Ellee turned four last week. I am totally crazy about this girl. She is so feisty. She keeps me on my toes and stretches me far and wide. But she loves generously. She doesn’t ever withhold a compliment or word of affection if it pops into her little head. She really is sugar and spice and I love her for it. I hope she always keeps her spunk.
There are a million and one things I could share about her. But I really was struck last night by how accepting and kind she is to anyone. I went to get her from a neighbors’ house and found her sitting at their kitchen table, sipping coffee and munching chewy Basotho bread. She was talking the ear off our neighbor’s shepherd. It is winter, so the shepherd is back in Mokhotlong to be out of the harsh environment of the rural mountains. During the summer, he lives alone way, way out in a small hut. However, it is safer for him to spend winter here, because he has more access to heat sources and doesn’t run the risk of freezing to death if it snows. During the winter, the shepherd goes off in the morning with the herd and doesn’t return until sundown. When he gets the sheep and goats back into their corral for the night, he goes to the house kitchen for supper, which he typically eats alone. He eats a massive portion, as he hasn’t eaten all day, and he isn’t shy about shoveling it in for that very reason. After supper, he goes down to his own small house beside the corral and sleeps, only to do it all again tomorrow. He does this routine every single day without exception. He doesn’t speak a bit of English but that didn’t deter Ellee. She was just jabbering away about how hungry he must be because he’d been gone all day. And something about the sheep and goats and I don’t know what else. I couldn’t help but smile at how opposite it looked, little Ellee with her french braided blonde hair, pink jeans and light up Minnie Mouse shoes in the chair beside a man who couldn’t be less like her. The shepherd, although friendly, is very rugged. He dresses in very traditional shepherd garb. His clothes are well worn, his beard is scruffy, his thick blanket and heavy rubber boots quickly indicate that he spends his days quite isolated while he watches the herds graze on the hillside. I would honestly expect Ellee to be a bit skittish around him. Obviously I am wrong about her. She left with me saying how he is her friend and she would finish her coffee tomorrow with him. She didn’t want him to eat alone. I don’t pretend to know or understand all the cultural morés here. But I’ve heard and seen enough over my years here to know that shepherds are not generally accepted as friends by non-shepherds. They do their jobs, but they are quite a separate part of society in most cases. Not to Ellee though. She hasn’t lived long enough to pick up on those social boundaries and I am glad.
I hope she never allows her friendliness to be contained by social groups. I hope she will always befriend the outcasts or those who are viewed as different or less important. I hope she never cares if someone is black or white, rich or poor, educated or not. I hope she always pulls up a chair and talks about life with another gentle, friendly soul. I hope she never quits enjoying coffee with a friend. I hope she never changes.
(Table Mountain, Cape Town RSA)