In May, this year, I will clock 75 years, God willing. But I still remember, with pride, my childhood pleasures growing up in a caring community where everybody knew everybody else and adults regarded all children as their own. In our local language, there is an instructive phrase: mwana wamunyako, ngwako, meaning, “Your neighbor’s child is your child.” This is a loaded instruction which gave all adults the responsibility and obligation to render assistance to any child in need and power to discipline any child who misbehaved. Indeed, it took the whole village to raise the children; us. All adults took the responsibility to help the children grow up into adults according to the dictates of our culture, each adult, male or female, according to their means: the storytellers told stories in the evenings under a moon-lit sky; musicians taught songs; dancers showed off their skill by performing the dances; builders taught how to construct a hut as they built new huts; men taught boys how to hunt or trap little birds; and crafts men and women taught crafts such as basket making and making pots and dolls with soil from the anthills. It was a busy time for all. In the process children acquired new skills while being entertained.
I grew up in this warm and supportive environment. I cherished growing up knowing I was loved by all and learned to return this love to all – my peers and adults.
I remember all this because the experience of growing up in our type of community etched a deep and indelible impression on me. But time is the thief of memory. So, I remember only those experiences that were dramatic and bitter to the taste, or entertaining. Fortunately, watching my grandchildren growing I am able to recover some of the lost memory.
I have had a unique experience and close association with one of my grandchildren. My grandson. I met him the day he was born and brought home. My wife and I immediately became his nunies so his mother could complete her medical school program and graduate. He is now 5 years old. I have watched him transform from a wriggly little bundle into someone I can send to fetch me a soda from the fridge and an independent buddy I can share jokes with. As we interact I am reminded of what I went through as I grew up.
Through this close association with my grandson, I am reminded that children learn or acquire social skills through observation and immitation; they resist instruction but are comfortable trying, on their own, what they see happening around them. This sounds obvious but few adults can resist the temptation to instruct a child. Children learn how to talk, walk, chew and swallow food, etc, by imitation; they are not sat down in a class room fashion and taught. As a former university lecturer I had forgotten this fact and couldn’t understand why children didn’t take instructions, didn’t they hear or see? They simply wanted to learn by trying, by discovering for themselves. As it is often said, “there are none so deaf as those who do not want to hear; and none so blind as those who do not want to see.”
When I look back 75 years ago, I, too, learned to be who I was and, therefore, who I am today, through observing and copying. I too, wanted to be left alone, and so did my peers. Together we learned to be the future adults of our community by observing what the adults did and this is what the current children yearn for.
I remember this because my grandson “shows” it, demonstrates it through his actions and body language without lecturing to me.