This week’s kids are a microcosm of their village–the good, the bad, the ugly. Within this grouping of eleven individuals, a whole constellation of beliefs, power dynamics, interpersonal exchanges, and constructed identities reveals itself to us.
And, quite frankly, it chaps my ass.
I know that, for instance, the presence of the older kids silences the young ones into submission, dragging them into making the poorer, in my eyes, of two choices under the guise of senior superiority and obedience because here, whoever is older, stronger, better gets total adulation, adoration, subjugation. He is not, contrary to my upbringing, expected to be a role model, sacrificing his own ego for the benefit of the young guns, so that they have their own experiences under his tutelage.
No, no. He is allowed to behave like a total ass, going so far as to belittle his 11 year old comrades in the sex talk, scoffing at them because they haven’t had as much world experience or because they’re too shy to put a condom–not a runner, prey tell, as that’s an eraser, and oh my god, every time one of the girls asks for one, I stifle a laugh like a total gamine–on the wooden penis during the practice session during the sex talk.
After all, most of these kiddos are just starting to wrap their heads around the female-male thing, and the concept of safe, consensual sex is all we want to get across to them so that when we ask them what safe sex means, they answer with a little more depth than, “when man and woman fucks.”
And, a tourist is a place to put rubbish.
Then, to drive home just how embedded and engrained the inequality is between men and women in the group, one of the older boys responds to Megan’s question on how should you react when your girlfriend doesn’t want to have sex with, “make her give you a blow job.”
No, he was not kidding.
Quite the opposite–the whole week, it’s crystal clear that even as young as they are, the girls already know that they are inferior to the boys and that it is on their shoulders that the responsibility for all that is domestic, all that is work falls.
In fact, when I have to tell the kids for the fourth morning in a row that waking me up at 5 AM is totally unacceptable but that I’ve run out of creative punishments and therefore do as one of the older kids suggests and make them do a chore they’ll hate, the resentment is visible. I sentence the boys and girls to doing all the breakfast dishes instead of swimming on their last morning with Daktari, and for whatever logic that completely fails me, the older kids think themselves absolved of the duty, going so far as to hustle the girls along.
Thankfully, Andreas reigns in the grotesque display of misplaced self-righteousness and sends them packing to the kitchen. I am certain that very, very harsh words were flung in my direction, but quite frankly, I just don’t give a hoot.
Unlike when I was a Resident Advisor and felt it so awkward and unjust and just plain silly to reprimand my floor for behavior I’d conducted just over a year or two ago, this time, enough years have passed and I really don’t mind being the bitch.
But, then, just as I start to cast them in a mischievous light, they surprise me with acts of total generosity, unsolicited demonstrations of friendship and support.
Like in India, the boys hold each others hands and pile on top of each other. They rally and rough house like brothers in the pool, bellies wrapped in protective strings given by the sangoma, or during the bush walk.
And, they restore my faith in their ability to accept and love with how they treat Fortune, a boy with physical handicaps who could otherwise have been relegated aside as an unwanted child, a drain on society. Here, though, with this group of kids, he is celebrated as an equal, respected for his brimming intellect–seriously, Fortune is our best student–and brought into the fold like one of the gang. We are as smitten with him as his peers, nominating him the week’s winner.
So, even though I mutter grievances under my breath and think them little shits sometimes, I see that they are just children in need of some support, direction, and a whole lotta understanding.