Saturday, February 2, 2013

They're all just little grouches

     Just after graduating from college, I worked as a development volunteer for a nonprofit in Kitwe, Zambia that worked with orphans affected by HIV or AIDS. Essentially I was just a token white person that lent legitimacy to the organization, which- tragic as it may be- is a major qualification for a lot of non-profits in developing countries.
Nyuma is the little girl in pigtails all the way to the left.  So cute!
     I loved living in Zambia.  "It was amazing experience", and all the ubiquitous ululation people who have traveled abroad spout: mind expanding, humbling, learning experience..blah, blah.  All true, but not what I want to write about right now.
     What I want to write about is how, now that I am a parent, my perspective on my stay in Zambia is changing, simply because I am learning more and more about kids. Not Zambian kids, or American kids; just kids in general.
   A lot of the most moving exchanges from my time in Zambia occurred between me and my little friend Nyuma.  Nyuma was seven when I worked at Ubumi, and she did not speak very much English, but she was very, very sweet, and just absolutely gorgeous.  So in this particular exchange I had brought a few empty plastic bottles from my apartment for the kids to play with. The Center for the children did not have many toys. so the kids mostly played with blankets, empty cornmeal sacks, oil jugs, and other remnants from the kitchen.  They would arrange them out in the sand into imaginary homes, or roadways, or costumes.  Empty bottles were highly prized commodity.  Most people in Zambia do not buy things that come in a disposable container: most food is purchased unpackaged, they used bar soap; their soda comes in glass bottles; they don't use ketchup or salad dressing.  So plastic bottles were rare, but since I only had one or two bottles and all the children at the Center wanted one, they had to share.

Playing house in the backyard shed.  
     Nyuma was looking lustily at the empty bottle of shampoo that her friends were admiring.  They were passing the between them, taking deep inhalations from the top, and posing like the blonde woman on the front and giggling.
     "Today we must share the bottles, Auntie." Nyuma looked at me wistfully  "But when you go to the U.S., you will send us back bottles each one-one?"
     My heart almost broke.  I thought of all the children back in the States surrounded by toys, and these poor children cheerfully played with garbage, wishing for nothing more than a more a simple plastic bottle they didn't have to share with their friends.
     I must have told that story to a hundred people when I got home.  How sweet and humble the children are.  It was such a testament to the materialism corrupting the United States.
     Let me show you something....
Call her Oscar.
     You see that?
    You see what she is doing?
     The child has $800 worth of toys and you know what she wants more than anything?  Empty bottles, plastic fruit containers, paper towels.  any empty bottle all her own that she doesn't have to share.
     There may be truth that consumerism is corrupting American society, but that story of Nyuma and her bottles, is nothing more than a testament to how much children around the world just frickin' love trash.  This should seriously effect my purchasing decisions from now on.
     "Yes, I could buy you a super deluxe playhouse, darling, but look, this package came with bubble wrap!"
     "Look, Honey.  I've finished the grocery shopping AND all got all Amani's Christmas gifts!"
     I'm telling you, if it weren't for the raised eyebrows at play dates, our toy box would look a lot different from here on out.

1 comment:

  1. So true, Claire. I remember Joe's first Christmas. I was so excited about buying him gifts and having him open them. All the fond memories of Christmas flooded into this one day. I could hardly wait for it to come, as if I were a kid again. He tore open the box, pulled out the toy, threw it away and played with the box and the tissue paper. When he itred of that, he spent the rest of the day playing with a wet wash cloth.