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 quite 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
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-thin.I 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 will
find 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.