Today, just after assembly, something horrible happened.
I was beaten.
After watching the kids march to their classrooms, I noticed across the compound that Mr. Barnabas giving a boy lashes. Barnabas struck the boy across the butt so hard the boy cried, begging for mercy. He received another few lashes before he was allowed to go, and I watched him stumble across the playground, blinded by tears.
I was furious about the injustice of this. First of all, I completely disagree with corporal punishment. Secondly, the boy clearly got the message with the first lash... were those other lashes really necessary?
When I came to where Barnabas was standing next to Mr. Tony, I saw that the cane was still in his hand, and he was about to whip another boy. Apparently, the boy had left some of his books in the compound overnight. For this little, careless mistake, Barnabas and Tony were going to give him ten lashes, two lashes per book.
“Please!” the boy pleaded, “I didn’t mean to! Someone took them out of my bag and put them all over the compound. I was looking for them yesterday, but I couldn’t find them. Please don’t cane me!”
Sister Dorothy came over to vouch for the boy, that he had been looking for them yesterday, but Tony insisted that the boy receive his punishment. They all agreed that the boy was too careless, that he should have kept better track of his bag, that he should have looked for the missing books more thoroughly.
“Please don’t lash him!” I cried, trying to intercede on the boy’s behalf. “It was just a mistake!”
“It wasn’t a mistake; It was carelessness,” Tony said. “He needs to learn that he can’t just leave his books wherever.”
“Please, don’t lash him! Give him another punishment instead. Have him stay late to clean or keep him inside during lunch break... anything!”
“Sister Juliana told me to give him this punishment,” Tony said.
I tried to gently ease the cane out of Barnabas’s hand, but he held it firmly. “Please, don’t lash him. Look at him,” I said. Tears silently streamed down the boy’s face. “Look at him. He’s remorseful. He’s already learned his lesson. He won’t do it again. Please, don’t lash him!”
“Okay, we’ll only give him two lashes instead of ten. How’s that?” Barnabas said.
“No... how about none? He really doesn’t need to be lashed!” I said, but Tony told the boy to hold the bench, and Barnabas delivered the first lash. The boy cried out, and began sobbing.
“Okay! One is enough! He doesn’t need the other one. Look at him! He’s really sorry! Please, don’t lash him! Jut have mercy on him!” I pleaded, my eyes welling up with tears, but Barnabas ignored me. The boy’s hands were covering his butt, and he didn’t remove them when Barnabas told him to, so Barnabas whipped the boy’s hands, too, and the boy’s sobbing grew louder.
I felt like I had just been beaten. I burst into tears, sobbing almost as much as the boy.
“Come here,” Barnabas said to the two JHS girls who had also forgotten their books at the compound. The first one turned around, and Barnabas whipped her twice on the butt. The girl didn’t cry out, but I saw the tears quietly dripping onto her lovely cheekbone. “Turn around,” Tony commanded the other girl, but I couldn’t watch. I turned and walked several feet away until I stood facing the wall next to a plumeria tree. I could hear the lashes, and a quiet sob after each one from the other girl.
I’m not sure how long I stood facing the wall as I cried. Sister Dorothy found me and told me to stop crying. “Go back to the house, wash your face, put on your powder and lotion and everything. Just go.”
I cried all the way up to my room. I can’t explain it. Physically, I was unhurt, but emotionally, I had been lashed. I guess my problem is that I’m overly empathetic. I don’t imagine what other people are feeling; I feel what others are feeling. When something really great happens to my friends, when they are ridiculously happy or I excited about something, I feel ridiculously happy or excited, too, as if I were the one who had just moved into to the perfect apartment or received 5 million dollars to make a movie or just arrived in a foreign country for the first time. The flip side is when someone is sad or angry about something, I feel sad or angry, too.
Today, I felt... beaten.
Corporal punishment is a part of their culture, but it’s not a good part of their culture. I want to stand up for these kids, because no matter what they did, they don’t deserve to be beaten. Whenever they fight, I tell them that they’re disturbing world peace, that if they want to get rid of violence in the world, they must start with themselves. But look what kind of role models they have! Their teachers have no faith in them, assuming the worst, using violence to get the kids to do what they want. It makes me so mad.
What infuriates me most of all is seeing the teachers beat the girls. Whenever I hear about a little boy hitting a female classmate, I become so angry. “NEVER hit a girl!” I tell the boy. “Us girls, we’re all the same. If you beat one of us, you beat us all. Would you ever hit your mother? What about your sister? Would you hit me? When you hit her, it’s like you hit me. When you hit her, it’s like you hit your mother and your sister and your future wife and every other girl in the world. NEVER hit a girl, EVER.” The idea is to instill a respect for women in their early years in hopes of ending domestic violence. I’d never want any of my girls to be beaten by their husbands or boyfriends, and I’d never want any of my boys to become those abusive men. But after I tell them how wrong it is to hit a girl, they see their male teachers lashing their female classmates. What?!
I’m still working up the courage to stand up to the other teachers. I’m still the new girl, and according to them, I don’t understand how bad African children are. Maybe that’s true, maybe I don’t understand how bad African children... but they don’t understand how good African children can be. A child is a child, whether African, American, French, Japanese, Russian, Peruvian, or Canadian. Children just want to be loved. They want someone to believe in them. I believe in them. And I don’t believe that violence is the answer.
Maybe I need to give my “never hit a girl” speech to the teachers, too. While I’m at it, how about my “world peace in this classroom” speech? Somehow, I doubt either of those would work. Hmm... I need to think up a plan...