On my flight back to the U.S. from Warsaw, it turned out that on the same plane were a group of [[Somali Bantu Refugees]] on their way to the US as part of the USRP ([[United States Refugee Program]]). Sitting across the aisle from me were a mother and daughter, the little girl appearing to me to be around the same age as my own daughter, Kira, who is 3 1/2.
The Bantu people were being guided by a couple of aid workers, because less than one week prior most of them had never even seen a electric light switch, a flush toilet, or a tap for water. Everything about being on a jet crossing the ocean was like being on Mars to them, said the aid worker.
They wore mostly the same clothing, obviously given to them by USRP, i.e. gray sweatshirts reading ‘USRP’.
I had in my backpack a small gift for Kira, a small stuffed donkey. I thought it would be nice to get it out to entertain this little girl, and to give to her as a gift.
So I did, except that the little girl was frightened of it. It wasn’t that she was afraid of me, per se, but of the actual toy itself. She was fascinated and would very very cautiously reach out and touch it. When it feel off the arm of the airplane seat into her seat, she jumped away from it and made a frightened noise.
Her mother held the toy and showed it to her.
The aid worker told me that the little girl had never seen a toy like this before.
And now they are coming to America to live. This is remarkable. Imagine coming to the United States with no knowledge of English, this is hard enough. But no knowledge of indoor plumbing, electricity, stuffed animals.
I had already been watching the story of the Somali bantu refugee program, but now I feel a more personal connection, having met and briefly played with this little girl. I took a photo, but I will not publish it, because I was unable to get any kind of informed consent from the people I took the photo of (they did not speak English).
This story reminds me of my childhood in western Niger, I was about 7 years old and my little sister Zeinabou was about 4 at the time. We live in Tcheneyaro a small village situated at about 10 miles from Niamey, the capital city of Niger. Tcheneyaro had roughly 100 residents and one well where they all got water from. People were mostly farmers and herders.
My father worked for a german NGO as a chauffeur and one day he brought home a little white doll for my little sister. The first time Zeinabou saw the doll after my father pull it out of is pocket, she creamed so loud and run so fast to plunge in my mother’s arms. She was so scare, it was the first time she saw a doll, moreover, it was a white doll with a lot of hair that she was supposed to learn how to braid and big blue eyes that closes when you lay the doll down. Myself i was curious about the white doll but i was not scare of it. It was the first doll in our compound and it took my mother plenty of convince from my father to not through away the doll that brought nightmare in little Zeinabou’s life.
Now i wonder if she would have been scared of the doll if it were a black doll with much shorter hair and brown eyes?
What happened to market segmentation? who thought a little african girl in the late 70’s would love a white doll with long hair and blue eyes?