kids-2.jpgOn The first afternoon we arrived in the village Cynthia took us on a walk up the hill by the school.  As we were walking up the steep dirt road we began to hear shrill cries sounding something like “Howwwwwwwwwrooooooooooo” echoing around the hillside.  We peered into the valley below, looking through all the banana trees, but couldn’t see anything.  We kept walking, and turned a bend to find a flock of children hurtling down the path towards us.  It’s a steep path, and they were flat out running.  They were barefoot, and a lot of their clothing was torn, but they grinned widely when they saw us.  They pulled-up short in front of us, giggling and reaching out their hands to touch ours.  Every kid had to touch the hand of every muzunga (white person).  They kept up their gleeful chorus of “Howwwrrroooo” which translates into “How are you?” the whole time.  They didn’t want anything in particular from me, except to shake my hand.  Some of the younger ones wanted to hold hands with me, and walk along with our arms swinging.  It was probably the most charming experience of my life to date.

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On any walk I take in the village, howwwrrooo punctuates my stride.  It comes from children in every corner.  In most cases, it’s all the kid’s got.  Hit them back with an “I am fine,” and they just giggle.  Of course this is similar to me walking around idiotically repeating “Melembe” to everyone I pass.  If they want to take the conversation past the “hello” point, I’m stumped.


 

These kids are tickled pink by the simplest things; showing them a photo of themselves on a digital camera, empty water bottles, telling them your name.  I was walking down from school recently and two young boys were marching behind me arm in arm.  “What is your name?” they asked.  I told them, and it just made their day.  “Looth” they kept shouting and laughing hysterically.  They turned off the path onto another trail, still giggling and shaking their heads at the absurdity of it all. 

All of these kids work.  It’s a pretty common occurrence for me to see an eight or nine year old striding down the mountain side with a bunch of matoke on his or her head that would leave me in a whimpering heap.  They dig and plant and graze the animals.  They help out with all the household chores, which are considerably more difficult when you don’t have running water or electricity.  They play too, all ages together.  They don’t exactly have toys.  Charlee recently kept about twenty kids happy by playing frisbee with a small piece of wood.  She wanted to go into the rules of Ultimate Frisbee with them, but I was skeptical.  Any opportunity to watch TV is a big draw.  About thirty of them came by the school recently to work on their scholarship applications.  Once we had finished helping them, someone put in a DVD and they all stuck around.  The problem was that they were re-paving the verandah in front of the room with the TV, so the kids couldn’t stay in there.  They pulled up desks and sat in the courtyard across from the door to the room, watching Owen Wilson jabber on from about 30 feet away. 

Most of the kids I meet are pleased to participate in most any diversion.  On a slow Sunday afternoon Charlee and I gathered about ten of the neighborhood kids and attempted to teach them a complicated rhythm game with empty water bottles.  It was hot, and we kept forgetting how it was supposed to go, but those kids stuck with us and we had a good ol’time.  We also had an avid audience when we did some yoga in the living room.  In between fits of giggles a couple of them were seriously trying to imitate us.  There are probably some kids with pretty sore abs in this village right now.  When I spent thirty minutes outside scraping the mud from the soles of my Pumas this afternoon I drew a crowd of at least five.  Of course, there’s always the age-old practice of examining dead animals.  Our dinner was interrupted the other night by the joyous yells of children running around the side of our house.  There were about ten of them, and they were all shouting and laughing.  I caught a glimpse of them through the front door, saw a grey blur swinging from one of the kid’s hands, and thought “Oh my god, they’ve got a dead rabbit.”  Wrong.  What they had was a dead RAT, the size of a rabbit.  I’m not sure what happened next because I closed my eyes and thought happy thoughts.   

People warned me before I came here that it would get pretty rough emotionally.  They said that once the novelty of the country wears off it can become depressing dealing with the poverty all around.  I don’t doubt that that’s going to happen, but for right now these kids seem to be the heart and soul of the country.  They’re always smiling, so I usually am too. 

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