Wednesday, May 2, 2007

little friends, big protectors

I love how with the change of each season, there is a change in me as well. Maybe not a change, but a return to the same patterns of who I am. For some reason, I am not one that can stick with any exercise routine for very long. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the exercise, I do, I love the feeling of cresting a hill and finding a new burst of energy, setting limits for myself and then going just one more block. But the voice in the back of my head first talks me out of running one day a week, then two and before I know it, it’s been weeks since I’ve had a good heart pumping run. One day I’ll figure out how to ignore that voice and just keep going or how to make it say different things.

But I do put up a valiant effort most weeks. I’ll don the shorts, sports bra, t-shirt and shoes and set out with the best of intentions knowing that the moment I see one of the girls that likes to run with me, I will let them lead me to their house where we’ll dance around, play games, I’ll laugh at the little girls while the older ones play with my hair and try to braid it like theirs. After running a short distance one day last December, I stopped at Refiloe’s house, a 16 yr old girl who I have come to adore. Her family has been so welcoming to me, always happy to see me, their arms always ready for a big warm hug. There were many women at the house, most of them sisters, some of them extended family but all of them dancing and enjoying themselves. They pulled me up without much of a fight and they taught me all kinds of hip traditional dances, the kinds you dance at birthday parties and weddings, not the ones where you get dressed up and dance to drums. It was the first moment I felt really welcomed by the community. We were having so much fun I didn’t even realize it was getting late. And then all of the sudden it was past dark and I needed to go home.

I’m not supposed to be out past dark. From the moment I stepped foot in this country, I have had all kinds of safety measures forced fed to me for good reasons. Being out past dark is one of those things we’re told to avoid while living in the rural village but was inevitably going to happen at some point during my stay here. And even though I am on my guard, at that moment, as I found myself surrounded by this loving family, I felt ok, I felt safe. They took my hands and in the moonless night, almost 20 of us, including the little ones, started our journey back down the dirt road to my house.

And so this has become our ritual. Whether I am actually on a run or just visiting my young friends, the kids will always walk me to my home. They are my protectors and despite their size, I feel safe with them. They are the life of the village and I feel as though I am right in the middle of their hearts.

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