It would be a stretch for me to say that I ‘love’ anyone of my South African kids, in the sense that we understand love in the West; but it would certainly be fair however to say that they have arrested my heart.
I’d heard the term “arrested heart” before, and never really understood what it meant. Televangelists are very fond of the term, and over time I took it as some faddish Christianese phrase and thus decided that it would never be a part of my lingo, nor would I seek out its meaning. And yet today I find myself with an arrested heart.
It simply means when someone or something grabs ahold of your heart and just won’t let go. I would go even further to say that it’s the ubuntu spirit that keeps me coming back to see the kids in the township every day.
It’s not hard to have your heart under arrest when you meet a boy like Camagu (pronounced *ts*-amagu), who I am unashamed to call my pet. In these short 2 weeks, he’s impressed me to the point that I’m losing sleep, fretting over his future. He wants to be a doctor and a gospel singer, and if he gets the right training and education, he will be. He’s got such a sweet spirit and he wants to do well…you know what I mean? He’s that kid who stays behind in class asking the teacher why his answers were wrong and what he can do to improve overall.
This is Lisakanya, my sassy 3rd degree burn victim. She’s one of the first kids to bound up to the car and grab ahold of one of the kids to run off and play. She’s also one of the girls who brokered a notebook deal with me. I had only planned to buy 6 hardcover notebooks for a small group of 5th graders and somehow found myself persuaded to buy 30 hard covers and 17 paperback exercise books. She’s the reason I’ll me sucking on ice chips instead of ice-cream this weekend. She has lawyer’s blood running through her veins.
The girl hiding her face is Bianca, the 6th grade fast tail who needs to set her butt down somewhere. We roll our eyes at each other and argue about goals (or the lack thereof) at the end of the afternoon. I don’t even want to tell you what she’s been up to…little hot huzzie. Yes! Hide your face! Shaaame!!
Last week, the kids put on a ‘concert’ for a ragtag group of marine biologists. If you can ignore the crotch shot and focus on the kick, you can see the athleticism it takes to perform this cultural kick dance. I ought to learn the name of it since I like it so much, huh?
Don’t worry. She’s wearing shorts.
These are my kindergarteners/Grade R, who are of all levels of ability. It’s SO frustrating! Some of them can read, and some of them can’t even write their names, let alone spell them. Like all the other kids, some go to Afrikaner/Colored schools and some go to schools for Blacks…and NO ONE speaks English. Sweet as they are, this is the group that causes me the most stress. I usually just make them color until I can figure out how to better divide and serve them. (They’re good at numbers though.)
I don’t have a picture of him, but there is a little ‘shar-brain’ (smart person) called Bongi who just showed up one day. A lot of kids don’t get to come to after-school because they work in the house and/or are busy getting into trouble to get their street cred. While his age mates were struggling to add two digit numbers, he was flying through virtually every math problem I gave him, adding large sums in his head and quietly feeding me the answers. That’s the type of boy I would hate to see get lost in the shuffle, and the type who needs developement to become a leader.
Seya is by far one of my favorites. She’s like a little sister (although if my numbers on teenaged pregnancy are accurate, I’m probably old enough to be her mother). She thinks I look like Queen Lathifah. I probed Seya to find out what she wants to be and where she would like to live. After some thought, she said:
“A lawyer…because I like to talk. And I want to live in Paris.”
“I see,” I replied. “Do you know what language they speak in Paris?”
She was silent. I was stunned. She must have seen Paris in a movie or something and thought she could show up speaking Xhosa.
“French!” I responded for her.
“Oh. I don’t think I can learn French. I think it would be very hard.”
“Trust me my dear…if you can speak Xhosa, you can speak French.”
There are approximately 74 kids who come to the program – each with their own story, each with something that makes them special and unique. Last week I asked the older ones to give me a one page essay, describing what makes them special. Many of them struggled with the assignment. Most ended up talking about their school, their family, their dog…virtually everything except themselves.
“I don’t have anything that makes me special,” I heard again and again.
That’s so untrue, and that’s a view I aim to change before I leave these four dusty walls!