Friday was one of my favorite days so far. It was field trip day for the preschool. All week the anticipation had been building in the community about the big day, and I was getting excited about being the “support car” for the day. I was to follow the big bus in our new AMM volunteer car, carrying the all important picnic supplies, helping chaperone, and available to run ahead to let each location know we were on the way.
The road leading to Itipini can be quite rough in some places, but the big passenger bus wound its way slowly into the project. Upon its arrival, the children’s departure soon became a community wide event. As we walked down the hill to the bus, the kids and their parents sang and danced in celebration. People peered out from their homes, and soon quite a crowd had gathered to send the children off for the day.
We made our way to the fire station first, where Chief Le Kaye met with the kids. We learned about “Stop, Drop, and Roll” and how to dial “112” in case of emergency. There I saw that fascination with fire trucks and firemen seem to stretch beyond borders, and reminded me of how much I looked forward to Fire Safety Week at Alpine Crest Elementary. It meant a visit from the fire station, drawing colorful evacuation plans for our houses, and fire drills that seemed to me kind of like a recess bonus round as we filed out into the sunshine of the playground. The Itipini preschoolers looked on in awe when the sirens and lights flashed on the truck, and we all laughed as one of the little boys was dressed in fire gear that enveloped him.
The next stop was the Nelson Mandela Museum. There the kids were led around, looking and listening to the story of a man who was once a young boy raised in the same part of the country where they are growing up. One highlight from the museum was seeing the kids react to the recreation of the cell where Mandela lived on Robben Island. All of the kids tried to squeeze inside the tiny cell at once, and imagine life in such a small space. In the last room of the museum there is a video playing with scenes from Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration, and at one point a choir starts singing the South African National Anthem. Without any prompting, the preschoolers all started singing along.
The National Anthem of South Africa is unique in that it contains five different languages and combines lyrics from the old national anthem, the Methodist hymn/song of defiance under apartheid “Nkosi Siskelel’ iAfrika,” and some original lyrics. This hybrid song asks God to bless Africa, bless her children, end conflicts, and concludes with a call to, “Let us live and strive for freedom in South Africa our land.” Hearing and seeing the children from Itipini spontaneously sing these words in the Nelson Mandela Museum was really quite something. In that moment I saw hope for their future, and for further reconciliation in this nation. The children from Itipini are living examples of the economic disparity that still exists, but in their singing, they were also it seems to me, showing that they are not bound to this identity only. They are children who are learning what words like “freedom,” “reconciliation,” “unity,” “hate,” and “love” mean for their country and in their own lives. And for me, they were strong reminders of the power of the human voice…especially in song. It brought to mind this quote from Eduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces: “When it is genuine, when it is born of the need to speak, no one can stop the human voice. When denied a mouth, it speaks with the hands or the eyes, or the pores, or anything at all. Because every single one of us has something to say to the others, something that deserves to be celebrated or forgiven by others. "
From the museum it was on to Nduli Nature Reserve. Nduli is right outside of downtown Mthatha. We made the winding loop around Nduli, seeing some antelopes and wildebeest. Gathering in the picnic area, hot dogs were cooked, apples were eaten, chips were crunched, and juice was spilled. There I observed that just as little kids’ fascination with fire trucks appears to be universal, so too it seems is the ability for the juice from juice boxes to some how end up all over white t-shirts.
After lunch and playing at Nduli it was time to head back to Itipini. Much like our send-off, the community was waiting for our arrival. Mothers greeted their children as if they had been gone for a year, and songs were sung in celebration of our return from a day full of adventures. As the kids disembarked, it began to sprinkle, and then as if right on cue, a rainbow appeared. It accompanied the preschool teachers and me on the way home. All around, it was a very good day.