We were at a community event when someone asked Elliot, ‘Where’s your mum?’ He replied, ‘I don’t know. Where is Mama?’ Sounds like a lost child, right? That’s what the person who found him thought, and fair enough. An announcement was made over the loudspeaker for me. When I heard it, I thought that Elliot must have been upset and I was surprised by that, but of course when I came to collect him he was happily making friends and completely un-fussed by my appearance though thankfully he came along with me cooperatively.
Same deal when we were at the zoo one day when Elliot ran off and, with all the alternate routes he could take I had no way of knowing where he was. The mum I was with was amazed at how coolly I took this situation, as was the poor woman who saw Elliot on his own and asked him where his mummy was, only for him to be completely unconcerned!
In Tanzania, corporate parenting means that when I don’t know where my child is, or he doesn’t know where I am it’s not really a big deal. Then again, he sticks out like a sore thumb in Tanzania, and so do I; you can tell in a crowd who he belongs to, and it’s not hard to use word of mouth to locate him, so he’s never really ‘lost’. In Australia we understandably do not enjoy the same special treatment, and other mums seem quite worried about losing sight of their children. They tell me they’re worried about child abduction, traffic and the child hurting themselves. Whether it’s personality, or having parented away from the influences of western media, these concerns don’t really loom large for me with Elliot. Here’s why:
- Three quarters of child kidnapping cases are by someone known to the child, not by a stranger. The ones that are by a stranger are much more likely to happen near home than in public places. It’s not that there’s no stranger danger, and no one wants their child to be the 1 out of each 10,000 missing children who end up dead, but I’m also not convinced losing sight of him for a bit endangers him.
- The little guy is super safe around roads. Maybe it comes from growing up around the chaos of majority world traffic, but he’s not going to run out onto a road. Ever.
- Same deal with knives, holes, or other potential hazards. He knows how to handle himself. These have been an ordinary part of our environment in Dodoma.
- He finds his way back. Many kids go a bit away from their parents (but maybe still within sight) before returning. Elliot does the same thing, but with a rather larger radius. When I can’t see him, I can generally be pretty confident that he’ll turn up again soon.
- If he’s lost, you’ll know about it! In the event that he actually can’t find his way back, my little guy has quite the holler on him. All I need do is follow the noise.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.