So, there is this little family that lives at the end of the road: a mom, and three boys. We know the boys because they come to play with Gracie and Glory. The oldest, Joshua, is a responsible calm older boy. The next younger is Fefa, who is about 8 yrs. old and he is wild and crazy and very irresponsible. Then there is the baby. During the days, Joshua has been given responsibility for the baby. Currently there is no school in session, due to Covid-19. So, the baby and the children stay home while the mother works from early to about 4pm, every day. The boys’ daily routine is simple. They wake up and have breakfast with their mother. Then, the mother goes to work and the boys run the whole neighborhood till evening. They play. They forage for food. They do everything children do when left to their own devices. By evening, when the mother comes home, they are extremely dirty. The Mom bathes the baby and makes dinner.
I find this portion of the story of these boys’ lives endearing because the baby, who is barely 1 yr. has a significant bond with his older brother. You see the way he is so comfortable on his brother’s bike. Any time you see the boys, before 4 pm, this baby is riding on his brother’s bike in the predicted position. His feet are braced against the top tube of the bicycle and his little fingers are tightly clenched around the inner portion of the handlebars.
As the boys run the neighborhood, they forage for food and anything of any value that they can get small money for from scrappers and others who solicit their services. The adults in the area, parent them as they see fit, since rearing of children is perceived to be a community effort.
For some readers, my story is a bit sad,
- because perhaps we are trained to read hunger into the equation.
- because perhaps we are reading unmonitored children into the picture.
- perhaps dirty children means a certain thing in our context.
- perhaps these details signal poverty to you.
I can assure you the boys are fed regularly and are hungry only as often as boys of that age are hungry. In USA when a child is left to his own devices as a parent runs errands for a couple hours, he or she does the same things these boys do. They eat anything in sight, from the cupboard or the refrigerator. These boys just forage as though the world is their refrigerator. Lunch comes from the variety of trees from everywhere in the whole neighborhood. And like any American child, tomatoes and guavas and other round fruit-like objects become balls and objects to launch at each other. Yet most African parents have severe consequences for wasted food. For these boys, I have also had to deal out some consequences for wasting food and tearing up the garden.
These boys are definitely monitored. A single mom is a more sad picture in the US, since she is solely responsible for the well being and the care of her children. In Africa, raising a child is a community responsibility. Since the majority of the population is children, adults sort out the mischief of children when they are in its proximity.
While in US, a child is limited to the 4 walls of his house, especially in urban areas, due to fear of abduction and stranger danger. In rural areas, there is more opportunity for freedom and exploring the great outdoors but often the freedom is traded in for infatuation with electronics. In Uganda, these boys live in an era that used to exist in the US. Uganda is a developing nation. Sidewalks and pavement are luxuries and loose dirt, mud and marum roads are everywhere, rendering any child dirty by evening. But the dirt and the mud is preferable to child development instead of continuous electronics.
In Africa, the 4 walls of a house are for sleeping only. Most of life is lived outdoors. Indoor living spaces are simple and plain, containing only the necessities for life: for safety, for eating, for sleeping, for relationships.
The only part of this story that is potentially sad is that the children haven’t gone to school for 2 years. I am hoping to tutor Joshua for a few hours a day, in reading and writing, using Gracie and Glory’s curriculum access. But that would mean leaving the baby with the middle child.