Before joining the Peace Corps, I didn’t see kids much in my Seattle neighborhood and I never interacted with them. But now, kids are everywhere—I literally live on a middle school compound and sometimes have to cross an in-progress soccer game just to get to the outhouse. But it’s not just because I live on a school, there just are more kids and they’re allowed to roam way more freely than in the U.S. As foreigners, we’re a curiosity for them. My first month in Madagascar, a group of children took to following around my friend Steph and I while shouting “Stephan-IEEE! Jess-y-KA-KA!” They would then roll around the dirt in uproarious laughter, because of the easy one syllable leap from my name to my name + ‘poop’ (kaka) in Malagasy.
Initially, I just didn’t know what to do with kids around me all the time, and not just around me, but interacting, trying to hang out. Especially with limited Malagasy skills, it felt hard to communicate. Of course, kids don’t mind that as much as some adults, and I’d end up spending hours drawing with chalk on my front porch with my 6-year old neighbor, or going around my house, both of us asking “what’s this? what’s this?”
Further along, I began to appreciate their presence more. For example, last weekend another PCV, Jackie, and I wanted to do yoga in a hotel’s garden. I was a little embarrassed to do yoga in front of a group of children milling about nearby but we went for it anyways. As expected, the kids started giggling and mimicking us. It ended up being pretty cute to see them join in, shifting from downward dog to plank, and falling over each other when Jackie and I turned sideways for side plank.
This never would have happened in a Seattle park. There aren’t as many children just ‘hanging around’, and I doubt American parents would approve of their kids trying to join in a stranger’s yoga practice in the park. It just doesn’t happen in America, but in Madagascar it would be strange if kids nearby didn’t come out to shout at us, try and join in the games, or ask questions.
Photos: (1) Kids playing at our hotel (2) Kids doing yoga (3-6) This is what happens when you give a group of kids a balloon