Kicking Children

A few nights ago after a long bad-road 4×4 drive to a clinic to make a delivery and return I got back to Opuwo around 6.30pm, dropped my colleague off at his house and, like a good little GRN driver, went back to the garage to fill up the tank before returning the vehicle.

As it was late I couldn’t tell if the other garages were open and so went to the famous 24-hour BP garage next to the Ok supermarket. Being early evening this was quite busy.

Though the BP is open 24-hours it has the distinct disadvantage of being the one tourists use on their way through and so is a congregation point for beggars. As I’d been cooped up driving for most of the day and was tired I got out to stretch my legs ended up leaning on the back while the attendant filled up (there is no such thing as self-service here).

Immediately I had several people come up to make conversation, “Are you from Germany?” “No”, “America?” “No” etc. I did my usual, remained non-committal but polite and above-all-else gave them no money (it has taken me months to build up my reputation as a tightwad to the point I’m not accosted outside Ok).

After fuelling was complete I handed over my fuel card with odometer reading and was just waiting for the receipt and card.

While I was waiting three small children, two very young boys of six or so and a slightly older and taller girl, maybe eight or ten came wandering onto the forecourt and towards me. The first thing I noticed was the girl was wearing a refuse sack as a skirt and all three were terribly filthy.

Just as I was thinking this was the saddest thing I had ever seen and wondering how I could give them some money or food without starting a riot with the adult beggars who had been softening me up in conversation for the last few minutes one the attendants catches sight of them and runs towards them shouting.

The two young boys ran away but the girl stood her ground until the attendant reached her and kicked her, hard, in the rear. All the time he was shouting what I assume was along the lines of “Go Away” in Otjiherero. Quite sensibly at this point she also legged it avoiding a second boot from him.

It took a couple of seconds for what I had just seen to sink in. The petrol attendant had just, maliciously and violently, kicked a small child.

There were perhaps twenty people on the forecourt at this time and it seemed I was the only one staring aghast in shock at what had happened.

I wanted to march over and enquire as to whether kicking children made him feel like a big tough man but realised pretty quickly that I was absolutely incandescent with rage and really couldn’t trust myself. Even writing about it some days later I find I am still very angry.

Whatever the correct response should be, I was pretty certain that fisticuffs on the forecourt wasn’t it.

I tried to think what I should do.

In the UK I think a whole group of people would have confronted the attendant, the child would still be there and the police would (rightly) be called.

In Namibia nobody batted an eyelid and the kids had run off, even if the police were to be called the victims had gone.

Instead I, impotently, settled for glaring at the attendant who (though I may be imagining this) wouldn’t meet my eye.

I resolved if that attendant brought my receipt I would say something. He didn’t.

So I drove off, very angry at what I had seen but somewhat pleased that I hadn’t ended up rolling around on the floor (and no doubt getting arrested/deported myself).

As a result I am now practicing a one-man boycott of the BP garage (unless absolutely essential as it’s the only 24-hour one). I’m also keeping an eye out for the girl in the bin-liner skirt and will make a point of giving generously if I do see her again.

I think what got me the most about it wasn’t as much the violence, I’d be foolish to assume that violence against vulnerable people doesn’t happen here as it does anywhere, but the lack of response or empathy of any kind from any of the numerous onlookers.

Now with the gift of hindsight I am able to wonder why the attendant reacted so vociferously to the kids when the adult beggars are allowed to freely practice their “trade”. Perhaps the kids are famous for their thieving or perhaps he couldn’t get away with it as adults are liable to kick back.

Either way and whatever the back story I still find it totally unacceptable and objectionable on many levels.

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