I got a really great opportunity to talk about my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa today. My son’s first-grade teacher and I have been planning it for a while, but it turned out even better than expected. All four of the first-grade classes (and their teachers) joined me and the school librarian in the library for a 40-minute presentation on Africa.
I showed them photos of the house in which I lived, the teachers and administrators at the school where I worked, and even what our village market day looked like.
The kids’ questions were hilarious. Several tried to convince me they have a camel at their house or that they have owned a pet monkey!
This was my third time presenting in one of my son’s classes – I’ve been doing this since he was in pre-school – and this was definitely the best. Not only am I getting more comfortable about what information will most interest them, but I’m also better attuned to how certain answers to questions can be interpreted.
For instance, when I talk about the kinds of foods people eat in Burkina Faso, the gross-out factor for 6 year-olds raised on Kraft mac n cheese and pizza is high and that makes me feel like I’m disrespecting the Burkinabe people who were so kind and welcoming to me when I lived there. Now, I downplay those kinds of things.
The best question I got was from a little girl who asked me if everyone in my village was brown. It was a great opportunity for me to talk about how the children of the village reacted to me, a German/Irish-American with very light blue eyes and straight blonde hair.
To be frank, the little ones were TERRIFIED of me. I looked like no one they had ever seen – probably ghost-like – and they screamed if I got too close. Over time I wore them down with my charm, but in the beginning they wouldn’t even let me touch them for fear that my white skin would rub off on them!
It was a great teachable moment because, although my son’s school is very diverse, he has had run-ins with kids who “don’t like brown people.” As a Burkinabe-American, my son is dealing with things at 5 and 6 that I didn’t have to address until I was 22 years old. He is my little hero and I’m glad I got the chance to help open some eyes about the kindness, culture, and warmth of the Burkinabe people I knew. And to reinforce the fact that our skin color is one of the least interesting things about us as people.