Quite unexpectedly, one of the frustrations we’ve encountered here in Africa is…the children.
They line up, sometimes in great numbers, along our fence at all hours of the day, hoping to get a glimpse of us–or better yet, be invited in to play. However, it can be hard to discern which ones have pure motives and which are…not so good–because there is definitely a distinction. While many of the children try to communicate with ours, there is another portion who simply laugh and mimic whenever our children try to speak to them in Swahili. Even though it’s Kenyan custom to ask to enter someone’s home (they will ask, “Hodi?”–may I come in?–even when they are specifically welcomed), some of the children frequently ignore this gesture of respect. While we are schooling in the morning, the Kenyan children who are too young for school or too poor to attend will often make games of sneaking inside our gate and running to our open veranda or through the yard, only to dash off again when I step outside to ask them for privacy while we’re doing our work. When the children go to gather water, some of the local kids will help, while others pull hair, pinch skin, and generally make nuisances of themselves. Some nights when the sun goes down, we’ll still hear a lineup of children at the fence hooting and hollering–just to annoy. All in all, the negative behaviors haven’t been anything “over the top,” but still something we’ve had to address.
Our children love to play with the neighborhood children, but it has sometimes been a challenge to deal with the “bad” along with the good and maintain some boundaries for the health of our family. Helping our children to deal with this issue in a way that honors Christ and leaves them feeling secure has been an occasional test of my parenting skills and a matter of much prayer.
This past week, we had a couple of successes that leave us hopeful that we can have a positive impact in our relationships with the local children, while at the same time maintaining those necessary boundaries.
One day, after the children had been complaining about harassment on their way to the spring for several days in a row (with my advice being just to ignore it, since it seemed annoying but not hurtful), I figured something had to change. We talked about what the Bible might have to say about the subject and Jesus’ command to, “Love your enemies” came up, as well as the Scripture “return evil with good.” So, when the kids went out for their afternoon free time, they invited the neighborhood children into the yard and everyone had a small candy as a treat. Then, when it was time to gather water, I reminded the children about how it was written in Thessalonians that Christians should be taught to “work with their hands,” and about some of the Biblical admonitions not to be idle. So, my advice was that if any of the children had nothing better to do than poke and prod them and be bothersome, they should give the child their water jug and cheerfully insist, “Saidia, tafadali.” (“Help me, please!). Happily, this seems to be a successful strategy so far.
This past weekend, we had a yard full of kids for the morning on Saturday, playing ball and digging in the dirt. There was another whole bunch of kids at the fence as usual but we had an unlikely ally helping to separate the wheat from the chaff–our neighbor across the way (who doesn’t speak a lick of English but who seems very nice and has spoken with Marc through another neighbor who translated). He made sure to keep the gate shut against those kids that he seemed to recognize as “troublemakers” and chased them off with a barrage of Bukusu (the local dialect). We chuckled when he even brandished a switch at one point, though I don’t think he used it. As a result, the morning was relatively quiet and very enjoyable for all of the children involved. Come lunch time, I sent out a bunch of food and we enjoyed a picnic under a shade tree. I insisted to our kids that we should not let in anyone who had not already been here playing–I wasn’t about to feed the whole neighborhood! So anyone who came to the gate while we ate was politely told, “Hapana!” (Quite simply, “No!”) I am hopeful that this showed the kids who were just there for the sake of curiosity (or trouble) that there are benefits to being respectful of rules and boundaries.
We’re still navigating the waters of helping the children to develop and nurture healthy relationships in the community, and I’m thankful for recent progress on this front. Would love for you to share any thoughts you might have about how to deal with this type of situation in a positive manner.