Sunday, June 1, 2008


May 27, 2008

I’m sitting in my room making my way through flashcards, crunches, jumping jacks and bucket bath when the kids start singing.

They’ve been singing for about 20 minutes now in perfect unison. The babies are quiet and Naillil leads while Indil, Odnam and Pillihp follow along in harmony. They’re all sitting on a bed in the room adjacent to mine, surrounded by heaps of dirty clothes and shadows of frightened cockroaches and the echoes of thin cement walls.

It will never cease to amaze me how the African continent seems to possess a Harmonizing Gene that we’ve clearly missed back home (well, except you, Linnea ;). I remember having the same thought about a month ago at our homestay matching ceremony when the kgosane asked the Botswana host families to sing their national anthem. What ensued was the rising and explosion of 100 Motswana voices into a melodic chant that made my eyes swell with patriotism for a country I knew nothing about. Truly, we were awestruck to see a group of strangers spontaneously create such a profound and gorgeous sound.

And then

Then the old ladies wiggled back into their chairs and the kgosane turned to us. Us: a group of 59 terrified Americans who could barely speak, never mind squeak out verses of the old Star Spangled. When we hesitated we got a smile from the American Country Director that said “get-up-and-do-it-cuz-we’ve-got-a-long-ceremony-ahead-of-us-and-the-lunch-is-getting-cold”. Gulp. We rose.

Imagine hearing Mozart followed by chalkboard nails, the rearranging of large furniture and the shrieks of infant children. Uh-huh.

When we sat down a hush fell over the room and I felt my cheeks burning. The kgosane choked out a “ke a le boga” (thanks) and our host mothers looked across the room at us in frozen terror.


Fortunately, the ceremony went on and when my name was called Ikitip Elopmar came running down the aisle to hug her cacophonous host daughter screaming “Bontle… Bontle… your name will be Beauty!” I embraced this enormous African woman and was happy to be reminded of the universal virtue of motherhood:

They love us, flaws and all.

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