Thursday, September 22, 2005
Please Don't Tie a String Around Your Sister's Neck
I was rather hoping I would meet some children in Africa. And I did. Lots of them.
In Kericho,on the edge of a tea plantation, a young group playing soccer waved and shouted ,"Jambo!"(hello in Swahili) and invited me to play so I walked over and met Dennis, Nixon, Jaqueline, one whose name I didn't catch, and the littlest one, Gideon.
On Zanzibar I met James who made me a bracelet and a very clever and complicated frog out of woven grass. I gave him some coins and asked him what he would spend them on. He told me he was saving up for a watch and also he would like to buy more marbles, which seemed to me like a good use for his money. He took some marbles out of his pocket and demonstrated his skill with them in the dusty road. He decided to hang out with our group until he had to go to school.
I also visited a Masai village near Arusha in Tanzania(arriving in no-doubt comical touristic- style on camel-back)and met the twenty or so children of one large extended family. If I understood correctly, the children all had one father and were the progeny of seven or eight wives. They lived in a collection of round mud houses thatched with grass and shared the space with a smattering of goats, donkeys, and chickens.
It was DUSTY. The children were COVERED in it. They didn't seem to mind, happily throwing themselves down on the ground to doodle in the dirt. I am so used to wiping off dirty faces at the daycare where I work that my fingers itched for a damp wash-cloth to come to hand.
But aside from the dust, they were pretty cute I have to say. They were curious about our watches and other jewellery and some wanted to try on my hat. They peered at their little digital images in the window of my camera with delight. A few clambered onto our laps.
After a while many of them wandered off and returned to their normal daily activities, many carrying younger children with them in their arms or on their backs.
I couldn't help comparing them to the privileged children I know back home. Not a single plastic toy was apparent. No television. No video-games. No playground equipment. No bicycles. Just sticks, rocks, and siblings.
I wouldn't wish this extreme kind of poverty on any kid I know, but I just wonder if there is some sort of happy medium in between. Because I am almost positive that these African children had something North American kids are in short supply of: attention span.
Fascinated from a cultural perspective though I was, daycare-worker instincts die hard, and I felt compelled to step in and unwind the string one little girl had tied tightly around her sister's neck to lead her around. Of course, as soon as I'd walked a little distance away, the string was back on.