So, these last few days I’ve spent a lot of time in reflection.  I have a lot of time on my hands for that sort of thing. Every once in a while, my mind starts to wander off and think about things like how much I miss taking showers (That’s right, it’s sponge-baths only for me), or eating food other than cornflakes and water (Well okay, sometime’s there’s milk—but most days, not, because we don’t have a fridge).  But usually I don’t dwell on these thoughts very long, because next to me, there’s Miky. Miky and I love to hang out in our room at night, sometimes watching bad South African television (Yes, we do have a working, three-channel television. Thank goodness whoever furnished this place had their priorities in order!) sometimes playing African/American music for each other, swaping pictures, or talking. Miky is studying to be a teacher, but her real dream is to be a psychologist, and boy…does she fit the bill.

Let me preface this by saying that Miky is genuine. Sometimes I think of her as an endless fortune-cookie dispenser or the kind of doll that with a button that reads “press here for Sunday-school correct answer!”…but the thing is, she means it. And often at night I drift off to sleep thinking, “Who is this girl?!”

Here is the thing. When I planned this trip to Africa, I was purposefully signing myself up for this life-changing experience. I could have done a project in New York or Australia or somewhere more exciting and comfortable, but I felt like I was at a point in my life where I needed a wake-up call. Like most other American twenty-year-olds, I can be incredibly self-centered, spoiled, demanding, and set impossibly high standards for myself and others. So I was literally scheduling a wake-up call: six weeks off from Real Life, to be spent with God. But that’s the thing—for me, this, here…is not real life. It’s just a time-out. It’s like the little boy, Sebastian, who came with his mom to drop off his old toys at the orphanage last weekend. I bent down and whispered to him that it was very sweet for him to give his toys to the kids here, and that they would love them. He just looked up at me with these pale blue eyes (the first I’d seen in weeks), and said simply, “It’s okay. I have more toys at home.”

I have more toys at home, too, buddy. Toys like a car, hundreds of books, and a closet full of clean clothes. So me and Sebastian are the same, because, it only makes sense for us to give a little bit. For me it’s my time here, and for him, it’s his toys.

And then there’s Miky.

Miky and and I have a ton in common, because in general, we see the world the same way. I don’t understand why God chose me to be born into this incredible family, with so many opportunites, and often worry that I’m squandering them (but then, let’s be real, also take plenty of time to enjoy them to the fullest—like the fact that I’m going from Africa to study abroad in Scotland…”Because it’s important for your degree?” Erm, well, that and…because I can). Miky doesn’t understand why God choose her to be born into an incredible family, and is sure that she was blessed so she could pass those blessings right along. Sometimes I look at her and just want to scream, “But you could do anything, too! You could take some time to make some of your own dreams happen and then turn around, go back, and help others do the same!” But that would almost seem a waste of time to her.

Here are actual conversations that we’ve had. I hope that you, too, can learn something from them, because I do wish you to note that this is the sole purpose for which I broadcast my own shame:

Scene:            It’s snowing in Joburg. I have just run back from the orphanage, up five flights of stairs to our apartment, am debating using the rest of my drinking water for tea, soup, or actual drinking water, and bury myself under the covers.

Me:             Miky, do you have a fireplace at home? In weather like this it’s my favorite thing in the world to curl up with apple cider in front of the fireplace! It always reminds me of Christmas and we have the best fireplaces at Vanderbilt, and especially at my house…

Miky:             Well, at home in Limpopo we have one open fire but we must use it to do all of our cooking. But sometimes we also have to use it to get warm, too.

Me:            Oh, well, yeah, so I guess that’s similar…(I saw a picture. It’s not.)

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Scene: I’m writing in my journal. Miky is watching a South African soap opera.

Miky:            What is that? Are you writing a book?

Me:             I’m just writing down what happened today. So that maybe some day I can look back on it and laugh. Or maybe give it to my daughter, and she can learn something about who I used to be. (Under my breath: or how dumb I used to be…)

Miky:            Oh, that’s nice. I want to write a book, too, I think.

Me:            About your life?

Miky:            I sometimes think that it would be nice to write a book about my life to inspire younger girls to overcome hardships. I think it would be nice to show that, even though things are not always easy, you should persevere because things can get better. But it’s hard to see that, sometimes…you know? So maybe they could learn it from me?

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Scene:             Early morning. We’re both groggy.

Miky:             How did you sleep?

Me:            I had nightmares. I swear I heard glass-breaking last night, and yelling, and then lots of police sirens, and that woke me up from my nightmares. And then I couldn’t sleep. Did you not hear that?

Miky:             I guess I am used to it.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Scene: Pictures of my cutie-pie goddaughter, three-year-old Millie, fall out of my journal and onto the floor along with pictures of my other family and friends. Miky picks them up.

Miky:             Who is this?

Me:            That’s Millie! She’s my cousin’s baby. Isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life? I’m in love with her.

Miky:             Oh, that is so nice. Your cousin, you say?

Me:             Yes, she’s my cousin’s daughter. But I’m close to that side of my family, probably because I don’t have any sisters. Do you know your cousins?

Miky:             Yes, I am very close to my aunt, also. We have a special bond, I think.

Me:             (Smiling) That’s so sweet! Do you get to see her a lot? Is she in Limpopo?

Miky:             Well, I lived with her when I was younger. Because, you see, my mother could not take care of both my twin sister and me and so she sent me off to live with my aunt when I was a baby. I have never lived with my mother. I used to think that maybe she liked my twin sister better than me, but now I know she loved us the same…and I am grateful, because I have a special relationship with my auntie.

Me:            (A little stunned) You’re right, Miky, that is a big blessing…

[I later found out that Miky has A DOZEN siblings. Her father, who she hasn’t seen in many years, has two wives…so some of them are half-siblings. She has never lived with them or, from what I can tell, gotten to know them very well—but I know she has been working to help her younger half-brother get into college. Miky’s mother used to sell fruit on the side of the road before she tired of the monotony and quit, and her father does not work. She says her mother is her hero, because she’s showed her how to weather the storms of life. Her older siblings are now supporting her parents. Though this leaves Miky no money for school (she has loans), she says that she doesn’t blame her parents at all because she’s certain “they always did their very best, and with so many of us…” but also remains sure that “education is the answer to overcoming all obstacles” (See what I mean about the fortune-cookie thing?) and she “feels sorry they never had that.” Sorry for them, Not for her. ]

Sometimes I feel mischievous and like to test Miky.

Once, I asked her her favorite place in the world. She said, “even if I have never been there? I think that it would be Washington, D.C.”

Another time, I asked her what she would do with a million dollars. Not even a very small part of that million was designated for a trip to Washington, D.C. Nope. Of course not. She spewed out a whole new dream—“I think I might open a daycare so that teen mothers, who give birth very young, might be able to leave their kids there for free while they can continue their education.” Where did that come from? “And, of course, build the new Malaika in Limpopo.”

Yes, Miky is the one responsible for the land that Malaika (the orphanage, where she volunteers, if you’re wondering how we know each other) now owns in Limpopo, to build on.  Since she’s from there, she somehow secured it and took care of all the legal arrangements to purchase the land. Malaika gathered the money…and Miky did whatever the heck you do to buy land in Africa. She is twenty-one years old. I guess that means that in one year I should know how to do that in the U.S.? Well, fail.

Is she a real person?

 (I’m actually asking you.)

Yes, because I know she is not a morning person (we’re good roommates that way), failed at being a vegetarian after ¾ of a day (“and it was as if I had never tasted chicken before in my life, it was SO delicious, Rachel! You must remember!), despises doing laundry, and has, in my own humble opinion, rather poor taste in music. She feels the cold, like me, and uses the weather as an excuse not to do anything (“I am so sorry I was not at the orphanage today to see Deborah, but…it was cold and so all I could do was fall asleep today. I didn’t mean to, but I laid down…”).

She just has one-way vision. On the ladder of—well, let’s say, blessings—she only has eyes for those below her. She has no desire to climb up it when she knows the kids of Malaika are further down still. She doesn’t look up at all, actually, except maybe to wave at me—and check, quickly, that I’m not afraid of falling.

Sebastian and I are the kids who were given candy bars and gave away pieces to the hungry. Miky is the kid who was given half a chocolate bar, gives it away, and goes hungry. And she didn’t need to schedule herself a wake-up call in order to do it.

Luke 21:1-4

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Thanks for reading this long post, you guys. I hope you can learn a tiny bit from her through me…and I’ll keep you updated on whether she turns out to be a real person or not. Thank you so much, again, for all your encouragements and prayers. I’m fully willing to admit that I still very much need them!



P.S. Here’s some more pictures to prove these kids are pretty darn easy to fall in love with. This week I’ve had great bonding time with Shadia, Neo, Divine, Zinclay, and Shamima especially.