Encounters with unruly children

Deir ez-Zur, Syria

Deir ez-Zur, Syria

Children have been a source of many of my favorite travel experiences. They even inspired me to write about them as a reason to travel. But there have been other times, such as when a kid shot me, at point blank range, in the back of the head with a pellet gun, that they have brought about negative effects on my blood pressure.

The kid in the bottom-middle of the above photograph shot me after I refused his demand to photograph him. This happened in Syria, but I have also been shot in Zongdian, China by a bored young novice at a Tibetan monastery. And then there are the kids without guns. In Aswan, Egypt a boy once ripped a pen right out of my hand as I was writing in my journal at a sidewalk restaurant – he had asked if he could have it and I said no – and then took off running. In the Palestinian town of Jenin, elementary-age kids once hurled rocks at me as I strolled into their neighborhood (a place I had been many times before). Outside a Jewish settlement in Hebron, the elementary-age son of right-wing settlers spat at me and ordered his German Shepherd to attack me after he and his parents saw me talking with a Palestinian (their dog was lethargic and uncooperative, thankfully).

A response, I think, is required when children act in ways that are dangerous or in other ways clearly inappropriate.

In the case of the Syrian shooter – and after feeling the back of my head for blood – I turned around, expressed my anger with a rather stern look, and then took off after the young lad, who was already hightailing it. I didn’t plan to pummel him, but I did plan to grab him and make him look me in the face as I told him I didn’t appreciate being shot, and that he needed to treat guests in his country with more respect. But when I saw two traffic policemen, I stopped my chase and let them and the neighborhood shopkeepers know what had happened. Then I left. This is what I did with the Aswan pen incident as well; I brought the local community into the event, figuring they would be more effective at addressing the issue than me. And in Jenin, after dodging a couple rocks, I took the arm of one of the boys and we went to his house, where his grandfather soundly reprimanded him.

Some may read this post and get the impression that I travel the world to discipline other people’s kids, but that’s not what I do and that’s not my point. My point is that what we do or don’t do when we are treated inappropriately sends messages, good or bad, and that if indeed it takes a village to raise a child, we travelers may sometimes find ourselves in that village.

How about you? Any of your own experiences and responses you’d like to share? Please do!

Posted by | Comments (9)  | July 20, 2010
Category: Images from the road, Notes from the collective travel mind

9 Responses to “Encounters with unruly children”

  1. David C Says:

    Surprising stories. Hope you haven’t been attacked by adults too. 🙂

    I’ve had some bad encounters with stray dogs, but never people.

  2. Max White Says:

    hope the kid had not have gun at that time…

  3. JoAnna Says:

    My negative experiences with children on the road generally have to do with street kids and it seems, quite frankly, that no one cares what happens with or to them. I’ve been assaulted twice by street kids – one grabbed my chest through an open window while I was waiting for a public transportation van to fill up and the other ran up behind me and grabbed my crotch from behind. Both incidents still creep me out when I think about it.

    I’m not generally into kids anyway, so I try to avoid them in general, but I still haven’t figured out how to avoid street kids.

  4. Natalia Says:

    As a parent, I agree with your approach – you shouldn’t let kids just get away with this stuff, because it just reinforces that it is okay/normal/acceptable; but the best way to do that is to include the local community.

    I have never been attacked, but I remember living in Port Moresby I would occasionally have kids who had just come in from the Highlands who run up to me in shops and touch my skin and then run away. And little kids would ask to touch my hair, as they had never felt ‘soft’ (their word) hair before. But I have never felt threatened by the presence of children before. Teenagers on the other hand …

  5. Yael Says:

    I love children, but sometimes, honestly, they’re pretty annoying, especially on the road. A few times I’ve reprimanded the children myself–when they’re hawking something, insulting, or hitting someone, but I think you’re probably right to involve a parent/adult…sometimes, though, especially when the children are hawking things, that the parents are always caring–I’ve seen a fair share of children with odd bruises or scars, unfortunately, so most times I just leave them alone or ignore them if they are being annoying. I do agree though, that one should involve the community (especially since saying “stop doing that!” from a white girl with a huge backpack doesn’t seem very convincing).

    Sometimes, though, like you said, the kids are the best part of the trip–the little girl on the Indian bus who smiled and giggled with me the whole way to a mountain town, the Jordanian children who had me take three zillion pictures of them, the girl from San Francisco in Israel who had me talk to her stuffed animal so her teddy bear wouldn’t be so bored (I think there might have been a little transference there, haha)….

  6. Rebecca Says:

    LOL … “Some may read this post and get the impression that I travel the world to discipline other people’s kids.” Your travels have shown that kids are kids no matter what country you visit! And, parents don’t do a good job disciplining them. Guess that’s good news for the kids in the USA — they’re not alone. As for street kids, it’s the same in the U.S., most people don’t give a damn about these kids so they take care of themselves the best they can. What a world we live in today…

  7. melissa neal Says:

    i believe that is such a wise approach – to bring the community and family into the situation. It takes courage to do that though…so thanks for having the guts to take that extra step to address the issue. I’d probably just get away as fast as possible and miss the valuable opportunity to engage the people of those countries (and to be a part of a life-learning experience for those kids!).

    miss seeing you randomly in the coffee shops of Johnson City, TN. but i’m glad we get to follow you around the globe via internet!

  8. Paula Turner Says:

    Great choice Joel in handling the situations…My experiences in many of the places I have gone have been more of dealing with the kids begging or the attempted pick pocket (not successful though)

    I was shot in the back of the head by a BB gun though….but it was when I was also a kid and by my own brother:)

  9. Paul Riehl Says:

    Good approach, I agree. My experience was a little different, since I wasn’t the target, and the local community didn’t seem to give a shit….

    In our local market in Mexico two boys, probably 9 or 10, started scuffling in the middle of a busy pedestrian intersection. One got the other in a headlock and showed no sign of letting up, so I walked over to him, grabbed his arm and squeezed as hard as I could (which is pretty hard). He looked over his shoulder at this calm 6’3″ gringo looking down at him, and immediately let go, and the two rejoined their companions and started to walk away. Only then did ANYONE else do anything – the nearest vegetable seller yelled at them.