A couple months ago, Tlotlisang’s mother died unexpectedly. Estranged form his father, Tlotlisang lives with his uncle, our dear friend Ntate Ntsimane. Long before his mother passed away, he came to live here in Mokhotlong to be cared for by Ntsimane. I dare say in this boy’s short eight years of life, he has experienced more difficulty and heartache than I have at three times his age. Nevertheless, his smile exudes friendliness and contentment. He is well cared for by his aunt and uncle, attends school here in Mokhotlong, and plays hard outside during his free time.
Tlotlisang and his cousin, Tsepo, making sand birthday cakes this morning in our yard.
Ntate Ntsimane and his wife, Mme MaTsolo, care for a number of boys who aren’t biologically their own. Along with Tlotlisang, they are the caretakers of Tlotlisang’s older brother, as well as 2 or 3 other young boys between the ages of 12-14. The scourge of AIDS has left so many children parentless. In other instances, children are left in the village with relatives while parents go to the city to find work in order to support their families. The boys are responsible for their own cooking and their own laundry. I’ve personally witnessed Tlotlisang at age 7, hand washing his own laundry. Once I asked MaTsolo if he is any good at washing his clothes. With a faint smile on her face, she told me that he wasn’t very good at all. And sometimes when he is asleep, she sneaks into his room and takes some of his clothes to wash for him, to lighten the burden of his laundry. All of the boys sleep in a small home on the same property as Ntsimane.
The house the boys live in.
Shortly after we moved here, MaTsolo informed me that Tlotlisang was highly concerned about Kyle. He had sat her down to discuss with her that he believed Kyle needed to be in school. He told her he would walk him to school and help him to learn to read and write, because he was already helping another boy in the school to do the same. MaTsolo tried to explain to him that Kyle was much too young to attend school, which pacified his concern for Kyle’s education.
Oftentimes Tlotlisang sits on our front porch with us while we enjoy the morning sun. Yesterday while we has here, I asked him when his birthday was. When he replied with, “tomorrow!”, I immediately began to plan a birthday cake for him. With Ntsimane and MaTsolo currently out of town, I knew there wasn’t a way in the world that little boy was going to have a cake for his 8th birthday. After nap time, Jonathan and Kyle ran down to the local shop to buy cocoa powder and icing sugar.
With Ellee fast asleep in her crib last night, Kyle and I began to bake a cake for a very special boy. My son was giddy to help me use the hand mixer and even happier to lick the beaters. At 11pm last night, I was icing this chocolate cake with this chocolate butter cream icing, per Tlotlisang’s request. I was so happy he wanted chocolate. As I don’t have two cake pans of the same shape, I think this cake could easily be classified as the ugliest birthday cake in history. However, because it tasted great, I don’t think any one minded.
Eight of the neighborhood kids showed up for the festivities, which was a fear of mine. Earlier there were only four — boys who regularly play around here. But by the time I got outside with the cake, that number had doubled - well, 7 boys and 1 random girl. Oh well, the cake was plenty big enough for each kid to have a good size piece and still leave some to share with Ntsimane and MaTsolo once they return. We blew up some Happy Birthday balloons and presented the birthday boy with a bag of gifts Kyle picked out for him this morning at Pep (think The Dollar Store). Kyle chose two motorcycles, a small bag of candy, a bag of marbles and a beanie to go into the birthday bag. The kids sang “Happy Birthday” in English and then again in Sesotho before they began devouring their cake. I think everyone seemed to enjoy it because no one left a morsel on their plate.
Occasionally I ponder what exactly my role is here in Lesotho. With Jonathan busy working with Theological Education by Extension, along with meeting regularly for language lessons, and working towards his Masters, I’m almost always just busy around the house with my kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way because I believe I am right where I need to be. But it’s days like today that remind me — I do have a ministry all of my own, and not just to my own children. It may not be in a classroom, or in any organized setting, but I pray the time and energy I invest in the children who play at my house will produce lasting results. I pray I am able to show love to “the least of these.” In a country full of hurting, lonely and dying children, I pray a smile, a chat on the porch, or a slice of chocolate cake will shine a little light into their day. We love Tlotlisang and the sweet friendship he shows to our kids. I hope he had the happiest of birthdays!