Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lost, at a loss for words, and losing my mind

This is not, I repeat, more to myself than anyone, an introspective blog. While undoubtedly I am changing, reflecting and growing, these events happen calmly with no need of comment or pubic airing. However, I do feel the need to admit, before the following, that I have quite a few faults. One of these faults is the tendency to make snide or sarcastic remarks, especially when I feel that a comment was unnecessary or stupid. Today, as usual, without thinking, I snipped at an eleven-year-old girl who screamed:
“Where are you coming from, gringa?”
I replied: “Gringa isn’t my name.”
Then she asked, “What’s your name?”
To this I said, “You should have asked that first,” and kept walking.

This incident stuck in my head only because of what followed: Perhaps 30 meters down the street, I saw a little boy (could have been a save the children card—7 years old, cute as a button, barefoot with dirt on his face), face down in the grass, crying. I ran to help him, assuming that he had fallen. However, when I asked him what had happened, he replied that his mom had hit him. Upon further questioning, some back stroking, and the input of a neighbor (first entirely in incomprehensible quechwa), I learned that his mom hit him this time because he wanted to go play, and only hits him when she gets annoyed or frustrated. I am only sarcastic when I get annoyed or frustrated (or when I’m with people who will appreciate it, which is pretty rare) and I had just blown off some little girl for no reason. Hitting a tiny boy is far more serious, of course, and it terrifies me to think that for the caprices of his mother, this boy is in physical danger.
How did I react? Inside, I felt sick. Outside, I commented to the neighbor, scratched his back and saw that he sat up and stopped crying, and did nothing. I didn’t storm off to yell at his mother, certainly an undereducated young woman who grew up being hit or even share the incident with my colleagues with the local NGO that specializes in child health and protection (In fact, this NGO gave a workshop to parents in the neighborhood not even two weeks ago about how to prevent child abuse and alternative discipline methods. I would be fascinated to know if this mother attended).
Instead of action, I am sharing, and reflecting and trying to figure out where the impulse to hit a child can come from. While I am far from conclusions, there is a reason I started with one of my own faults. Meanness and shortness are violence, as well. The same impatience and irritation that drive me to snippy remarks (and more often, muttered curses in English) probably cause this mother to physically abuse her son. There are different degrees, of course, but I believe that the type of violence depends on norms and environment. Perhaps I would also hit children had I been raised in a household where that was commonplace. A wise friend once proposed the idea of trying to spend a day without any type of violence; I have not yet succeeded and fear, at times, that it would not be possible. I am, of course, already trying to think of strategies, as a good public health professional, to prevent child abuse and educate the parents, but I suspect that the root of the problem is more in the everyday violence of which many of us are guilty. That, despite countless New Year’s or Solstice resolutions, I don’t know how to begin to change.

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