The good thing about taking holidays/homeschooling trips to developing countries is that the kids get a taste of very different lives. When we went to Luxor Museum the other day, we were accosted by kids, younger than my son, trying to sell packets of tissues. They were poorly dressed, dirty and without shoes. I thought that commenting on this situation was a good opportunity to try and teach the kids about empathy and gratitude, “Look at that poor boy. He has to work. His parents are nowhere in sight to look after him. He doesn’t even have money for shoes. Can you see how lucky you are?” We pointed out kids that barely escaped with their lives as they darted between clunking taxis and clopping calèches (carriages pulled by half-starved horses, primarily for tourists). I asked the kids to imagine how it might feel to be living like those kids.
We also talked about some of the shockingly ignorant comments that, for example, the very poor taxi drivers made. We discussed it with the kids because they don’t understand Arabic, so they don’t hear the remarks themselves, and because we want to show how people can think if they live in isolated rural places without the chance to travel and meet other people, without the chance to read or communicate with people who live far away or have very different views, the way the kids can. We discussed how the poor doctor who came to check if their ears were infected checked them with a mobile phone! He obviously didn’t have the right equipment and thought we’d believe in the miracles of a Samsung Galaxy as much as he obviously did! It was very awkward! We are lucky because not only do the kids have the opportunity during some of the places we travel to see very different lives but living in Dubai (and previously in Bahrain) is great in that we meet people from so many walks of life that we’d never have the opportunity to socialize with otherwise. I think this is an important education in itself although the kids do see many more dark-skinned people waiting on light-skinned people than they’d see in the West which is something I wish could be different but we can only, yet again, point out and discuss.
It’s hard because you never know when to let kids take in a scene by themselves, letting them draw their own conclusions and when to try and ‘educate’ them, influence them. Of course as the kids get older, perhaps we can do more of the former and less of the latter. We saw some real poverty in Luxor – people with cows and donkeys practically living inside their houses with them. We suffered people rushing to ‘help’ at every opportunity in the hope of a ‘tip’, regardless of whether you needed their ‘help’ or not (we did try to be generous)! We saw houses even more decrepit than anything we’d ever seen in Bahrain (but not as horrific as the shanty towns I’d seen years ago in South Africa). But we saw joie de vivre and smiles everywhere and experienced great warmth – all great lessons when juxtaposed with grave poverty. What, after all, is most important in life? Money or family? Beautiful rural scenery to feed the soul or urban smog and squalor? I couldn’t answer those questions for everyone I saw but it’s an important question we’d like the children to ponder through their life and one Hubby and I are wrestling with at the moment. Important life lessons indeed.