agitated, (probably because I saw her like this), she spat some words in SiSwati to Ayanda and Pununu. Imagining that she was mad at them for taking me to her, I gave her arm a gentle tug and directed her attention to me. “Tenele, look at me. Hey…look at me.” She turned her face to me. “You know I love you, right?”
At this comment her face sobered up a bit. She nodded, but could hold my gaze no longer. “And you know I care about you, yes?” She nodded again, still looking off to the side. “And you know that I want you to have a good future?” Again, she nodded. “But Tenele, I can only help you if you let me; I can only help you if you want a better future,” I paused to see if she understood. “Do you still want to go to school?”
“Then, you have to show up. Tenele,” I paused and tried to get her to look at me so that she knew this was serious. “Tenele, I CANNOT get you into school if you don’t come next week. We are running out of time. And if you’re in school that means you need to come to town every day…” she nodded as if she understood, though I’m not sure exactly what all she will remember. But I have confidence that something stuck. I have hope that this unplanned meeting woke her up a bit; I know she doesn’t want me to know about her lifestyle, and she was so embarrassed when she saw me.
“Mary-Kate, I will come,” she affirmed. “I will come tomorrow…twelve o’clock.”
“Okay,” I sighed, knowing full well there was a minimal chance she would follow through. We hugged and she quickly departed, disappearing behind the huts. As Ayanda, Pununu, and I started to leave and we turned the corner, I looked over to see if she was still there. I couldn’t see her but the other girls were still there…still staring.
“Ba-bye!” I sent them a friendly smile and wave. Surprisingly, it was returned.