Wednesday, December 22, 2004

An eye-opener

Yesterday was the day for Katherine to execute her gift-giving endeavor.

For many weeks Katherine has been gathering toiletries, candy and small toys to parcel together in bags (some of which I made with my rediscovered basic ability with the sewing machine) and give to the street children we see on the way to the Embassy.
In theory a wonderful and generous idea. In reality, well.... still wonderful and generous but not quite what she'd envisioned.
Katherine imagined a young beggar at the window. She would roll down the window and happily pass a bag of goodies over, saying "Maligayang Pasko" and being thanked with a smile. Then another child beggar would come and she would repeat the scenario.
I'd gone through the process that would actually occur. I told her that once one child received something, the rest would swarm the car. I told her that I would control the window and that if it got to be too much we would shut it. She worried that someone would get their hand caught, I said they would move. I don't think she took me too seriously but when it was all done I realized that I hadn't thought everything through. The largest fault was mine, in letting her hand out bags before we were right at the light. We had a couple cycles to go through and it was too long to sit with children and teens and adults mauling the car.
A couple of kids knocked on the window and I allowed her to pass out some bags. And like I predicted, the car was swarmed. I opened the window too far to try to get gifts to the lower, smaller kids but bigger kids started grabbing them right from Katherine, and not just one at at time. Then the worst part, the adults ran over and shoved THEIR hands in the car. I shut the window 3/4 of the way, I yelled at them to go away, I yelled that the bags were for the children. They ignored me. I shut the window on one man's arm and had to lower it a bit so he could pull it out.
The light changed and I moved up, but like I said not through the intersection, so the children that hadn't received anything ran down the street following us. Katherine was able to hand out a few more before the throng grew too big and I had to shut the window again. We ignored the rest who kept panting on the window and knocking.
The light changed again and we were still not through the intersection. One child decided he didn't want to run after the car so he HUNG ONTO the rear view mirror while I drove! He had a rock in his hand and when we stopped again, he knocked with the rock on the window, a loud irritating noise. I told him to knock it off and one of his buddies would periodically stop him, but I discovered later that when he wasn't knocking on the window he was -scratching the paint of the car-. There were three or four more bags and we gave them only to the young ladies holding infants. We realized after that the girls were well-behaved while the boys were obviously not.
The light finally changed for the last time and with no one hanging on the car, but instead with a final smack and a few kicks, we made it through relatively unscathed. Physically at least, for Katherine was emotionally worn.
She'd wanted to be the benevolent gift-giver. She'd actually wanted to walk around the street handing out bags but I'd figured this was a reasonable compromise where we were secure and I was in control. It didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. Katherine was confused as to why the people were so mean. Why did one of them almost touch her (he didn't, I wouldn't have allowed that). Why did they scrape the car and why didn't they say Thank You? Why didn't she get to say Maligayang Pasko like she'd practiced.
Why wasn't it a good experience being nice to others?
I asked her what her goal had been. To give away to those less fortunate? Then her goal was accomplished. We also agreed that next time (for in Togo the children have even less) we would do it differently. Katherine has a vision of going from door to door at night and mysteriously dropping packages at their door. I had to remind her that the children she was giving to didn't have houses, much less doors. But we'll think of something else. There are always organized gift-giving programs, so we will participate with something like that until she and the other kids are much much older.
I'm extremely proud of Katherine for wanting to give the way that she did. I hope that all the kids develop the same sort of desire to share what they can. We both learned something from this experience and it wasn't all bad. We talked a lot about -why- the people we'd encountered behaved the way they did and while none of the kids really understand it (how can they?) it will prepare them a bit for our next stop in Togo.

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