Here’s a situation to break the heart of a mama of a TCK.
These are beautiful pictures of Elliot with other Tanzanian children his age. What’s not to love? Let me tell you what I see when I look at these pictures.
I see a child who is in his cross-cultural element. Though he is the only white face, he is so clearly with his people. He is happy, and smiling, and confident. He is part of a group, so he eats uji with them, though he will not touch it elsewhere. He is engaged in active play with the other children, and social play. They are speaking to him in Swahili which he understands, though he replies in Tanzanian English. He knows this culture, and he knows its rules and nuances, and though he doesn’t match, he fits here.
And this is the school he no longer attends. These pictures were taken when we went back to visit last week and ended up staying for the entire morning.
This is the school that was an academic and disciplinary mismatch, with rote learning, long periods of boredom in class, and a fair dose of punitive and physical punishment.
But it’s also the school where he had friends.
And it belongs to a time in his life that was relatively stable.
And so everything about these pictures reminds me of what our little boy doesn’t have at the moment. His new school is fantastic educationally, but he does not yet have good friends there. The rules are different, not just the obvious classroom or playground ones either, but the unspoken etiquettes of speaking and playing and socialising, the inflections of voice and body that mark one out as either an outsider or an insider. He does not yet fit. His new school is cross-cultural, but it’s a different kind of cross-cultural to the first school, a whole other culture to learn now.
We knew the new school would be a big adjustment in itself, and when he’d only been there a month, it was interrupted by 3 months in Australia, at an Australian kindy, yet another foreign context for him. Think about that, three schools in 2 months, when you’re only 4 years old. So of course coming back to visit his old school brought relief and joy to him. And yet, this is a very fleeting moment of respite for this little guy, as this month when school recommences he will be required to pick up settling into his new Dar school once again.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.