Living In The Questions

Sharing....is what its all about for me right now. This post is my attempt at continuing the wheel of reciprocity.....as my friends, fmaily and home have sent me here, to Niger, West Africa, with more love & support than I could fathom...here are my words, experiences, and heart. Read & share back. Love & Peace...Amy*

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Neighbors infront of my House

Me & Aziz (info to come soon)

VERY Bad Kids

African Kids, Rotten Mangoes and Other Sociological Phenomenon May 13, 2006

There is a sociological phenomenon here that makes for infuriating, if not interesting discussion material. If I were sitting on your end, enjoying the hopeful temperatures of Spring, surrounded by neighbors, fellow Americans who respectfully and rightly ignore you as you walk down the street minding your own business, perhaps I could sit back and laugh at this behavior. But I can't, since I right here in the middle of 120 degree heat, suffering through this "cross cultural" exchange. And as such I have given myself license to throw an all out pity party for at least the next hour and a half while I tell this story.

Let me relate the 3 factors I've found that produce this "phenomenon"....

1. Children are children here....no one asks their opinions. They are great for running errands, taking care of younger siblings, and any other menial tasks. Full obedience is expected, and discipline administered with the back of a hand or any stick within arm's length. Since fear is a major theme of discipline, children must fear you in order to behave around you. If they are not scared of you, watch out...

2. Its over 120 degrees, and there are no swimming pools, air conditioning, playgrounds, sports fields, or toys in town. Never have bush kids seen a Sega or Nintendo, a swing set, or store bought toys. In short, there is nothing to do here on the weekends when school is out,or ever if you don't go to school, or aren't of working age (about 11 years old).

3. White people are aliens. There is not much I can say to elaborate on this. If you are Nigerien, and a child, (in some instances for adults too), seeing someone white for you, is about like me seeing Britney Spears take a serious interest in international politics....unbelievable.

Lack of fear for an adult + intense boredom + white person living in town = VERY BAD CHILDREN

Now, I'm here as a student of other cultures...with a responsibility to attempt understanding before I fall into judgment. So, perhaps in the heat, lack of available chocolate and overabundance of reptiles and enormous spiders, I have become somewhat jaded. That is why I am asking you, friends, to indulge me and participate in a little role play so that together we may better understand this phenomenon and work jointly to either change it or help me come to terms with it.

So, imagine you are a.....

9 year old Nigerien boy. You and your two best friends, Mussa and Boubay,also both 9, are all sitting outside your concession on a Sunday afternoon. You will get beat if you interrupt your Mother's cooking to grill grasshoppers on the outdoor fire again. There are only so many times you can annoy your sisters who have been carrying water and pounding all morning. You are still hungry, but lunch isn't for 2 hours, and none of you know any of the few kids in town who have access to a soccer ball. You have no books to read, and even in you did they're all in French and you can't understand them anyway.

Suddenly you get a brilliant idea. Its been a good while since you've been over to the white girl's house. And Mussa found out last weeks that she doesn't have that biting dog anymore. You've seen the girl, well woman, ....actually you don't know what she is (she is shorter and of smaller build than Nigerien women, wears pants occasionally and doesn't cover her hair. She is also unmarried, but too old to have kids...25 you heard....so you really aren't sure what she is). This person has been around town for about 9 months, and you've seen her at school with the teachers a few times...but don't know a lot about her.

What you know for sure is that she doesn't give out money when kids ask, like the French tourists in Niamey, she doesn't give out Bibles like the American missionaries in Maradi, but she will occasionally share food with the homeless Koranic students. She's also not like other anasaras, because she doesn't speak Anasara language (French). She speaks yours, Zarma. At first you thought she was a little slow, cause she didn't understand the French, but your uncle told you she's American so she speaks English.

You don't speak any English, but you know the U.S. is where R.Kelly and Celine Dion come from, and those Jackie Chan and Schwarzenegger movies you see at the bus station too. Your uncle also told you that everyone in America has a job and money and medicine when they are sick.

And even though this anasara (which only means "outsider" for you, but makes the anasara really mad when you say it and she glares and insists on being called Amina instead), speaks your language, she is definitely American. You know this cause she has money to buy Cokes and ice each week, and although you've never had a soda, you know they're expensive. And she's an anasara for sure, cause you've never seen her hit a kid.

After you talk this over and verify her status as a woman, an Anasara and someone not to be afraid of, you, Mussa and Boubay all decide that your best possibility for entertainment is at the white people house where she always is. One the way there Boubay reminds you that although she can't let that dog out to chase you anymore (she used to do this a lot), you cannot see through the tiny crack in their gate. Hmmm.....how will you find out what she is doing? "Hey..." Mussa smiles..."I can put you on my shoulders and you can look and pull the pin out of the gate. Then we can see what she's doing and maybe she'll chase us. You know she can't catch us." What a brilliant idea.

On the first try Boubay is the lookout, and you carefully balance yourself on Mussa's shoulders where your little nose barely clears the gate. You pull yourself upright but quickly fall before you see anything. But, you hear commotion inside!!! She's not alone! Its market day in town and other white people have come! YES!!!!! This is going to be fantastic.

Boubay says there are no grown ups coming, and Mussa swears he'll stand still this time. Up you go...steady.....steady....there! You have the door pin, and you saw them...all three of them fanning themselves and speaking English! Now there are footsteps...more commotion. You jump off Mussa's shoulders, drop the pin and take off!

As you round the corner and look back, here comes Amina the girl-woman-man (today she is wearing dirty pants) hair on top of her head going in every direction, running with a broom in one hand and what looks like a rotten mango in the other. She is running and yelling!

"Go! Go! Go!" As usual she's too slow to catch you. After you all cut down a few side paths and stop to breathe, high fives are exchanged. Got the white girl to chase you again....what an afternoon.

This morning, as I sat hidden behind a gate, armed with a broom and rotten mango, I came to the conclusion that Nigerien children are perhaps the worst on the planet, and that I've hit a new low. The hot, sweaty, smelly (haven't showered after my morning run yet) American adult in me resents the little assholes who insist on calling me anasara, as though it were my name, demand gifts all the time and mess with me just for the hell of it.

Gone is the empathetic development worker, social science major, who wants to analyze their behavior in light of its proper cultural context. Since Peace Corps is about helping the community find solutions to problems, I have used what little good will I have left to come up with these 4 possibilities to address this trend of VERY BAD CHILDREN. If you have any suggestions I welcome them.

1. There are great Halloween masks at an outlet store in Niamey. Two other volunteers and myself will buy masks, put them on, and hide in the trees around the post office, scaring all children who resemble those who have tormented me in the past 9 months.

*Planning on doing a test run of this next week.

2. Start a rumor about myself (suggested to me by a teammate). Tell 2 or 3 big mouthed kids in the market that I'm a "charkow" (vampire) who eats children who come too close to my concession.

*Started this one yesterday, and will let you know how it turns out.

3. Start a fundraising campaign to get some playground equipment and a basketball court built, so my house and daily routine aren't the sole form of entertainment for all resident 6 to 11 year olds in town.

*Looking for interested donors now.

4. Demonstrate my advanced level of cultural integration and the fact that there is a limit to how much hassling I will take, and that I am truly an adult by putting my hands on a child.

Now, hold on a moment...pick your jaw up off the ground. When I first arrived in country I too balked when PCVs said they'd whacked a child for random offenses. I made all the arguments about PC being peaceful in nature, using non violence as a teaching tool, etc. etc.

BUT, 3 months ago I reached my personal limit when 5 or 6 little boys demanded my glasses as a gift, and actually put their hands on my glasses, while they were on my FACE!AUUUGGGGHHHHHHH! 7 months of patience evaporated, and I had an epiphany all in one instant.....I am not Gandhi,Buddha or Mother Thersea. I believe that there are some moments where cultural exchange means speaking the local language of action rather than word. I stepped into adult Nigerien society, and grabbed the sleeve of the little jerk who touched my face. The next 2 minutes were a blur. I threw him on the ground, grabbed a handful of his hair pulling as hard as I could, then moved onto his ear , which I twisted until my fingers ached. I feel ok about my actions, because although I used my hands to communicate, I spoke my own language with hair pulling and ear twisting...all out slapping would have been the truly Nigerien thing to do, but I did exercise some measure of control.

So, I am exhausted, hot and tired of being dirty. In an effort to maintain what little dignity I have left I have put down the broom and rotten mango and ask all of you friends and family reading this out there for help in dealing with this amazing phenomenon, otherwise known as,

VERY bad children.

Always,
Amy