Sunday, February 14, 2010


Math Games

Over the river and through the mountains...

St. Theresa Mission is nestled in the mountains, a two hour walk from my village. The children living here walk there and back every day. I was eager to visit.

One boy offered to come gather me in the morning so we could walk together, as it was my first visit.

"What time?" I ventured. Usually school is the one area where one could be clear about schedule, as the morning assemblies are around 8am. He replied confidently.


That night I set my alarm for 5:30am, thinking it was fully enough time to prepare my bucket bath, dress, eat breakfast, teach some math, and do my dishes. I couldn't sleep well. It was serenely quiet... I felt completely safe... perhaps it was the excitement of visiting the school, but from 12 - 3am I was wide awake reading. Finally, I forced myself to try to sleep again.

The next moment my phone alarm was buzzing. I drowsily turned it off, stayed in bed a few minutes, and eventually got up to heat the water.

A knock at the door and a tentative, 'Me?'

I went to see who it was. And of course, there he was. Ready to go.

"Abuti, are you walking to school now?" I demanded, standing in my pajamas and hair sprouting from all directions. He smiled, then realizing the state of affairs, he covered his mouth. He looked off in the direction of St. Theresa, imperceptibly nodded, and put both hands on the straps of his backpack as if to say 'Let's go, lady'.

"You said 6:30am! It is 5:30am!" I show him the hour with my hands. It's no use. "You are leaving now??" He nods again, maintaining his position.

"Acch! Achh! I cannot leave with you. Look at me, Abuti!"

He nods in understanding.

"Acch! Abuti, you told me 6:30am!" I am smiling as I repeat my line of defense. I do not want to walk alone, but I cannot be ready to join him soon enough for his departure.

"Well, then, tsamaea hantle! I'll see you there." Go well.

He gallops off. I've wasted his valuable minutes with my hemming and hawing. I will find my way...

Little Boys and Birds

Now he comes to my door, shyly still, but easily and with more confidence every day. One day I opened my door and he was already standing there, one finger in his mouth for security, standing precariously balanced on one foot should he need to swiftly twirl around and run away.

But that first morning he was hesitant, and I was distracted. He gripped my iron burglar bars defiantly, angling the rest of his body towards freedom outside my rondavel. Finally, after about 10 minutes of his intense stare as I boiled my water and sat down to breakfast, the perfect game dawned on me.

I brought out my stone collection and cardboard numbers linking one to one correlation with dots to the number symbol. This kept him captivated at least one hour. I came over to teach or reteach or re re teach periodically, but mostly he practiced by himself.

Then, after some time, he stood up and decided to share something with me, too. He reached in his back pocket, where I hadn't noticed the small bulge there before. Between his tugging fingers, up popped the head of a dead baby chicken.

My expression transformed - I had had on a shiny proud smile mixed with curiosity at this latest development. Now I was covering my mouth and had let out an uncontrollable gasp.

"Eh - eh!" I managed to translate my thoughts into one solid Sesotho 'No!'. His fingers quickly shot the head back down inside his pocket, and he looked at me very worried.

The next day, he came to learn - and it was understood - the bird stays home.