16 November 2013
When I arrived in Zambia, I was NOT what you’d call a kid lover. To me, they’ve always been just like small, overly needy adults. Some kids I love, some I can’t stand, around most I’m indifferent. I never got what the big deal was with children.
Somehow, though, the kids in Mfuba have become one of the very best parts of my life here. They give me hope when things feel hopeless, and laughs when I’m feeling down. Spending time with my favorite kids can send me right back into “I love this place!” mode.
I’d had a rough few days in the vil when Allan and I went to the Mfuba Community School to show them the letter and drawings I’d received from my friend Lish’s 2nd grade class back in Montana. We’re doing a kind of classroom exchange of ideas via Peace Corps’ Correspondence Match Program.
The first time I sent out a letter, I had just the kids nearest to me come over to draw pictures and give me ideas for writing the letter. But when I got back a whole stack of drawings “ku Amelika,” Bwalya told me we HAD to bring them to the school to show everyone. Like most of his ideas, it was a good one.
So we did, and it was the best thing I did all week. The kids were so freakin excited – especially when they got to make their own drawings and when I brought out the camera to take some photos to show the Montana kids.
Mfuba schoolkids showing off their drawings.
More Mfuba schoolkids with their drawings.
And I could understand why: I was pretty stoked myself. I got to spend time with some of my favorite kids, and I got to know a bunch of others a little better. I try to go out of my way to greet and talk to the kids in other parts of Mfuba, but it’s tough to do: I just don’t spend as much time there.
In my neighborhood, I’m kinda old news, and anyway most of the kids are relatively well-fed and cared-for. Elsewhere, skinny, snotty-nosed kids fall all over themselves just to shake my hand, grinning ear to ear. My heart breaks a little every time. Especially for the many whose parents don’t even send them to school. THESE are the kids I wish I could help. But that’s a whole other story.
Anyway, it was great to hang out with a wider group of kiddos and to see them light up. It lit me up, too.
It wasn’t always like this. When I came to Mfuba they were sometimes the bane of my existence. They came to my yard in hordes and talked all at once and shouted “Ba Terri Ba Terri!” over and over and wouldn’t leave. I couldn’t tell most of them apart, so they were a faceless mass, demanding candy and my household belongings and colored pencils and, in general, a lot more than I wanted to give.
Slowly, though, in countless smaller exchanges, they’ve won me over. (Learning how to make them go away helped, too.)
What I find most interesting is how some of the kids who drove me the craziest when I first came to Mfuba are now among my favorites.
Doro in my yard.
Like Doro. She stole a colored pencil from me my first week in Mfuba, so I tracked her down at her house and told her she was a thief. She was mortified and almost burst into tears. Then she stayed away from my house for a couple weeks. But now she is one of my most patient Bemba teachers, and a riot to be around.
Martin & Kamfwa holding (respectively) a brick and the “sweeties” they were given (not DIRECTLY by me …) to carry bricks from the school to my nsaka.
I went through a similar conversion with Kamfwa. When I first met him, he was demanding and pissy and would scowl at me when I wouldn’t give him things. Frankly, I thought he was a little brat. Then one day I happened to be in a particularly good mood, and when I saw him along the path I greeted him with a smile and, for the first time, shook his hand. He beamed back at me with a HUGE smile and has been my buddy ever since.
Obed. (He’s standing in a partially demolished house that was being enlarged.)
Ditto Obed, whose “BaTerriBaTerriBaTerri” was the most incessant when I first arrived. Now I love it when I run into him.
Chola (in green sweater at right) with friends/cousins Mavis, Memory, Naomi, and, at the back, some girl who was visiting.
And then there’s Kamfwa’s older sister, 13-year-old Chola. She is sass personified. She comes through my yard, hand on her hip, speaking in rapid-fire Bemba and rolling her eyes at me when I don’t understand. In the beginning, I wanted to smack her. Then one day I was eating ubwali with her family, and her mom (who seems to have given the harsh, sassy gene to every one of her kids) said something really cruel to her eldest daughter. Suddenly, Chola was wiping away tears with the edge of her citenge, trying to hide them before her mom saw. I almost cried myself to see this super-smart, confident girl being brow-beaten. Suddenly, I had a little glimpse into Chola’s personality, and my heart went out to her. She is no joke the smartest girl in our village, and I try to tell her so every chance I get. I also have to make a point of getting a photo of her with her hand on her hip! Can’t believe I don’t have one.
Then, of course, there are the ones who’d be adorable in ANY setting. The kind of kids who melt your heart just by their mere presence.
Agri in my yard, with a bowl of caterpillars on his head. Is he not the most adorable child you’ve ever seen?
Agri falls into this category. The youngest son of my next-door neighbor, Ba Nellis, he’s 3 and was pretty shy around me at first. He has an unfortunate name, which at first sounded exactly like “ugly” to me. But he is a total sweetheart. He’s also the very first kid in the vil who let me pick him up. He LOVES when I hold him up over the garden fence to see my veggies. But he continues to be totally undemanding, just passing silently through my yard with a smile. He is probably the most photogenic child I’ve ever met, and I could post at least a dozen photos of him that are each so sweet they’d give you a toothache.
Katongo, with caterpillars on his head.
Agri’s older brother, Katongo, competes for the title of “My Absolute Favorite Kid in Mfuba.” In my first week in Mfuba, he saw me carrying armfuls of crop residues from the community nsaka to my house, and without a word, he started helping. He also has the endearing habit of greeting me at 4 p.m. by saying “Mwashibukeni mukwai!” (Good morning!) or walking through my yard, while I myself am stationary inside my hut and not going anywhere, and saying “Ba Terri, mwende bwino!” which means “Travel well, Ba Terri!” He makes me feel that I’m not the only one who gets mixed up in Bemba.
Ah, and then there are Annette and Lavenda. Though they’re cousins, they could be twins with the amount of time they spend together. They are sweet and photogenic and absolutely beautiful. These little girls are gonna be heartbreakers some day soon …
Annette with her currently gap-toothed smile.
Lavenda, chewing on some amasuku fruit. (The bowl was a common theme with the kids in my yard that day.)
Ester (right, with headband), and Lazaro (the tall one at the back). The other kids I don’t know so well. As I said, they all live at the end of town where I don’t go so often.
Also falling into the way-too-adorable category are Lazaro and his little sister Ester. They live at the other end of town, but I find myself heading that way every once in a while just to greet them. They both use any excuse to touch me: a handshake, stroking my arm hair. But they do it with such joy and awe, and in such an unassuming way, that somehow I am totally OK with it.
Loyci with baby brother Musonda on her back.
Then there’s Loyci, who easily competes for smartest girl in the village and is clearly a leader at the school. One of those kids who seems to be popular because she’s actually a nice person. She demands nothing at all of me, but is always friendly and sweet.
Last but certainly not least, there are the kids who’ve had me from the beginning. The ones I loved almost instantly due to their kindness, helpfulness, or just plain great personalities. Interestingly, they’re not necessarily the personalities I would’ve picked out as my best friends in the vil, but here they are.
Mavis, right, holding up caterpillars with cousin Donna. They’re both basking in the shade of my tarp water catchment, which they’d just helped me set up.
Mavis is the biggest sweetheart you will ever meet. She is almost painfully shy, and she rarely speaks around me. But every time she smiles, she practically glows. And she ALWAYS smiles at me. She goes out of her way to help me with any project, and seems to feel privileged to do so. Her proudest day in the village was getting to wear my backpack when I was playing netball and had to ditch it.
Joyci after sweeping my yard. Her broom’s hiding Lavenda, I think.
Joyci is moody. Prone to crying fits even though she’s 8 or 9 – an age where most kids here have gotten over that sort of thing. But she LOVES to drum and dance and sing – with me, other kids, or even by herself – and she does so with a soul and enthusiasm that I just don’t see in many people. No small, hip-swaying movements for Joyci. She dances in ecstatic leaps and bounds that remind me of me when I was a kid, and it’s virtually impossible to get a good photo of her in motion, so you’ll have to settle for one of her after she swept my yard one day.
Finally, anyone who reads this blog knows about Bwalya. He only arrived in Mfuba about a year ago, after his father died and his mom couldn’t take care of all the kids. So now he lives with relatives here. He recently told me that Bwalya is only a nickname he’s been given here in Mfuba. He prefers his English name, Steven, so I’m trying to remember to call him that. I’d do just about anything for Steven. Partly because he does so much for me: watering my garden, helping me plant trees, helping me out in my field. And since he knows I love wildlife, he’s made it his duty to point out every cool bug and lizard he finds. We recently spent 30 minutes stalking a blue-headed lizard, called cikolokombwa in Bemba.
Steven, aka Bwalya, posing with a lizard you can JUST make out in the twisted trunk of the tree at left.
Steven is prone to angry outbursts at younger kids who he thinks aren’t
behaving properly, especially when they’re doing so around me. But, more often, he dotes on them, especially the youngest, holding them in his lap and telling them stories. He also gets frustrated with me. One of his most frequent phrases is “Mwandini, Ba Terri!” (which loosely translates as “For Pete’s
sake, Ba Terri!”) uttered when he doesn’t understand me, or vice versa. He
is one of my best Bemba teachers, yet you can tell he sometimes grows weary of our ongoing communication barriers. Steven’s a natural leader among the kids, even with his short time in the village. Yet he can be moody and cranky, and he is NOT a morning person. Basically, he’s a typical 13-year-old boy.
These kids, collectively, have done more to make me love Mfuba than anyone or anything else. They are the heart and soul of this place, and for that I am grateful.