By Serigne Saliou Sarr (aka Jordan Ricker)
My Senegalese family is pretty average-sized. There’s my father, only one mother (even though polygamy is practiced in Senegal), my five younger siblings, and me. My oldest rakk bu góor (younger brother) is also named Serigne Saliou, 14 years-old, and in troisième (the equivalent of 9th grade), while my youngest is 2 and just started in case des tout-petits (preschool). I have one more younger brother as well as two rakk yu jigeen (younger sisters). They make my family life completely different from what I’m used to.
In the U.S., I only have two younger siblings, a brother who’s 14 and a sister who’s 17. There’s both old enough to get by on their own, with pretty minimal adult supervision or interference. And that’s what I’ve been used to. I was too young to remember what it was like to live with very small children in the house. Sure, I have cousins that are still in middle and elementary school, and whenever there’s a baby at the house they’re always fun to play with, but I’ve learned very quickly that there’s a big difference from small children coming and visiting you, and living with them.
What I haven’t learned so quickly is how to deal with them.
I’ve been in Mboro for a little bit over 6 weeks now and there has not been a single day that has gone by without somebody joy (yes, that is the Wolof world for crying, and no, the irony is not lost on me). It’s usually the two year-old, Cheikh Bi, when he wants a bonbon or thinks that he’s been treated unfairly. Or Adja, the six year-old girl, who doesn’t like it when things don’t go her way. Then there’s the times when Mame Bousso (the second girl, of twelve years) hits Cheikh Yakhya (the third boy, of nine) because he’s been sof (annoying/cheeky). No matter what happens exactly, crying is almost always inevitable and anger or resentment lingers in the air. I have not had to deal with this constant kind of behavior since……well, never.
I realize that I’ve gotten so used to dealing with either adults or teenagers for so long that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to deal with children. I’m used to telling people in their teens that they’re acting like children (or adults for that matter), but what happens when they actually ARE children? How do you stop telling a child to be a child and grow up?
You don’t, as I’ve learned the hard way. You can’t hold children and adults accountable in the same way, just as you can’t expect someone who speaks only Wolof to suddenly magically understand when you repeat yourself over and over in French. Children are the way they are because, by definition, they are children. They haven’t matured yet. They haven’t had the same life experiences or been through as much schooling. I am twice as old as three out of my five siblings. How can I possibly expect them to know, instantly, the life lessons that I take for granted?
They haven’t yet been totally inculcated to the mantras of the world, such as: every action has consequences; patience is a virtue; stealing is wrong; listen to your elders – I could go on. But the fact of the matter is, they’re just kids. And it’s been so long since I’ve had to regularly deal with kids that I’ve forgotten that crucial element. I’ve forgotten that kids will say anything to you for something as simple as getting a sweet or watching a movie. They are unpredictable in their predictability.
There is a fantastic short story entitled “Father Forgets” by W. Livingston Larned. I highly recommend that you read the entire thing; it’s only a few pages long. However, there is one quote that I would like to impress upon you, as it sums up perfectly my realization about the kids in my family. “I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.”
When I signed up for Global Citizen Year, I expected it to be challenging. I expected to have to go to a foreign country that was literally halfway around the world, and converse with people in not one, but two foreign languages; one that I hadn’t mastered, and the other that I hadn’t even heard of. I was expecting that that living conditions and food would be different from what I was used to. I was NOT expecting to have to live in a house with 5 noisy, cheeky, turbulent, and wily kids that I have come to absolutely love. If there are two things I’ve learned so far this year, it’s that you need to expect the unexpected and be ready to deal with it, and that kids will, forever and always, be kids.