Who is Babah Tarawally?
After fleeing Sierra Leone for the Netherlands 17 years ago and spending the first seven of those years filing an asylum application, Babah Tarawally began working for independent media outlets in Africa. Alongside this work, he contributes stories and columns to several newspapers. His novel De god met de blauwe ogen (‘The blue-eyed god’) was published in 2010 by KIT. Babah lives with his partner and two daughters in the Netherlands.
Many Dutch families try to develop their children’s self-esteem by giving them autonomy at a very young age, sometimes as early as a year old. I often wondered what would become of these children when they are old enough to face the challenges of this world.
By Babah Tarawally
The answer to this question lies in the present state of the Dutch society, which defines self-image in terms of me, myself and I. This society’s promotion of the individual rather than the whole has resulted in children giving priority to their personal needs, with less concern for others.
I grew up in a collectivist society, where people belong to extended family groups that take care of each other in exchange for loyalty. My upbringing emphasized that I should be happy and thankful simply for being alive and for being protected by a community. The Ubuntu philosophy ‘I am because you are’ epitomized what was expected of me. My needs and almost all aspects of my life were intertwined with those of every member of the group. I was given few choices, and there were few decisions that I could take independently, without consideration for that larger community.
This initiation to life's principles is the opposite of how most Dutch children are brought up. Many Dutch parents prefer treating their children as adults, fit and financed to make their own choices. I am astounded when I see a child asserting his right to choose. I ask myself how a two year old can refuse to eat certain food because he does not like the taste. Or refuse to wear certain clothes because they are not his favourite colour. Or even refuse to shake hands with people who offer because he just doesn’t feel like it. Most Dutch parents do not ponder these issues. They just accept their children’s behaviour and sense of entitlement as part of their right to make independent choices.
I was taught by my parents to appreciate every little gift I received and to be grateful to those who offered them to me. I remember vividly that after my daily meal, I would walk to my father and mother to thank them for the daily providence. I had no say in what food was served and there was no question of whether I liked it or not. I learned not to take anything for granted, and to respect those who provided it. I appreciated from an early age that money did not come easy for my parents. If I wanted a toy and they could not afford it, I had to find creative means to make one for myself – without complaining.
Read all the other columns in the series Africans going Dutch.