• May 23, 2017

Senegal: Washing little feet

by Sofia P, on mis­sion in Senegal

It was a Saturday morning and my com­mu­nity and I were get­ting ready to clean the house. As always, some little hands began knocking on the front door. It turned out to be four little 8-11 year old girls beg­ging to come into the house to play. When we explained that we would be cleaning that morning, the girls excit­edly shouted, “WE CAN HELP!” Alejandra said OK, so the girls got to busi­ness. They grabbed rags, buckets and mops and cleaned our entire court­yard, entrance and then even the stairs leading up to our ter­race. The elbow grease was impres­sive.

I went about my own work, but when­ever I looked their way I felt so guilty and kept thinking, “How can I allow these chil­dren to clean our house for us? This isn’t right!” I was about to point this out to one of my sis­ters in com­mu­nity, who was calmly cooking in the kitchen and seemed very unper­turbed by what was going on, when I took the chance to really watch the girls. I noticed the way they swept the water, how they method­i­cally scrubbed the rags in the buck­et—they had done this a thou­sand times. While I thought this work was “too much,” they worked hap­pily, proudly telling me to look and see how well they were cleaning. My com­mu­nity sister later pointed out to me that these girls looked up to their hard­working mothers, so having the chance to imi­tate them was a priv­i­lege.

Once the girls fin­ished their mas­sive cleaning job I wanted so bad to find a way to show them our appre­ci­a­tion. I decided that we could pre­tend that we were at a salon and that I would offer to paint their nails. The girls loved the idea. Once all the fin­gers were painted the girls declared that they wanted their toes painted too. After fin­ishing the first girl’s toes, I real­ized that I would need to clean all the feet because dirt was get­ting in the nail polish. As I began to clean each foot, tears welled up in my eyes. They were not the feet that I expected to see.

These feet were dry, sandy and cal­lused with broken and chipped nails. They betrayed the fact that, in spite of their expec­tant smiles, life is no walk in the park for little girls here. Much respon­si­bility is given to them at a young age—whether it is cleaning and cooking at home or car­rying their baby brother or sister on their backs all day while their mother is away working. Little girls are any­thing but “fragile;” instead they are already learning to develop their mothers’ work ethic and atti­tude of self sac­ri­fice.

As I knelt before these girls, I felt so unworthy to hold each of the little feet in my hand. How often do I avoid the things in life that are dif­fi­cult? How often do I help myself before I offer to help others? How often do I lose my joy throughout the day when I become tired? How often do I say that life is HARD?

Children are such simple teach­er­s—they need to be watched, lis­tened to and held so much more. They have a pow­erful way of stir­ring our hearts.

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