Eric hopes to be a teacher. The gifts I brought him couldn't have been more perfect, an abc chart, alphabet cards, writing paper and pencils so perfect to nurture this dream. A glimmer of a smile appeared as I handed over the tennis balls and musical book I had brought along. Eric hesitantly tapped on the keyboard as I gently showed him how to read the numbers and touch the keys to follow the musical pattern and words. We then bundled into the van and drove ten minutes to his home. As we drove I thought about how far he had to walk to school. It was hard to believe that children, some very young have to walk on average 18 kilometres in rural areas.
As we pulled up to Eric's home I looked out at the little mud hut in front of me, it was tiny! The rain had been streaming down for a few minutes and had now turned the red earth to slush. We gingerly made our way inside as the rain continued to fall. It was dark. A streak of light from outside filled the doorway and offered a little illumination as we sat down on smooth wooden chairs. A row of chairs, a reed mat, and a small table filled all of the space. A simple door separated the room beyond. This room had a low bench along the back wall, a tattered mosquito net bunched to one side. At the other end, a bamboo bench leaned across the mud wall, a small window allowing in a shaft of light.
Before arriving we had stopped at the local markets to purchase rice, sugar, oil, porridge, biscuits, soda, toothpaste and cakes of soap. I wondered how long the food items would feed a family of eight? Eric's father helped our driver unoad the supplies we had brought with us. The gifts were hefted out of the vehicle and quickly hidden inside the second room. Packets of biscuits were then split open and shared, the village children sharing the spoils with us all.
The whimper of the baby drew everyone's attention, her fussing resulting in her being put on the breast. Eric's siblings gathered around their mother, sitting on the mud floor slurping happily on the soda we had brought. We exchanged words with the help of a translator, the pauses in conversation allowing me to reach out to Eric, to run my hands across his razored scalp, pat his shoulder and engage in communication that required no words.
As our time drew to a close, Eric's father offered a few words. "Thank you for looking after Eric and all of us". His words broke me, tears welled up blurring my vision. I took a breath. My heart was breaking. This was messing me up. I expected to feel happy, but a deep sadness was filling every part of me. Their need was so great, their living so rudimentary. I get to leave, to go back to my life, but this, this was their reality. I hugged each of them in turn, trying to covey a message that the language barrier couldn't express. I had to leave this boy in the land of a thousand hills, had to say goodbye after only just meeting. Not enough time to say all the things that needed saying, not enough time!