One of the amazing things I find about parenting is how much I learn from my children. Many of the things I have learned while in Malawi have been through my children: they often perceive and respond to life differently, from the eyes of a child, which is more innocent, less judgmental and less analytical.
CC is six (she would be in Grade 1 in Canada). Part way through last year—when she was in the equivalent of kindergarten—she told me that she had a new girl in her class. The next day I noticed the new girl and met her father (a Malawian who had gone to university and worked in the United States). His daughter was born in the United States to an African-American mother. When CC described her new friend (E) to me later, I was confused. In CC’s eyes, E was “white.” Or, maybe that was my confusion. It seemed that CC hadn’t even noticed her new friends’ skin colour, or perhaps she didn’t consider it to be different from her own.
I tried to figure it out: was it because E had an American accent and sounded “white,” or was it because CC really didn’t see a difference between her skin and E’s skin? Or maybe the difference didn’t matter at all. Perhaps it was irrelevant to CC.
After I had this experience with CC last year, I shouldn’t have been surprised when CC created a brown-skinned grandma during an art assignment. In CC’s class there are 2 other Caucasian children and 13 dark-skinned children. The children were all asked to create a grandma based on a description in a poem. I noticed that CC’s grandma was one of the few that looked African. Here is a photo:
I asked CC about this, and she simply told me that she doesn’t colour anyone’s skin white because no one has truly white skin—everyone has coloured skin. It’s true. It made me wonder if I could become more attentive to my unconscious reactions to people’s skin colour while living in Malawi and how that might impact my life here.
Wild Child just turned 11, and her response to Malawi in recent months is thinking about how to help people. She created a diagram of how to help people. This started when she went to visit our Malawian neighbours next door and realized that one of the little boys living next door didn’t have any toys. She came home and immediately started working on this:
On her diagram of how to help people she had numerous other items, so a few days later we went over and picked up garbage around our neighbours’ homes. But it’s frustrating being 11. One night at bedtime in between these two events she cried as she told me how much she wanted to help the club that stores things in our garage. It is a non-profit organization that runs a weekly “club” for adults and children with special needs such as cerebral palsy and Albinism-related health problems. It is called the Ndirande Handicapped Club (Blair has written about it in some of his blog posts). That night we talked about some things she can do to help people here. The strength of her desire struck me.
Bird Boy isn’t much of a child anymore. He is 14, so he doesn’t see the world through a child’s eyes. He has seen a lot here. He has visited a high security prison. He met a great-grandmother in one village who recounted to him her journey of emigrating from Mozambique to Malawi decades ago. He has befriended Malawians from all walks of life; he has friends at the Blantyre market, friends who have no running water and no electricity, and friends whose father’s own some of the largest businesses in Malawi. And when I say “friend,” I’m not saying it in some off-handed way. Bird Boy knows how to build relationships. That’s the thing I’ve learned most from him as I have watched him unabashedly speak Chichewa (he isn’t fluent yet, but he’s still working on it) and connect with people.
An example of Bird Boy’s ability to connect with people is how he has built a relationship with our next-door neighbours. There are a few families next to our house who live in tiny, one-room homes with an outdoor toilet, an outdoor kitchen, no running water, and no electricity. Bird Boy decided to get one family involved in raising some chickens. He brought them some of his chicks and let them raise them. Now our neighbours have 16 chickens. He has been involved in teaching this family about immunizing, feeding, and breeding chickens. Bird Boy has helped feed this family by helping them to raise chickens. And he has done it all because he first had a relationship with them.
Bird Boy met the father of the family in the first few weeks we moved in. Bird Boy would stop by and eat nsima and fish with the family. He would discuss the man’s income and his job and his dreams and how to help them develop. When the wife of the family recently gave birth to twins (pictured above), they asked Bird Boy to help name the babies. If it wasn’t for Bird Boy, I don’t think we would have even known there were newborn twins next door, but because of him and his relationship with the family, shortly after the twins were born, I went to their house with him to bring food and hold the babies. He was so excited to hold those twins! Bird Boy is constantly teaching me about relationships.
I am an efficiency-minded, logical person who always has a To Do list. Some people probably find me cold because I am so focused. And I am often in a hurry. But my children open my eyes and make me slow down. They are observant and they often see things with a simplicity that I lack as an adult. They see people differently and they take time to form relationships. And through those relationships they often do God’s work.