You're going to want a sack lunch before you commit to reading these posts. They are getting longer and longer.
Monday morning Josh wanders through the house and calls us out of bed. He becomes our alarm clock for the next week and a half of work. Later, Dan criticizes him for waking us up wrong.
"Yeah, Dan?" I ask. "What would you do?"
"Quietly come into your room, lean down by your ear and whisper, 'get the eff out. of. bed." he says in a slow rasp. "And of course you would because you wouldn't want to know what happens next."
Note - Dan doesn't say "eff."
We cheerfully and energetically arise. Then run around taking showers, eating breakfast, and packing up the car for our first day of projects. Then we drive out of our nature reserve towards the glowing sun, waiting for zebras to cross the road, passing the wildebeests and impalas grazing, and checking the hippo pond for any that may have come on shore.
Much of our time the next week is spent at a child care point called The Moya Center. It is a place for kids to go who have nowhere else to really feel a sense of belonging. Since HIV/Aids kills a fair amount of adults, many kids don't have any family to care for them. So, Moya offers a preschool during the day, and an after school center in the afternoons. And Josh has arranged several projects for us to improve the facility.
We arrive at Moya, and the preschool kids are just beginning their day. We join them, standing in a circle and singing songs. Mostly we have no idea what they are saying, but we dance in the middle of the circle when we need to, and love them all the same. And isn't that the whole experience of love anyways? Loving another when you sometimes have no idea what they're saying. And dance when you need to.
I would tell you the children's names, but after asking them to repeat it 8 times, I just give up. Swatzi names are like 5 syllables. Also, their language includes tongue clicking and airy hissing sounds. And it took me until 4th grade to properly say "world," so I don't have high linguistic expectations for myself
Before the trip, I volunteer to plan activities for Preschool time, so now, I break the children and volunteers into groups. Then I pass out materials to make fruitloop necklaces. The children quietly string fruit loops together, while we encourage them and tell them stories. After many kiddos have completed their necklaces, Dan crawls over to me and says, "Are you going to tell them, or should I?" I look at him confused, so he shoves a handful of fruit loops in his mouth and yells, "EEAAATTT THEM!"
The children cautiously sample their necklaces. Two seconds later, their eyes glaze over, and they begin running around and ripping each other's necklaces off, shoving every colorful ring of sugar they can find into their mouths. I jump in front of the children who are still working on their necklaces to protect their little piles from the mobbing raid. Amidst all the screaming chaos, I look over at Dan and say, "you." He just winks at me.
After the sugar-raged kids are collected by their teachers, our volunteer team breaks into groups and begin our projects. Half the group works on gardening in the back, and the other half works on decorating one of the outside walls with a mosaic.
I wander out into the garden with Makele, Kelli, and some others. I'm handed a pick ax and told to break up ground as hard as concrete. So I give a couple unsuccessful whacks, and then I sneakily escape by pretending to look at the trees and slowly taking steps further and further away.
I head over to the mosaic group instead. I sit down with Angelica, Candace, and Davy, who are breaking up pieces of tile with sledgehammers. We steadily break the pieces, placing bets on how many pieces we'll break off with one hit. Then I start listing irritating situations, naming some specific people, and dropping my hammer. Dan tells me I must have a really calm life, as he picks up my hammer and completely shatters a tile.
Later in the afternoon, after we've eaten lunch and all the gardening people come back drenched in sweat and I pretend that my little hammer dinking was equally as grueling, we prepare for "Afternoon Club." Which is when all the childrens come over after school and run wildly in every direction and verify the maximum capacity of their vocal chords.
All the volunteers are assigned to lead an activity, and Kelli puts me in charge of frisbee with a group of 7th grade girls. While we are waiting for the gate to the field to be unlocked, I play catch with some of them. Once the field is unlocked, I have them stand in a circle while I explain the game of ultimate frisbee. It is possible that Kelli just intended for us to play light-hearted catch the whole time, but that didn't occur to me until after the game is already in full swing and girls are rampaging each other for the disc. I try to instruct them on strategies like "passing" and "spreading out," but I'm certain they hear "mauling" and "tackling." Which is fine. Because then I get called to do crafts.
I head back to one of the school buildings, imagining sweet young kids nuzzling me with joy and tender love. I enter the large room and see an army of children wildly climbing up every wall and shrieking with glee. Dan grins at me, "YEAH! GET IN HERE, YOU!"
I see Audrey in one corner, attempting to paint the nails of 1,000 girls all at once. And Dan is folding paper airplanes in the other corner as fast as he can. I sit down at the glue and glitter table. I teach the kids how to carefully draw glue pictures on their paper, and then I neatly sprinkle some glitter, and shake it into a masterpiece. But fifteen minutes later, hundreds of little hands have snatched up all my paper and glitter, and I see no other choice but sitting back and watching the sticky storm explosion.
Dan comes up behind me and yells, "GLUE ALL THE PAPER TOGETHER AND GLITTER EVERYTHING YOU FIND!"
Then we go to the side of the room, squeeze onto one chair, and watch the hysteria. Children are standing on the tables throwing paper airplanes at each other. Others are running around with their entire heads covered in glue and sparkles. And Audrey has completely disappeared into a cloud of children. We cycle through many groups of children, pulling out more and more glitter, paper, and glue, and the same outcome occurs each time.
After awhile, Josh enters the room. He laughs at the two inch pool of glitter in my lap and tells us that Afternoon Club has come to a close. Dan and I look at each other and sign with relief.
While everyone cleans up all the activities, two of my frisbee girls give me a picture that they made for me. "Grace loves Chantel. Love never dies." I stand still amidst the shuffle of everyone and just smile.
After we're all cleaned up and the kids have headed home, wherever home might be for them, our team heads out for a relaxing dinner, knowing we'll be back the Moya Center tomorrow to resume.
We drive down the street to a restaurant called Malendela's. The same artists who are helping us with the mosaic also did the art for this place. The most unique and imaginative art I've ever seen, completely covering all the structures. We all wander around like we're in a charmed little village. Then sit down on the patio, boys watching the projected World Cup, and girls swooning over the sunset on the edge of the vast open field behind us.
Then we head inside the restaurant to eat. A candle-lit, dark-wooded room serenaded with soft jazz music. I sit down with Angelica and Davy, joined by two other volunteers, Chris and Matt. Then Dan pulls up a chair next to me. Over the course of the meal, Dan scoots closer and keeps the conversation low between us, saying how fun and compatible we'd be to marry. All in jest and humor, of course, since we both know there is no chance. As we stand up to leave at the close of the meal, he chases me down and whips a vase of flowers out from behind his back, stolen from one of the tables. "These are for you," he says. "Oh, you are good." I say, "Certainly well-played in the dating game." He smirks with pride.
Then we go outside to sit under the stars by a bonfire and watch the World Cup. Dan pulls out a cigarette, and I point to the other side of the patio. "The smell." He leaves and Lucas takes his place. Lucas and I chat about our glory days playing soccer. Just two lanky kids on the field. Dan comes back and squeezes on the bench on my other side. I stick my nose in my shirt.
We gather in the cars to head home. Heather, Kelli, Lucas, Dan, and I gather in our car, becoming a default little group. Lucas turns on some dubstep, and we all dance hard to the bass, driving through the blackness of night. Time seems to slow to a stop, and we are completely lost in the moment of our dark car rave. I try to imprint the memory in my mind, wanting it to be unforgettable.
We arrive home and before we all crash in bed, we have another discussion group. Lucas leads the conversation by talking about how we give our power to so much that has no right to hold our power. Like media or people. Then he invites us to share what we give our power to and how we can adjust.
I am fascinated with everyone's thoughts on what they most struggle with, surprised and thrilled at how open and personal we all are. My turn arrives, and I share that I give too much power to other's thoughts and not as much to my own. I have yet to figure out how to live in America as such a genuine soul, but be detached to all that is not. It exhausts me so much that every six months I have to leave the country to reset.
The group ends, some teary-eyed, and we hug and disperse for bed. After chattering breathlessly with Kelli, I lay down and thoughts about the discussion group lead me back to my life in America, for the first time this trip. I am so sad. I had forgotten about my other life. I wish I could be surrounded by these children forever. With all my new friends, driving home to our music and grooves every day. And always sleeping under this vast protective blanket of stars.
I fall asleep with tears dripping off my nose and onto the pillowcase.
Upward and onward,
Heather singing with the children.
We have Davy and a nosepicker.
Because cameras are for kissing.
Part of the garden.
Escaping from the garden treachery and getting ready to smash tile.
Angelica, Dan, Matt, and Candace
Smashing all worries with a sledgehammer.
The side of one building at Moya. Last year's art project. I'll show you our mosaic wall when it's all done.
Getting ready for Afternoon Club. Josh, Ryn, and Makele on the right.
Walking to the fields for our frisbee game.
Grace and Fate. The only two girls whose names I could remember. And also because they both made me glitter notes.
Makele and I. Because being in the same shot but separately seemed right at the time.
Miss Audrey not feeling so hot today, but always looking so.
The World Cup seating and projector.
The view from the restaurant.