April 16, 2008

Getting Greedy(?)

I’ve written before about some of the frustrations I have in interacting with all the children in Itipini. As you’ll recall, when I first arrived I was overwhelmed by how many children were always clamouring for attention and willing to use just about any means to get me to focus on them. I’m happy to say that this is a frustration that is mostly behind me. The shrewd use on my part of a few choice Xhosa phrases combined with the timely interventions of some of our staff members, who have much greater suasion over the children than me, has greatly reduced the number of aggravating encounters I have with children and made each encounter more on my terms than on theirs.

But I’ve come across a new challenge lately and I find it as aggravating as the first. Occasionally, people will give me items they want to donate to the children of Itipini. This is fantastic and I am happy people are so generous. The items range from a batch of kazoos the other day to about 250 traditional Xhosa fatcakes about a month ago. So I bring the donated items to Itipini and prepare to hand them out.

As soon as one child even sniffs I have something to hand out, he or she is on me like glue, often quite loudly and vociferously so that any of the 50 or so children in the vicinity can’t help but notice that I’ve got something. Immediately, I am deluged with children. This is not necessarily a bad thing and one of the English words the children know is “line” so I try to quiet them down and make them line up, which most of them do with some success.

However, once I start handing the items out, four things immediately happen simultaneously. First, the children who didn’t get in line crowd around with their hands outstretched demanding whatever it is I have to give. Second, the children at the back of line decide they can’t wait anymore and start cutting towards the front. Both of these developments mean the children who actually were waiting in line can’t take their gift and go play with it because they are boxed in next to me. This actually suits them quite nicely because the third development is that those who do get a gift immediately stick that hand behind their back and reach out the other for another as if I won’t catch on to this blatant and obvious ploy. (I can understand wanting two fatcakes – the more food the better is the attitude around here and I don’t blame anyone for it – but two kazoos? Do you have two mouths?) Fourth, some of the bigger children who haven’t got a gift will take one from a smaller child who has, leading the younger child to either a) cry, b) ask me for another, or c) both.

The end result is that children are pushing and shoving each other to get close to me and invariably someone (or several someones) falls to the ground and start crying, lots of others are shouting my name trying to get my attention, and the line has descended into chaos. When I reform it, the children who’ve already got whatever it is I’m handing out get back in line and try to hide the fact they’ve already been at the front. This means I have to keep track of to whom I’ve given each item – no mean feat when there’s 50 children running around – or basically frisk each kid before I hand over the gift, not something I’m exactly keen on. The whole situation just enrages me and my reactions are often more representative of my innate sinfulness than God’s gracefulness.

Are the children here similar or different to children all over the world? Certainly, children I’ve spent time with in the U.S. seem to understand the concept of waiting a bit better and while they try to sneak an additional snack/dessert/whatever they generally understand why that can’t be the case. I think the behaviour in Itipini is motivated by two factors. First, the absence of parents who have raised their children to understand the concept of limits. This is just one part of the generally absent parenting strategy practiced here. Second, the children here have so little and have been deprived for so long that when they see the opportunity to get something, they just can’t wait for it for fear that it may be gone by the time their turn comes around. Perhaps this is the natural response when someone has lived with deprivation for so long and I wish I could understand it better.

In any event, several recent instances have taught me a few lessons and I’ve resolved that in the future when people donate items to me, I’ll hand them over to our pre-school teachers who are much better at organizing the children than I am. That way the children get the gifts and I’ll just get to watch. Because it really is fun when everyone has their gift at last. Have you ever led a band of 50 kazoo players? It’s a lot of fun.


Anonymous said...

What i suggest you do is:
1.Line all the kids up in seats.
2.Make shure that they understand that if they stand up or dont stay in their line they wont get a gift or they get a punishment.
3.Hand out the gifts to the sitting children.
Hope it works!