Say You're One of Them Webcast Transcript
No photographs of their loved ones. No books to study out of. No pencils to write. And yet they get up every day, they clean up as best they can, and they are looking, they're trying to make it. And they're able to forge out a life for themselves. And that is such an inspirational thing. You know, one of the things in this book that's so powerful and such a commonality that all of us who read it can understand is that sense of powerlessness as a child, you know. That so many of the kids in this book, and it's one of the things that scared me when I was a kid, that all these things happening around you. Bad things happen to you. People, loved ones get lost. And yet you have no control over it. And how these kids in these stories are trying to kind of get power over their own lives and figure out how to survive I just found, I mean, just so, so eye opening and so heart opening as well.
Oprah: Well, tonight CNN, their reporters and Anderson are helping us bring to life the themes of Say You're One of Them. As I said at the beginning of this webcast and have been saying since I chose this book, one of the reasons I loved it is because the stories, even though they are fiction, are based in reality. We all may see these real life stories very differently after today. Anderson, tell us about this next report from Nairobi.
Anderson: Yeah, our reporter, David McKenzie in Nairobi, went to talk to street kids and he found a young woman on the streets who really, there's so much in her life that is in the story "An Ex-Mas Feast," a look in particular at how she makes a living and also some of the, the sexual abuse which she herself faces. Take a look.
David McKenzie: A steaming cup of tea with friends on this cold and wet Nairobi morning is one of the few things Joann can look forward to today. At 15, she worked as a maid. But Joann says her boss raped her. She fled to Nairobi pregnant and scared. Now she is part of Kenya's forgotten youth. The street is her home. Street kids, her family.
Joann: We see that the rest of the community hates us and we ask ourselves if the community's not taking care of us, we should remain as a family. We live as brothers and sisters in the streets.
David: But her real family doesn't know about her secret life.
Joann: Though I'm in the streets, I still feel that this is not my place and I don't belong here and maybe it's shameful, everybody knowing that you're living in the street.
David: The day we met Joann, we found her bruised and in pain on the street corner she calls home. She tells me a man tried to rape her the night before, that she resisted and he beat and kicked her mercilessly.
Joann: Living in the streets, especially to a girl, is very risky. You are so much exposed to the world such that you have no protection. In the streets you can be raped any day, any time by anyone who wants to do it.
David: Joann's friends rush her to the nearest charity hospital for emergency care. The doctor carefully examines her for injuries, finds no serious damage, gives her pain pills, and sends her home—home to this muddy street in Nairobi. But Joann doesn't see herself as a victim. To make money for her son who she left in the care of a mother, she sells highly addictive sniffing glue to other street kids looking to get high. On a good day, she makes a couple of dollars. While it may not be the best way to earn a living, she says it's better than prostitution or begging.
Joann: I'm a parent and I feel this. I hate seeing a child being, maybe sniffing glue becoming like drunk. I'm sinning to God and I'm sinning to even me, myself. I feel so guilty.
David: In harsh urban Africa, this community of street people care and watch out for each other the best way they can. With little help and hardly noticed, Joann, who dreams of being an actress or musician, says all she wants is to be seen as a person.
Joann: We are the same people created by the same God thinking with the same thoughts they are thinking with. The only thing that we are different from them is that we are living in the streets.
David: David McKenzie, CNN, Nairobi, Kenya.
Oprah: Wow. It feels like it's taken right out of your book. Right out of your book. Anderson has got to get going in a minute because he's about to go on the air for his CNN prime time show AC 360. Any final thoughts before we lose you?
Anderson: Well, thank you for letting me participate in this and Father Uwem, thank you for writing this book. It was really, it's eye opening and, as I said, heart opening. I guess my question is, how did you capture the voices of children? So many times when one tries to write in the voice of a child, it comes off as sounding fake or phony or almost kind of writing down to, to the audience. These voices are so authentic, they're so different, and yet they're just so real you really believe it's the inner life of that child.
Uwem: Thank you, Anderson, for asking that question. First of all, I want to say thank you for your work. Many of my friends said I should thank you for them when I'm talking with you. I play a lot with kids. I'm always, you know, I see kids, I want to talk with them. I play with them. I wrestle with them. So I like to think that some of that has rubbed off, you know, in the way I, I write. I've spent a lot of time writing these stories, reshaping these stories, and at some point, showing them to my students who are like, and saying to them, you know, how would they sound? No, Father, this is not it. A eight-year-old, we wouldn't think this way. So the book took me eight years. I was experimenting. I never knew I could do it. I never knew I could do it. So to an extent, this book has come together. I'm very thankful to God, to my friends, and to all the people who have helped, helped me. I can't sit here and say to you I have, you know, a sure way to do it, you know. I just experimented, I played a lot with kids, thought a lot about my childhood in terms of how I would see things, you know. When I was eight years—eight-years-old—how would I have seen this event? I would understand the pictures. But I wouldn't understand the deeper meaning. And if a child is raped at age 8 or age 6, that child knows something terrible has happened but will never be able to say it. Or will hide this experience.
Oprah: Doesn't have the language to explain what it is.
Uwem: Doesn't have the language. And also afraid that this will make dad unhappy with this person. So I thought a lot about how I grew up and the things I understood at that age. And then playing with kids, see, every mother and every father knows that a kid is capable of saying the most profound thing without knowing. So I tried to deal with that. And, of course, a kid would see. They'll see the pictures.
Oprah: So it's your relationship with children that you have yourself.