It was an unusually sunny day in Antwerp yesterday. As is the tradition amongst the dwellers of concrete jungles, when the sun shines you come out to play. As expected the park was packed with people sun bathing, BBQing with friends, teams playing cricket, football and badminton. Near the play area were the usual suspects, where parents were sitting on anything possibly suitable for an adults butt and the children were playing on anything possibly suitable for kids to play on or with.
Antwerp is a very cosmopolitan city, where you get to see people from many back grounds. Like most cosmopolitan cities the park was segregated through racial lines. Scanning across the play area, the seating areas were divided amongst The Orthodox Jews, the Muslims mainly from Turkey or Morocco, the Indians, the Eastern Europeans and the local Belgians. There was an unwritten understanding about using that space and it was that we were all here because our kids need to play and stretch their legs after being cooped up in their concrete jungles. Everyone had learnt to share the space.
The kids did not display a great deal of difference in the play area. Although some interactions occurred when sharing a slide, swing or a monkey climbing frame mostly it was the Jewish kids playing with each other, Moroccans with each other, Turkish with each other and so on.
We decided to settle near the Monkey climbing area pictured above. I am not sure how it started but one kid began to hit another and soon enough they were both fighting. They both looked the same age at around 7 years. The one that got a little beating ran away. Soon enough the kid that received a little beating came with his older sister who looked a few years older to take revenge. Brother and sister began to climb the Monkey frame looking for the other kid. When they found the kid, brother and sister called out for further back up and by this time had surrounded the single kid on the Monkey frame. Everyone around knew there was a problem and most were looking around for the parents to intervene at any moment. After a couple of minutes it became clear that the parents were no where near. Although none of the kids got violent, the atmosphere was hostile and most people wanted to do something but were afraid of intervening because each kid belonged to a different tribe. No one wanted a reprisal from the other tribe. Soon after one of the parents came and took their child away and others went back their parents.
It was sad to see so many adults around including me who felt that they could not intervene immediately. For many parents allowing their kids to mediate in such hostile scenario was sufficient. The parents obviously feel comfortable for kids to mediate in such scenarios, enough so that they were no where near to be found. Surely children should be supervised at all times. Children should be taught right from wrong but under supervision. The survival of the fittest attitude that has been pushed in society at all levels was very evident in the park. A very cosmopolitan park was obviously divided amongst racial grounds. If there is a problem of parenting or racial segregation, is it not the job of the local and national governments to take action with sensitivity? Compartmentalizing communities is never the answer but creating positive experiences of each is. It is our individual and collective duty to ensure that we create these positive experiences to counter the rubbish being spout by the politicians to gain political points in the parliament.