I’ll admit it. I’m not the greatest with kids. The younger they are, the worst for me. Perhaps, this is why I enjoyed my time in Vietnam so much. My students there ranged from 18 to 24 years old. The kids I’m around in Kayamandi, South Africa range from 11 to 15 years old; some of the most important stages of growth for boys. Puberty has kicked in and this is the time you start molding the boys to become young men. These are the ages where peer pressure can be a real bitch, and everyone and everything around you influences your every thought. Some of these kids are without proper guidance from home and without the right guidance, it can completely change the outlook of how a child here envisions their own future. With Chris and myself here this time, these boys had two young adults to play the role of guardian. Before coming here, I never thought about how these kids would respond to both of us here at the same time. I knew how it was when I was with them on my own, so I thought maybe it would be the same. It wasn’t until I arrived, that I realized how different our methods were with the kids. Chris is a certified elementary teacher at home. He deals with kids on a daily basis, so everything he does is more structured and he knows exactly what to do. I am definitely not a teacher. I am more like the ‘cool uncle’ who buys the kids video games and takes them to neat places to keep them occupied. I took them everywhere with me last year and spoiled them rotten. When I saw how great Chris was with the kids, I purposely took a backseat. His methods were a lot more effective and I learned a lot just by observing him.
For his last full day in South Africa, Chris had planned on making dinner for…well everyone! The volunteers, the Zulu family, Isaac, Songo, and especially as many kids as he could. What was on the menu? Tacos! Tacos and desserts. He bought all the groceries and everything! The other volunteers chipped in on desserts and beverages. Some of the kids helped him prepare the tacos.
I am pretty much useless in a kitchen so I thought the best thing I could do was occupy some of the kids while they waited for the food by teaching them how to play Ligretto, a card game brought over from Holland by Mieke and Hanneke.
Afterwards, I was their personal waiter who put together their table and brought out their drinks. Chris was worried that he wouldn’t have enough tacos for everyone. I was worried about that too. But fortunately we had a lot left to spare. Everyone got some Tacos and some of Mieke and Hanneke’s desserts. The tacos were excellent and everything worked out near perfect. There wasn’t a giant mess. Each kid washed their plate after they were finished, and the volunteers helped out with putting everything away.
Chris and I made personal photo albums for each of the Reaching Out 2 The World kids, with pictures highlighting their trip. We made it before we left to Dubai but always intended on giving it to them right before Chris left. We thought today would be the day. We summoned Atha, RiRi, Mawande, Ski, Lupho, Aphiwe, and Chester to our room and handed out their albums, along with a few more pictures, and personal name drawings Chris drew for them. The kids loved them and compared their pictures with each other all night!
Once the kids left, the volunteers all planned a special night out at Cubañas. I think we all had a great time there!
The next day would be Chris’ last day. I didn’t show it, but this was a tough one for me and especially more for him. He was really quiet all morning and something was bothering him. I had no idea what it was, but I mistook his withdrawn demeanor for something else. Of course I knew he was probably sad to be leaving, but I didn’t realize exactly how much of an impact it had on him. Goodbyes are never easy, trust me I know that all too well. I’ve said goodbye to many, many good people over the years specifically during my travels and it always sucks. I will never become immune to it but I’ve become more positive about it. These are people who I care about who I know I will make an effort to see again and keep in touch with. And with e-mails, texting, Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, Twitter, and all that jazz, it’s almost impossible to lose contact with them. For me, that makes goodbyes a little easier. Just a little. It wasn’t until later on in the day that I realized these types of goodbyes were really hard for Chris. Especially because he was extremely close to all of these kids and to the Zulu’s and even the volunteers.
The last few minutes before we took Chris to the airport was pretty heartfelt. Everyone was outside of the Zulu house that evening to bid farewell. You could tell the kids did not want him to leave. None of us did. They stood in a line outside like little puppy dogs in complete silence. Personally, I pretended like I was okay. I really wasn’t. All of these kids would start relying mainly on me now for the next week or so. My old methods I had with the kids worked, but they weren’t as effective as Chris’ methods. How was I going to fill such a gap? Also, my traveling partner for the past couple of months would not be here anymore. It hit me once all of his stuff was gone out of our room, that now I was flying solo again, even if it is only for about a week. Everything hit me at the end actually. Mama Zulu always refers to Chris and I as her two sons…so that would make us brothers here in South Africa. This is truly my home away from the United States. Same for Chris. We’ve both gained a family out here and I think I can speak for him when I say, we couldn’t have been with a more loving family in all of South Africa.
The kids refer to Chris as “The World’s Strongest Man”. And for these kids, it doesn’t always take much physical brawn to prove to be the strongest in their eyes. A strong person to mentor these kids on a daily basis needs to have the patience of a saint, the will to discipline and educate, and the selflessness to give and listen. Chris has all of these attributes, which these guys really needed. I’ve read about it first and now I’ve witnessed it first-hand. To say he made an impact on their lives would be a severe understatement. I just hoped I played a part in that impact too.
After a very touching goodbye to everyone, Hanneke, Mieke, and I accompanied Chris to the airport courtesy of Isaac. Once we got to there, we helped him with his luggage and waited for him to check his bags. Once his time grew near, it was finally time to part ways. Yes, it’s never easy to say goodbye to someone, especially when they are a great friend like Chris, but I already know that I will see and hear from him again. We still have all of these Reaching Out 2 The World perks to work on when we get back home and I have a “Taco Taste-Off” trophy to defend! Oh and also, Lebron James. 🙂
Chris, you have been a great traveling buddy. The legend I read about more than a year ago rose to light here once again in Kayamandi, South Africa.