Today was a day to see and interact with South Africa’s future: the children. We stopped by Funjwa Primary school to play with the kids, who were not concerned with playing soft, either! Even in Haiti, I’ve never been surrounded by so many kids vying for my attention all at once. One kid, no problem. 30? I don’t care how strong you are, they will take you down (and pull you back up; it became some kind of game to them). We learned about their gardens, which they use to grow and sell vegetables to fund the school; sustainable farming. It was here that I took mental notes of how it works in hopes of using it a source of reference in the future. I love that Africa has all the tools and resources it needs to sustain itself. It almost makes me think that just from farming alone, it can prove to be a very sustainable continent.
We read to some of the kids in the classrooms, who were happy to be at school. They were happy to have us help them and practice their English. It was very rewarding. Some of these kids will never leave their provinces, their towns. They will never travel to Johannesburg or have much interaction with whites. One kid honestly asked me, “I’m white, you’re black, what’s wrong with you (why are you sick)?” I just smiled and didn’t know what to tell him, other than I wasn’t sick. We don’t need the language to communicate with them, or even one another as humans; whether they were white or black or English or African makes no difference. A smile, a wave or a handshake goes so much further.
Our next stop was the orphanage next door. After school let out, we saw some of the same kids we’d met earlier. We recognized them by their colored uniforms. As soon as we got off the bus, the whole group of 100 kids greeted us in song, saying “welcome, friends.” It was so humbling, and dare I say—adorable. The orphanage itself it unlike any I’d seen or even had a preconceived notion of. It’s very sophisticated. Its focus isn’t just to provide food and a safe place for kids to go, who may be living in dilapidated homes with guardians anyway, but they help them with homework, teach them about hygiene, provide physical education, and help them help themselves. Their ultimate goal is to see these kids go on to the university. Upon entering and at the end of the song, one girl said, “don’t pity us, because we have hope for tomorrow.”
I met one guy, I wish I could remember his name, and it was the first time I was able to talk politics. We talked about the ANC, Mandela, and even the current president, Jacob Zuma. We talked about differences between America and South Africa, about how he wants to go there and how I want to stay here. People have an incredulous look when you tell them you don’t like it there, but maybe that’s just me. It will always be the American dream to travel to America, but maybe I’ve just been there too long. I wouldn’t say I’m homesick just yet, I just miss some of the amenities like banking, Wi-Fi, which is here but I can’t seem to get fully connected. South Africa just opened up its first Burger King, should I wish to go there. It even has English as its main language, which surprises me; I was expecting more Afrikaans or Zulu in the advertising. Yes, give me a bank and I could stay here (until the money runs out). It’s not America, and I won’t go as far as to say it’s better; compared to the U.S. dollar, things are much cheaper. But it’s not America, and that’s what I enjoy most. Though if I were back in Europe, I wouldn’t leave for sure.
Until now, we’ve had 3 tour guides and met many people for a short period of time. Yet, in that time we’ve grown to call them friends. We miss the when we part ways. Our last tour guide, Bongani, told us before he left, “you come to Africa as visitors, but you leave as friends.” Many people wish for us to come back, and we hope we do. At least I do. Eventually I’m going to have to decide on one place to live, outside the U.S. Every time I travel somewhere and leave I say, “I’m going to live here!” The notion that we can have such a good, trusting friend in such a short time period is quite touching. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve learned being on this trip. Coming to Africa has taught me a lot about humanity.