Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In which: I Find My Paternal Instinct

I had always operated under the assumption that I lack the biological drive to nurture our particular species' young.

Premises supporting this conclusion:

1) I do not have an uncontrollable urge to speak in baby talk every time I see a child under 5. I talk to them basically as I would any adult.

2) Holding babies does not interest me in the slightest. They're mostly hot and often ill.

3) (And this is probably the most prominent of reasons...) I don't find babies all that cute. Caveat: there are exceptions that motivate even me to release a long, singsong, "Awwwwwww."

It turns out I was wrong, not about all of the above, but about lacking a nurturing instinct.

Sunday, Tori and I decided to go the beach. We decided to take Hassani and Kenny (Jimmy's two children) with us. We also decided to walk. I momentarily took leave of my senses and decided a five-year-old could trudge the 2 kilometers (1.2 miles-ish) to the beach. Tori, not exactly exuding a penchant for maternity herself, didn't thwap me on top of my head and inform me of my superlative stupidity either.

We set off in high spirits, and even made it to the beach without incident. The kids (Hassani is 12 and Kenny is 5) set about doing beach-y things, mostly collecting shells and forcing me to hold them. Tori, germophobe of the century, politely declined the children's offerings of live mollusks.

When we finally set off for home, about an hour and a half after our arrival, Kenny pouted. Not the cherubic kind of pout that melts motherly hearts, I'm talking kid-screaming-on-a-plane. We reassured him that home was our final destination, Hassani whispered to him in Swahili, and we trudged, our steps leaden this time. Tori, who had held Kenny's hand as he bounced happily from Jimmy's to the water, passed Kenny off to me. So I coaxed and cajoled (employing all of my surfeit of boyish charm and roguish powers of persuasion). Even those failed me, and I finally resorted to a piggy-back ride.

Tangentially, children, though light at first, rapidly become a titanic burden. Particularly when they wrap their arms snakelike around your throat. Just saying.

At this point, Tori stopped for a photo op. Turnabout being fairplay, she wanted a picture of me exercising my future-father skills since I took a picture of her displaying unparalleled domesticity while cooking rice (mchele, for interested parties) despite her latent feminist tendencies. Hassani took the picture, and so Kenny wanted to take one too. Tori allowed him a picture, but when he got a little violent with the camera, she took it away from him.

This is where it gets exciting. Kenny yelled something in Swahili unintelligible even to Hassani and took off running.

Let's pause for a moment and consider the situation. I'm in a city I don't know my way around. I don't really speak enough Swahili to communicate effectively at all. I also haven't been in shape enough to run more than short sprints since 9th grade "Personal Fitness." At this point, logic would dictate that I let Hassani go after him, as he could respond in the affirmative to all of the above.

Was I logical? Of course not!

I ran after him, following through a series of sinister alleys, past yelling men, through a crowded market, and across a busy highway. Harrowing adventure, no? Worthy of a chase scene in ?

Well, it wasn't. To be perfectly honest, I was terrified I was going to lose him, that a bus would run over him, and that an African man would think I was attempting a miserably unsuccessful kidnap.

It was a miserable kidnapping in one sense, however, because, despite the fact that I caught him several times, I didn't want to hurt him. So I didn't grab him and hold on to him.

Finally, he collapsed in a soccer field near the house and cried and screamed, "You are not my friend, not my friend, not my friend, not my friend..." over and over again. I picked him up with no small exertion of effort, because he started flailing, kicking, and punching my neck (all while maintaining his mantra "not my friend"--you've got to hand it to him for his sheer multi-tasking ability if nothing else). Tori caught up with me--she was furious, by the way... just in case anyone thought Tori incapableo of anger--and marched frantically home. There, we made absolutely sure Kenny couldn't run and settled down to let our adrenaline metabolize. As I was coming down, I was furious with him for putting me in that situation, still terrified of what could have become of the situation, angry at myself for not getting transport, and exhausted with the demands of watching children. Tori dismissed it, saying, "He's tired. He'll be better later."

Of course, he maintained stony silence all throughout dinner, glaring at me occasionally with the hurt of one betrayed by a trusted ally. I was fine with that, still angry at him myself. Tori and I lost ourselves in conversation, only to look down later to find that he had fallen asleep at the table.

When our ride home arrived, I picked him up to put him in the bajaji, only to find that he wanted to sit in my lap. He then layed his head on my chest and promptly fell asleep just after whispering, "I lied. You are my friend."

That's everyone's cue to go, "Awwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!"

More than mollified, I felt somehow justified in everything I had done that afternoon to make sure Kenny didn't end up lost in Bagamoyo or squashed flatter than chapati by a crazed motorist. Not just because someone had to keep him out of harm's way, but because he was still my friend, despite the afternoon's exhausting events.

And that was when I looked over at Tori and said (somewhat lamely, especially considering my propensity for poetry), "Wait a minute. I can do this. Like, take care of children and look after them and stuff." Tori nodded sagely like she'd known it all along and smiled. And I found my paternal instinct. In Africa. In one of the more dangerous situations I've ever put myself into.

The end.

Wasn't that a fun story about my personal development? I thought so. I'm becoming a better person. So thanks, Volunteer Alliance! More later about the school and our teaching endeavors.

Tutaonana baamaye!


  1. Matt, I laughed so hard at this post. I can't believe Kenny ran away from you! It also sounds like his English is getting a lot better. Anyway, I'm glad the story had a happy ending and I'm so grateful that you and Tori are in Bagamoyo.

  2. You seriously are one of my favorite people on this earth.