Botshabelo Childrens AIDS Village
As our bus rolled along the dusty roads that stretched out of town and into the savannah, I sat searching through the glass window for signs of the long awaited Botshabelo. The first sign came in the form a child walking along the side of the road, a seemingly common sight in the area we were traveling but as the bus slowed I began to examine him, wondering what to make of this new face who was obviously intrigued by the bus. As the bus pulled in, I made eye contact with the kid and he immediately smiled. I reciprocated the gesture, and in that moment, I knew that this experience was going to be meaningful in a big way.
We stepped out of the bus to a horde of eager and friendly faces. Immediately, we began to break down the boundaries between strangers, singing and playing and exchanging all sorts of information. The greetings were cut short as we were ushered into one of the nearby houses, to get what Marion Cloete, also known as “magogo” or grandmother, called introductions. This woman and her “introductions” turned out to be surprisingly wonderful, as she wasted no time diving into subjects that many do not mention, and being open in a way uncommon of strangers. She was wise and spoke to our inner fears and doubts, and touched all of us by addressing us and some of the complex feelings of youth directly. She was a truly inspiring person, and I will remember her character and words for the rest of my life. The rest of the day was equally wonderful as I learned to play a mix of dreidel and Beyblade with the local kids, held hands with a young boy and girl as we hiked around the property and partied with traditional song and dance with the whole community. We concluded the day by helping the kids try on and pick out the new clothes we had brought them, and hugging virtually everyone we could before we boarded the bus to leave. As I said good-bye to the young friend I had made, I gathered up the thoughts of acceptance, compassion, and openness I had collected throughout the day. I left Botshabelo filled with happiness, and having so much to think about. I think I will still be processing today’s events for a long time.
Today we visited Botshabelo Children’s Aids Village. It was such a heartfelt experience, one like I have never had before. As soon as we arrived in our bus, all the kids rushed out with smiles on their faces, waving at us happily and ready to meet us. We played with the kids for a little bit, and shortly after went to meet the people that created Botshabelo. We listened to the story of how this place was founded, as well as how the kids came there. Many of us were in tears as we listened to what they had to say about what many of the kids had to go through in their life, at such a young age.
After, we were given a tour of the whole place, with the kids accompanying us. I was touched by just how sweet and lovable all the kids were. They immediately ran up to me and wanted to hold hands with me. I really took this place to heart because even though these kids live tough lives, they are still able to keep a smile on their faces, and keep their loving personalities.
Nearing the end of our visit, we got to watch a performance of singing and dancing from the older kids, and even some of the younger ones. We also had our turn to sing and dance with them which was special. The last part of our visit was unpacking the bags of clothes we brought, and helping the kids pick out the clothes that they wanted. I had donated many of my clothes to Botshabelo and I was very happy to see some of the kids wearing some of my old ones.
I was sad when we had to say goodbye because I had formed a connection with many of the kids there. It was heartwarming to give each one of the kids a big hug before leaving. I will cherish the memory of visiting Botshabelo the rest of my life.
The beginning would be a good place to start if I knew how it started. The legacy that it took for me to get where I am is far beyond my comprehension. The string of coincidences that led to my being at Magogo’s doorstep are beyond me, yet there I stood. We got off the bus at 10AM and were promptly sent into a small house, the reception office for Botshabelo. At this point, dear reader, you may be wondering who Magogo is and I can tell you that Magogo is a white woman in her golden years, a little plump by her own admission, and has a smile that could melt the coldest heart. However, that description does her no justice. Magogo, which at this point I should tell you means grandmother, is a teacher not because of the profession but because being around her makes you learn. Magogo is a counselor not because of the degree or practice but because her honesty draws out yours, and before you know it she gets your whole life story. Magogo is a woman who has lived life. All humans walk down the same road of life and for most, and I might say for all, it begins in a cave, a dark and damp cave, no hobbit hole to be sure. As we journey through the cave, we begin to see a light. That light is as Magogo put it, us, who we really are, and an acceptance of who you are. Many people, most people, get stuck in the dark of that cave, wallow in its pools, so confused and hurt that they end up turning around. Magogo is someone who has left the cave but she did not just leave it; she helps others out. Or, maybe not so much helps, she will yell at you until you pick yourself up and walk on out.
After Magogo came Holandŭ. Holandŭ amazed me not with life experience or honesty but with his internal strength, drive, and determination. I saw in Holandŭ the same light of determination I saw in Thulani. A power that can only come from a strength to forgive and the drive to keep moving, despite all that he had been through.
Holandŭ has never met his mother. When I asked him about it he said he thought she was dead but he was not sure. Imagine never having known your mother, your own mother. He has only met his dad once in his entire life. Hearing this really made me realize how much I take for granted. So, because I don’t say this enough, and because I can’t text you from here: mom and dad, I love you. When I think about it, you have done more for me than I think either of us really knows.
Despite all he had gone through, Holandŭ still had hope; he still had dreams. He dreams of being a chicken farmer and from there he hopes to expand into sheep and cows. He is going to own two houses, one on Botshabelo property and one in a big city like Johannesburg or Cape Town. Notice that I said, “he is.” I said this because I genuinely and truly believe he will. I believe this because I saw his drive and his work ethic, and I know that he will do great things.
As we were leaving Botshabelo, I brushed up against a kid, he was maybe 3 or 4, and riding on someone’s back. After my elbow brushed his back, I thought that this may very well be the last time we ever interact. That one little touch, that one moment that he did not even notice or recognize as an event, would be my one contact with his life. My next thought was a refusal of this reality, a determination, an oath or a pledge, a promise that I would return. I would come back and see Holandŭ’s chicken farms, and give a little more back for all that my friends and I got, and my God did we get a lot. In the words of our teacher Ward, “Remember this, remember this.” So, as one last reminder to future me, REMEMBER THIS.
There’s nothing quite like Botshabelo. It’s a place that’s immersed in the true humanity of us all, and home to a treasure of people. From the moment we arrived, you could tell that there was something special about this place; something in the warm smiles of the young kids jumping, giggling, and running. They live every moment fully, and that was the magic that we felt as we were greeted by them. It was an instant connection, you don’t need words when you are greeted with open arms and hearts. The kids laughed, played, hugged, and smiled with us until we were ushered into a building.
I don’t quite have the words to describe the woman who greeted us. Magogo is the quintessential human being; she is someone who has lived in privilege and gave up everything to live on a hill, in poverty, and take care of the people at Botshabelo. She’s someone who has seen every walk of life, walked in every type of shoe, and came out profoundly wise. She reached into our hearts and souls, and told us everything we had ever needed to hear. Everything that we had known inside of us was said by this magical human, and when she was done the room was filled with crying faces. She managed to make us see the light inside ourselves, even if it was faint; she found it and said, look, this is inside you, this beautiful thing that you carry with you everywhere. You are enough.
With that as the preface for the day, we went back to the kids. I walked and played tag with two kids, Marcus and Bopello. They really were the sweetest kids. Marcus, especially, really touched my heart. He always had a smile on his face, and had explosive energy that carried his short little legs up and down and all around. But, he didn’t have shoes. As we walked over the thickets of spiny plants to the cemetery, he had to stop every couple of steps and pull thorns from his feet. That never deterred him from pulling me across Botshabelo. I found out later that he was sick with HIV, and that he would likely die long before he was even my age.
Botshabelo was a truly unique place. The people that reside there are the most heartfelt, authentic, and amazing people I will probably ever have the privilege to meet. It’s somewhere where no matter who you are, you are family. I think I left a part of myself there and carried with me something new that they had given me. Something small and faint but beautiful, and just waiting to see the daylight.