I would like to share one unexceptional day of the three weeks I spent volunteering abroad in South Africa.
It started off normally except we were out of orange squash. No big deal, I took water instead. As I was walking to work, Elizabeth caught up with me, slightly out of breath, and handed me a small flask. “It’s your orange juice for lunch. I’m so sorry it’s late. I noticed last night that we had run out of orange juice in the lodge so I planned to get some from my house and give it to you this morning, but you are quicker than usual. I know you are here alone and that must be difficult – we all need family and friends. It’s my job to look after you and to be your family, so I wanted to give you juice from my home just for today.”
It touched me that someone would consider me a friend in this town where I had only been for 2 weeks.
The rest of my walk to work was also normal. Children waving excitedly at the crazy white girl, some calling my name; women bowing slightly as they passed; skinny cows, grazing where there was anything at all to graze at. I loved this walk every day - always feeling warm and welcome, occasionally even overwhelmed by a sense of comfort, of belonging, of this place slowly becoming my place.
There wasn’t much going on in the shop where my work was based, just some guys hanging out and playing pool. Peter, my project “mentor,” local Pastor, vegetable seller, carer, bike shop owner, tour guide and friend to all, was on Pastor duty and would be delivering a service in the church later.
‘Sticky Fingers’ stopped by; she was three and lived next to the bike shop. All she seemed to eat was sweets, crisps, biscuits and lollypops. She constantly had sticky food and consequently her fingers were sticky. She would hold hands with me often, and so I had sticky fingers too. I worried about her. Her parents paid very little attention to her – keeping her quiet with whatever food she asked for and allowing her to wander alone a lot of the time, among the boys, the tools, the bikes, and the heavy equipment. Whenever she was around, I kept my eye on her.
Suddenly, one of the boys mis-hit the cue ball, and it jumped off the table with force and speed. It went directly for Sticky Finger’s head, missing by millimetres. I don’t think she noticed, and the guys just got on with their game, but the shock I felt was enormous and I began to cry. I gathered her up and took her outside to play, as much to calm myself as to protect her.