No matter how bad a day or week I have had the kids here are an instant pick-me-up. They are in a word incredible. Some of my secondary projects involve working directly with kids and I love it. When I show up they come running yelling my name and want to be picked up or just hold my hand. The kids here generally do not get a lot of positive attention from adults and so they just eat it up. The fact that I am a strange, foreign white man just is a bonus for them.
They love playing with my watch. They grab my arm and push all the buttons they can. They are also fascinated with my hair. I think if I let them they would stand there and just run their hands through it. My arm and leg hair also enthralls most of them. While I stand there they will squat and pet my leg hair. One little girl grabbed my arm and vigorously rubbed it. I figured that she thought my whiteness would rub off if she tried hard enough.
One memory that sticks with me is of a little girl. She had to be around 2 and maybe younger. I could tell she had just learned to walk and each step seemed precarious. This particular day she was wearing a big fluffy jacket and had an open bag of potato chips in one hand. The group of kids she was with ran off to go play and she tried to follow along. Her little legs churned but couldn’t seem to catch up and she fell flat on her face like she was trying to do a belly flop in a pool. I ran over to her and stood her up. Her eyes welled with tears and then they streamed down her face. I brushed her off, wiped her tears and snot away and tried my best to console her. She took one look into her bag of chips and seemed reassured they were still there. Then she looked straight into my eyes, spread her arms wide, and hugged me. She took another glance inside her bags of chips and waddled off to go play.
Another time I made a little baby bawl simply by being there. This baby was probably around one year old and was being taken care of by her little sister who couldn’t have been more than 10. I walked over to say hi and as soon as the baby saw me, she started bawling. I tried to soothe her but she just cried harder. I finally gave up and walked away. She quit crying as soon as I left. I tried to go back later but as soon as I came into view she started bawling again. Just as before, as soon as I left she stopped crying.My favorite little boy by far is named Zhu Zhu. Whenever he sees me he will run over, hold his hands up and ask to be picked up. He speaks no English and babbles constantly in Setswana. I generally have no idea what he is talking about but his smile always makes me feel good.
Another favorite is the little boy who I see outside of my work. His mom runs a tuck shop and whenever he sees me walking by, he will repeatedly yell “Legkoa!” (white man) and come running. I have been teaching him how to give a high five. He is slowly picking it up and some days he is the best part. He puts a smile on my face as I walk into work and when I leave in the afternoon. A highlight with him was realizing that he wasn’t wearing any pants after I squatted down to give him a high five. I laughed about that one for a long time.
I like to think I am making a difference in the lives of these kids. Many of the kids I interact with come from the poorest section of the city. They wear ratty clothing that might be filthy or have holes. Many of them are losing hair from malnutrition and all of them are skinny. Despite this they laugh a lot and have smiles that beam. One thing I am sure of is that they have left a tremendous impression on me and have been my saving grace.