On the second night of our homestay in HaMakuya, a rural village in northern Limpopo Province, Kaley, Duncan and I donned the traditional clothing lent to us by our host family. As the sun sunk low in the sky, we waited outside as other women and children from the village gathered. After a bit of playing with the village kids, the female head of our household grabbed two empty water jugs, and she and another woman began to drum. The other women and some of the children joined in with their voices, and the children took turns dancing. Eventually, they dragged us into the circle, so we tried our hand at the traditional dances of the Venda culture. We ended up getting laughed at quite a bit, but everyone had fun.
After 45 minutes or so, the music died down and the kids broke off to play more games, dragging us with them. We learned a lot of games from the kids in the few days we were there. It was really fun trying to figure out the rules of the games without being able to effectively communicate with the kids, who only spoke the very basic English that they’d learned in school. That night, we played a few of my favorite games. The kids had so much energy, even after a full day of playing in the hot sun.
After the sun had set, the kids started to break off and go home for dinner. Suddenly, two of the teenaged girls were on either side of me, hugging me tightly. “Give me my pen,” one of them said in halting English. At first I was confused. But she repeated the phrase, multiple times, more urgently each time. “Give me my pen.” Gradually, I realized what she meant. Earlier that day, I had brought out my pen and notebook for the kids to doodle in. She must have been referring to that pen, asking if she could have it. Slightly uncomfortable, I tried to back away, but then the other girl stepped in. “Two pens,” she said as she grabbed onto me. At this point, I felt like I couldn’t refuse their pleas – they seemed so incredibly desperate, despite their previous joy while dancing and playing games. So I said that I’d be back, and I went inside our hut and got two pens, the only two I had brought with me to HaMakuya. I gave them to the girls, and they left.
This experience on our second night in HaMakuya will stay with me for a long time. The quick transition from day to night, from playful joy to desperation, was incredibly revealing of these people’s lives. Although the people of HaMakuya appeared to be happy with their simple lives and were incredibly welcoming to us as outsiders, they were clearly in need – two teens desperately begging me for a basic school supply made this clear. I wish I could have helped more, but I’m so grateful to the people of HaMakuya for letting us into their lives and teaching me lessons about optimism, resilience, and true need.