THE BLUE SHARPENER LESSON
Chetne Davids, 16, from Bonteheuwel tell us a life lesson she learned when she was young. In this story she advocates for the importance of treating children as young adults, with a role to play in any given situation that affects their family.
“I was born in the house where I live now, in the bed I sleep. We live in a council flat. We are six children and I am the youngest (4 girls and 2 boys). I am six years younger than my next sibling.”
Chetne’s mom worked in a clothing factory and her dad stayed home and took care of the children.
“My dad did everything for us. He plaited our hair, ironed our clothes and cooked for us. When my mom came back home, we were all in pyjamas and ready to go to bed. My dad was very kind and sweet. He played with us often but never allowed us to play outside of our yard in the community. He was very protective.”
“It was difficult for my dad to work, he never went to school and he couldn’t read or write. To complicate the matter, he was also ill. He had severe Asthma and he could not walk long distances. I remember him walking with me to school, I always carried his pump and a bottle of water and we would walk slowly. One electrical pole to the other and we would take a rest. When he would recover his breath, we would walk to the next pole.”
At the age of seven, Chetne’s sister (13) convinced her to go to Sunday school for the first time.
“I still remember that it was in January and my sister told me that if I went to Sunday school with her, I would get a present. A present I said, I was so excited that I just jumped to the opportunity. I did not get presents often, so there we went.”
“After an hour at Sunday school, I came out without a present. When I met my sister outside she had a blue box that had been given to her. I asked what was in the box and she told me that her present had things for school (eraser, pencils, coloring books and pritt). I couldn’t believe it, I cried all the way home and I told her that I would never go back with her.”
“When I arrived home, my mom asked why I was crying and I told her that I also wanted a present. She opened the box and I saw a beautiful blue sharpener as I have never seen before, it was surrounded by an eraser. At that time I did not even know what an eraser or a sharpener was, but it looked so nice. I told my mom that I really really wanted the blue small thing.”
“So, my mom decided to give me the blue eraser/sharpener and told me that I couldn’t take it to school.”
Chetne saw her mom putting the box with her eraser/sharpener in the cupboard in her mom’s bedroom, so she felt at ease.
The next morning we were all family was getting ready to go out, including Chetne’s father as he had his normal doctors check-up. He was alone in the bedroom and asked Chetne to help him.
“My dad called me to assist him to look for his sock. Each morning he would lose a sock but he would always ask assistance from one of my older siblings. I was surprise he had asked me and I was proud.”
“I saw my brother and mom coming to the room to assist my dad to walk to the rental car. He was weak and needed assistance. As I looked through the window I saw him collapsing. My brother picked him up and helped him get into the car.”
At that moment with everyone busy outside, Chetne thought it was the right opportunity to take her new present and take it to school.
“I knew I would be in trouble with my mom but I really wanted to show all my friends my new present. In my class, everyone wanted to see and use it. I felt so important, unfortunately by the end of the day it was gone.”
“I walked home knowing my mother would hit me, so in my head I was rehearsing my speech.”
“I arrived home and my mom and my two aunties were crying in her bedroom, I changed my mind and tried to avoid them.”
“My mom called me and told me that my father is gone. I told her that was Ok, I think I might have thought he ran away. I went to my room and I was so happy she hadn’t found out.”
For the next week, Chetne’s house was full of relatives visiting.
“People were visiting and cooking. I thought someone was getting married. I was excited with all the movement in the house and I would spend all my time playing with my younger cousins that were also visiting.”
“On Saturday everyone came to my house, even people that I had not seen for long time, even my neighbours came. I was thrilled for the day, I was standing in the balcony when this big car arrived and I ran inside.”
“I saw my two brothers and four uncles carrying a piece of furniture into the house. I thought it was a cupboard. We were six children in the house, so there was not a lot of space. I wondered if this cupboard was for me.”
Chetne’s mother was left alone in the room, “my mom was looking at the box, so I ran to also have a look inside. My dad was inside, when I looked at my mom she was crying, only then I understood what she meant when she said my dad was gone.”
“I ran to my bedroom and sat in my bed in silence. I felt guilty, I thought maybe God was punishing me because I stole the blue eraser/sharpener.”
“I remember only crying at the church because everyone was crying and realizing that I would never see him again.”
“Nobody ever talked to me about what had happened to my dad. For the following years, I would always follow what my mom’s instructions. I never asked why and I just did it. I was afraid that if I refused something terrible would happen to my family.”
Things at Chetne’s home continued as normal with a few adjustments. Unfortunately, when Chetne was 12 years old, her mother lost her job due to an eye problem.
“My mom stopped working and she was unable to get a disability grant. We survived with my child grant. I am not sure how she manages but we have never gone to bed hungry but we don’t have much more money for other things. My brothers are all big, so they all left home. It is now only my mom and I.”
Chetne is in Grade 11 and a top student in her school, “I study very hard, I am the only Afrikaans student, since Grade 8, that features on the top 10 students at my school each year. I want to finish school and become a teacher. I like to work with children but I also know that there are many bursaries for teaching. This is one of the reasons I want this career, my family doesn’t have money for my studies. My main goal is to go to University, find a job and help my mommy.”
Chetne concludes by saying, “After so many years, there are still days when I feel guilty for what happened to my dad. I know that it was not because of me or the blue sharpener situation. However because no one sat with me and explained what had happened I lived with that belief for many years. I would like to encourage adults to take children more seriously. Doesn’t matter how old your children are, make sure you spend time explaining to them in a simple manner the ‘why of things’.”
Chetne is a Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.