Thursday, September 19, 2013

64. Crybabies

One day last year, Dan and I were walking between Mozambique and Malawi.  We were halfway between towns and deep in the campo when we happened upon a small family living in a neat and dirt-swept homestead.  One of the family members-- an older woman-- greeted us and gestured frantically in our direction.  

(Wait, wait!)  She motioned.  (Wait there!)

She ducked into a mud hut and pulled out a small boy who was playing on the floor.  She picked him up and came running towards us, pointing as she ran.

"Ona," she said to the boy, "Ona, A'zungu!"  Look, look at the white person!

She pulled to a stop directly in front of us, and forced the boy to look.  "Ona," she repeated.  "Ona,  ona.  A'zungu!"

As soon as he saw us, the boy started howling.  Kicking and screaming, he started thrashing about in the older woman's grip.

"Ona," she kept saying, forcing him to look.  The boy was jerking and shrieking and howling in fright.  He was obviously terrified.  "Ona!"  Said the woman, wrenching his face around.  "A'zungu, A'zungu!"

I grinned apologetically and held out some crab-apples to the young boy.

"Hey, buddy," I said.  "It's okay.  Don't cry.  We're people, just like you."

For a brief second, the boy sniffled and gulped.  He reached out a hand and took the small fruits.  Then, glancing back up at Dan, the boy redoubled his screams and threw the crab-apples straight at Dan's face.  In my surprise, I simply burst out laughing.  The woman released the boy and he ran away at full-tilt, disappearing into one of the furthest mud huts.  He didn't come back outside. 

That was his first encounter with a member of the Caucasian race.  

The story is funny, but it's also an everyday occurrence for us here in Mozambique.  Almost all babies between the ages of one and two will develop a sudden and urgent fear of white people.  It happens even to those children that have known us since birth.  Inevitably, at around twelve months of age, all babies will decide that we are terrible monsters.  

The change, at first, is nearly imperceptible.  It starts with a few sidelong, suspicious glares.  After a few days, the glares are replaced by whimpers and restlessness, which are then followed by thrashing and unabated howling.  Finally, it reaches a point where the child cannot see us or be near us without bursting into tears.

White people are scary.

Jovita, 18 months
Razo, 16 months
Daniel, 18 months
Noemia, 8 months
Jeremia, 11 months
Fernando, 2 years
Sara, 2 years

Thankfully, that phase is always temporary.  In the end, the children come around and start to learn acceptance.  There's nothing more heart-warming than a former screamer learning to say, "ta-ta" and wave to you on his own.

Once they start that, they never, ever stop.  At that point, you're best friends for life.  

Jovita, 3 years
Lisa:  Jovita, say "Ta-ta"
Jovita:  "Ta-ta!  Ta-taaa!"
We've come a long way from picture one.


  1. This post made me laugh SO HARD.

  2. Lisa, the pictures included with this cracked me up. Oh, we have seen all of those faces!!

  3. Thanks, guys! I laughed while posting the pictures. It's a constant battle between me and the babies. I actually snapped three of these photos on the same day!!

    Zobue is FULL of frightened children.

  4. Just spent a lot of this slow afternoon catching up on your blog today, Lisa. Love it, all of it. Congrats on getting to write for Peace Corps Washington! I really think you could write a book about all your amazing experiences in Mozambique!

    Love ya!
    ~ Katie

  5. I had to comment on this post because I'm reliving it in my mind...except I often had to dodge rocks thrown by children who I realized saw me as something other than human from their perspective. It wasn't until I realized that THEY could see the differences in my appearance compared to all the other villiagers, however, given that I was the only caucasian person within a 50 mile radius in a villiage with no public mirrors, I could not. So I did actually feel terrible when I was forced to report the rock throwing out of fear of a severe head wound!