Titi, Tiny, and Tenele
I am so humbled by the love my Swazi friends have shown me. They are seriously the most selfless people I have ever met. I am amazed by them, and I learn something new about love and faith from them every day. I wish you all could meet them. They would change your life, like they’ve changed mine. I could go on and on about each one (Musa, Lelo, Cynthia, Ncobile, and Titi) but to spare you from my babbling, I’m going to tell you about Titi. Titi has gone out of her way numerous times to help me with whatever I needed to do. She also makes sure I am safe. For example, one afternoon I was going to walk to Mangwaneni but it was already late afternoon so she told me she wouldn’t let me go but if I could wait for the next day, she would change her plans and walk me to Mangwaneni to make sure I’m safe. She literally drops her plans to do anything for me. And people just don’t do that so readily in the States like they do here, so it’s quite refreshing to be among such selflessness. Titi has been instrumental in helping me find Tenele as well. So, here’s the story…Titi came with me one day to Mangwaneni so she could translate as I asked Iyanda (one of Tenele’s old friends) about where to find Tenele. I had hoped that Tenele would’ve somehow shown up by now, but since she hadn’t, I was determined to go out looking for her. Through conversation with Iyanda, Titi found out that Iyanda didn’t know where Tenele was but she did know a young girl who had previously lived with Tenele. Titi told her to go fetch the girl and come back. We had no idea who this girl was or if she would even come. But we waited there…and waited… I honestly had no faith the girl would come. “I don’t think they are coming, Titi,” I finally said.
Titi told me, “Mary-Kate, just be patient.” She had told Iyanda to bring the young girl to us before 5:00 because that’s when we had to leave. So we waited longer. I always thought I was okay at being patient, but ever since I have been back in Swazi, I’ve realized I am quite horrible at it. So I tried to be more patient as we waited. Sure enough, at 5:02 three girls came up the path. Iyanda and her friend brought a teenaged girl named Tiny. Apparently, Tiny had lived with Tenele and was also a prostitute but she ended up finding her way back home. Titi talked to her and arranged for us to meet on Thursday at 1:00 so that Tiny could take us to Tenele. Thursday Sept. 16th:I woke up at 6:45 and went to mass with my roommate Carolyn. I was super excited about the day. I prayed and put my trust in the Lord’s hands. Instead of going to school this morning (because Ryan went back to say goodbye to his classes, so I didn’t need to be there) I did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, swept the living room floor and the hallway, and checked my room again for cockroaches. At a little bit to 1:00 I drove to the AIM office and pulled in just in time to catch Musa on his way out. We talked for a little bit and he prayed for our adventure to find Tenele. Titi and I then ventured out to Mangwaneni to hope that Tiny would show up at the kitchen like we had planned. We arrived and she wasn’t there. Honestly, I wasn’t really expecting her to come. But I knew we could find her if we needed to. I hung out with the kids as they fought for who could hold my hand, and they begged, “tata” which makes “take me” (pick me up). A few minutes later, when I was completely distracted and content with waiting on the Lord, Tiny shows up. I was honestly surprised as heck to see her. I was so happy. So we drove off and Tiny directed us (through Titi’s translation) to where Tenele stayed. It was quite the off-roading adventure. The dirt road was bumpy and uphill. My heart was starting to pound. I felt like the father in the Bible story of the Prodigal Son, except the fact that Tenele wasn’t coming back, I was going looking for her. Finally, Tiny directed us to stop. We parked, climbed out, and walked down the dirt path towards a homestead. Up ahead I saw a group of girls around Tanele’s age; when they looked up and saw us approaching, they scattered, and disappeared into one of the huts. I couldn’t see Tenele from how far back we were, but I heard a delightful scream and a young girl came charging down the dirt path. IT WAS TENELE!!! …literally charging down the road and kicking up dust with her bare feet. It was seriously like a movie! She ran full force into my arms, nearly plowing me over! It felt like my child had come back to me– like the father of the prodigal son. Titi and I talked with her and her friend a little while. They braided half my head (we ran out of time) but it was so nice just being there with her. I told her that I was going to take some other kids out for lunch after school on Friday and invited her to come along, which of course she joyously accepted. Friday, Sept. 17th
I met Tenele and her friend Khanisile as we waited for Pununu, Sphilile, and Temu to walk back from school. We had a lovely lunch at “Nando’s” (a personal favorite chicken restaurant). Because Tenele was with her friend, I couldn’t get a whole lot of information from her. But I invited her to Mantenga Falls the following day. After Tenele said she would come, I was looking forward to having more conversation with her the next day. But she never showed up. However, Sunday night I received a few phone calls from an odd number…I had previously given Tenele my phone number (even though she didn’t have a phone) just in case she had access to one and could call me. On Monday morning, while I was teaching, I received another 6 missed calls from that same number. Must be Tenele, I thought. Sure enough…the phone call was from Tenele! She walked into town that day to meet me at my house. She brought two friends this time, Khansile and Nomphilo, both around 14 years old. As we walked around town that Monday, I finally got more information out of Tenele. I had asked her different questions about where she was staying and what she was doing… but she refused to give me an honest answer. I took the girls to the MYC office to talk to someone about how to get the three girls enrolled in school. Last year, when I talked to Tenele about it, she didn’t want to go to school, but this year, that was one of the first things she said to me… “Mary-Kate, I want to go to school.” After the office visit, I realized it was going to be so much harder to get her in school because there were so many things I didn’t know about her life. Finally, I stopped her, had her look directly at me and said, “Tenele, you need to tell me the truth about these things otherwise I can’t help you. I need to know the truth.”She nodded her head in agreement. As I asked different questions again, she was much more honest. I found out her and her friend Khansile are still in prostitution, or the way she said it, “selling their bodies”, but she said her other friend Nomphilo is too afraid. Tenele asked me if I wanted to meet her sister and I said of course. So, at the end of the afternoon, Tenele walked me to Siyabonga bar, where her sister works (and apparently where Tenele and Khansile do, too). We walked through the bus rank, and I felt sick. The way the guys looked at the three young girls with me was so disgusting. We got near the bar and stopped. Tenele told her friends to go fetch her sister while we waited there. So it was just me, Tenele, and another girl Iyanda. A group of guys started coming over upon recognizing Tenele. One older man came after Tenele and she screamed and hid behind me. The man still kept coming, trying to get to her through me, so I shoved him in the stomach. It was 4 p.m. and it literally smelled like he had taken a bath in alcohol; he was so drunk. He left and the other guys stopped approaching when they saw me trying to protect Tenele. But one guy yelled to me, “Hey umlungu! (white person) How much are these ones?!” (referring to the girls.) I was so mad; I wanted to punch someone. I pretended not to hear them and continued talking to the girls and pretending that I wasn’t scared. I probably would’ve punched someone if I wasn’t so outnumbered. It was the first time I felt unsafe since I’ve been back in Swazi. When I left the girls that night, I was so distraught. It was finally real for me. How in the world can I help these girls get out of this lifestyle? Step by step. It’s been really hard the past few days with Tenele. She has such a hard edge and is so mean to others sometimes (and to me). But she is still so starving for true love. She can be really hard to love sometimes, but in my prayer the other day, these words kept coming to mind: “love her anyway…love her anyway.” What can I do to help? Love her. “Love one another DEEPLY from the heart…”1 Peter 1:22