Today has been a very chill yet productive day. Max, my housemate, returned to America yesterday. Since the room he was staying in is bigger and equipped with an air-conditioner, I moved into it. I am very happy to be taking over his room for several reasons. The room I had been sleeping in is small, cramped and has a huge billboard outside the window. At night the billboard’s spotlight shines into the room. The house is also located on a very busy street corner, which means I hear the roaring and honking of traffic from 6am to 11pm. The new room I am staying in is at the corner of the house so the sound is significantly less.
In the afternoon, I went walking with a friend. He showed me a local park where we sat and talked for a while. It didn’t take long until the children playing in the field notice a white person (me) and came to talk. Three young girls came to meet me. After a quick introduction, one of the girls said in Swahili, “I wish you could be my mom”. After my friend translated what the girls had said, I was dumbfounded for words. Yes, it sounds like a sweet request, but what it really means is that the girl is poor and needy and believes I could provide a better life for her that what her birth mother is able to. At a lost for words, I simply replied to her with a smile and “asante sana” (thank you very much). Moments later three more girls joined us, and then a set of twins. We all sat on the concrete bleachers of the park as they asked me numerous questions. When I told them I was from America, one stated, “Americans are rich”. Sure, America as a nation is rich, but trying to explain to them that not all of the people are rich is impossible. After all, I have nice flashy things like sunglasses, a Blackberry phone and lip gloss. Another girl asked me if I had my parents. At first I wasn’t sure exactly what she was asking me, until my friend clarified. “Are you parents alive?” was her question. Again, I am unsure of the best way to answer. Yes, my parents are alive, but they are not in my life. If I were to answer ‘no’ I would have been lying but perhaps they would find it easier to relate to me. If I answered ‘yes’ they may be envious of me as well as reinforcing the idea of wealth, as parents typically provide financial support to their children, something I am not blessed with. I reluctantly answered with ‘yes’ although it misleading. Since family is arguably the most important thing to most Africans, I’ve always tried to avoid explaining my own family circumstances to others since it is always misunderstood.
It wasn’t long until two of the girls expressed hunger, in hopes that I would give them money for food. I did not. As much as I wish I could have fed them all, I am all too aware of the consequences. Had I given them money it would have one immediate positive consequence and numerous negative consequences. Sure it would have relieved their hunger pains momentarily, but the hunger will return. I do not have the means to support these few children, much less the countless children in need throughout the area. Had I given them money it would have also reinforced the idea that white people are rich and asking them for money yields results.
To change to subject, I began asking them questions about school. This suddenly provoked a request for me to teach them English. After me asking a few questions, I agreed. I began speaking to them in English to access their current level of comprehension. The oldest girl, 13 years old, was very proficient, the youngest seem to know none, and the others were familiar with numbers, body parts and various others words. We then made a plan to meet at the same time and same place next week.