Tuesday, January 18, 2011
the kids are alright
When I was in college I remember returning home for holidays and being taken aback by seeing young children again. Oxford, Ohio is almost exclusively made up of the college-aged and the very old with nothing in between.
Uganda, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. It sometimes seems that over half the population here is under the age of 6. Everywhere you look, there they are. Playing, cleaning, cooking, greeting every white person they see (usually just me) sleeping, farming, running shops, fetching water, eating, shitting, yelling, herding cattle. They pretty much do it all. Sometimes I feel like I have stumbled into some insane, clothing optional bizarre-o world where children have inherited the earth.
I’ve heard it said that kids are kids, no matter where you are. I guess, in some ways, that’s true. The children here love to run around and have fun just like any other. When I was young, I would have been completely lost if I couldn’t have played with my G.I. Joes, or Nintendo, or any one of the countless other toys I had. Here, though, none of that is an option. They have to get a little more creative, and it’s always entertaining for me to see what they come up with.
(neighborhood boy with a string of cars that he made)
The other day, I walked by some of my neighbors who were playing what looked like the absolute best lawn party drinking game. Yes, possibly even better than Cornhole or Bags. They had found an old rubber flip-flop sole and a bunch of discarded batteries and devised a game where two people stood about ten meters apart, set ten batteries up, vertically, in a row, and then took turns throwing the flip-flop like a Frisbee at their opponents battery row. They first person to knock over all of his opponents batteries stayed on to play the next challenger. I sat there for about an hour watching and cheering on the game.
As I said, in some ways they are similar to your average American child. In most ways, however, they are worlds apart. Kids here are tougher and more independent than I had imagined was even possible for people of their age. Whether it is a child strapped to its mother’s back, stuffed into an impossibly uncomfortable position for a taxi ride, or one that has just fallen and hit her head, you will rarely hear them complain and you will almost never see them cry. Supervision, on the rare occasions it occurs, is usually performed by a 6-7 year old sibling, and things such safety precautions, let alone any kind of code, are completely unheard of.
A few months back, I was walking home from work when I came upon a young boy, maybe 18 months old at most. He was in the middle of the town square by himself, completely nude, chasing around a chicken with a machete. “Oh my god!” I thought to myself, as I started to run. “I’ve got to get home and grab my camera!” Even my preconceived notions about how children should or should not be raised have faded with time. (For the record, I did return with my camera, but I couldn’t find the boy anywhere)
Living alone in such a foreign country can definitely take its toll. There are always unexpected ups and downs. Sometimes the kids in my village are the best part of my day. They will run right up to me after a rough day just to hold my hand while I walk home. It makes me laugh to see how proud they are to be there with me, always making sure to get their friends attention so they can rub it in a bit. Other days, and with other kids though, they can be the final nail in the coffin. “Give me my money!” they shout, or “Muzungu, mpa sweetie!” white person, give me candy! It drives me up the wall, especially when I see their parents in the background telling them what to say.
Time has helped me to do my best to ignore these negative encounters. I guess if I were in their shoes, I would be asking for something to eat too. Still though, the good more than makes up for the bad, and I really do get a lot of joy out of the crazy army of children in my village.