Surviving illiteracy in Europe

As my dad & I are sitting in a special branch of a bank, created to help foreigners open and manage their bank accounts, the clerk shoots a glance at me when I grab the papers she’s handing to him. “I’ll do it dad.” I say and I offer no further explanation to her, for I sense that she has understood that my dad can’t read or write.

Even though he hasn’t lived in Belgium for a long time, we are on a quest to making sure he can now, at age 65, get his pension for the 18 years he worked here. Not a full pension, but every penny counts in Africa, especially as he’s getting older.

As an illiterate person, you have to put to so much trust in others, it’s insane! Luckily I’m here to help him set up his bank account and to make sure that whatever little amount he’s supposed to get will actually make it to him in Senegal, because there’s no way that he can get on a computer and set-up money-transfers.

When he travels he has to ask random people to point him in the right direction of terminals, buses & trains. Try renting a place or doing your daily paperwork…He is so charming & such a great people person that he always gets the help he needs (never mind a few detours sometimes), but I personally can’t imagine living in an unreadable world even though my eyes can see.

He was never able to move up from being a manual laborer, doing heavy duty work, like cleaning out tankers with chemicals and working in various factories, to a job a little easier on the body. Eventually, because of a misunderstanding in administration (which most likely would not have occurred had he been literate), he got thrown out of the country having to leave a 12-year old daughter (me) behind. Illiteracy has very big consequences for families, especially in these fast paced ” get on board or get left behind” days.

As the only provider for his near family in Senegal, he resorted to selling bags and accessories on the street. It’s getting tough for him, but he’s such a survivor. He found a nice Romanian family where he can store his bags so he doesn’t have to drag his goods back home every day. Through it all he never lost his sense of humor, his faith and his belief in the goodness of mankind. He’s always telling me how such & such are so nice to him, introducing him to new clients, giving him a little extra money when they can, buying him coffee or a meal.

You might ask why he never took the steps to learn how to read and write as an adult? I think he was always too busy trying to just scrape by, having been sent to Europe to take care of the family that stayed behind, in a still semi-industrial age. Courses weren’t as widely available as they are these days and jobs were easy to find. If you weren’t afraid to get your hands dirty, you got hired on the spot.

He’s always showing everyone, whether they care to look or not, the pictures of his 5 daughters and grand-kids, beaming with pride. And while he does, he never forgets to mention how smart they are. They can all read and write.


Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap

Hide them, hide them

Just so we can find them, we snap our fingers it’s parenting time

Disappear and reappear for family-shots

Don’t forget to hush, who cares that your stomach ties in knots

Mini grown-ups better play pretend or we hide them, hide them

Until we cannot find them…

Just a few months ago I attended a brunch for a baby shower which took place in a restaurant on a Saturday. The event was hosted by a few of the expecting mother’s best friends. During the weeks prior to the date, I can’t count how many mails were sent back & forth discussing the topic “Can the kids come?”.  Replies ranged from “No way” to a hesitant “I don’t mind” and lastly a stern ” They can come if they don’t cry!”.

I went to the place with my kid, armed with stuff for him keep himself busy and we settled in. A while after everyone had arrived and started to make trips to the buffet to sample all of that great food,  someone said “Oh my, we don’t HEAR him, at all!!”.  I was actually a bit surprised by the comment. True,  he was calm, he was enjoying his food as well. Why wouldn’t he be calm?

We got into the subject a little more and quite a few parents said that it would be impossible for them to take their kids to such a brunch and have them behave for a reasonable amount of time.  My response was: “But if you never take them to a restaurant, how will they learn what’s expected from them?”.

I mean it’s all about finding a balance at certain ages and stages, isn’t it? I know that with a two-year-old, it would have been very difficult (impossible!!) to have an enjoyable long lunch, in a restaurant, while having interesting conversations with the other guests (All of a sudden I have this classic image of flying food..shudder). But I wouldn’t have stayed away altogether either. A quick drop-in and a sandwich would have, definitely, been a possibility.

In the past, I have gotten up and left restaurants or cafe’s  where we were having a snack or meal, before we were done. Simply because sometimes it was the best option as the level of crankiness from my, then, little monster could not be lowered within an acceptable amount of time (for me or the audience).  Learn to pick you battles people! Even now that little man’s a bit older, he just turned 7 when the event took place and I think he should be able to come with me,  I make sure that a relatively boring lunch – as seen through kids eyes – will not turn into anything else. Say into appetizers & champagne as it did for some at the baby shower (oh how much fun those spontaneous hangouts can be!). But nope, we leave and go do something that’s fun for him too.

There’s an enormous amount of pressure on parents, kids & humans in general to be perfect an accomplished in every aspect of life, in this fast paced society.  Sometimes we forget that it takes a village to raise a child, the village might have burst out of it’s joints, but we all remain connected. That one annoyingly loud kid next to you might be your caregiver one day. How will it learn to have patience, tolerance and respect if it hasn’t first received it from his peers?

Who says you can’t turn back time? I went back to preschool today! :-)

Ok just for a little while, but it was great!

I was able to visit my son’s class and observe the activities for a few hours, a great learning experience.

As of now I’m in awe of my four year old’s teacher.

I wasn’t before, everytime I saw her I thought: “How can anyone listen to that high chirpy voice all day long! No wonder these kids go beserk sometimes…ppffieuw. Oh no is she really going to stay with the class into the next year, thats a real pity”.

But I changed my mind within the first fifteen minutes of my two hours stay. Hat off to her and the assistent teacher. To keep control of  and entertain about twenty children while teaching them new things, peeling fruit, going to the bathroom etc etc.  I couldn’t do it nor would I have the patience for it.

That high pitched voice became an instrument with so much intonation, it was incredible. I found myself glued to my tiny little chair occasionally “poking” myself to be reminded: “You know what’s going to happen next, stop being so hypnothized by the teacher and pay attention to the kids!”. Those faces were worth a million bucks, I think mine was too.

Not all the kids were quite “present”, some of them were staring into invisible skies, others were checking out what they could find under their skirt, but they all had something in common, the fidgeting. I thought my son was Mr. Fidget numero uno but I’m reassured now, it runs in childrens’ genes.

I sneakily took some snapshots. Kids these days start to strike a pose as soon as they see a camera and wanted to keep it as natural as possible, without tongues coming out and big rolling eyes. Those shots are going to be my little present to the teacher to end the schoolyear. She deserves it.

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