Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Bokena

Last night I had to tell Bokena that I will be moving from Kumakwane. It may have been one of the harder things I have ever had to do... To make sure that she understood what was happening, I asked a friend to come over and help me by translating my goodbyes to Setswana. Together, we told her that I would be moving down the road to a nearby village, meaning that within a week I would no longer be living in my house in Kums anymore. Most importantly, I wanted him to tell Bokena that I would be near enough to visit her and that I would come as often as I could. Almost immediately she burst into a fit of tears. She threw herself on me and sobbed. As I am sure you can guess, this made me bawl uncontrollably. I kept telling her "ke a go rata" ("I love you") and that we would still see each other. After some time, she stopped crying. We were joined by some of the other kids and we spent a couple hours playing games, dancing around my house, "oohing and awing" at Mythbuster episodes, petting the puppies on my compound, eating popcorn, and singing "I like to move it move it" (Bokena's current favorite song). When it was time for the kids to go (mostly because it was dark), I went to give Bokena our customary hug and secret handshake and she grabbed hold of me and started crying again. We sat on the stoop of my house for another half an hour crying together, her sitting on my lap and nuzzled into my shoulder. I explained, once more, that this was not goodbye, especially not then, and that I would see her the following day. After this pep talk and another quick hug, she went home.

Wow. Saying goodbye to Bokena was so hard. So so hard. And I know that it is not really goodbye yet because I will see her today and tomorrow and this weekend and periodically for the next fifteen months. I can only imagine what it will be like when my time here is up and I don't know when I will see these children again, if ever. They have become such a part of me that imagining not seeing them is unfathomable. For now I am seeking comfort knowing that I will only be about 10km down the road...

(Next up... telling the rest of my Kums Kids)


  1. It sounds like you are trying to do a lot of good with your service but this is why Peace Corps cautions volunteers of taking in kids (letting them into your house, giving them a lot of attention, feeding them etc.). Being an orphan this little girl has already had a lot of loss and pain in her life and you know that the maximum amount of time you would have been in her life is two years. You are adding into the feelings of abandonment that she more than likely already has. You are also upholding the stereotypes of white people and how they will just give whatever away that is asked of them. You are not promoting sustainability by showing over the top love and care for one child. If anything you have now isolated her in her community because other children are resentful of the extra attention you have given her. You have made it so that she is dependent solely on you for food and attention, which is not good now that you will no longer be in this village. She probably now thinks that it is ok to just ask for things from people. This would make it really hard on any other volunteer who is placed in this community.

    As a community volunteer you should be looking at the bigger picture of problems within the village and not just addressing the needs of one child. Now that you are leaving this community the problems are still there and by putting all of your attention into one little orphan you have done nothing to try to solve those bigger problems. There is a reason why actions like this are discouraged and why Peace Corps as a whole does not condone such behavior. Please take this into consideration in the future and throughout the rest of your service.

    1. Who wrote this? I'm afraid you don't really know what Tija has done with these children, and the value she has brought to their lives. If you did, you’d know what you said isn’t true. What Tija has taught these children is love, compassion, and kindness to animals, among many other attributes they never would have learned if Tija weren’t part of their lives. Tina

    2. What a pathetic comment. You know absolutely nothing of her situation, and what she has and has not done. From the length of your post alone I'd say step down from the pulpit, you sound like an uncaring, pompous, self-righteous ass.

    3. I would also like to add that unless you were in Tija's very specific situation and had the same exact experiences that she has had, you have absolutely have no idea what you are talking about and are in no position to make the comments you have made. If you actually met any of the children you would see for yourself how wrong what you are saying is.

    4. Dear Anonymous,

      I recognize that, in choosing to blog about my service, I am putting it out there for scrutiny. While I value differences in opinion and take what you say to heart (despite advice otherwise), I believe your comments have been made under certain assumptions that are untrue. Perhaps this is because you can only know what I write on my blog and not all the details of what is actually happening, but they are assumptions nevertheless.

      For seven months, I did invite a number of children from my village into my home and into my heart. A number of them, not just this one child. I set boundaries and rules for our time together, I showed them how to treat animals, I taught yoga sessions to the children, I facilitated geography lessons and taught them about the world outside their village, and I played games with them all. I rarely fed them but, on special occasions like this one, I did offer popcorn or sliced apples (something of that nature). It is the custom in Botswana to offer food and tea to guests. Since these kids were acting also as students of mine and not just visitors, I did not do this all the time. They understood the distinction and never asked or expected anything from me. Our enjoyment of our time together was reciprocal and we all gained a lot from it. I ask you, as a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned as a teacher, wouldn't they be in a similar situation? Wouldn't they be working every day with students, learning them and inviting them into their lives, only to leave at the end of their service? I was working with those children in a similar way and yet you are scrutinizing me but not those assigned by Peace Corps to do the same thing.

      At the same time, I did show them love, which is something they weren't all receiving at home. For this I will never apologize. I will never apologize for showing someone, a family member or friend or student or orphan or otherwise, love. I believe that everyone deserves at least that much - to be and to feel loved. I have met and heard from many adults in my community about how their lives were enriched as children by the Peace Corps Volunteer that played with them or taught them. That time with their Peace Corps Volunteer was among their happiest memories. If I can be some small part of that for these children then I feel like my time here has been spent well.

      Furthermore, I have not abandoned those children and I resent your saying I added to their abandonment. I moved merely 10km down the road from my previous village and I continue to visit these children whenever possible. When I go, we play and enjoy our time together every bit as much as when I lived there. If anything, they have learned that people will continue loving them even when distance separates them for some time. For children that have lost a parent and haven't understood why, I believe this is the best lesson I could possible offer them. Maybe they realize their parent didn't leave them for lack of love and they take some comfort in that. But, at the end of the day, they can know forever that they are loved by me. I couldn't ask for more than that.

      Please, before you lecture someone about how they are carrying out their service, realize that you don't know everything they are doing. A blog can only tell you so much. These children were my students, my teachers, and my friends. There is so much more to our relationship and what we have been through together than I could ever say. Your judgement could never take that away.

    5. Thank you for sharing all that. The people close to you know what you've been doing, now everyone else will. I love you, Mom

  2. I couldn't disagree more with this comment. How can you say that changing one little girl's life and showing her what love is can be bad? There is absolutely nothing wrong with what she did with those kids. Also keep in mind she spent time with MANY kids in this village, so Bokena will in now way be isolated.

    "upholding the stereotypes of white people and how they will just give whatever away that is asked of them" -- More like upholding the stereotypes of anyone regardless of their color that is wanting to help spread love and show kids that have had a lack of loving figures in their life that they can be loved. She showed all of those kids what love is, and hopefully that will stay with them for their whole lives, even though Tija can't.

    At no point were ANY of those kids dependent on Tija for food and attention. This is what people call friendship - and possibly you don't have that in your life because of your negative attitude and views, but the rest of us do and recognize this in what Tija has done. She showed these kids love, gave them friendship, and showed them how to show and give this love to other people for the rest of their lives.

    This IS the bigger picture. Those kids will hopefully grow up and show their kids love - something they haven't received themselves. If you can't see the bigger picture in that and how beautiful and amazing that is, then that's sad and I feel bad for you.

    In the future, I would hope she would spread love EXACTLY like she has with Bokena and the rest of the kids in her village.

  3. I too completely disagree with this comment. You are am amazing and loving woman. You can't love half way and that is a gift! Everyone who meets you feels that love immediatly and is drawn to you because of it. Please do not let someone close minded and half hearted bring you down from the joy, happiness & amazing accomplishments that you are currently experiencing. You are CHANGING LIVES and are being completely selfless in doing so! I think I can speak for everyone when I say we are beyond proud of you, support you & love you greatly! Keep your head up! xoxo

  4. Keep doing what your doing girl!!!!! I have never met you but I can say that I am proud of what you are doing! Not many people can go into a different country and do what you are doing. You are a very strong woman and I commend you for that!!!! I wish you the very best in your journey through life!