So much of the problem with the war (especially in this region; with it being a main headquarter for the army) is that most of the children here are exposed to unbelievable amounts of violence day in and day out. Contrary to how soldiers in America are often some of the nicest and most respectable people you know, the soldiers here are typically crude, rough and almost always drunk. just the structure of this place is so different that being a soldier in this city-is like wearing a big sign on your head that screams- ‘i can literally do anything i want—to you’. And with that silent but dangerous connotation of authority and domination, the solders here naturally become rather aggressive. And so- as i began to see in the schools, the young children being parented by these soldiers, are growing up with violence and aggression immediately engrained in them.
Quite honestly, the state of mind that i found so many children in, has been one of the most terrifying realities i have ever come upon in my life. i wish so badly that you all could just see with your own eyes, the looks of these children because its honestly indescribable.
(at the orphanage where i lived, i was assigned the task of going to school as a tutor for one of our boys- Mori, who has mental health issues—- this is what i experienced)
After about 3 or 4 days of the students mistaking me for a teacher, or some foreign creature from outer space, they finally stopped giggling any time i sneezed or moved, they stopped ‘staring so closely at my skin that i could feel them breathing’, and i was finally able to just sit and observe; almost— like a fly on the wall. Something that has been really hard to get used to has been the structure of the educational system here. Nothing is ever done on time, and very little is ever done effectively. School which was supposed to start on Feb 4th, started on the 18th. and classes which are supposed to start at 830 am, start at about 10. Enrollment is open ended, and so for example, my primary one class ( which Mori is in), which is probably on a plot of ground about 10x15ft, has about 100-130 students depending on the day. And when i say ‘class’ i mean huge walking sticks propped up to hold a grass roof. the children all sit on rocks or tin cans and such. P1 class only lasts for half the day, and yet in the 4.5 hours that these 4-8 year olds are sitting in their class, their teachers only manage to pop in once or twice, for a 10-30 minute teaching session. After that, these untrained teachers go back and sit in a teachers lounge, leaving 100+ hellions to themselves. but no one ever sees the chaos that breaks out when no teacher is around. and im almost convinced they would rather it be that way. The only discipline these kids know is from the class monitor, which is the biggest kid in the class whom the teachers give a switch to, so that he can whip and beat any child whom he thinks is ‘acting out’.
And this is where the violence began. a tall young boy of maybe 8 years old, strolls aound the class hut with his switch ready in hand. the anger in his eyes doesnt even make sense. if any student so much as statnds up, he whips them with a force you didnt know kid could have. this bigger, orlder boy, squeezing his face, and cocking back his arm to gain enough power to hit little girls as young as 4. But unfortunately, he wasn’t the only violent kid in the class. Over time, he was joined by them all.
Over the past two weeks, i sat, hopelessly, and increasingly depressed, in the midst of a chaos and violence i have never known before. these are children of course, but the only thing small about them is their size. the strength of these children is utterly shocking. and the anger and poigniency with which they attack and fight eachother, is like that of an adult street fighter. And these kids are fearless. Regardless of the size or age, the kids stand ready in the face of their opponents, refusing to even flinch at a swing, as to show their strength. Helpless and shocked, i sat in the middle of boys punching eachother violently in the back of eachothers heads; girls slapping eachother dead across the face with a passionate heavy hand. Kids thrashing rocks across the class, slamming another in the head. Even boys bashing rocks into kids heads, as if it didnt scare them or even occurr to them that pain, brain damage or death was possible. i dont know where these kids learned this stuff, but i know that it has been a really rough and scary time for me as im wondering…is it possible that to some degree, that violence is innate?
Ond day a small boy was getting beaten by an older boy in class. the older boy was clearly winning. the older boy took the younger boys head in his hand and pushed it to the ground so that the boy was bent over completely. and with a terrifying calm in his body, the older boy held his head down with one hand, and slowly cocked the other back to knock him to the ground. it was almost like a really violent video game where the fighter takes a last moment to look at his victim and bask in his violent glory, before he finishes him off. only this was real life; with 6 year olds. ive watched children bash rocks into eachothers heads, boys kick girls in the throat, and kids beating kids for no apparent reason. i have never heard the sound of flesh beating flesh like i have in this place. the sounds of their hits have completely shattered the blissful illusion i lived in that told me that small children only carried small fight; if kids are fighting, its nothing serious- its not like they can hurt eachother right? wrong. that first week, even though i did try to stop as many fights as i could, i will admit, i took somewhat of a back seat. i was there as a tutor to Mori, and class discipline wasn’t my job. whether or not i was there, it was their teachers responsibility to keep them under control. but by week two, i saw that this wasn’t happening. And on my second Wednesday, i took the drivers seat- and set out for opperation calm down and control; or so i thought. i took over the job of class monitor and DIDNT carry a stick. tried preventing fights rather than breaking them up. and finally after 2 or so hours of waiting for their teacher to show up, i said what the heck, and i took some chalk in my hand, and started teaching. The kids loved it. We made up songs, clapped our hands, used jestures, and smiles were everywhere. their excitement for something new was jumping from their faces. The teachers they have now, walk in, whip a few kids, turn their back to the class, draw a leg and a foot on the board,draw arrows and write ‘leg’, ‘foot’, ‘toes’, and walk out. without any interaction or explanation, the kids then attempt to copy down what is on the board.— all the while, the children have never even been taugh what the symbols ‘l’, ‘e’, ‘g’ even are!!! and thats school for the day.
for those few moments, with the kids eyes watching me closely , with excitement and longing in their bones, i felt chills run through me. After a little while, i sat down so that their actual teacher would feel free to come and teach; and the waiting began again. as we sat and waited, another fight broke out- only this fight, would be the worse id seen yet, and for me it was the final straw.
A brother and a sister were beating a young girl. the sister tackled the girl to the ground and began punching her in the face while sitting on top of her. And as i ran to the fight, the brother joined in and lifted his leg to his chest and then slammed it repeatedly into the girl legs, crushing them into the ground. The little girl was being beaten into the rocks, and her fight grew weaker. i pushed the brother away and reached to try to break the two girls apart. but from behind me the brother kept kicking at the girls body. in utter disgust and frustration, i turned from the girls and pushed the brother back, but he fought against me and came back at the girl. so i grabbed his arms and pushed him harder. And in that very instant it was like even though everything was moving so fast, God froze that one moment for me, as the boy flew to the ground, and i felt God face on my heart, like— ‘what have you done….?’ Half a second hadnt even passed before i knew, i had pushed him to hard. the boy flew to the ground and stared at me in shock. that moment was quite possibly the most shameful and disgusting moment of my life. of all of the crap, and inpurity, lust, and sin ive been a part of, this moment, cut me deeper than them all. my insides froze and my mind went blank. i have never been so emberrassed to be me. by no means did i hurt the kid even half as much as they hurt eachother in all their little fights, but nonetheless, nothing about that moment felt right or good to me. still though the sister was beating the girl to the ground and so i turned to the girls and pulled them apart.
A teacher had heard the noises the kids made when i threw the boy, and he came to calm the class down. As he calmed the class, i stood frozen. on the outside i wathced carefully to keep the siblings away from the girl, but on the inside i was a broken mess. i felt completely disoriented. i had lost self control maybe only for one moment, but that one moment was enough to make me just as ugly and hurtful as the evil i was fighting against. Suddenly this idea of ‘me’ and all that i am, was shattered and i realized how messed up I was too, and how badly I needed a higher power to give me a truly divine patience. i shook myself out of it and set my eyes upon the young girl; battered and bruised and scratched all over, she stood in a broken silence. the pain on her face ran deep into her body. not like the fight had hurt her skin or her bones, but that with every hit, a message was being beaten into her heart. that ‘this is the way of life. this is what you deserve, this is your value. this is the roughness you have to adopt into your own heart’. watching this thought process spin in the minds of kids here has been absolutely heartbreaking. its like you can see thier minds slowly coming to accept that they too, must be this rough; its the only way to survive. and eventually, with enough fights, and enough beatings, they learn— and the tears stop flowing.
her chest pounded and her eyes spoke words of sorrow and pain ive never even known, and yet- not a single tear flowed. i spoke broken arabic to her, and hugged her tenderly….. i dont know whom i was hugging in that moment. this broken girl; the boy i pushed to the ground; ALL of the youth in this broken place who are attacked each day by lies of violence and hatred?; or myself?-the person id most recently discovered, was allowing herself to take those same lies into her heart-even if just for a moment. i dont know who that girl was to me as i hugged her; but i hugged her tightly and closed my eyes, just wishing so badly that nothing was the way it was.