Sunday, October 21, 2007

Helping Hands

As we continue to settle in we are frequently reminded of how genuinely kind and considerate the people are here. Not just the adults, but the children as well. During one of our first weeks at the village, we realized we would need one more plastic school chair for our house so that we could both study and work at the table together. Paul asked at the primary school if we could borrow one (for two years) and promised to take good care of it so that we could return it when we leave. Instead of getting just one chair, we received two more smaller school tables, a chair, a shovel and a pick axe. It was explained to us that we would both need our own table to work as our desk and that we could have more chairs at any time. The shovel and pick axe were to be used so that we could dig a hole in the back of our yard to burn our trash. They had were thinking of everything. So, after school, Paul and a troop of fourth grade boys gathered up the items and set off down the road. One tall American surrounded by half a dozen young lads in their black trousers and white oxford school uniforms. They eagerly practiced their English, pointing out their various items and testing each other, laughing whenever Paul tried the same in Setswana, but always assisting with the correct pronunciation eventually. Despite the short walk, it was a warm day and not ideal for hauling things back from school, but they were nothing but happy to help. After, arranging our assorted furniture on the front step they grinned as I thanked them in Setswana and proceeded to scramble off to play yelling back that they would ‘See you tomorrow malome(unlce)’.

Once the tables and chairs were inside, it was time to dig the hole. It is necessary to burn our trash here because there is no central, or community, waste disposal system (unless goats count; they will eat anything!). This is not the most environmentally friendly option, considering some of the plastics used each week, but it also keeps streets and yards from piling up with trash. The nice thing is that most all the glass bottles from colddrink (the one word that is universal for ’soda’ here in SA)or the taverns are recycled by the shop owners. A good start! Since we cannot use only glass or paper products here, Paul went out to dig our hole. The ground in our yard is a burnt red color and a bit rocky, so the pick axe came in handy. Having only been working for around a quarter of an hour, but already sweating rather uncomfortably, a young boy appeared from around our house heading toward Paul, shovel in hand. His name is Salan, a lanky 7th grader from the upper primary school where Paul works. Looking from me to my unfinished hole he asked rhetorically, “Need some help?”. No sooner had Paul said yes, than he was drawing a line in the sand with the corner of his shovel, saying, ‘You need to make it larger and deeper.” Side by side they worked for another hour, making small talk about school and the village. Once the hole was complete, he surveyed our work and smiled, half with approval, half amusement that this American was actually digging holes and burning trash. We exchanged a few laughs about our settling in, a handshake and then he was off for home to help his family prepare for dinner. We were amazed. At that age we would not have been too eager to help small hole to plant a few flowers, let alone help the new neighbors dig a hole in their backyard large enough for a few months of burning trash.

That is what life is about here. Everyone helps everyone else. Young or old, black or white, it does not matter. It was explained to us by a couple young guys from the high school who helped us hang the line outside for us to dry our clothes:

“If we help you today, and you help us tomorrow, everyone is happy and we get to know our neighbors as friends.” The village becomes a family.

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