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Long Days in Soweto: part 2

27 Feb

I roll out of bed at quarter after seven and get ready quickly. Breakfast is at seven-thirty and we leave as soon as possible after that. We’re fairly chatty as we eat our breakfast: cereal and toast with eggs and tomatoes. Oh, and fish sticks, which I firmly believe are not to be eaten for breakfast (or without custard). Once we grab our lunch and water, it’s off to our service projects for the day.
I’m working at an orphanage around five minutes’ drive from the church and compund where we’re staying. When we walk in the door we’re surrounded my toddlers clamouring for our attention. This is where I’ll spend my day. We engage the kids briefly as we pass through the nusery, lifting them up once, rubbing their heads gently, letting them cling to us. I leave my bag in someone’s office along with my phone and iPod, because I’m working back in the nursery today.
At first, I’m surrounded. I can do nothing but sit down and let them play, four or so in my lap and some playing with my long hair. Once that ceases to amuse them, though, they wander off and I’m left to try to make friends. I search the nursery for a child who might want to play, but instead I see a tiny girl in pink, sitting silently near one of the mamas who is busy with another child. I settle next to her and start to talk.
“Hey, sweetheart…” I offer my hand for a high five but she doesn’t even acknowlege me, just keeps staring at the other children. I frown and set my fingers in her palm. She grabs them lightly, but otherwise, nothing. I look around and notice for the first time that she is the smallest child there. Of course! I’m just not paying attention. She’s too little to answer me or figure out high fives. “Do you want to come here?” I ask quietly, lifting her into my lap and scooting out of the way. Around us the room is very active and I’m not sure what’s happening, but people are getting out tables and chairs and there is a mad rush of toddlers towards those seats. The baby I’m rocking starts fussing, reaching for the table we’re nearest to, but all the chairs are full there. In fact, the chairs at all the tables are full, and some of the kids are pulling up chairs in front of the seated mamas. So I stay where I am, rocking the little girl, while all the little children pray in Zulu, with a very enthusiastic ‘Amen!’ When the porridge starts coming out, I grab a bowl and as soon as the first bite of food gets in her mouth she calms right down. “There we go,” I murmer as I feed her, “we’re all good, right?” She just keeps eating. I snatch a chair when its occupant finishes and leaves, and though we’re among the last people done with this eating process, we’re both seemingly happy by the end of it.
The next step is to follow everyone else into the toddlers’ bedroom. Inside, the children mill about while the mamas sing and pray in Zulu. I sit with my tiny girl, watching as praying for the smiling little faces that peek out at me. It’s absolutely wonderful to see the love that these mamas have for the orphans there, and though I couldn’t understand a word of what they said to the children or to The Lord, I could feel it and see it in their actions. Of all the people we met that week, they had a profound effect on me. I hope I one day have that much care and patience and dedication to whatever God puts in front of me.
From then until our lunch break it’s playtime. My friend and I sit on the floor with the kids and let them play on us, climbing on us, playing with our ponytails, and thowing tantrums when they all want the same thing. I help the smallest girl to walk for a bit, and sing My Favourite Things to them when they cry. Lunch comes all too soon. We eat our egg salad, and chat with the rest of our team about what they’ve been doing on the second floor in the storage rooms all day. But soon we get to return to our posts, where it is lunchtime again. And so the routine of feeding starts again, with prayer, food and hectic clean-up. But this time is the last we’ll see of these kids today, because once their faces and hands have been wiped, we set them in their cribs and sneak out of the nursery so that they can nap.
We help out upstairs for half an hour, but soon it’s time for us to leave so that we can meet the rest of our site at the mall. Yesterday our student leaders hailed the taxi, but today it’s our turn. In South Africa, getting a taxi is complicated, requiring multiple strange hand signals depending on where you want to go. But getting to the mall from here isn’t too hard: Nathaniel points over his shoulder and a fifteen-passenger taxi comes screaming to a halt next to us. We all pile in and squish together, because there are a few stops yet between here and where we get off and people will get on even if we think it’s full.
Once we meet there we head directly back to our compound and settle in for a night of worship and making friends, but I keep the time in mind, because we have another day of toddlers and sorting shoes ahead of us tomorrow and it’s a little exhausting.
Altogether, I love Africa. I love how friendly and welcoming the people are and the way they welcome you home the first time you arrive. I love the little children with their bright black eyes and the way they stroke my hair and hold it against their cheeks. I love the intricate braids and the bright colours and even the dusty streets and corner store coca-cola vendors. Something about it feels like home even when you sleep in a different bed each week, and life seems routine even though new things happen each day. I can’t wait to see more of it.

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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Around the World

 

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