This phrase is said too often around the orphanage where I work. The fact of the matter is, saying things like “boys will be boys” offers too much of an excuse for poor behavior and not listening to instructions. Whenever an adult says, “boys will be boys”, my response is “oh, boy.”
I look over the dozens of boys who are living out their lives at the orphanage sometimes and it makes me sad to think about what they go through on a daily basis. The fact of the matter is, even though I spend up to forty hours with them each week, most in school and some during play, I know nothing about what it’s like to be a resident of the orphanage. From what I can see, from what I can conclude based on my outsiders perspective, I would probably shrivel up into an introverted, mute ball of nothing if I had to exist there as a child. I think it’s difficult to be seen when you’re just one of fifty boys existing in the place. Although, come to think of it, I think some of the boys want to be seen and some of the boys don’t want to be seen. They want to disappear behind the buildings at the back of the grounds, to hide from the chaos, to not be noticed, at least upfront. Then, there are the boys that want constant attention and don’t care if the attention is positive or negative. As long as they’re in the spotlight, they don’t care what kind of attention they’re getting.
I try to look at the orphanage as a whole, like every child, whether five or 16 is part of the puzzle. I don’t like the idea of looking at the boys as separate. Too often as human beings we view ourselves as separate from one another. The fact of the matter is; however, that we are all part of the whole. It pains me to watch the anarchy that festers within the walls of the orphanage due to a lack of education on the matter of humanity as a whole. How thankful I am to have grown up in a household that granted me the opportunity to explore spirituality, religion and, ultimately, humanity. To live among so many brothers, and to see them as the enemy, as someone who may hurt you or gang up on you, or as simply as someone who doesn’t care about you unless you’ve wronged them in someway. The boys exist in a world where revenge is something you have to pursue. If someone strikes you, you strike back. If someone bothers you, you strike them. If someone nags you, insults you, or belittles you, you strike them, you pick back, you fight, you claw, you hit. There is no opportunity for kindness in a place that revels in this beginning stage of hatred. What a difficult beginning to life, existing in a place where you’re just one of the herd, and any member of that herd may be after you at any point in time.
This is a rough way of looking at the place where I’ll spend the majority of my “meaningful” hours in Guyana, but there’s truth behind what I see. I’m certain there are friendships that exist within the four walls. I know there is kindness that radiates within the hearts of some of the boys, and I know that, in the end, good will win out over the seemingly darkness of the place, I just wish things were run a little smoother, a little more love was experienced on a daily basis, discipline were different. My attempts to introduce mediation to the four fifth grade boys, the boys I spend far and away more time with than with anyone else, is working as well as one could expect. Initially, they were taken by the unique concept, but now, some of them claim to enjoy it and some of them don’t. The ones that are not interested in meditating flop over on the ground in the morning when I instruct them to close their eyes. I then have to encourage them to participate, which gets old. Those that are interested in continuing to meditate, because they’ve reached the point where they know it’s beneficial to them, get so in the zone that they don’t want to head to class afterward—they just want to keep meditating. This is pretty cool to see, but there’s another problem that comes with becoming a more peaceful person through meditation. I’ve watched as the boys that are finding new levels of tranquility within themselves because of the meditation are struggling more with day-to-day life at the orphanage. The serenity or the harmony or whatever it may be that is obviously growing within them, is not enough to counter the dozens of boys that are still existing on a “dog eat dog” level. In fact, those that are moving toward a more loving way of life, who are opting out of hitting back and are choosing to throw around “I forgive you” more frequently are finding themselves at the bottom of the barrel. It turns out that lighting a single candle in the night instead of cursing the darkness is not without it’s consequences. Even still, I remain hopeful to the very fact that the introduction of this concept into this place of chaos means that, perhaps, there’s a chance not necessarily that it will catch on, but that the ripples that come from it will produce good.
Since the beginning, it’s been very difficult existing in this culture as a white person. The orphanage is frequented by white volunteers throughout the year. These people, often from the United States and Canada, come baring gifts of toys, sweets, sporting goods, etc. These people show up for a few weeks at a time, hand out their trinkets to the boys, and disappear into the abyss. The sweets get fought over and consumed, the toys get passed out and destroyed, and the clothing and sports equipment get warn down to the point where they no longer do there job and eventually find their way into the trash bins. The only things that the boys seem to constantly have at their disposal are planks of wood, which they hit one another with. I can’t blame the boys for the stance that they have on white people. I wouldn’t want to listen to what outsiders say if I knew they were only going to hang around for a short amount of time and them vanish again. And so, even though I’m here for a year, have been here for nearly three months already, and will continue to be here for the duration, there’s no reason for any of them to listen to a darn thing I say. Sadly, this could be different if there was a little more organization and peace being passed around the grounds.
In the end, when it’s all said and done, there is still love. It’s just difficult to find sometimes. Heck, sometimes I don’t even realize that I’m looking for it. But the fact of the matter is, where on some days I only see the chaos, the anger, the fighting, the hatred, there are the days when I notice the quiet boy sitting in the middle of the bedlam, somehow dialing into his humanity despite the subsequent madness. It’s little things like that that give me hope, that make me think that maybe this whole idea of shoving myself into a completely foreign culture doesn’t just look nice on paper. I also remind myself frequently that there’s nothing more important than recognizing our shared humanity.