First off I just want to say thanks again to everyone who wished me a happy birthday. It was just another reminder of the overwhelming support that I have enjoyed even from over thousands of miles away. If you communicated via Facebook, I apologize that I didn’t open up my wall. It’s just that while I’m on this internship that I like to keep it pretty empty on purpose so that my professors can easily find my links to my blog. But most people just sent me a message, something I expected a few people to do. I had no idea that so many people would go ahead and send me a message, it meant a lot to me so thank you very much!
So I must say I was pretty successful at keeping my birthday a secret, I didn’t want to cause a big fuss or anything. After all, being in Africa was enough of a present for me. Kevin and I went to the township around 1 pm or so to see the kids. Because large portions of the Imizamo Yethu community are Xhosa originally from the Eastern Cape, most of them are gone over the holidays to spend it with the rest of their family. In other words, the township was pretty quiet and boring, more boring than normal. We did some odds and ends stuff, picked up Nickey, Gwennie and Abby and let them tag along while we went to see some of the other kids. I had in mind that for my birthday I wanted to take those three girls out to eat. I haven’t talked about Abby much but she is sponsored by a young guy, from London I believe, to go to Camps Bay (a good but unaffordable school for township kids) and 14 years old. She is Coloured just like Nickey and Gwennie so they hang out often at each other’s’ houses. Well we went to Cape Town and first stopped by to rent a movie, I figured we’d watch something and then go out to eat. Of course they picked some dance movie that I figured would be super lame, but I didn’t say anything other than the fact they were lucky I was watching this with them because I wouldn’t be caught dead back home watching something like this. In October they got me to watch Step-Up 3, I’m turning into a softie. This movie was “Honey 2,” I’d never even heard of “Honey 1.” At first when they said Honey I thought they meant the old “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” movies. I feel old school just saying that but those movies rocked. After the movie I took them to Camps Bay to an Italian place, Primi Piatti. This was all on my actual birthday, Monday the 19th, so I figured this would be the last time I would see them as Tuesday I would enjoy my last day in Cape Town and leave on Wednesday. That was not to be as I soon found out. I figured we were on the same page with the whole “goodbye dinner thing” but when they found out I intended this to be the last time I saw them, until I come back of course, they weren’t happy to say the least. Turns out they were able to sucker me into coming to see them on Tuesday because they had “something” they wanted to give me. I never considered telling them no. I’m telling you that back home I would consider myself somewhat of a Scrooge in the sense that I would never let 3 14 year old girls tell me what to do and when to do it, but I told you I’m getting to where I’m a big softie.
So the 20th isn’t my birthday, of course, but it was in the year of 2011. In fact in that year it was more my birthday than the 19th, if that doesn’t make sense yet it will soon enough. Right now you’re probably wondering what the point of this post is. Well I can’t guarantee there is one. But you’ve come this far so you might as well keep going. I took an African Taxi to Hout Bay (that’s a story for another time) outside of Cape Town, which is where Imizamo Yethu, or Mandela Park, is located. I went by myself for the first time into the township and found the kids sitting on a step in front of their house doing nothing. I sat there for a while doing nothing and I must say that it was pretty boring, even with the kids there. The soccer “pitch” is actually a tarmac with painted lines on it. Half of the tarmac was littered with broken glass bottles. I asked Gwennie about it and she said that kids get bored and dig glass bottles out of the trash and throw them onto the tarmac which is situated at the bottom of a steep hill just so they can watch them break. So now no one gets to play on it because of course no one cleans it up. I asked her why she didn’t get a bunch of kids with brooms and clean it up; it would take maybe 15 minutes if they all worked at it. “It’s not my mess, I didn’t do that,” she replied. That’s just another example of the “me-first” attitude in the township.
So here’s what I really wanted to share in this post, sorry it took so long to get here. The “something” the girls had for me was really just a bag full of things they had made. I’ve gotten some pretty cool gifts for Christmas and my birthday, but this was the one time I was truly at a loss for what to say. Abby, Gwennie and Nickey had each put some of their own stuff in the bag. Gwennie gave me her favorite stuffed animal, a tiger named Suga. “Yo Seth I want you to have Suga so that you won’t forget me.” “Gwennie I would never forget you.” “Yeah but Suga is a lot like me. Suga is fierce and doesn’t like to do what it’s told.” I laughed out loud and this because if there ever was a stuffed animal like Gwennie, it would be a fierce Tiger named Suga. I find a lot of humor in that. But it has been her favorite stuffed animal for like, ever so for her to give it to me really meant a lot. Nickey hand-made me a necklace out of beads. It’s not just some silly girl necklace either, it’s pretty cool and you’ll probably see me wearing it seeing as the only time I’ve taken it off is to shower and sleep. There are patterns in it so I know she put some thought into it, it’s not just something she threw together at the last minute. From Abby I received something like a stuffed heart/rose and a flower. I asked why she chose that and she pointed to an “I Love You” on the back of the heart. I know I might lose man points for saying that, but I really don’t care. Also in the bag was some stuff that Nickey’s mom made, a coaster and a bookmark made out of teabags. Side note: There is a shop that sells lots of cool things made exclusively out of teabags; all of the proceeds from the sales go directly to the township. So it was pretty cool to get one of those. The last things that I found in the bag were about 4 or 5 pieces of paper, I’m not really sure. Gwennie told me that I couldn’t read them right then. Each of the girls had written me their own letter and I think there were also a couple pictures in there that they drew, that or some of the letters are longer than two pages. I struggled trying to get these kids to do their homework, let alone write English which is a second language to them, so it means a lot they would take the time to sit down and write something. Like I said Gwennie told me not to read their letters in front of them. Abby told me that when I read them that I would probably cry, to which I responded that I don’t cry. And that’s true; I can’t remember the last time I cried over something.
After they thoroughly destroyed me at football, they walked me to the taxi rank where I would wait for the taxi that would take me back. Of course then the inevitable happened, they started to get sad. Can’t believe you’re going… Can’t believe it’s three months… When are you coming back… etc. Gwennie was telling me how she wasn’t going to cry and I told her she better not, only girls cry. If you know Gwennie you know that’s probably the best thing you could say to her if you didn’t want her to cry. Well the taxi came after we waited for a while and then it was time to say goodbye for the last time. That was tough. I hate goodbyes, even more when they are drawn out. I like to make it quick and get it over with. I gave them a couple quick hugs, Gwennie got a little longer one of course, and then I was off. I got in the taxi and looked straight ahead but by the time it started moving I looked back and saw Gwennie still standing there looking at me. I waved really big to her and she waved back, we went around a corner and that was it. Only then did I actually have to force myself to not get emotional. I succeeded, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Wow, even writing about it makes it tough! I love those kids. About as much as I love anything else in this world, that’s for dang sure. Hopefully by now you have picked it up by now, if not that’s OK because too often I like to hide how I feel. In fact, I still haven’t read their letters; I’m kind of scared too. I can’t really say why, maybe it’s because that will bring some sort of finality to this chapter of my life. Or maybe it is because I want to hang on to that last shred of how I thought a man was supposed to act, you know not crying and what not. Well I can tell you that if just writing about this is hard for me that actually reading them will probably put me over the edge. I have told several people about this but I’m not sure if I’ve put it on my blog but one of the coolest things I’ve learned is that I believe I’ve caught what’s it’s like to love a child. I immediately relate it to the love the Father has for us, and then to the love that my parents always told me they have had for me. Growing up it was always hard for me to relate, I heard there was nothing like the love of a parent for their child. I think I caught a glimpse of that here. And they aren’t even my kids! I can only imagine what it will be like when I have kids of my own, or how about the love that the Father has for us? Wow. After I got back, I got a text from Abby, “Dnt tel gweny i tld u bt shes very emotional ryt nw nd she cnt stp cryng..ABBY” If you ever thought I wasn’t serious when I said that I was going to come back, look no further than that text – it explains it better than I can. Eventually she’ll get over it, kids do, but I made a promise and I intend to make good on my word.
Well I kind of just left that open ended. I guess that’s how my birthday went. I remarked to Kevin and Karen at dinner last night that never in my life has so little been spent on me, yet this is the best gift ever. That bag and the things in it that are probably not worth over $5 is now one of my most valuable possessions. How cool is that? It really is the little things in life that make the most difference. If you ever come over to our house 1122 N. Mulberry, Maryville, MO and you come in my room, you will probably see them on a nightstand or a desk. If you ever do come by, make it a priority to see them – they sure are somethin special.