I had lunch with three of my students today. One is particularly sweet and basically a perfect child. Let’s call her Ashley. Another one is really sweet and I think gifted but often does her own thing, and I have suspected there are some issues at home. Let’s call her Karly. The other girl is like a 16-year-old trapped in a 6-year-old’s body. She has the biggest attitude I’ve ever seen in a young child – always rolling her eyes at me and smacking. She is pretty consistently in a bad mood and is often mean to other kids. Let’s call her Kenyatta.
Innocent questions about their families turned into this conversation:
Ashley: My daddy doesn’t live with us. He in jail. He broke the law.
Me: Do you get to visit him?
Me: How’s he doing?
Ashley: Good. He gets to play basketball and football behind his school.
Karly: I never visit my daddy in jail. …He was selling crack. And weed.
Kenyatta: Oooooh, you said two bad words.
Me: Karly, how many brothers and sisters do you have?
Karly: I had three brothers.
Me: How old are they?
Karly: One is seven. One is 13. And one is dead.
Me: Oh no, how did he die?
Karly: He jumped off the roof. He was fixing the roof. He was 19.
Kenyatta: My brother was walking to the store and someone shot him in the back of the head 17 times. He was 18.
Karly: Someone shot my baby sister all up and down her body. She was bleeding everywhere.
Me: But she’s okay?
Me: Who shot her?
Karly: My daddy friend.
Karly: My sister was kissing a boy.
Kenyatta: Yeah, my momma saw her kissing a boy.
Karly: Everyone say she had sex with that boy.
Kenyatta: Oh that a nasty word. You cain’t say that! Not in front of the teacher!
Karly: (completely unfazed) They say they had sex. He say they did. She say they didn’t.
Me: How old is your sister?
Karly: Eleven. That boy is 15.
I live in a different world than these kids, only 15 minutes away. In many ways I feel like I adapted to Mozambican culture more easily than this culture. I don’t understand the world they live in. I don’t know how to begin to understand what it’s like to be six and know these things about the world. And I don’t know how to respond.