Thing #16

Atang. Tankiso. Larona. You probably think of them as the kids that show up in our pictures. Or our neighbors. Or maybe you’ve said hello to them on Skype or FaceTime. But they are more than that to us. They are our friends. Our surrogate family. The ones we miss when they are away. And the ones we wish would leave us alone when they show up at our door for the 72nd time that day. They are a huge part of our life in Kanye. Maybe the biggest part. They walk with us in the evenings. Help us water the plants. Roast marshmallows with us over the fire. They know all our Peace Corps friends by name. They know most of our American friends by name. They may have even sent you a letter at one time or another. But what are they really like as individuals?


This is Atang. He is 15. He is in the Botswana equivalent of 9th grade. He is smart, quiet, respectful. We can count on him to water the plants and keep an eye on the house while we are away. His English is great and he even asks Kellie to help him with his French homework sometimes. He has asked me for three things in the past year: to teach him a song on the guitar, to teach him how to make a chocolate cake, and, once, to watch a soccer match with him at his house. The guitar is work in progress. The cake turned out good but ugly. And we watched that soccer match.  He tries to keep the younger kids in line when they peep in our windows and play in our garden. He’s a good dude.


This is Tankiso. She is 9. She’s in Botswana 3rd grade. She and Kellie share certain personality traits. How should I put this? Mean girls? Fun influences? Bossypantses? Whatever you call it, Tankiso’s English ability and sense of self seem to grow by the day. At first, she could barely look at us, now she can’t stop making fun of us. And, of course, if you make fun of her she’s not your friend anymore and is going to tell her mom. 20 minutes later she’s your friend again. She’s the ringleader, whispering requests for candy to Larona and corralling the other neighborhood kids to do her bidding. She once set off firecrackers for 6 hours straight. When the other kids fall asleep watching a movie, she stays up to torture you.


This is Larona. He’s 6. He’s in Botswana Kindergarten. He’s not Atang and Tankiso’s brother. He’s their second cousin. He’s naughty. He cat calls the other kids in the street. He only knows a few words of English most of which are requests for candy, piggyback rides, wedgies, or the location of either Bame or Wame (depending on which one he can’t see at the moment). He will come to our door as soon as he’s home from school (12:30ish) and continue to appear there until 9:00pm. Daily. He wants to be included in anything we do or anything the other kids do. He wants to see and play with everything we own, up to and including binoculars, firelighters, frisbees, homemade bocce balls, books, magazines, pens, markers, paper, cameras, phones, and computers. He’s a runt!

We are so grateful for their company and their kinship. We learn so much from them. And we will never forget them for as long as we live.

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