June 2, 2008
Naillil and I are kneading dough into rolls when she tells me she’s being beat at school.
I am aware that corporal punishment is legal and used in the Botswana school system but she describes a scene that turns my stomach into knots.
Naillil tells me of one teacher that beats them in such rage that he is overwhelmed with grief afterwards and apologizes profusely to the class. She describes the stripes across her behind and back and how the headmaster sprays their skin with medicine to dull the pain and hide the redness from their families.
I am enraged.
I talk about her rights and the limitations of Botswana’s public policy on corporal punishment. I discuss communication with the guidance counselor, the responsibility of the headmaster and the power of the kgose. I tell her a story I’ve heard of 30 Motswana children leaving school one day to report extreme corporal violence to their kgotla. I tell her over and over that no one has the right to beat her excessively or in rage.
Somewhere in the middle of my tirade Naillil pats the bun I have just thrown into the baking pan. “We should not throw the bread,” she whispers. I quiet and look at her as she continues, “Botswana people believe that throwing food during cooking will make stomach pain for those who eat.”
I watch her thumbs gently kneading the next piece of dough, sprinkling flour and pressing the tray.
There is a decade and an ocean and a culture and a color that separates this child from me. That leave me helpless to protect her.
I pat at the dough that she has smoothed. Perfect circle. Seemingly resilient to my frustration.
But there are consequences to carelessness. And something deep inside me has already begun to ache.