My daughter befriended the neighbour's son a while back, and from the get go, the little boy was scared of me. He was so scared of me and my husband that he never came around and whenever he saw my daughter and me together, he woudn't approach us. I thought that was due to me being the first white women on the plantation since the war and that he had probably never seen a white woman in his life (back then he was two and a half, this is about a year ago). While this may be true, I found out the reason of his fear around the time my daughter celebrated her second birthday.
I had asked my nanny/cook why he was still so scared of me, so she asked the little boy in return.
He told her the reason he was scared was because we don't talk to him.
Indeed, the one time he came over to our house, I briefly said hi and asked his name, and then just let him play with my daughter, while I went along with my business. That's the way we Westerners do things. We wouldn't dream of starting a conversation with a kid because
a) we think they have nothing of interest to tell us
b) we have better things to do
c) we wouldn't want to embarrass them
d) we don't want to be the obnoxious parent with the 21 questions
Africans however do talk to children. They talk to them as if they were grown ups, ask them questions. If you walk on the street with your child people will halt and first ask the child how they're doing, before they ask you. Yes, I said ask the child, not ask you. We would ask the parent how the child is doing, even with the child there.
If a child comes over to play, most mothers are happy to be 'relieved' of their own kid for a while, and be able to do some grown up things.
Children are very much invisible and ignored in Western culture. The are handled, trained and talked over their heads. If they are at all talked to, they're sure not listened to. Western parents would find it irritating, at least, when a stranger came towards them on the street and adressed their child.
So I took that confronting realisation and turned it around. Now - it's school holidays - there's a gathering of kids all ages in our garden every day, and I do talk to them... Probably that's why they're coming back.
Image: Norma Desmond on Flickr