Ntimadieu, whose name means Heart of God, is twelve years old. He lives at the Banya a Povenda in Kinshasa, a residential hme for street children.
He has neither mother nor father, but for several years he lived at his uncle’s compound. This uncle was relatively well of, and his compound had several houses, so his uncle was able to rent out the ones he does not use himself. To give you a picture of the kind of house we’re talking about – they would be single story places, built of blocks or mud, each one about half the size of the sitting room in the average semi. There would have been three or four houses in total.
Ntimadieu had a good life there, but it all went wrong when his uncle’s wife accused him of witchcraft. She was so convinced of his guilt and how dangerous he was, that she tried to convince everyone else living in the compound of it. Of course, the landlord’s wife carried a lot of weight but even so, not everyone believed it – but many did and as a result, refused to let him do any jobs for them afterwards. This was a serious matter, because this was how Ntimadieu paid his way in the world.
The uncle’s wife, being a devout woman, did what most Kinshasans would do in this situation; she took him to church. There, at the end of the service, the pastor talked about the great evil of witchcraft and ordered anyone who was a witch to come forward. Ntimadieu, knowing he was not a witch, stood still. But his step mother was not having that. She dragged him up to the front of the church and said, “This child is a witch.”
The pastor took Ntimadieu away to cure him of witchcraft. The first thing he did was to pour melted candle wax on his back to destroy his witch’s wings. I should explain at this point, that the people in this part of the world nearly all believe in the supernatural. They are a religious people, and since they believe in God, it seems natural to them to believe in a dark world as well as one full of light. At night, even the most ordinary and weak individuals, including small children, can become powerful witches. This is the night world, invisible to most of us. It was in this night world that the pastor believed Ntimadieu had wings, and the fact that no one could see these wings during the day did not trouble him in the least.
After burning off his wings with hot wax, the pastor locked Ntimadieu up in a dark room for days with no food and no water. Several days passed by – Ntimadieu was not sure how long; he thought ten, but surely, with no water for so long, he would have been dead. Perhaps, suffering from such hunger and thirst, the time slowed down to a crawl. Even so so, he became very, very weak. He was let out only once, when they took him into the daylight and prayed over him, and threw peppers at him to drive away the devil. This struck Ntimadieu as particularly unfair, since he was not even allowed to eat the peppers.
Then he was locked up again. After ten days, his uncle came to see what was going on, and when he found Ntimadieu in such a weakened state, he took him away to hospital. He stayed there for several days until he was recovered.
His uncle took him back to the compound, but by now the wife had turned everyone against him. The end came when he heard his own older brother coming to find him carrying a knife, shouting that he was going to kill him. That was enough for Ntimadieu – he ran away from home and had no more thoughts of going back.
For along time, Ntimadieu lived in the street market. One of the market traders ran a restaurant and a small shop, and he got some work with this woman, washing some dishes and doing the laundry. He used the money he earned to buy medicines and food. Now, this woman sometimes let him sleep in the shop.
One day he was in there having a shower and hung his clothes over the door with some money in a pocket. After the shower, the clothes were still there – but the money was gone … For some reason, this really spooked him. In his time on the streets he’d been beaten, stolen from, mistreated in more ways than he could remember – but this time, he’d had enough. He grabbed his clothes and ran. And ran and ran and ran.
He ran so fast, he bumped into a man,who grabbed him and asked him where he was going. “I’m running away,” insisted Ntimadieu. The man saw how distressed Ntimadieu was and told him that it was OK, he could stay with him.
“Be my child,” he said. “I’ll look after you.” But Ntimadieu wasn’t fooled. He told the man, no, but this made the man so angry, he began to beat him. Ntimadieu shook himself free and ran and ran and ran on and on, until he came to a catholic church. The church called the Banya Povenda centre. They agreed to look after him. they took him in, fed him, clothe him and educate him, whilst trying to negotiate with his family to get him back into his rightful home.
Things are better for Ntimadieu now. His uncle comes round to see him once a week. He is continuing his studies. Hew would like to go back home.
I asked Ntimadieu why his aunt accused him off witchcraft and he replied it was because he talks in his sleep and has dark eyes. This later is true – when I looked into his eyes, the whites were a reddish brown. How dreadful that this charming boy should be deprived of his right to a home, because of the colour of his eyes.
The Banya a Povenda center in Kinshasa is one of a number of places funded by the Save Children, who aim to try and re-unite cast-out children with their families. I was told that on average, eighty per cent of the street children in Kinshasa have been accused of witchcraft – usually with no more evidence than Ntimadieu – because of the colour of his eyes, and because this motherless child was having bad dreams.
I told Ntimadieu two stories. which everyone reading this will be familiar with – the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs, which he just adored (everyone I told this story to in Congo loved it) and Red Riding Hood. In exchange, he told me this story. It’s the first story I heard in the Congo. It’s called, The Man in White
The Man in White
There was man who used to dress in white. He was a doctor, and he liked to eat people.
One day a woman was having a baby, and she came to the hospital where the man in white worked for the delivery. There she gave birth to a baby that was very beautiful, and very pale – so pale it was almost pure white. The baby looked so delicious that the doctor took it away at once and ate it. It tasted very, very good – so good, that he made up his mind to eat the mother as well. He went back and told the mother that her baby had been taken away, but that he knew where it was and he could take her to it.
Together they left the hospital and he led her far, far away, on foot. But after many hours of walking, the woman suddenly stopped in her tracks.
“Why have you stopped?” asked the man in white.
“Because people are staring at us,” said the woman. And at that moment she saw what they were staring at. The man in white had eyes going all around his head, and two long,sharp horns rising from the sides of his head.
The woman ran! – she ran with all her might, with the man in white right on her heels. She dodged into the traffic, and by good luck, a car go int between them. While he waited for it to pass she took her chance and ran off into the crowds. When she looked back, he was no where to be seen.
The woman was a long away away from the city where the hospital was, and even further away from her own village. She set off on the long walk back, feeling so very sad.
It was such a long journey, she became tired and started to wave done cars in the hope of getting a lift. At last one of them stopped, going her way. She climbed in, feeling it was the first bit of luck she’d had for ages. She began to chat away,but the driver didn’t say a word, so she soon became nervous. After a while she said, “This is far enough, you can drop me here, thank you.” For the first time, the man in the car turned around and she saw what a dreadful mistake she had made – it was the man in white.
“I have been looking for you for ages. Today, I shall eat you!” The doctor took out a long sharp blade.
“Where is my baby?” demanded the woman. “What have you done to it.”
“I have eaten your baby. And now, I am going to kill and eat you.”
With that, the doctor slit her down the middle. He drove to a quiet place, lit a fire, cooked her and ate her.
When he had finished, the doctor left hid the car, which was stolen, deep in the woods, and began to walk back. But as he walked his stomach began to hurt. He thought he had just eaten too much and tried to walk it off. But the more he walked, the more it hurt. Eventually, it hurt so much he opened up the buttons on his shirt over his belly to see what was going on – and out popped the woman’s head.
“What’s this? I’ve already eaten you!” he exclaimed. “Why are you bothering me?”
The woman frowned angrily. “If you keep me and my daughter inside you, I will destroy you before you get very far.” But the man in white refused to let them go. “If you do not do as I say, you will meet a child that will be the death of you and will die, bit by bit.”
But the man in white wasn’t frightened of someone he’d already eaten, or of any child. He just did up his shirt and carried on his way.
After a while he came to a place where the road branched into two, and he did not know which way to follow. There were some people walking past and he asked them which way he should go to back to the hospital. One of them, a girl, showed him which way to go. He did as she said,. but he had taken only a few steps when he was suddenly overcome with exhaustion. He felt so tired he fell down to the ground, hardly able to move.
The girl followed him. “You are lying down, but you are not dead yet. Now you will eat yourself,” she tol dhim. Unable to stop himself, the doctor cut off his own hand and ate it.
“You have eaten your hand, but you’re not dead yet,” said the child. “You will eat more.”
The doctor tore out his own tongue and ate it. Then, he died.
And that is the end of the story.
A fearsome tale, I think you’ll agree! Many of the Congolese stories involve eating people, and they do make me wonder if before the nursery got hold of such tales as the Three Little Pigs, if maybe it wasn’t pigs that the wolf was eating. Maybe, it wasn’t even a wolf …
The Banya a Povenda takes in many children like Ntimadieu, who have run away from their own families in fear and live on the street, where they face many dangers far more real than the Man in White. Please, support the work they do. Donating will directly help children like Ntimadieu, make them safe, give them a future, and in many cases, actually save their lives. Go to Save the Children now, and make a difference.