Where Our Children Play – By Oluwafunmilayo Oyatogun


Nigerian Children
Source: BBC.co.uk

Before, before, in those days, people studied the things around them and learned from experience; from trial and error and patterns. They built mud clay houses which kept cool in the day and warm at night. They wove aso-oke and adire from things around them, they ate mangoes in November and Guava in August. They learned for themselves and looked towards what their own ideas of development and betterment were. They fought when they had disputes and married each other when they were friends or beneficiaries Then, all of a sudden, someone came with paler skin and a sing-song voice swearing by the sophistication of square houses made of cement, which required heating at night and cooling at day. This person decided how to divide up the cities and towns and placed enemies side-by-side and split kinsmen with an invisible line.

Mud House – Jos, Nigeria

Today, change is quicker than it was yesterday. We speak of the days of old in our youth. Our spoken language has evolved into meanings we never would have dreamed: ‘sick’ means ‘well’, ‘bad’ means ‘good’ and slang aren’t those anymore since everyone understands and uses them. We’ve simplified everything so much they’ve nearly lost the purpose for which we simplified them. The stuff we consume are quicker, brighter, more pleasing to the eyes but less healthy (in other words, less food). Our interactions with other humans have become easier but of less quality. There are many more people on our friends’ lists on Facebook than we can realistically have relationships with and so in order to be present with most of them, we are barely present with any of them.

I am by no means advocating that we hold the days of our fathers’ youths, set in stone, as the ideal for ourselves and our children. There is no need for that. In fact, I recognize that we have fallen into the trap of romanticism: the one that would like us to believe that everything was perfect or better until the day we were born and that all our forefathers and mothers were heroes. Our children too will probably look back on our days and romanticize it as a time when people were one with the Earth, sex belonged in the bedroom and children never rebelled against their parents.

However, we’ve separated the past from today so much that we fail to recognize that it was our past ingenuity that brought us here. We’re taken away from the things that truly helped us live; like playing outside. A huge indicator of our progress in development will be how much our children play outside. What does this mean?

  • Our environment is good enough for them to play in it: We’re constantly being fed with doctrines that separate us from nature. I participated in an exercise in a scenic location within the Flatiron mountains where the facilitator asked us to look for certain shapes and objects in nature and bring back samples. The default response was for all of us to wander into the trails and towards the stream looking for evidence of these shapes and patterns, Of course, we found all we were looking for and more but the last place anyone of us thought to look was among ourselves yet we didn’t have to move at all. More than conquerors, we’re stewards of our environment and until we regard it like we are a part of it, we won’t be able to strive towards development that is sustainable all round.
  • We’re sophisticated: What if sophisticated meant we could produce it ourselves with materials around us, fix it when it was broken and place it back where we got it from when it was no longer useful so that it could be made into something else? What if primitive meant we had no idea how it was made, who made it, where it was made or with what? And primitive meant when it broke, we couldn’t fix it, when it was no longer useful, we placed it wherever we could and it was never useful again? What if we were sophisticated because we knew who grew our food and who bottled our milk? What if we were sophisticated because we didn’t poison the base of our survival – our food, our air, our water and our land – in a bid to survive?
  • We’ve learned from our mistakes and those of others: It is disheartening that we are in pursuit of development so much so we forget the fundamental truths that brought us this far in our development. And aren’t we fortunate to learn from the mistakes of those who have cheaply destroyed their environment for quick growth and had to pay – with interest – to clean it up as well as all the destruction that has come along with non-holistic development.

There is no perfect source of energy. There is no source of energy that will provide us with the demands of our development and still leave no trace on the environment. But it isn’t important to leave no trace, it is important to live in stewardship of the environment, the base of our food, capital and livelihood, and leave it with enough relevance for whoever comes after us. Our cultures of environmental destruction are self-annihilating and in time, in good enough time, human development may very well collapse on itself. Not because our ingenuity and technological advancement will not be able to endure devastation, but because we’ll eventually run into the costs that we refuse to pay now in other more expensive forms. In effect, the very essence of capitalistic and non holistic development will not serve the purpose for which it is constructed.

So, maybe they’ll never run into forests and pick their own fruit – our children. But, maybe they’ll never have to remain indoors just because the water or air isn’t clean. Perhaps if we grow our own food within so few miles where possible, our children wouldn’t need all sorts of chemicals in their food while it travels thousands of miles to them. Maybe they’ll see more green grass than pavement, more Maybe childhood obesity wouldn’t be such an issue because our children eat more carrots and oranges than they take vitamins supplements and run around, playing outside. Wouldn’t we be developing when our children eat more food than food-like substances?

Maybe we’ll be able to call ourselves developed only once our children can play outside.

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