With children, it’s easy to bond. An average of fifteen weird faces does the trick. Laughter is key, along with tickling and piggyback rides. The downside to these friendships is the heartbreak of leaving.
Today, I looked through pictures of my Senegalese host family. Fifi dominated the scene, as can only be expected. The perky three year old smiled mischievously at the camera lens. Her shrill phantom giggle erupted out of my computer screen. The innocent eyes looked at me, her best friend, trustingly.
She was four when I last visited Senegal. Her baby fat had disappeared in the year of my absence, along with her innocence. New scars marked her right eye from a recent beating. But she was still mine. She still screeched my name and let me swing her around like a small kitten, hanging on for dear life. A quarter of her life had passed, but she still remembered me, if only from the photographs her elders pointed at throughout the year.
As much as I would love to delude myself, Fifi should now be seven. I envision a skinny child, scampering around, or when forced to sit, wiggly in anticipation for the next time she can play. Her eyes still twinkle with a dash of love, excitement and the unquestionable faith in others. I hope her four older brothers look out for her, and that she faithfully goes to school with grand ambitions to further her life.
But how would I know? I haven’t met this new Fifi. This seven year old doesn’t know me, doesn’t remember our bond, cemented in eternity, when she drank my content lens solution. I’ve missed her life. What did five or six year old Fifi look like? When will I see her again? How long will my absence span, how many years gone while she progresses onwards towards maturity?
Adults are easier to leave. Adults change less. They can skype, email and Facebook. But Fifi? Not so much. And now that I’m getting more and more attached to my little duu and the social worker’s daughter, I’m realizing that this phenomenon will repeat itself, over and over, each time I relocate. Homesickness can be cured with movies and chocolate. But this ache inside, the knowledge that I’m missing out on witnessing my favorite no longer three year old develop into a woman, that just hurts.