My Brother’s Adventure
Chasing a relationship with a loved one can sometimes lead to more loss than gain. Bongani Siziba says that letting go of the idea of what a big brother should be was both scary and freeing.
Growing up in Zimbabwe, Bongani lived with his mother and father in a village where they survived on the money his father made while working as a miner.
“My dad was not often around because of his job, I wish I could have seen him more. Mostly it would just be me and my mom, I didn’t mind because I loved my mother and she was very caring. I also had an older brother (now 26), we shared a mother but have different fathers. He would live between our house and my grandmother’s in a neighbouring village. I would often hear stories about him, mostly about his bad behaviour. He would steal money to pay for his trips when he ran away from home. My memories of him at our house are faint, but I remember having fun with him when he was around. I think he struggled to stay in one place at a time, he was too curious and wanted to know what was out there. But he always returned.”
Bongani says that he felt the absence of his father and brother even more when his mother got sick.
“I think I was about six when I noticed that my mom wasn’t feeling well, she would sleep often which was not like her because she was normally fit and strong. I remember we had a tree that had peanuts and she would always pick the peanuts for us. After she got sick that wouldn’t happen anymore. She would try to do things but got tired quickly and needed to lie down. There were many times when I tried to help her, but I never knew what to do.
“I remember cooking for her once, I made spinach and pap; two of the things that we loved eating. I hoped that it would make her feel better. I had learned how to cook by watching her over the years. She would take wood outside, make a fire, then place a pot on the fire and cook the food.
“After I cooked I remember dishing for her first, then walking to the tap and filling a bucket of water where she could wash her hands, then I dished for myself. While sitting on the floor next to the bed, I watched her eating. She was thinner then and I remember her wrists being small like mine. She finished before me and I was proud because she said she enjoyed it.”
As his mother’s condition worsened she told Bongani that one of his cousins would be staying with them.
“She told me that my cousin was coming to look after me and that she was going to the hospital. I felt sad because I was going to miss her but I thought it might be for the best so she could get better. My cousin, who was in her teens, arrived a few days later.”
Bongani, now 7, describes his cousin as loving, understanding and comforting.
“I think my mom might have had a feeling that she didn’t have long to live and wanted someone young to care for me. She knew that my cousin would be that person. When I told her that I missed my mom she would always say ‘big boy it’s going to be alright’.”
About two months later, Bongani found out that his mother had passed away.
“My father came back from the mine and I overheard him talking to my cousin saying that my mom passed away at my grandmother’s house when she returned from the hospital. I thought I might have misunderstood them because they did not speak to me directly. I felt deep sadness. A few days later when I was walking to school, a guy who lived in the same village said to me that he was sorry to hear my mom had passed away. I felt angry that this guy knew about my mother’s death but my own father couldn’t tell me about it. I decided to keep quiet. ”
A couple of weeks later, Bongani moved to live with his grandmother were he got more information about his mother’s death.
“I had twin cousins (8) who were living with my grandmother. They told me that they were sorry that my mom passed away and showed me where she was buried. The burial site is close to my grandmother’s house on the same premises. My cousins told me that my mother and their mother were buried next to each other.
“I had questions about why I wasn’t able to see her buried or to be at her funeral. After she left for hospital I never saw her again. I continued keeping to myself but I wished my brother was around. I thought that because we were going through the same loss that he would support me, like big brothers are supposed to. Even though I had my cousins around, I still felt alone.”
Bongani stayed with his grandmother for a year and half, attending school and growing closer to his cousins until his brother came around and changed the trajectory of his life.
“I came home from school and saw my brother at my grandmother’s house. I was happy to see him; I had missed making jokes with him. While he was there we grew closer and it felt good to have my big brother with me. One of our favourite things to do was play with a wheelbarrow, I would sit inside and he would push me in the yard around our grandmother’s house. I felt connected to him.
“One evening we were talking and my brother became excited when he mentioned his adventures in the city. He told me that I must join him and that in the city they have the biggest, fastest, coolest cars and that I would drive in these cars. Life would be better, he said, because we would have no house work to do.
“At my grannies there were a lot of chores to do, we would need to work with the cattle and clean our home. None of us were fond of the house work. So, I thought okay I’ll see what the city is like and then come back. I was only eight years old.
“My grandmother would keep her money in a tin and the day before we left my brother stole it. We woke up at normal time, it was the weekend so my cousins were looking after the cows and my grandmother was at the farm. We walked for about 40 minutes to the town of Gwanda. When we got there we took a taxi to the next town where we spent a night on the street. I felt scared but excited because we were on an adventure and I knew that my big brother would keep me safe. We settled in front of a shop and shielded ourselves with some cardboard.
“The following day we took a taxi to Bulawayo where we jumped on a train to the Beitbridge border. We had a plan to hide in the toilet but it stank too much. So we decided to hide from the guards under the seats of the passengers throughout the trip. We knew if we were caught we would be beaten up, so we were very still. The people on the train were nice to us, some of them gave us peanuts to eat.”
Bongani and his brother arrived in Messina and lived on the streets for a few months.
“Life was not easy or safe. Once we were looking for cardboard to sleep under, when a guy who had lost his bottle thought we had taken it and chased us with his belt. I wasn’t as fast as my brother so I fell and the man beat me. I escaped with the help of my brother who pushed the guy away.
“A part of me was grateful to be with my brother, because I always wanted to spend time with him. Now we were living together but it was very difficult. We had to get our own food, we had no place to stay and the cars that I thought we would ride in… never came around. They were hard times and I began to see my brother differently because he had lied to me.
“I missed being with my granny and I was upset with my brother, but too scared to argue with him. I didn’t know if he would leave me on my own.”
While on the streets the pair made a friend.
“He was younger than my brother but knew more about life on the streets. He told us that Cape Town was the place to be. At that time we were being chased by police everyday so we needed to go somewhere else.”
Bongani says that to survive the three would beg for food and money to take taxis from one town to another.
“We would split up to beg, then we would come together again and join our money. We would buy bread and then travel to our next destination. When there was no money we would walk, sometimes for hours.”
Before long the group found their way to Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, where their friend knew someone who could help them.
“We stayed with the guy for a while, but he began to take our money and also lied to people about us. He used to say that he had put us into schools and this was not true. We knew we needed to leave.
“One of the neighbours told us about a shelter for children in the area so we decided to go there because we were tired of being on the streets. Cape Town was dangerous, I had already been robbed and we were afraid that it would only get worse. We couldn’t speak the language and we struggled to get enough money for food.”
Bongani, his brother and friend then went to the shelter where they were taken in.
“It wasn’t a very big place, we didn’t have much to do and had to stay on the premises all the time which we found hard. We were used to our freedom and being able to move around whenever we wanted to. My brother would get annoyed and soon figured out ways we could escape to the streets in the evening and then go back to the shelter when everyone was a sleep. We only stayed there for three months.
“A friend of the shelter offered to take us in. We visited her for a few weeks and then one day she asked if we wanted to stay with her. Living there was good, we had DSTV, CD players, a comfortable bed, things we weren’t used to, so I really liked it. I couldn’t speak English yet and she wanted to put us into school so she hired teachers to come to the house to help us speak, read and write in English. We had the home teachers for a few months before they decided we could go to school.
“During that time the lady we were staying with helped us get into contact with my aunty who lived in Johannesburg. I spoke to her and she said that she was happy that we are in a good, safe space. She sent me my birth certificate so I could legally stay in South Africa and put me into contact with my father. I spoke to him and he told me he was glad I was safe and that I should stay in Cape Town and go to school.”
Bongani felt his life was returning to normal but then his brother began speaking to him about a plan to leave again because he couldn’t stand living under rules.
“My brother spoke to me about having one last adventure on the streets before we started school. He said he was going to take some money from the lady so that we had funds to buy food and get a taxi. I was stupid and believed him when he said that he needed me to come with him. We were only gone for two days, I told him that we had a good life there and that we should go back. He agreed, so we returned and apologised, Adele said it was okay and that we could stay. I was happy to get a second chance.
“My brother was still unable to cope with the rules and not have money as he pleased. Two days later when one of the teachers came to the house he stole his bicycle and told me we should run away… but I said I was staying. I’ve never seen him again.”
Due to his brother’s actions, Bongani and his friend were moved to a different children’s home.
“For a while my life was not easy, I became angry because of the way my life was turning out due to the decisions I made. I came to realise that I couldn’t turn back time but that I could change what I did from now. I have lived in four different shelters and I have adapted to my situation. I am in Grade 11 now and plan on returning to Zimbabwe after Matric.”
Concluding Bongani says, “I’ve always wanted to be with my brother because I wanted to have a close relationship with him. My longing for his love and acceptance caused me to lose a lot in my life. I think about him often and hope his life is good. I no longer think that I can change him because I have made peace with the way he is. I think that many of us think we can change people and while we try we lose ourselves. When we let go of those people, we give ourselves the opportunity to live better lives.
Bongani is a Leaders’ Quest participant