Samfya is brimming with children and they are a sociable lot. A westerner walking down any road will be greeted by a score of little ones shouting “Howa you?” The appropriate response is, “I am fine. Howa you?”. To which a reply of “I am fine” will be given. I suspect someone came through Zambia 50 years ago and taught this script to all of the children, and it has been passed down from child to child for generations. After the greeting their English peters out, but they greeted the westerner well.
On a walk through the village yesterday, Nathan and I came upon a Zambia Airforce helicopter that had just landed on the old airstrip. By the time we got close the chopper was surrounded by a crowd of children. They were up close to the aircraft, closer than I would have let my children get without expressed permission from the pilot. As the crowd grew larger I kept looking around to see if we were violating some unwritten local protocol which would bring us into danger. Nathan and I both stuck out like New Yorkers in the Midwest: I was nervous. Then I noticed that there were almost no adults in this crowd. This assembly had formed on its own in response to an exciting development, a helicopter, and there was little adult supervision. At one point a pilot got out of the chopper and, using a stick, brushed the children back. The man was not angry and the children dutifully obeyed, but now I’m thinking wait, where were their parents?! Why were these kids out here without adult supervision. I know it’s lame, but when I see little children running around without adult supervision my first question to them is, “To whom do you belong?” Followed by, “Where are your parents?!” I know, sad, right? But hey, kids running around unsupervised? Generally not a good idea. Here, however, it seems to be the normal state of things. It’s likely that their parents have gone to the fields to plant their corn. In many cases the fields are just too far to bring the kids. In addition, would you want your kids at work with you? So the children are left at home, perhaps under the supervision of an older sibling until evening. This is of course more common in the west than many realize. That said I could probably lighten up a bit and let my kids run around a little more unsupervised too!
When the chopper left Nathan and I continued our walk. For a while we were followed by a mob of kids who all took their turns walking next to the westerner. It was like they were egging each other on to see how close they could get without being noticed. Direct a smile at one who came near and he would drop back immediately. Eventually the crowd drifted away and Nathan and I were left to walk home alone, together. What? You didn’t think I’d let my thirteen year old son, my son who will be old enough to drive and get a part time job next year, my son who is almost as tall as his mother, walk home unsupervised did you?