Day 21: I remember what I loved about Africa

We were sitting in the rental car in Opuwo waiting for Pascal to come back from looking for the Namibian Peace Corps volunteer we were supposed to be meeting. It was a dirt road, with massive piles of dirt in front of and behind us. So, of course, (as happens in most countries where toys and educational games and intellectual stimulation aren’t really an option for kids, they find something that amuses them and go with it) there was a group of ragtag Namibian kids spending their afternoon climbing all over these piles of dirt.

I paused only for a moment before jumping out of the car and chasing after them, the sound of their giggles and yells surrounding me. 

They’re back.

They came back differently from how they left. Where there was understandable drama and tragedy now had just become a casual encounter. I was coming back from a bike trip to Savalou, and I turned the corner into my housing unit. And there, playing in the front dirt, were the two kids who had been missing from my life for the past three weeks.

“Hi auntie,” they said. And I pedaled past them to my door.

The voiceless

A week ago, a UN expert finished her 10-day trip here and released a statement condemning the rampant violence committed against children in Benin.

Last night, a woman in my village beat her son so hard and so long that he started bleeding, his eye was swollen shut and he was taken to the hospital. 

There are laws in place that condemn this sort of behavior. There are also laws that define sexual harassment and rape. There are also laws that make corporal punishment illegal.

The problem is no one cares to enforce these laws. There are no truant officers if students don’t come to school. There are no advocates for girls who have been victims of aggression. There is no child protective services  to take children away from parents who don’t understand what it means to be a parent.

Issues like what happened last night will be handled locally by a combination of traditional and state-sponsored authorities. (Who will have to take a break from charging taxis bribes to pass into the next district.) There will be no police records or booking or criminal charges involved.

I’m by no means saying the US prison system is without its flaws or even should be a model for other justice systems. What I’m saying is that it all means a bunch of nothing when no one is around to enforce it.

The woman is currently being held at the local police station. I’m not sure what will happen to her, but I hope that she’s never able to cause something like this to happen again.

It's a "it takes a village" kind of place

“Auntie?” I hear calling from my front door as I’m making dinner in my kitchen. I peek my head out and see two kids of my neighbor and another neighbor at the door. I greet them then go back to making hummus.

A few moments later I hear the kids and the neighbor in her kitchen in the back of her house. A few moments later the kids are running around the courtyard in front of all our houses.

I used to think that kids just showed up at my door because I was that different. Also, I have a pack of 50 markers and a seemingly endless supply of copy paper on which to color. But it’s also that when you live by someone with kids, it’s partly your responsibility to help raise them. It took me the better part of a month to figure out which kids went where in the houses near mine because they were always together and always coming out of a house that was different than the one I had seen them go into last time.

I spent the better part of my childhood wandering my suburban neighborhood with the kids who lived down the street, but it’s different here. Because there aren’t a lot of DVDs or board games or Playmobil here, when kids come over to your house, they basically just follow you around. It’s up to you to give them something that will entertain them or else all your possessions will soon not be in the places where you left them.

I am not a mom. And I don’t intend to be one for a while. But I would say these kids have taught me some things about how to raise kids. At least how to hide the things that you don’t want broken on the top shelf.