Friday, July 12, 2013

Children in Mali

October 29, 2000
As I was eating supper tonight on my porch, I could easily hear the children (boys) playing soccer in the lot next door. Despite a few obstacles such as large rocks and cinder blocks, the boys had found a good place to play the national sport. A much better location than playing on a street, where an inaccurate kick might send the ball down the open sewers on either side of the streets!

Anyway, I thought I'd write about the children in Mali. Children here begin working at a very early age, whether it is caring for their younger siblings, household chores, or even physical labor. It is quite common to see young girls carrying their youngest sibling, strapped to their back with a wide strip of cloth. Even the youngest children begin practicing the amazing (to me) feat of balancing everything on their heads. First they may steady the load with their hand, but soon carry it with ease. Young girls also begin helping with household chores, such as doing the wash by hand, pounding the millet to make flour, etc. Like their mothers, the girls seem to work longer hours than the male counterparts. Boys also do physical labor that would not be even thought of in the US. But, especially in cases where a parent has died, the children are expected to carry the load.

Children are typically quite inquisitive. Being light skinned and a redhead, I must stick out like a beacon of light. Many simply want to come up to you and gently shake your hand, and say Bonjour. If I am taking photos, they want their photo taken. Luckily I have my digital camcorder, which enables me to take pictures that they can immediately see. For some, it is perhaps the first time they have seen a picture of themselves. Often times then, they coax their older siblings or mother to look at the photos, and perhaps even have a photo taken of them as well. Like the adults though, the children seem very gentle. I have not observed arguing or fighting - or even disagreements.

"Neighborhood Children" Color Pencil
by Melissa Enderle
Appearance-wise, the children vary. Some don't wear any clothes (mostly the youngest ones). Many are wearing western hand-me-downs. Some of the clothes are clean and quite good yet, while other times the clothing is very dirty or torn. Sometimes the clothing is Malian style and is hand-made. Adults tend to be the ones wearing the hand-made clothing though. Belly-buttons are quite interesting here. Most are the "outy" variety, with many sticking WAY out - perhaps 2 inches or so. While you don't see any fat children here, I really haven't seen any children who are gaunt-thinI have heard that many families only eat one meal a day though.You can find boys with tomato cans begging along the roads for money. Often times it is a requirement for their studies in the Koran. There is not much to be found in the line of pre-made toys. You may see boys playing with homemade toys, such as a plastic spool-like thing with wire, allowing the spool to roll as a wheel. Tires are a popular toy, with a stick guiding the tire as it rolls.I've also seen some creative toy cars or similar items made entirely from junk. I haven't seen girls playing much though. I have heard that female circumcision is still practiced in Mali. Hopefully that will change - soon I pray.

Overall, the children seem happy. Even despite the need to work hard at a young age, children, like their adult counterparts, continue to be optimistic and very pleasant to be around.

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