Since I’ve been here, I teeter back and forth on this question.
Upon arriving, I saw so much beauty in the day to day of village life. The crisp air, the peaceful, natural surroundings, and the simplicity of things left me in awe. The stars are brighter, the air is cleaner and the food tastes better. I watched the uncomplicated nature of village life, in which the daily goals were to get water, collect firewood, pound maize or mahongu for dinner and then spendthe remainder of the day sitting in the shade with family and friends.
The kids play for hours in the fields while their goats and cattle feed. They aren’t comparing brands of shoes, trading video games or listening to ipods. They are laughing and dancing, kicking a home-made soccer ball around and swimming in the river. They make homemade valentines, bring cobs of corn for snack and share EVERYTHING.
But as time has passed and I have the opportunity to look more closely, I become aware of the pain and ‘lacking’. It’s hard to find positivity in seeing kids eating paper to satisfy the hunger pains, walking 8km to and from school in shoes that are two sizes too big, or digging through the garbage pit for anything useful. While they may not be worried about whether their jeans are the right brand or their lipstick is on neatly, they are worried about where they will get their next meal or how they will get the money for their exam fees.
Walking home from school last month, Frans, a grade 9 student, came running up behind me. He wanted to talk about Osama Bin Laden. He had heard about his recent death and wanted to know more about him. Why are people happy he is dead? Was he a president? What did he do that made people hate him? As I tried to explain to him the events of 9-11, I realized how unfathomable history was to him. He had never seen a high rise, never been in an airplane, never witnessed a large mass of people. And then I asked myself, does he really need to know about this? Did he really need to know about the hatred, mass killings, persecution, genocide that exists outside of the village? How does knowing about Osama Bin Laden and thousands of people who died in the World Trade Centre make him a better person? And then I see they’ve drawn swastikas on the walls of the classroom and I realize that they haven’t a clue of the depth of the symbol.
The most obvious difference I see in these kids is that they are tough. They rarely complain or whine. They do not shy away from physical work, even if they haven’t eaten. And when I see them sharpening their pencils with a piece of glass or sucking the last drops of ink out of their pens with their mouths , I am tempted to buy them whatever they need. But in the end they do manage, and they are much more resourceful as a result.
And so I teeter…