The way that children are treated here in Lebanon is much different than back in the States. Our parenting style often feels completely opposite to the way children are raised here. Ultimately we all have the same goals… we just seem to go about it in very different ways. The way people interact with children who are not their own here is also very different. The hugs and kisses Isla get from boys and men here would raise eyebrows back in the States… here it seems to be a normal way of interacting with children.
It’s not just people that we know. Ever since she was born, she’s been pinched, picked up, kissed, patted on the head and photographed by strangers. In the hospital when she was born, one of the nurses brought her friend by to see the baby. We’d be walking on one side of the street and people would literally run across the road to greet Isla. A few weeks ago, she tripped while we were walking and a man came rushing over out of nowhere with a piece of chocolate for her tears. We were doing some sightseeing this past weekend with my sister and a group of teenagers begged to get their picture taken with her.
For some kids, this would be like hitting the jackpot. Attention galore! Isla hates it though. We’ve tolerated it up until this point because we sort of thought, well, this is the culture we live in, she needs to get used to it.
But I had an aha-moment the other day. Isla, Ruby and I were out to lunch with some friends when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a girl at a table across the way was taking pictures of us. I didn’t think anything of it really, as we were quite the sight. Me with my blond toddler and Ruby in a wrap (which is totally weird to people here), my friend who wears a veil with her two kids, and her Ethiopian maid. We were a random group that personifies the diversity of Lebanon, so I figured that’s what this girl was taking pictures of. It’s something I would probably take a picture of and post on the blog, haha!
But when my friend noticed, she told me that she thought the girl was taking pictures of Isla. So I started paying more attention and realized that she was. Not only that, but at least a dozen people stopped by our table to say hi to Isla and not a single one of them greeted my friend’s daughter – who is the same age as Isla and was sitting just across the table from her.
All of sudden, it was so clear to me. It’s not the way people treat children here. It’s the way people treat OUR child. Because she looks different. I don’t know why it hit me just then, but it did and it made me angry. And frustrated for Isla. Frustrated that we can’t go to the playground if there are other kids there because they will all want to carry her and crowd her so much that she doesn’t have fun. Frustrated that we can’t just sit and have lunch without someone taking her picture. Frustrated that she isn’t allowed to just be a kid, but will always be seen differently and will be given attention that she doesn’t actually want.
I decided then and there that it was the last time I’d allow strangers to take her picture, hug or kiss her, or anything else that she is not comfortable with. We’ve been trying so hard to teach her that she can’t be rude to people, but I think it’s time we help others realize that they can’t be rude to her just because of the color of her hair!
no more pictures, please!