The other day, Gift and I were sitting on my front step talking about how her day was. The conversation lulled, and I asked her about where she plans to go for Junior Secondary School next year. Her reply was Francistown; it’s a large town in the north-east corner of the country, very far away from Motokwe. I asked if she was excited for it, and she quickly said, “No”. Her eyes downcast, she looked up at me and said it was because she’d miss me too much. Naturally, my eyes misted and I hastily threw my sunglasses on. My tears prevented my quivering voice from not sounding like a whiney 2-year old, so I had to bite my tongue before telling her just how much I would miss her too.
Gift is, without question, the most important person in my life here. When I arrived in Motokwe she was only in Standard 5, and now she’s the highest achiever in Standard 7 as well as President of PACT Club, and one of my very best friends. At 12 years old she’s more driven and emotionally mature than some of the 25-year olds I know. She attended GLOW Camp in November with 54 other young women and was one of the most vocal and well-spoken participants. She has come to my house for help with every subject for the last year, and when I suggest she does extra work at home for those she struggles with, she comes back the next day to show it to me. She’s passionate about learning, but it’s not enough for her to simply memorize things the way most kids pursue learning here; she has to understand it. I could speak for days and days about how wonderful and amazing and awe-inspiring she is in the face of all the obstacles she could let drag her down; if it isn’t completely obvious I am just in love with this girl. I want so many things for her, and she has marked my heart in a way that I will never be able to let go of or forget; my greatest fear is not being able to give her all the things I want to from half-way around the world once I’m back in America. Is this what parents feel like? This constant fear and hope and anxiety about how a child will pursue their path in life? I know I’m far from a parent, but sometimes I feel that way with these kids. I’ve invested in their lives and their futures, and I can’t take myself away from that even if I wanted to.
Maybe because it’s Valentine’s Day and my head seems to be wrapped in a haze of naïve love and emotions, but I’m feeling more sentimental than ever about this place I call my home now. I feel the weight of my short time left here heavy on my heart, and I am starting to prepare for the reality that this won’t always be what I know. Thankfully, there’s a lot of love surrounding me today because I’m handing out 250 hand-made teddy bears to the kids at Motokwe Primary School!! Thanks to a great organization called Mother Bear, the children each get a bear to call their own, something most of these kids don’t have. Happy Valentine’s Day, to all around the world!