When I was a teenager I had a car, a cell phone and my own room with a television and phone.
I was part of the cross country, track and swim teams. I was an editor for the school newspaper and a member of the yearbook, National Honor Society, choir and band. I had a part-time job that paid for gas, fashionable clothes and popcorn chicken from the gas station down the street from my high school.
My biggest worries were science tests, whether or not I overdrew on my checking (which I did A LOT) and why my so-called friend wasn’t talking to me. At the time, my problems felt insurmountable. Yet, I didn’t drink, do drugs or have sex. I lived with my both of my parents inside a warm house. I got good grades, traveled around the state and to a few major U.S. cities with school organizations, wore a letterman jacket plump with athletic honors and went to prom. Eventually, I won several scholarships and went off to college. I had a pretty nice run at the teenager years.
My Basotho students, who range form 12 – 21, only use computers in their typing class and don’t know the ends of the Internet like American teenagers. Some walk two to three hours one way to school, no matter the weather. They eat the same dry maize and oily vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their only activities are dedicated sport time two hours a week. When not in school, they must look after animals or do the family’s washing. Some have lost their parents to HIV/AIDs and must scramble to pay fees. Some could eventually become prostitutes to earn money. Teenage pregnancy and overuse of drugs and alcohol are problems they share with American teenagers, but here they aren’t some local news story to scare parents into caring or a show on MTV. It’s a fact not talked about.
My students worry about being left alone to fulfill their own basic needs while students. They worry about were the money will come for their education. They worry about not ever breaking out of poverty and fulfilling their dreams. They worry that one day HIV/AIDs will carve their grave too.
They don’t think these things are abnormal. They act like immature teenagers, flirting with each other and laughing while a teacher is disciplining them. They frustrate me the way American teenagers would if I was there teacher. They don’t know life any different and it makes me cry thinking they never will. And yet, they act happier than I ever did.