The Great White Peacekeeper

So here’s one for the “never a dull moment” file. Last Saturday after our kids Saturday ministry, my awesome teaching partner Vergie and I were chatting, eating, and recovering from class like we always do. Every week, kids still pass by her place, popping their little heads in to say hello, and to see if there is any leftover snacks. This time though, there were more kids, and their pace was more “quickened” than usual. We heard a commotion outside, and although I couldn’t make out the words, it didn’t sound like kids playing and having fun. I poked my head outside, and saw a group of kids, teens, and adults down the alley a bit, surrounding what appeared to be a couple of kids fighting. I immediately felt that interior conflict of do I interfere, or just let them work it out? Would my interference be a major cultural faux pas? At what point does “doing the right thing” override the cultural norm of “thou shalt not cause or acknowledge confrontation”?
I craned my neck a bit to see over the crowd, and saw that it was two boys, one about 8 or 9, the other early teens. The younger one was crying as the older one held him around the neck, and at that point my decision was made. Not that it would have changed my actions, but I turned to Vergie and asked, “should I do something?”. When in doubt, it’s good to get the opinion of someone local that you can trust. Although my heart was saying “stop this now!”, there is always the fear that more damage could occur if I breached a major cultural boundary. She witnessed me break up a fight several months ago between a group of “our” kids after class, so she felt confident when she nodded “yes” with a wry smile that said, “I can’t wait to see this!”
I knew that I outweighed both boys together by a sizable margin, so my safety wasn’t a concern, but I still didn’t have a plan as I pushed through the circle of onlookers. As soon as my presence was recognized, they looked shocked and stunned. I yelled “Ayaw’g away! Paguli ‘mo!” (“Don’t fight, go home”), and that’s all it took. I think the sight of a crazy white lady storming the middle of a fight was more than any of them knew how to handle. The crowd quickly dissipated, the boys included, and Vergie and I went on our way. As we walked back to her house, I began to feel little hands tugging my clothes and holding my hands. When I looked down, I was surrounded by the younger kids, all full of smiles. They just kept repeating, “Ate! Ate!” (pronounced “AH-tay”, it’s a title that basically means “aunt” or “big sister”, and is used affectionately). Vergie started laughing and said, “You’re their protector now!” I have to wonder how often the younger kids are bullied in the neighborhood, while no one does anything. As we walked to the transportation stop when I was ready to go home, she went on to say that outsiders visiting the neighborhood (aka white folks) have witnessed fights there before, but no one has ever done anything. I was met at the stop by a few more kids, all making sure to show their appreciation. It was sweet, and weird all at the same time. It made me a bit sad to know that in the culture of “turn the other way” or “don’t interfere” when confrontation occurs, how often this sort of thing goes on with no one willing to step up. Hopefully it’s an experience I won’t have to deal with again anytime soon. And I feel a bit bad for the kids who were terrorized by the Great White Peacekeeper, but here’s hoping they’ll carry the vision in their minds for a while before they decide to scuffle again.

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