Sometimes cultures clash and you find yourself standing in the gap in the sake of your daughter.
I hesitate to share this story with you because I hope you will choose to leave this in the Lord’s hands like we have. That being said, I want you to know that we fought the same responses you may when you read pieces of this: frustration, an urge to protect, an urge to respond rashly, and then a settling into God’s Sovereignty in this situation. The benefit for you is that you get to read this situation in entirety verses our wrestling with this over four days of “beyond our control” waiting.
But I have chosen to share this because I really make a concerted effort to share the whole story of our life here: the good and the hard, and how Jesus is capable of redeeming everything for His Glory in our lives here.
Abi came home from school frustrated and embarrassed. She brought home a story from the play-yard where she usually finds delight in catching frogs and lizards. This time it was a lizard that she caught triumphantly when another child came over to investigate. On this day, this child was surprised by the lizard and began screaming when the lizard jumped out of Abi’s hand onto the ground. The child began stomping the lizard in the dirt while accusing Abi of throwing it on her.
Rachael, while standing there, continued to defend Abi (keep in mind that all of this is in Portuguese) as Abi and Rachael told the child that the lizard was on the ground (where she had smashed it). Many children began to crowd around at the great commotion.
The child left and returned with an older child. The older child grabbed Abi while the younger child spanked Abi. Other children circled and shouted and Rachael yelled in Abi’s defense, telling this older child to let go of Abi and continuing to proclaim Abi’s innocence. Abi fought away from the kids and ran toward where she believed a teacher’s assistant would be, but unfortunately the teacher’s assistant was not there. See, the teachers all take their break during the children’s recess time and two teachers assistance are in charge of the children during the time.
The two children pursued Abi when the school bell rang, informing the children to return to their lines in the gym. The older child was in a line nearby Rachael and announced that she was going to go hit Abi. Rachael yelled in Abi’s defense again, but in the chaos of the kids lining up and the lack of supervision, the two children once again returned to holding and hitting Abi, only this time on the top of the head with a closed fist. Abi sunk to the floor, crying and the teacher found her there. When the teacher asked who hit Abi, Abi’s entire class pointed to the guilty child, but the older child was back in their line and was not identified as aiding in the situation. The teacher told the child not to hit people, not knowing the full story, and helped Abi return to the line.
Abi was not physically hurt despite the incidents. She is a tough kid, but she was obviously scared, frustrated and feeling defeated.
So let’s address the cultural realities behind this in which we battled in addressing this situation with the teacher, the children involved and their parents. This type of rough behavior here is highly common and brushed off as ‘kids being kids”. Kids here are very rough in general, wrestling and hitting each other even when they are close friends. It’s a reality of children in the community spending a decent amount of time unsupervised. I’m not saying unloved, but the realities of the family workload leave four year old children caring for younger siblings while Mom is in the field for the morning. So kids come together, many times in groups outside, passing the time with nearby friends. And kids work out their problems with their limited skill sets, which often involves hitting. Oh sure, friends and family, kids hit. We all know that. But our situation’s kind of hitting took on a different angle when the child acquired a larger child to aid in the fight.
Another cultural reality that we learned in this process is that an older child entering the situation is supposed to be a voice of greater wisdom and an aider of calming the situation. This was helpful information when I spoke with the older child about their part in this problem. And quite honestly, this was nice to know was an underlying cultural rule in this community as our children play in the community.
There’s also the culture of fear of frogs and lizards in general among Africans. There’s also the culture of unsupervision which carries over to the school setting. For example, many times a teacher has to attend to other work and instead of finding a replacement teacher, the class is just left to color pictures… for 3 hours, unsupervised. You can imagine that running, yelling, sometimes hitting and general chaos happens. Usually another teacher leaves her classroom to recalm the other classroom temporarily. Yeah, it’s just Africa, and the girls are learning how to follow good examples and avoid being in the line of fire of bad examples.
Then we rubbed up against the culture here that most people are not pro-active. They tend to wait until a situation gets so problematic that it has to be addressed. We were not sure if this situation would have been brushed off as normal kid behavior or if it would be agreed upon that it was needing to be addressed. But either way, this situation in our culture absolutely had to be addressed.
My first response was most certainly fight or flight. My flesh rose to heightened Mama Bear protector mode and I am thankful for Matt’s sensibility once again. 😉 I am also thankful that in this moment my Portuguese is not as strong as Matt’s so he was our public voice for most of this situation because quite honestly, I was not as level-headed for the first 48 hours. Respectful, yes, but I had less control in my inner person and was not sure how I would respond if in a parent meeting the other child’s parents defended their child’s behavior.
We used the culture in our favor to require the teacher to call a parent meeting with the children involved and their parents. Since the older child’s parents were very hard to get to come to the meeting and the older child was repentant, the child who did the hitting’s mother came to the meeting as well as the 2 other children.
The day after the situation, I confronted the older child, trying to swallow my inner burning for justice. When the older child defended the classmate’s behavior because she said Abi put a lizard on the classmate’s head, I informed the older child that that was a lie, just as Rachael had said because Rachael was standing there to see the whole thing. I asked the older child if she saw the situation for herself before holding down my daughter so another could hit her. And I told her, leveraging the culture, that she is supposed to be a helper to the situation, not a bigger problem. When the older child found out that the situation was a lie, her face broke into repentance and she immediately apologized. I think the public hearing this also helped curb her respect for me (the adult), which is a building block in this community. And while approaching the child after the situation was over is not really a part of this culture (I would have normally approached the parent), due to the situation, the timing, and the lack of parents picking up this child, by the grace of God, the road was paved for further conversations. Then I felt the Lord swelling up within me as I softened my voice further to encourage this older child to protect and care for younger children. I reminded her that that job is one of honor.
Matt attended the parent meeting to find a mother broken by her daughter’s behavior. And that was nothing but the grace of God. The mother said even if Abi had thrown a lizard on her daughter, though she knew Abi did not, that her child’s response was completely unacceptable. This is a grace of God to find a parent in this community who would say this. Beyond this, the mother apologized and required her child, who was sick that day from school, when she returned to school, to apologize to Abi.
And then we learned that behind the scenes our little Mama, Rachael, had stood in defense of Abi when asked by her teacher (who adores Rachael) and the teacher of the older child. Rachael was leveraged as a voice of reason to clarify and solve this problem. While we didn’t ask Rachael to play this role, this also was not a problem because we learned that the more school community that knows about this situation, respectfully, will aid in helping to curb further behavior. This was evidenced in other teachers entering the situation to solve the problem. Community is a big deal here! And people modify their behavior based on the accountability of community.
The child has since apologized to Abi, hugged Abi and, thanks to the grace of God, has been friendly toward Abi again. And how’s Abi?
Well, Abi is a really resilient kid. And this move overseas has only heightened her resilience. We have had many conversations about forgiveness, not living in fear and this situation’s resolve has left her as happy and carefree as normal. We have advised her to not catch lizards and frogs during recess at school, especially since she can’t keep them anywhere. And instead we’ve given her some time after school to grab a few helpless victims to add to her plastic tuppowear for 12 hours of prison before they are returned to the outdoors. 😉
So thus this situation was resolved with care and grace extended. And God in His Sovereignty has showered his grace over us all as we are continuing to learn how to thrive in this community.
Thanks be to God for His presence amidst a hard cultural clash in our community. How He can make beauty from ashes. How He can speak in our hearts to still and calm us and to spring us to action where we must. How He is a trusted friend who walks beside us in times of uncertainty. And how He frees us to forgiveness and returned joy. Oh and thanks be to God how he protected our Abi’s innocence amidst a potentially future fear-creating situation.
Thank You, Lord.