Sahra, a ten years old I met when her family hosted me in Erigavo Somalia, is the most grown up, reliable and mature ten year old I have ever come across. She wakes up at first light and prepares the morning for the rest of the family. She bakes the morning bread, makes tea and by six thirty she is serving everyone breakfast and then she gets ready for school.
With loose books under her arms, she joins other girls who equally have started their morning the same way with family obligations. The house feels empty without her. She isn’t talkative, or distractive, or a troublemaker like some of the other girls I have met here. She is poised, quite and calculated. Its as if her thought are always on how she would accomplish the work ahead.
School lets out around ten for a short break; Sahra joins me and her mother for a mid morning tea break. Part of me feels badly for her, knowing well what girls her age are doing in America. I realize there is too much expectation placed on young girls like Sahra, and I wish I could bring education and healthcare and all the other important social services she is missing in her young life. Then there is this other side of me that admires her calculated mind, her wisdom and her self-assuredness.
One Friday (Thursday and Friday are the weekend in Somalia) her fourteen-year-old sister Najma washed all the cloths in the house by hand. She spent five hours washing and sorting cloths. Friday is often the clean washing day and girls across the city divide their time between regular chores and laundry.
After washing, Najma lined the cloths to dry in the clothesline, which stretched from one side of the open hallway to the other. Everyone would pass through the clothesline when going through the rest of the house. For me, more than one time the hanging ropes almost choked me for I kept forgetting they were there.
Najma started to complain to her mother in a whining annoying voice, saying
“I don’t know what to do with all these cloths mama, come and handle it.” She was screaming with an agitated voice. Sahra was sitting next to me and her mother savoring the afternoon tea, which she prepared earlier. Sahra and I were watching Najma, who looked tired and overwhelmed. It was her reaction to the situation that still rings in my mind. She said: “Why don’t you create more room by connecting the edges of the cloths, or by piling them lightly on top of each other, where else do you think you will line them?” she looked at her mother for approval and continued “ Stop complaining and do the job right.” This was said in a confident tone with full authority.
Her mother and I exchanged admirable gazes while we each eyed the young bright skinned girl with unshaken determination. At that moment I realized the benefits of the entire burden that had been placed on such a young girl, and girls like her everywhere in Africa. Out of their hard, harsh circumstance Sahra and her peers have gained authority, know how and a solutions oriented attitude. Something kids growing up in developed, comfortable, rich countries may not. They are responsible, mange their time between chores, family time, learning and surviving in the poverty around them. As a result they become mature beyond their years. There is so much poverty, inadequate health care, poor education system and other ills that plague her society. But looking at her she is rich with experience and positive attitude that allows her to maneuver through the challenges of life.
There is another side of Sahra and her friends. When they are not in chores mode, they are in their best attire dancing and reciting their best poetry. Through it all they have learned to carve time for themselves. They don’t forget to have fun and be young amid their busy lives. Friday is the day they organize buraanbur nights. They sing and dance and out do each other with their latest moves and poetry jam. That is a sight that fills my eyes with awe. One Friday afternoon, Sahra’s friends showed up all made up with hennaed palms and simple makeup. Earlier in the week they pooled their money together and bought treats like local pastries and soda. This was their ‘me’ time. This was their fun time, away from the gaze of adults. In their own created space they could be their age and have fun with each other while sharing goodies and stories.
By Humanity Against Poverty (HAP0)