This morning we drove to the nearby cities of Manzini and Matsapha to purchase food from the wholesalers. This morning we were able to purchase 120kg of meat (chicken and beef), 12 packages of frozen mixed vegetables, 6 3ft long bars of dish washing soap, 25kg sugar, 40L cooking oil, 85 metal spoons, 5 packages of beef stock, 40 packages of minestrone and chicken noodle soup mixes, and fresh apples, carrots, onions, and cabbages enough for 620 children and it barely scraped the surface of Mitali’s generous donation! When we brought it to the secondary school, the principal called an assembly and the head student thanked us (that should be for you Mitali!!) and told us that they are thankful for the nutrition and for the generosity from their friends and they can tell that we love them. Of course we do!
Afterward, the GHFP girls went to Hlane Royal National Park on safari and I hung out with the children. I stopped by the Msibis (Nomfundo, Nosipho, and Sizolwethu) and asked them what they wanted to do. The girls said maybe we could take a walk to a nearby mall that was just built. Then Sizo said, “Oh no, that is too far. We are used to walking but Annie isn’t”. Immediately it was GAME ON – I wasn’t going to let them think I was some out of shape American. But let me preface this with Swaziland is VERY mountainous – but I wasn’t too worried as I had been living in Denver and was used to hiking…even did a 14er! Approaching our second HOUR of walking in the hot sun along a treacherous highway going straight up a mountain, somewhat like a mirage, the mall appears. Phew, I made it. First stop, getting a cold drink. While in the Spar, Nosipho asked if she could buy a big bag of sweets. She has been selling them for 25 cents each around the school and neighborhood to try to make some money for food. On our walk home that I was dreading although it was mostly downhill – Nosipho told me about how excited she was to be invited to participate in the King’s Reed Dance in August. She said 20 girls were selected from eLangeni High School since it is one of the highest performing high schools in the country, and were tested to be sure they were still virgins (they all passed) and then were invited to be in the Queen Mother’s elite group of exemplary girls. The entire conversation after that was all a blur, I was in excited shock that my girls were all virgins! In a country with almost 50% HIV prevalence in 18-25 year old girls I always fear for my children. So far, only one (Mazwi) is infected and he was given it from his mother at birth.
Then I asked what they wanted to do tonight when my girls got back from safari. They said that they didn’t know. So I asked what she liked to do with her friends and she replied that I am her only friend. It broke my heart to hear them talk of how after their mom died, their entire family abandoned them. I, of course, hear a different story from the extended family – I hear how much they care for them and how they check on them. Nomfundo told me today about how, in the years past before they got a lock on their door, every time our van would leave, the nearby extended relatives came to the house and picked through the things we left for the children. It breaks my heart to see how much these vulnerable children are preyed upon and I am so thankful for our network we have set up in eLangeni to ensure things like this do not happen.
We stopped by the Maziyas to check on the kids and they were all playing cards under a tree in the yard. Even the sister! I haven’t seen her in years. Almost 5 years ago when the girl was only 11, I offered to sponsor her schooling and she declined. The 16 year old brother, and family caregiver, Samkelo told me that he was unable to control her behavior and she was constantly having boyfriends coming around the house and stealing their things. Finally she left the homestead to live with a boyfriend in the city and came back a year later pregnant. Now she has the absolute most adorable little baby boy but is only around 16yr and is bouncing around from boyfriends and back to the homestead for a place to sleep.
After a few more rounds of BlackJack (Swazi version – more like Old Maid), and Stomach (ill teach you if you want, super fun), the girls arrived from safari. We took the whole group to dinner at Nando’s. On the way there, Amilcare had his music quite loud and the children were all dancing in their seats. When we got to Nando’s, little Mazwi was trying to read every English sign, the menu, and posters on the walls. It is only going on his 3rd year of schooling yet he is learning so much English, reading, and writing. Today he drew a picture with a scratch art pad I brought and he said he was drawing a house. When I looked, he had written “This is my home” and drew a picture of a house with a young boy (him) and some balls hanging from the roof. When I asked what those balls were, he said electricity. I don’t care if I have to sell a kidney, before I leave at the end of the month, this family of small children will not spend another day in the dark.
After dinner we took the kids back to their house and we watched “Ice Age 2” on my laptop. The kids were all enjoying it, but the “aaaahhhh’s” and the giggles out of Mazwi were hilarious (I got a video ill post on facebook when I get home). I think Katy, Danielle, and I were watching him more than the movie. I am not sure why, but every single thing he does is absolutely adorable. I told Katy today that every time she looks at him it looks like little tiny hearts are shooting from her eyeballs. The evening was amazing. Six of our orphan friends and us 3 girls were sharing a “swazi couch” (grassmat) on a concrete floor of a cow dung 10ft in diameter circular hut – huddled together to avoid the cold air and watch the small computer screen. There were sounds of crickets outside and young children’s laughter inside. Life couldn’t get any better.