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The Innocence of Childhood

by Helen Fosam

I was recently asked to comment on my childhood and how I was brought up. This interesting question made me pause and reflect on my early years. 

I was born in Nigeria and spent the first seven years there. As a result, I have instilled some of my childhood memories in how my children were raised.

As a child, I remember sitting with other children and everyone eating with our hands from one big plate. That instilled community and sharing, which I have instilled in my children. 

I remember being chastised by a stranger when they noticed I wasn’t kind to my friend. Because, as a child, I belonged to the community, and it is the right of any adult to correct me if I am naughty. I expected that in the community my children grew up in, but it never happened. 

I remember playing with pebbles and sticks, chasing lizards, butterflies, grasshoppers, or seeking flowers and wildlife. I shared this with my children when they were young to tell them that play does not require fancy gadgets. 

I remember not knowing the names of my seniors, including my father and mother, aunties, and uncles, until I was much older. I was taught this early as a mark of respect. Likewise, my children always call a person older than them uncle or aunty, and although they know my name and their father’s name, they never use it except when asked. 

I remember giving up my chair when an older person entered a room. I ask my children to do the same, but only sometimes successfully. 

I remember carrying water from the stream in a bucket balanced on my head and hunting for firewood so that meals could be cooked. I remind my children of the privilege they enjoy and not to abuse it by wasting it. 

I remember the responsibility I was given as a 6-year-old to look after my 3-year-old cousin. I remind my children that responsibility does not start at an age defined by any government. 

I remember playing with my friends, chasing each other’s shadows cast by the full moon’s glow, and dancing in the rain, butt-naked! I shared with my children that it is only in Africa that the true innocence of childhood is celebrated. 

I am still fluent in my mother tongue, a gift I will always cherish and a gift I have tried to pass on to my children.