Some kids in the world have no toys

I always believed that giving little girls dolls was one of the best ways to make them smile from ear to ear. The other day in Fundong, Cameroon I went to visit my 22 year old friend who, like so many Cameroonian women, had a child in her teens. Her 2 year old is fearless and hefty, that is, until I gave her a rag doll. She was terrified and so were her screams. We grabbed the doll and kissed it until finally she was willing to hold it for a few minutes. This happened on several other occasions with other children so I tried giving a fluffly white stuffed animal. The reaction was the same, fear. Dolls are a foreign object in this poor village. The only toys I have seen are long sticks with a tin can attached or old car tires being pushed down the dirt road with a stick.
The Christian girls in the public schools have to shave their heads so they are not enticing to the men and boys. The Muslim girls being extremely shy and demure, don’t have to cut their hair. Regardless, the Christian girls are always the ones who become pregnant as young as age 13.
I was told that priests and sisters in this country are not celibate and sometimes if there is a pregnancy, the woman is sent out of the country.
So many people go to church here but I am not sure whether it is a habit or a deep religious feeling. Many of the hospitals here are funded by Christian charities, the Baptist being extremely active. Private schools are run by the Catholic church and there are also Arabic schools.
Over time I noticed how parents yell at their children and don’t engage them in conversation, rather give them orders or chores.
Whenever I have been in a classroom speaking with students, it is almost impossible to elicit a response from anyone. If I try to speak with kids in the street,
I am usually met with a blank expression or a giggle. Digging deeper into this phenomenon, I asked the young motorcycle driver who has driven me up and down mountains, if his parents yelled at him when he was young and how it has affected him. He admitted it was traumatic, affecting his self esteem and ability to express himself. Teenagers here behave as 9 year olds do in our culture. I noticed a much more respectful treatment of children by wealthy families, .
The four water taps we released from debt in the village are still not open. Since the water is to be sold to pay the water company, we need trustworthy people to manage each tap. One of the women in my women’s group lives close to one of the stand pipes and has been complaining to me that she is suffering because the tap is locked. I reminded her I had asked her three weeks ago to find someone to sell water at the tap. I have put my thirteen year old neighbor boy on one of the taps. He will keep the salary he earns which is unthinkable in this society.
With all the uprisings and protests in Africa and the Middle East, the government here recently announced they would create 25,000 jobs in civil service. Obviously this gesture is to quell dissent among the young people and students in this country. Only time will tell if any of these promised jobs will materialize. Very rarely is there any news outside of Cameroon about this country. And there is absolutely no freedom of the press in the country. During the protests in Douala four weeks ago, it was kept hush that the police had killed 8 demonstrators.
I leave my door open because there is a white tile terrace and colorful plants staring back at me and fresh air. But it also invites my neighbors, their kids, and other people who assume I want visitors. Today Saidu from the village of Bam was at my door begging me to bring water to his compound of 20 people. Followed by the nursing student whose tuition we had paid last year, expecting us to pay again this year. The two dirty faced adorable three year old girls who live behind me came to visit, looking for treats . I begged fatigue to a teenage neighbor who always asks” what have you brought me” and touches every object in my house. And finally my two favorite kids who come to my house to greet me in the morning and eagerly await the evening when I make them cocoa or hot milk and cookies. My door is now locked for the night.

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