What you could do while you’re…
…within the confines of a walled children's home compound in a township:
If you are lost for something to do, your first port of call should always be to sit and do nothing possibly with a book attached to your hand – entertainment often finds its way in to a day in the most unexpected of ways. Whilst being metaphorically catapulted to eastern Europe via the power of reading, all senses heightened from the drama unveiling amongst the pages of my book for Josie Dew; cycling adventurist, I was completely unaware of the stealthily approaching 11 year old who announced her arrival making a vicious-sounding noise described only as a cross between a “bark” and a “boo”, which, needless to say, made my heart leap out of my head as I thought Josie's attacker had come for me.
The language barrier, which would in a normal situation prove to be limiting, only enhanced the necessity of the games and random goings-on which were to ensue for the next two hours. Watching each other appeared to be a highlight early on, there didn't need to be an attempt at conversation, preferring that one pretended to be asleep whilst the other pounced to tickle said sleeping person into hysterical fits. My new play mate decided my hair style was quite uncool and so decided to fashion it herself, regardless of the ferociously tree-bending gale hurtling sticks, sand and straw all around, and continued to remove the hair tie and strategically placed hair clips, so that suddenly I could not see a thing for the mop which flew forward and proceeded to fling its split ends around, knotting nicely, until it was once again secured with said hair tie and pins … in a curiously similar way to how it had been previously.
As she slumped herself on the bedraggled and seriously dilapidated sofa outside my flat, she couldn't resist touching my toes, which had been flopped over the arm of the sofa blissfully reveling in the fresh air before a week of trainer clad farm work.
“You have Tippex in house?” she asked, whilst pointing at the embarrassingly old remains of red nail varnish on both my big toe nails.
Sadly, I wasn't able to converse that if I did in fact have “Tippex” in my house I would not be allowing myself to walk around with the remnants of four month old paint on my toes, but in fact yes we would be able to redo mine and make hers lovely and pretty. “No” with an apologetic frown would have to suffice. Although I would like to point out that her English was far superior to my pathetic attempt at pronouncing a few random words in Xhosa.
Whilst the obviously bored child was at my toe end, she came across something she thought most peculiar, and so proceeded to pull at the little blonde hairs on my big toes with a widening grin. And so she learnt another word of English, “hair”. This word was then practiced for a little while – pointing out my goose bumps and thus exaggeratedly hairy arms, as well as the somewhat spikey appearance of my legs. (Yes that is correct – I don't care much for keeping clean shaven legs especially when in a place like this – there are far more important things to concentrate and waste time doing as you can tell!) And so the next 'event' commenced. Leg stroking. She wanted me to use my nails and tickle/stroke her leg and, surprisingly, she became extremely demanding when I wasn't moving around enough or she would rather I were stroking the knee as opposed to the shin. I appeared to have passed the test and my reward was to have my leg stroked/slapped … until the distraction of bristle was just too much once again.
Meanwhile, I could just make out through the steel-barred window holes in the wall, other children hurtling full pace down the street creating a cacophony ranging from shouting and applause to jeers and quite possibly, aggressive squabbling. Their main source of entertainment appeared to be the vaguely familiar age-old game of 'Hoop and Stick' but with a modern twist of replacing the wooden/metal hoop with a car tyre and the stick with a hand. I had seen this 'sport' practiced until perfection in the last couple of months from the windows of my flat, it really is quite an art as it not only requires the skill of directing the 'hoop' around obstacles such as rocks, bins and the odd one or two deceased creature.
If I were to understand the charades which soon commenced, it was now time to go for a walk; all of forty yards, before returning to the poor excuse of a sofa. Along the way I learned that her sister is (or possibly has been or will be) housed in our respite centre. I asked what was wrong with her and the response was a mime of “sickness of the head”, but actually I know that those staying at the respite centre have one of TB/HIV/AIDS. I also fathomed that her father had left her mother and then her mother abandoned both children some years ago.
Back at the sunken seat, I was to learn the hand-clapping game popular world over in school playgrounds, but one which apparently once you pass a certain age you are no longer capable of keeping up with. I was most perplexed as to my lack of co-ordination and how my short term memory appeared to have shortened itself to a meagre two seconds; thus making this new game some what of a challenge. Unfortunately she soon lost interest as I was such a poor student and hinted it was time to go for another walk. This time we went all the way back to her cluster house (a good two hundred yards) where she vanished and I was left stranded and vulnerable amongst a highly strung, very excitable bunch of even younger children … no sooner had I arrived than I had a grinning eight year old LEAP into my arms and bounce merrily as if riding a pony. Her streaming eyes and runny nose were something of a deterrent for me but she clung on so tight I had to entertain her until she lost interest. (Children's attention span = eighteen seconds) Once I had swung several children around and acted as a substitute climbing frame, I headed back in order to lose myself once again in an incredible story of one lady cycling the planet … but all the while I was host to a contented smirk that both I and the eleven year old girl, had had a wonderful afternoon.