The Cinderella Next Door

As I walk past six-year old Paulina who is bent over the sink in the middle of her second load of dish washing, she smiles pleasantly and replies quietly, “I’m fine,” when I greet her.

Her ebony skin glistens in the splashes of sun-lit soapy water and her small hands work methodically as she meticulously scrub each dish caked with remnants of the previous meal.

When I stop to ask her why she isn’t attending school today, she cheerfully answers that she would attend the next day. Children who attend private schools are asked to stay home some days when their tuition isn’t completely paid.

Recently Paulina’s step mother Diana took her sick son Peter to another town for health care, which probably cut into Paulina’s tuition.

In one of our conversations, Diana confided that Paulina’s mother abandoned her when she was an infant. Her father who’s a local butcher works long days to provide for the family. In the vicinity of Paulina, Diana turns into a fairy-tale stepmother who constantly rebukes and commands the shy child. Unhesitatingly devoting her energy to washing dishes, laundering clothes, watching her baby stepsister, and running errands for the family, Paulina, on the other hand, implicitly obeys her stepmother and helps her run the household.

Last evening when we returned home, we saw lonesome Paulina patiently sitting in the thatched gazebo and anxiously waiting for her parents. Her father was still at his butcher shop, and her stepmother with her step-siblings went into town. Hungry and left alone, Paulina’s eyes were constantly gazing the dirt road awaiting their return.

The young child’s plight kindled a desire to share one of the mendazzi (doughnuts) that we bought.

Under the orange-tainted sky as the red-cheeked Cordon-bleu returned to its nest in the nearby Thevatia shrub, my husband and I–seated across the young Cinderella next door with her mouthful of mendazzi–were glad that within a few moments a wide-toothed smile erupted across her face as she pointed to different objects and taught us their Lusoga names.



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.