This last weekend, the neighborhood kids were taking advantage of the pause in the rain and were out playing in full force. There was the usual crew, plus about 5 extras we had only seen a handful of times before.
I noticed two things. One, that they weren’t playing soccer, and two, that they were playing really well together. Normally, there is a lot of yelling, a lot of complaining, and multiple babies crying. I went and looked out the window, as there was lots of laughter and a general sense of calm that is not normally characteristic of them playing together.
All of the kiddos were playing house together. As I sat and pretended to do a sudoku (not that they really cared I was eavesdropping), I was surprised at how this game of house played out. The kids had a handful of props, an empty bread bag stuffed with leaves in place of the already eaten loaf, an empty laundry detergent packet, some rocks that were supposed to be money, and so on. They traded turns playing the Mom and Dad of the family, without regard to sex or age. While a positive of the afternoon was that they played really well together, a sad reality of Cameroonian life made itself apparent.
At one instance, one of the kids asked their ‘mom’ for some bread. The ‘mom’ responded by saying that they had to share all of the bread with their siblings, and make sure to save enough for their dad. At multiple points, the older siblings in the role play were demanding the younger ones to go wash the clothes, handing over the empty laundry detergent packet, and saying if they didn’t, they would hit them. Later, one of the ‘kids’ was (fake) crying and the current ‘mom’ asked what was wrong; the ‘kid’ responded by saying they were sad because ‘dad’ refused to give them money to pay their school fees. The crazy part is, this was all play. Real life that they all could relate to and agree on, translated into playing house.
I wouldn’t be honest if I said I didn’t laugh. But, I want to make it clear that I was not laughing at the situation, but rather, at how the kids so carelessly transcribed what we would define as incredibly stressful situations and made an afternoon of fun out of them. Cameroonians, if anything, are incredibly resilient. In a grand generalization, the Cameroon home-front is stressful, for both parents and children alike. And as much as I would love it to not be the case, it is generally incredibly patriarchal, hitting is common, and there isn’t always enough money or food to go around.
They continued on with their day, inevitably transitioned back to playing soccer, and I was left wondering how to process that. How do you internalize (or, make the conscious effort not to) the household realities for these kiddos we have come to love? If we are brutally honest with ourselves, there is nothing we, in this current moment, can do to change the reality. Cameroon is longing for a holistic, systematic, governmental change that will revitalize the economy and bring with it social change. But, until then, I can only love on these kids, share our crayons, play with them, and laugh with them.
I walked away thankful for the hand I was dealt in life. I grew up imagining I was a restaurant chef for all of my dolls, that I was a veterinarian, or a million other things. I never imagined not having enough food or having to worry about paying school fees. This world isn’t fair, no one said it was, but all I can do is be thankful my niece can also grow up with endless imaginary possibilities, where her version of house could include her being a teacher, a stay at home mom, an astronaut, or whatever else her little mind can come up with.