Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Charm of Africa: The Heart of Children

My feet know this earth well: the bumps along the road, the cluster of eucylyptus trees shooting like arrows into the sharp blue sky, the crops of corn, rice and manioc that grow with the energy of the hot sun, the “ndakos” or houses along the roadside where I can anticipate exactly which children will come running to me yelling “ciao ciao ciao” with their bare feet and clothes as black with dirt as their skin, the workers in the fields tilling the soil with their hoes’ under the hot sun, the mammas at the same corner of the route selling their bananas and peanuts, the flowers dripping with colour and brightness that makes your eyes widen and your feet stand still, the intricate coloured grasshoppers and butterflies with patterns that startle the unexpected North American’s eyes. The landscape here is a continual gift from God to me. Each day I am surrounded by dramatic colours and contrasts of the sky and the clouds and the trees that give me goosebumps. The darkening clouds set against the blue sky with the hot afternoon sun that casts its light against the soft twisting eucyltptus trees revealing colours of whites and browns wrought into the peeling bark is a moment when the whole world stops.
There is another beauty here other than nature which is the heart of children. Never have I gone a day here without encountering and greeting a child. They are everywhere. This is what gives Africa its charm: the constant reminder of the beauty of childhood. Their feet are always flying through the long tall grass, climbing up trees (many times climbing trees to fill their stomachs with mangoes and bananas), kicking a soccer ball or playing creatively with pieces of plastic or wood made into toy cars. The children here have nothing but they are they are content and play and run free without complaints. One experience I will never forget was when I was in Ariwara working at the hospital. I was washing the floor of the surgical room by myself one day when 3 children who are always hanging around the hospital came in and began to observe my work. They stood there for 1 or 2 minutes and then one by one began to wash the floor with me. The youngest was not yet 3 years old in my opinion and would stick his hands in the soapy bubbles and rub it all over the floor and then walk through it with his dirty feet. Despite the floor actually becoming dirtier with their help I couldn’t help but sit in awe over what I was experiencing. Here were 3 little kids who voluntarily started cleaning the floor with the biggest smiles on their faces as though it was play time. The 2 little boys bottoms were showing through the ripped shorts and none of them wore shoes. When I told them that the work was done I had to drag them out of the room. When would this ever happen at home in Canada? The children here find joy in the smallest things; they don’t need fancy toys to play with or brand name clothes: all they need is each other. The importance of community is very strong here and is something I truly admire about the culture here. Kids as young as 5 years old can be seen carrying their new born brother or sister or nephew or niece or some little child on their backs. When someone in the community or the family needs something or is sick there is always someone who is able and willing to give a hand. Also here people live much closer together in their villages and do not live in big houses with lots of space therefore resulting in people being more community oriented. Also everyday living here is physically demanding and if you are alone and have no community behind you your life will be much more difficult.
I will miss the children of Africa, always running after me and calling me by name. I will miss going to the field will a ball alone and leaving with 20 kids running behind me. The charm of Africa is truly the joy of the children who make you envious of their freedom and simplcity. But who said I can't still be like a child?

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