Yesterday was special.

My internet card ran out, and so instead of making apple pie like I had planned, the women and I resorted to the bran muffin recipe which I had a picture of saved on my phone. The muffins were a big hit, though—apparently muffins are something of a “special”, more expensive food here (what a rip off, right? It’s bread in a special cup shape…), so the women really enjoyed them.  But more importantly, the fractions lesson that I wanted to do was trapped in my email—and, having used up all my printed worksheets, I basically had nothing prepared to teach them for the health part of the class.

So I improvised.

First, I had each of the women list three things that they were good at. The answers ranged from “watching T.V.” (I’m not kidding, that was the most popular answer), to being “friendly and good with people”, to being a good mother, to “smiling”. And then I let the women say how they thought those gifts were important for us as a group—how each women’s personal talents could best be used for the bread-baking business. Maria, a talented designer, was decided to be the creative director; Rebecca, always so kind and dependable, would be perfect with the customers; Londi, with her intelligence, should be in charge of the books and timetables.

I was absolutely shocked how willing the women were to participate in this little game of mine—usually this is the sort of thing that groups scoff at as waste of time. But they stayed an hour after class to make sure that each person got their time, and every single woman offered kind words about every other. A couple of them cried when they heard others say how seeing them in the kitchen each morning was what made them get out of bed, or how they drew inspiration from each other.

There is only one woman who has never missed a single class of mine: her name is Patricia, and that is nearly the only thing I’ve ever heard her say. When it came to be Patricia’s turn, another woman held Patricia’s hand in her lap and said, “let me tell you about my friend, here.” It turns out that Patricia’s children died in a house fire three years ago. Her husband survived it, but is disabled because of it—and Patricia takes care of him now. Rebecca, who was holding Patricia’s hand, explained that she had known her “before she was like this.” That Patricia not only used to speak, but was known to crack a joke or two. “This class is the first time that I have seen Patricia smiling since it happened,” Rebecca said.

I wasn’t the only one who was touched by Patricia’s story. The class was overcome with sounds of agreed support for our Patricia…each woman offered her her arms and said that they wanted her to know we were there for her. Patricia sweetly smiled a thank-you to all of us.

“You see?” Rebecca said. “We have become a family.”

“Yes,” smiled Patricia, “Family.”

The class ended with hugs and thank-yous. Several of the women came up to me and said that they wanted me to know I was special, too, (I didn’t take a turn) and that they were grateful to know me. They said they would miss me incredibly when I was gone. And I didn’t know what to say except to smile and hug them back. My African family.

In other news, I spent more good time with the kids this week. On the way to store with Uncle on Tuesday, I was totally taken aback when a group of about five of them rushed at me on the street. Habba jumped into my arms before I even recognized her, and it was the best greeting I’ve had in years. There’s nothing quite like walking down a street where nothing is familiar—signs in other languages, strange smells, disorganization, and no one looking me—and then feeling like such a part of the community courtesy of some big-smiling seven-year-olds.

Neo and Shamima went with me to the store again yesterday and they were so excited about it. Neo proud told everyone that it was her who picked the green apples for our fruit pizza, and I thought they were going to cry when I let them both pick their favorite candy bars. Don’t you love how simple it is to please kids sometimes?

And in class today, of course, we made fruit pizza—one of my favorite desserts. I have to credit Divine with the idea, because her cute little quip last week (“Are we making strawberry pizza?!) inspired me.

The kids were so naughty at the orphanage today, though—I was trying so hard to keep a straight face, laughing behind my hand, while Uncle attempted to discipline them. Today, the first of September, is “Spring Day”, the first day of spring and apparently every Johannesburg child’s excuse to throw water on whoever they please in celebration of the changing season. Like, inside the orphanage. And all over each other. This is life, though, when you’re growing up in a orphanage where the caregiver-to-child ratio is so heavily tilted in the children’s favor (well, sadly, in no one’s favor…and least of all the children’s, but you know what I mean). I love the sounds of their chaos, though—I just wish they wouldn’t have the need to yell so loudly for attention.

Tomorrow I leave for a three-day safari. Wish me luck, but I figure—how much wilder can I get? I promise lots of pictures! Thanks for all the continued prayers.


Rachel Marie