This morning, as I made my way gingerly down the stairs like I do— African stairs are of no conformity I can discern, although I suspect there is one, risers can vary from 6 inches to 18. But I digress. I looked up, careful not to take a unexpected plunge, and spied three three-year-old’s plotting just around the corner from my room. They hadn’t seen me, so I had the jump on the triumvirate of adorableness. Like a cockroach, I scurried into my room, shutting and bolting the metal gate behind me.
Please understand, these girls are delightful. So much so that, like a box of kittens, it is impossible not to play with them. My attempt to escape detection had to do with a need to write. When the girls discover my whereabouts, I can completely forget getting anything more than coloring, or a hand-held walk directed by these Munchkin minds. The issue of having only two hands can at be a problem when there are 3 girls who need hand-holding.
I don’t know the magic needed to make “Esta, Ranya, Debo fuluma! (that’s Lugandan for ‘go out’)” work. Whenever I invoke the words, three little sets of eyes look at me in wonder. A few seconds later, they continue to do whatever it was that they were up to before I interrupted. If the triad feels it incumbent upon them to move on or their names ring out from down the hill, they might return later standing with their arms through the metal grate and say, “Aello Aunt Mary.”
They get me every time with that “Aello.” The independence these children are allowed is remarkable. They roam the twenty-five-acre compound unencumbered by parental oversight. At times, they are like the musketeers moving as one – other times, as tiny little solo units of curiosity and wonder. I flinch, though no one else does, when I see a sight like Ranya sucking on a discarded tube of toothpaste that I’d seen that morning in the road. Esther routinely walks around with bottle caps picked up off the ground in her mouth.
Last week one of the girls handed Deb a knife and asked her to give it to her mother in the kitchen*. My heart leaped to my throat as I saw this bitty child with a chef knife blade pointed up walk through the door. Afraid to distract her and make her trip, I moved as if I were stalking a rare bird to snatch the blade away. While childhood admonishments of carrying a knife blade down bounced around in my head, I couldn’t help seeing a goring end. Bed, nap and meal times for these children are non-existent. They just sleep when their tired and eat when their hungry.
Don’t mistake this freedom for neglect. Someone is always aware of these girls. The little ones are clean and well cared for in every possible way. Africans just raise children differently than we do and it’s not for me to judge. As a matter of fact, I think our over-parented American children could use a little dose of African freedom. As for the Triumvirate of Adorableness, I think they’ll be just fine.
*You’ll be glad to know Deb’s mom took a dim view of her daughter being handed a knife too!