My daughter is washing the dishes. This may sound a like a pretty regular occurrence in most households but it’s the first time she has done it in a year of us living together. And she’s washing like a pro, proper rinsing and all. I ask her if this is how she washed dishes in her orphanage (minus the running water, obviously) and she proudly answers that yes, adding that she was a much better washer-upper than the others.
I am not exactly sure what has brought on this flurry of mum-pleasing activity. I think it might be a combination of a few events in the past days. The first is the fact that we had a brief reunion with some of the older kids from her orphanage, who, together with the director, were passing through Barcelona on their way to speak at a conference in Italy and perhaps touching base with them has triggered memory of her previous habits. The second is that she has been feeling less than her super-confident and secure self since the school holidays started.
The colour of her skin has never been an issue at her local concertada, at least that I am aware of, and our local parks often resemble a Benetton ad. But since school break started, we have been travelling out of our comfort zone. The other day she came to me crying because a little girl had apparently told her to leave the playground and yesterday a little boy called her ‘fea’ in the pool—apparently within full earshot of his father.
It’s true that kids can be cruel, but it’s hard not to perceive these comments as race-based. At least for me. For her, she simply doesn’t understand why some kids don’t like her—in contrast to her own culture where mutual respect is far more widespread.
I’m aware that her ‘difference’ weighs heavily. In the street, older people are constantly touching her braided hair (much to her annoyance) and kids often just stop and stare. I remember how during the first months I spent volunteering at her orphanage in Africa, I relished my ‘exotic-ness’, but after a while, the staring, the comments (however innocent they may have been) and being the only white face in a sea of black became totally overbearing. All I wanted to do was run back home to where I ‘belonged’.
My daughter doesn’t have that option, at least until she is much older. For now, she is trying her best to fit in and adapt to a completely different lifestyle, culture and society. There has been so much change in her short life, a lot of it extremely adverse and most of which I will probably never know the details of. She beams as she shows me a gleaming rack full of dishes and I think she is certainly the bravest person I know.