After Johannes’ letter to me (see blog post below), I felt it only fitting to title this as “my children”, so let me introduce you to these vibrant children of mine:
Johannes: 15 years old, starting high school, wants to be a pastor or doctor, lives with Auntie Gugu who is paying for his schooling, and is going to change the world one life at a time
Pununu: 15 years old, repeating grade 6, doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do yet, lives in Mangwaneni but if he applies himself can really have a bright future
Ayanda: 15 years old, repeating Form I of high school, is very smart and kind, lives in Mangwaneni but behaves like she was raised in a good home and environment (which is pretty amazing…sometimes I still wonder how in the world she turned out so well!)
Nomphilo: 16 years old, has a home and parents but doesn’t live with them, instead she lives with Tenele and their boyfriends in Mangwaneni, she is much smarter than she pretends to be, and she wants to go back to school
Tenele: 15 years old and you know her story
Temu: 14 years old, moving on to grade 5 and is a sweet, shy, but mischievous young woman, she lives in Mangwaneni and also can have a bright future
Sphilile: 15 or 16 years old, going to high school next year like Johannes and also is supported by Auntie Gugu, she is absolutely brilliant, wise, kind, and mature for her age, she lives with her family a ways away from here…I unfortunately haven’t seen her in awhile but will once school starts again
Aside from Sphilile, whom I couldn’t get a hold of, I took my kids out for an entire day for a Christmas celebration/present. I took them along with two other volunteers to Milwane Game Park, where we walked through the wildlife and looked at the animals.
In the center of the game park was a lovely and beautiful blue pool where we spent most of our time. In Swazi there are very few opportunities to get in water, so on hot days like this one, the pool was the most amazing refreshment ever! And the kids LOVED it! It brought me so much joy seeing them splashing and jumping and laughing and playing in the water all day. It was incredible to watch them because their backgrounds and problems and poverty, etc. completely disappeared and they became just normal teenagers you would see any where in the world. I have never seen so many smiles on their faces before. Even Tenele, who normally hides her smile because of her missing front tooth, couldn’t stop from beaming ear to ear! It was truly one of the best days I’ve had! And it only gets better…
We had a picnic lunch with bread and peanut butter, apples, bananas, chips, and juice boxes (totally American according to my two fellow British mates). Eilidh commented how cute it was to watch me with them, especially at lunch time because it was like I was a true mother. I never in my life thought that being called a mom would be such a splendid compliment, but I absolutely love it! So I was thrilled when Eilidh told me that she even felt like my daughter during the trip and loved seeing me like that with the kids, especially when I tried getting them all out of the water to leave (which was a bit of a chore, but definitely did it in a motherly fashion.)
After Milwane Game Park, we came back to the chapel across the lawn of the house I stay in. We had our own Christmas prayer with the Christmas story, a short inspirational talk, a prayer chain, and some singing. I was surprised when Tenele took the prayer chain the most seriously. I had talked to them about how Christmas time is when we receive the greatest gift: Jesus Christ as Savior and that it’s a gift that upon receiving it should change our hearts. So I asked them to write something that they will change this year. Tenele wrote how she wants to change her life and that she’s changing by going to school and starting to go to church!
After the chapel, they opened their presents filled with journals, pens, a Bible, soap, wash cloth, playing cards, toothbrush, toothpaste and some goodies. I wrote messages and a prayer in each of their journals, and it was priceless watching their faces as they read the messages.
Following the gifts, we headed back to our house for dinner. While I prepared a dinner of crumbed chicken breast and green bean casserole with rice, the kids sat on the couch and watched Step Up on my laptop! Now, I really felt like a mother when I paused the movie for dinner and they all whined and wanted to keep watching. And as soon as they were done eating they begged to go back to the movie to finish it.
The night was nearly perfect, except for the fact that Tenele and Nomphilo refused to stay for dinner. They left after the chapel and presents. Apparently, (I asked Johannes and Ayanda and Pununu) the girls were talking about getting cigarettes and alcohol and Johannes told them that they shouldn’t and they got mad, threatened to have their boyfriends beat them up, and left anyway. Sometimes I don’t understand that girl…she denied a free dinner to pay for smokes and alcohol, well maybe she didn’t have to pay for it, I don’t know, but either way… eish! She goes from writing a deep response during the chapel to that! Sometimes it’s like she’s two completely different people, which may be how she tries to cope with it all. But she wrote me an absolutely splendid letter the next day, thanking me for the Christmas gifts and taking her out all day.
The greatest present for me was seeing their faces and hearts so full of joy. It was an incredible day—by far the best day I’ve had here! Here’s to “motherhood.” The joys far outweigh the pain.