Access-A-Hut's Blog

November 26, 2011

Most amazing experience of my life…

Filed under: Uncategorized — by accessahut @ 1:48 pm
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I was planning a birthday party for MaJe, my love. She had never had birthday parties as a kid, and so to make up for it, we had started throwing a kids birthday party for her every Saturday after Thanksgiving. And then last year we had a nice little party with the nieces. But this year, I was going to South Africa!!! So, I looked on the websites to see if anyone could help me throw a party in Port Elizabeth. And there was Calabash Tours on the web.  Wow, the internet is a wonderful thing.

So I emailed them back in July when I was planning this trip, telling them I wanted to pay for a party for my love, and to find me 5 – 10 kids. They found an orphanage that magically swelled to 15 kids. (Note to self–SELF!!! How could you think that the number would STAY at 15??? ) Yep. Self miscalculated and was a few presents short.  But that was ok, as I had some extra stuff I was going to give them… ok ok back to the fabulistic order of narration…

Anyway,  I had a great time these last 6 months planning the party.  And it got more and more elaborate. I got Hank, an engineer friend of mine, to make two backpack stoves out of tin cans.  Then I got the equipment needed to make more (tin snips, sanding paper, gloves, can opener).  And then all the kids had a plastic school pouch with teddy bear, a postcard of Colorado, a pencil, some candy, a tiny party game, stickers, and a toothbrush inside.  And then I got a coloring book with hidden objects, an alphabet card game, a long candy snake, toothpaste, and more stuff.  And that was just what I brought.  I gave money to buy presents here, and they bought tee shirts for all the kids (so the kids feel like they belong).  And bags of candy, and and and… A plethora of wealth.

The tour bus (driver and tour guide) were a bit late, but that was ok.  We rushed about the hardware store getting the aforementioned and heretofore referred to tin snips and stuff.  So that was fun.  Then we drove out there. The area is pretty much like it shows on tv–tin shacks with cardboard roofs, but then also tiny houses in dirt yards.  Many of the houses had solar collectors for hot water–the government had put them on the  houses.  Those that didn’t have the solar collectors were abandoned, apparently.

(We interrupt this story for a current story–I’m making dinner as I didn’t eat much there and the electricity keeps going in and out–making spaghetti on an electric stove the like of which I have never seen before, and wondering if it is because of the stove that the electricity keeps flashing on…  I have to keep going to the light switch to figure out that the line means on and the circle means off.)

Anyway, the Jerusalem Center for the Orphans was a three room house, with one large  classroom.  We all gathered in there, and immediately I was back to my childhood!  The Master of Ceremonies, the preacher, the gospel singing, the kids singing–I grew up splitting weekends and my stepmother was active in a tiny black baptist/AME church.  And I could have been right there.  Now I see where the rhythyms come from, and they are eerily similar!

It was truly amazing.  Then we had a photographer and a videographer and all sorts of people and they all came out.  And then the kids got in lines and I hugged each one. Then they lined up again by age and we played pin the tail on the goose and then the kids lined up again and got their bags of candy and then again and got their tee-shirts and again for their teddy bears and packets.  And each time we had to be photographed–those kids should be movie stars by now.

(The connection I brought for my camera is wrong, so I am NOT posting photos.  Even though in this day of social media, –like Alice, we think there is no use in a post without any pictures in it. )

Then we had food, and I tried to eat some, but I have been a bit queasy (which is why I am fixing spaghetti for myself, go figure).  I think it was their version of american food–fried chicken, salad, and yellow rice…

And then more loud music.  I remembered a trick from my childhood and raised my arms above my head and pressed the backs of my elbows to my ears and moved with the music.  No one gets too offended if you do that.  And I took my pain meds.  But… ouch.

Oh, I must weave another thread into the story–I deliberately did NOT mention MaJe’s gender.  Although she was militant about our marraige and same sex rights and all of that, I decided not to clutter up an already cluttered scene.  (Apparently, they think I am a crazy foreigner, because no one else has thrown a birthday party in PE township before).   But the Glatsteins said, Shalom Bayit.  For the sake of peace in the house, for the sake of domestic harmony, if you don’t have to bring it up, why do it?  And as I talked to the kids about why this crazy woman was in their house giving them stuff, I said “my love” and I was pretty careful.  But earlier, when I got picked up and we were going around, I kept saying “Sh…um… my love..” I am a really rotten lousy liar.  Boy, you do not want me on that bank heist. So the tour guide knew.  But she kept it quiet.  And on the way back, she said that South Africa was pretty hip now and very understanding.  Nonetheless, the pastor and his wife (Mama Vinqi who runs the place) were definitely old school AME, and I did not want to push it.

It was truly an amazing experience.  All those kids (from 3 to 14, but most seemed to   be preschool and all seemed to be about the same 3 feet tall) had lost their parents to AIDS.  They went through the same grief and despair that I have been through with MaJe.  And on top of that, they are left vulnerable and alone.  And yet, they live. They love. Their eyes shine with willingness to be on the qui vivre, to welcome new things.  My love wrote on one of the pages of Chronic Biology our favorite quote from Edgar Lee Masters:

It takes life to love life.

I have been wallowing in my despair, and I do not have the life to love life.  Yet, those kids, with absolutely nothing at all, have that spark of life.

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