Posted by: howvoicebegan | 26/05/2012

Being Normal in an Abnormal World

Even after two years, the question remains.

It started when our youngest in the orphanage made a demand that she makes anytime I am standing and have a spare arm: “Leslie, nkuke!

I tease her by exaggerating her tone in a baby voice, “Nkuuuuke!”  as I pick her up. Next to me is Lerato, looking over the situation. I draw her in to the conversation as she watches me hold our little girl by saying, “Ke ngwana wa ka.” She’s my child.

Later, while showing me how to polish school shoes, Lerato asked me the question that has been brought up several times over the years I have been here. “Leslie, where is your ngwana? She is in America?” Every now and then one of them asks me where my child is. You know, the one I gave birth to.

“I don’t have a ngwana,” I said.
“Aowa, Leslie wena, you do!” she retorted.
“I do? And how old is she?”
“She’s six!”
Six! My goodness; she is as old as you!”
“No, she’s seven!”
Seven! Now she’s older than you.”
“Eight! Nine! Ten!” Lerato kept guessing.
“I’m pretty sure I do not have a child who is that old,” I say, counting the years backward.
“Aowa, Leslie, you have the ngwana.”

I was not going to win this argument, not only because it’s impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist, but also because she finished polishing her shoes, ending the conversation.

For two years I have wondered why they continue to “accuse” me of having a child back in the States. I think, who does this child live with? Where did she come from? And why on earth would I take off to South Africa without her? To me it is a slight insult that the children think I would leave a child in America to, ironically, work with other left-behind children.
But I no longer wonder at this point. If it is normal to a child that parents and children live separately for the entire duration of childhood, then it makes sense that I would leave my child behind in the States in the arms of whoever is available to take care of them. Maybe my child is in an American orphanage, wishing she wasn’t left behind every holiday while all of the others go home. One of these days, if it ever becomes convenient for me, I’ll come and pick up my child.

The children use pieces of brick as people, like they would with dolls. What kinds of relationships are they acting out?

Children can’t help but to think in the terms of the little world that they know. In the world of the children at the orphanage, I am an adult; therefore, I have a child. It makes no difference if the child is absent from my life, because it is normal for an adult to have a child but leave them behind somewhere. Why would Leslie be any different? Is there even reason to believe that there could be something different?

This is where we have a tremendous opportunity to break into lifestyles and lifecycles that are harmful and abnormal but exist because it has become normal. Whether it is children or any other dysfunction in life, we have a calling to lead by demonstration. Sometimes I wonder if anything I have done has warped their little world view enough to realize there is a different standard of normal, but it’s not up to me to make the change- they must open up to it.

Therefore, I keep trying to show them that I am a different adult than what they are used to. Maybe they’ll get it. Maybe they won’t. But at least I didn’t keep silent.

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