There are a lot of things that are different about the way children are treated in Kenya. Almost every day Jeremy and I go “Oh, my god, I can’t look at that” as we watch three-year-olds clamber up a pile of precariously balanced building materials, or two-year-olds in soiled miniature prom dresses holding hands while walking unattended down the road as a truck comes careening over potholes and speed bumps directly at them. I do a double take when I see the children in first grade grasping at their neighbor’s hand which clutches the double-sided razor blade they use to sharpen their snacked-on pencil stubs.
I ran into a friend yesterday who said she was checking on her daughter, just 'cause she recently got Typhoid. When I expressed condolences she seemed aware but unfazed. She assured me it was just because the small ones put so much dirt in their mouths, and they play around the latrines and whatnot, and she assured me her daughter was better already -- as if I needed to be reassured rather than her. I sometimes conjure up the ghost figure of a Manhattanite Jewish mother and imagine what she would say/do if she could get a load of her child doing any one of these things -- or even what I would do if I felt their well-being were actually within the sphere of my responsibility. I think I would never cease saying “no” and/or “stop.” And yet, the children seem to generally be just fine. On a campus of 401 kids, many of whom are under 10, or on the streets of Isinya, or around the rubbish-pile playgrounds, you almost never hear a child crying. They smile up at you from their dirt-castles, run after you calling “wazungu!” like you are a circus train pulling into the station. They seem so… happy. Strange, isn’t it?