Quick link: Split Me Open
This week The Other Journal published an essay about parenting in hard places. My struggle to mother one child in my living room with dengue fever and one child at boarding school, about to go on her first ‘real’ date, pales when I watch mothers raising children in refugee camps. How do any of us make it through whole? Maybe we don’t. Maybe our hearts are split open all over the place.
I am caught between dengue fever and boarding school. Circumstances beyond my control have left me for weeks without internet and no hope of connectivity in the foreseeable future. I can’t Google the symptoms (fever, loss of appetite, bone aches, exhaustion, delirium) of my youngest daughter, and I can’t Skype with my oldest daughter, away at a boarding school in Kenya. I can’t even complain or worry to anyone because my husband left yesterday, for a three-hour drive to one of Djibouti’s refugee camps where he is conducting teacher evaluations.
When I remind myself of the teachers he will meet, my own struggles shrink, but they don’t dissipate. Teachers in the Ali Addeh camp stand in front of classrooms filled with Somali students and not one single book. They write lessons on the board, and the entire class session consists of the children copying those words, which they don’t understand, into notebooks. Some of the students come without pens or paper. Without shoes or breakfast. Without citizenship.1
Teachers meet physically or mentally disabled children in their huts for one-on-one lessons outside of school hours. The teachers have no training, no equipment, and no resources, but their paraplegic students learn math, and their deaf student runs a shop out of her hut. Their student with an undiagnosed issue that renders her body out of her control can only make cooing noises and she doesn’t understand the lessons, but she loves to have her teacher visit. So the teacher comes to the hut and hugs the student, then teaches her mother basic literacy for one hour a week.
These students were born in, or moved to, a Djiboutian refugee camp. Each night, they sleep in tents near the Ethiopian border. And yet they belong nowhere. They can claim no nation, and no nation wants to claim them.
Likewise, the teachers are not paid a salary; they are offered a minimal monthly “incentive.” So what can my husband evaluate? The teachers without curriculum or salary? The students without paper or passports, who barely speak the language of instruction? The aid organization funding this educational system? The parents struggling to raise a handicapped child in one of the harshest environments on the planet?…