I watched a very chubby, very unhinged, Somali toddler throw the Mother of all Tantrums in a shopping mall last Saturday night while his mother, a lovely dark-eyed woman dressed in a traditional Hijab tried to quiet him and his lanky father looked on, embarrassed by all the attention his son’s screams were drawing. On a scale of 1 to 10, the little guy’s tantrum was around, oh, 75. As I passed by the young father with the empty stroller, I caught his eye and smiled sympathetically. “Don’t worry…..it gets better,” I told him. He smiled and sighed loudly. “Oh, I hope so! He’s really bad right now! And so loud!” he said.
Raising toddlers is no picnic, that’s for sure. I’ve been thinking about that young family this week as I’ve been planning my Thanksgiving menu and polling family members as to their pie choices. It has been quite a few years since there were any toddlers at our table and the good Lord willing, it will be a few more years until there are again. But toddlers have been on my mind ever since I saw that tiny boy with the strong set of lungs in the mall. And I have been thinking of other little ones, too. In particular, children in Somalia.
Between 2010 and 2012, more than a quarter million people died in that nation as a result of famine. Over half of those people were children under the age of five. The hunger was well documented by healthy, well-fed journalists who listened sympathetically as parents spoke of walking for days with malnourished children and of leaving other starving family members behind. One gravely thin, grieving mother’s words from a particular interview still haunt me. Through an interpreter she told the journalist, “We couldn’t carry the children because we were too hungry. And when my daughter died, we couldn’t bury her body…because we were too tired.”
Too tired to bury a baby’s body? It’s hard to comprehend, isn’t it? But then, who among us has ever been that hungry? That tired? That desperate?
Starvation in places far away is easy to ignore. Actually, hungry people in this country are, too. This amnesia is a luxury for those of us who go to a restaurant and then end up taking home half of what we’re served because the portion sizes are so huge. It’s easy to ignore when we make a grocery list and drive to the store only to walk, trance-like, through aisles of fresh fruit, unspoiled beef, and cereal boxes stacked to the rafters in giant Superstores and take it all for granted. We complain about the rise in prices, and forget that most of the world’s population could be fed on what we throw in the dog’s dish or put down the disposal after dinner. We turn on a water faucet and clean water comes out. If we drink one glass and are still thirsty, we draw another one. And another. We plan for the future not only for ourselves, but for our children because we believe that such a time exists.
Food has its own television channel. We chastise ourselves for not getting enough exercise, or eating too many carbs, or not drinking enough water in the mindless way that the privileged are privileged to do. We count calories and drink protein shakes and obsess about our waistlines and “thigh gap” while, a world away, doctors count bodies and calm shaking souls and waste no energy on grief.
I’m guessing that the toddler in the mall finally stopped raging for his young parents after he’d finally worn himself out. Most toddlers do. He will grow tall and strong in his lifetime. He will never be hungry. Not really.
He is a toddler, so he doesn’t know this yet. But he is a lucky boy.
A lucky, lucky boy.
(For more information, visit http://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/east-africa-food-crisis/famine-somalia-what-needs-be-done)