I’ve spanked two kids during my past couple months here in Founzan as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It’s been quite some time since I reviewed the Core Expectations for Peace Corps Volunteers, but I’m pretty sure that “Administering swift slaps to the butts of disobedient host country children” wasn’t on that list, although neither was not delivering said swift butt slaps, so… Let me point out now that I never had the intent to actually harm either kid. Also, I have soft and tender palms, so my loving slaps couldn’t have been very painful, they maybe even felt good on the bums of these two (and hopefully only) spanking recipients. I’m pretty anti-hitting kids, but recently I’ve realized it might be the main reason they break into my courtyard with sticks at all hours of the day and demand things like candy and decks of UNO playing cards. No adult who hits or threatens to hit a kid has to deal with that.
I allowed myself to consider LIGHT physical punishment towards neighbor-kids after an incident with who-else-but Fatao, my 4-year-old, cute faced, chaotic-neutral neighbor, who stole a key chain of measuring spoons from a bag I keep tied to my bicycle and scattered each individual half and quarter tea and tablespoon out around the clusters of houses surrounding his and mine. As if I needed any other obstacles in the way of making pancakes from scratch. When I found out what he’d done, I went to tell his mother Nicole who, despite having introduced this world to Fatao, is pretty cool and educated and speaks great French. I was hoping for some good old North American style kid shaming—make him apologize, tell him my house is off limits, that kind of thing—but she responded instead by informing me that if I ever wanted Fatao to listen to me I’d have to hit him.
Getting permission to hit her son wasn’t what I was looking for from Nicole, and I told her that I probably wouldn’t do it because that’s not what was done to me (and I turned out, right??), and also that I didn’t think it was OK to hit a kid. I knew though that if I were going to hit a kid who was really asking for it, what’s the funniest and least painful place to smack? Hands down, the butt cheeks. So not long after, when I was at my house eating or knitting or whatever I do when the main door is padlocked, and Fatao wanted in so badly that he was throwing a tantrum and also his own body into the large metal door, and when after I decided it best to ignore his fits he began throwing small stones over the wall at me and then at the house after I went inside, I threatened to hit poor, innocent Fatao. The rocks continued to fall on my roof and porch so, since he’d been warned, I put down my lunch or knitting needles or whatever, unlocked the main door, jogged (4-year-olds aren’t known for their speed) after my now giggling neighbor and laid down six or seven careful spanks to his bum.
I didn’t enjoy it, I swear. Even with the humor I seem to find in spanking, I know that violence of any kind only encourages more violence, especially when introduced at such a young age. The “This hurts me more than it hurts you” cliché rang true in my ears as I walked back to my courtyard to the sound of Fatao’s delayed cries. In hindsight I think I did the right thing: it’s sad and I don’t agree with it, but at his age that’s the only feedback to which he responds. I’ve spent just under two years in Founzan telling kids in French, Dioula, and Moore (in decreasing order of fluency) that when the door is locked, I don’t want to hang out. And I’m never taken seriously, but since this particular incident Fatao hasn’t thrown any tantrums or rocks at the sight of my locked courtyard door. In this respect, Operation: Bum Slap was a success.
I hope it’s clear that I’m struggling with this. The outcome of spanking Fatao worked in my short-term favor but it’s still objectively wrong to hit a kid. I’m definitely not making a habit of it. Wait, did I say I spanked two kids in the past couple months? Ha ha, oh right. Well that second kid totally deserved it. He was older and, on top of throwing rocks and taunting me (yes, I was taunted by a child) late at night, he was climbing up on my courtyard wall and knocking over the top row of bricks. He also received multiple warnings before I put a flashlight in my mouth, running sandals on my feet, and threw myself over the 1.75 m wall, sprinting after him for the better part of a minute through the neighborhood and into the night. When I finally got to him and kid-justice was served, I received applause from a group of women sitting out in front of their houses. Haven’t seen that kid since.
But don’t worry, Fatao is still over daily and we’re on good terms. In fact a few days ago I shaved racing stripes into his hair, free of charge. Check it out.
And why not more pictures? Here’s Saiouba wearing one of my shirts I gave him last year because I was tired of seeing him walking around naked, then Yacouba painting Derek’s paws green.