Zaffron’s kindergarten class has been given the assignment of displaying 100 “things” in honor of their 100th day of school. Signs seemed like a natural fit since she’s been signing since before she could speak. Note: Not all 100 signs … Continue reading
Luyanda’s birth mother gave her her name. I’ve been told it means “growing love.” Of course, she goes by Mgazi, so that’s what I call her. One week after meeting Mgazi, I was able to bring her back to the guesthouse with me. During that week, I visited her every day at the orphanage. This is what happened during those visits (as written to Mgazi in her lifebook).
Day 1: We met for the first time. You would barely look at me. You held my hand. You wouldn’t smile at me or talk to me.
Day 2: You ran into my arms as soon as I got out of the car. I kissed you on your neck — the only clean spot I could find. And my love for you grew.
Day 3: You fell asleep while I was holding you. My love for you grew as I felt your breath on my cheek.
Day 4: You smiled at me for the first time. And you giggled because I tickled you, asking, “Unjani? Unjani?” (How are you? How are you?) My love for you grew.
Day 5: You hugged and cuddled with me. “Unjani? Unjani?” You giggled, but you still wouldn’t talk.
Day 6: You pushed the other children away from me. It was like you were saying, “get away, she’s mine.” Except you did it all without saying a word. My love for you grew.
Day 7: You came home with me. The best day of all.
On day seven, I wanted to believe that I was really going to go get her… bring her home… live happily ever after, but I was wary. The trip so far had been fraught with road bumps. At the same time, I thought it was a good sign that the day was September 9th. Russell will have to verify, but I think we met on September 9th way back in 1994. (Another aside: Before we married, Russell made quite a big deal about wanting to wait 12 years before having children. We waited 10 before having Zaffron. Now, 14 years have passed to get child number 2! If you average that out… 12 years, on the nose! You’re welcome, Honey.)
When I arrived at the orphanage, everyone was inside. It was just too cold to play outside! The kids were all in one small bedroom just hanging out. Mgazi greeted me warmly. I tried for the umpteenth time to get her to talk to me. She had never said a word directly to me only to her caregivers or friends. I think it had become a game. I would tickle her and jiggle her, while asking, “How are you? How are you?” in a silly, sing-song voice.”Unjani? Unjani?” And she would just stare back at me, holding back giggles. I kept encouraging her to talk to me, “Say, I’m fine! I’m fine! Say, ngiyaphila!” And at that point, where I’m begging her to tell me she’s fine, she would laugh and laugh. Today was no different. She just cackled in response to my cajoling and tickles. I think she thinks my attempts at her language are funny.
She was all smiles and cuddles until I started to change her clothes to leave. She got very quiet and she resembled the girl I met on day one more than the giggly kid I had gotten to know over the last few days. She was nervous. She knew something was up.
We stayed for about ½ an hour, asking last minute questions, saying goodbye to the kids. Mgazi never smiled. She wouldn’t even look at the camera during some hastily arranged group shots.
Finally, after a teary farewell (between me and Mgazi’s orphanage mom) we drove off. Mgazi seemed sad looking out the car window, silently waving her little hand. I felt horrible taking her away from everything she had ever know and loved. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I nuzzled her neck and gave her a little jiggle and tried our standard tickling game.
This time, and I’m so thankful for this, she said in a tiny little raspy voice, “Ngiyaphila,” (I’m fine) before she broke into a fit of giggles.
And that broke the silence. She’s been talking ever since. Of course, I can’t understand a word she’s saying.
Every once in a while, I think I recognize a word or two. She’ll be singing or babbling to herself, “something something something JESUS! Something something HALLELUJAH! Something something something BANANA!”
It’s music to my ears!
I had invited Pastor’s family along, so there were six of us: Mom & me, Pastor, his wife, Siphiwe, and his two children Nokuphila (6 years old) and Siphamandla (3 years old). These were the best behaved children on the planet. We were in the car for hours and they never once whined or complained.
The drive there was uneventful, except that I got a surprise language lesson when we drove past some boys who enthusiastically yelled at the car. I learned the word for “white people.”
It ended up that we were way too early for the celebration, which began at two o’clock, so we went to a nearby game reserve. This was a smaller place, and it was hot hot hot. But it was also a lot of fun spotting the zebras, impala, warthogs, and crocodiles. The kids were loving it. We even saw the rare crocolog. (This is an animal that I personally discovered and named on a trip to Belize. It’s a stealth beast that floats just below the surface of the water. It disguises itself as a crocodile but is much more dangerous in that it brings deep and bitter disappointment every time you encounter one.)*
It was a lovely (and hot) morning and I wasn’t unhappy at all that we were hours early for our original plans.
Our Reed Dance experience began just outside the parking lot. We were walking past a couple of vendors selling a variety of things when one approached me and tugged on my pants. “Where’s your skirt?” she says. My mom was slightly behind me and was being asked the same by another woman.
“I didn’t wear a skirt,” I said.
“Well, they are not going to let you in without a skirt. Do you have one in your car? No? I’ll sell you one right here.”
I had just seen other females (not locals) walking past these vendors and they weren’t wearing skirts. I smelled the distinct scent of scam. If you recall, it was a mere 8 days ago that I got hustled at the airport. I wasn’t all that eager for a repeat performance. But I wasn’t sure. I worried that maybe I was wrong and that we were going to have to turn around and disappoint Pastor’s kids who had been good all day long, just because Mom and I were wearing trousers.
Pastor stepped up and he and the vendor exchanged a few words that I didn’t understand. The woman said, “You don’t have to believe me. Those other people didn’t believe me. They are going to be turned back at the gate. If you don’t believe me, ask that police officer behind you.”
We all looked at the police officer, then back at Pastor. He said, “ok, but I think I’ll ask THAT one,” pointing to a different guy, just in case the vendor and cop were in cahoots. I love Pastor.
Well, guess what? It turns out that women can’t attend the Reed Dance unless they are wearing a skirt. Mom and I both purchased a lovely sarong-type thing from a very smug vendor. We wrapped them around our waists (over our pants with the pant legs still showing) and this seemed to satisfy everybody… except Pastor. He spent a couple of minutes muttering as we trudged up the hill to the entrance. I didn’t catch everything he said, but I did hear the words “setup” and “skirts aren’t required in the Constitution.” He wasn’t the only one annoyed. Those trouser-clad Europeans who had declined the vendors services? We saw them huffing down the hill. They had waited in line only to be turned back at the top, just like the woman had predicted. Oh well. No worries. What’s a few bucks for a good story?
The Reed Dance was amazing. There were dozens and dozens of groups of girls there to dance for the celebration. They came from villages all over the country and even a few from neighboring countries. I had read in the paper that there were more girls this year than last and last year there were more than 100,000 maidens participating.
All of the girls at the event were signing, but a select group was up front with a microphone. It would have been perfect except we were sitting right next to a loud speaker and the accompanying instrument of choice is a whistle. Thankfully, mom refrained from pulling out her hot pink ear plugs. (Yes, Cori, for some reason, mom carries her earplugs with her.)
For the most part, the girls stayed with their village groups. But often you would see groups of girls 4 or 5 crossing the field to join their buddies. How they found them I’ll never know. But towards the end, after a couple of hours, we started to see very young children, 3 or 4 years old, being led by the hand by slightly older girls, maybe 8 or 9. It dawned on Mom and me that these little ones had to use the potty.
It was a fantastic day and I felt so privileged to be able to spend it with Pastor’s family. I told him that he had given me a gift: three more friends in this country.
* Belize was not the only trip where I never saw the animal I went looking for. My friend Kerry and I spent two weeks in Nepal. After four days, our original search for the elusive white Bengal tiger became the search for the elusive clean toilet. (Check out the About Me page for pics of me in Belize and Nepal.)