Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Asante Means 'Thank You'

It seems like yesterday that the announcement was made that the Asante Children's Choir from Burundi would be coming to our church and they were in need of host families for the children.

We had seen them before.
Beautiful, smiling faces hailing from various places in Africa.

They were coming to seek sponsors for children back home.
Sponsors to help feed, clothe and supply education and health care for their families.

"Can we do it, Mama? Can we host them" Alena asked.

I took a deep breath. It seemed kind of overwhelming.
Their schedule was intense.
Did I really want to stretch myself?
Did I really want to take care of MORE kids? My own four were just a hair away from eating popcorn for dinner some nights I was so exhausted and frazzled.

But something in me said to do it.
So I signed my name to the sheet and offered to house two.

By the time I was in the parking lot, I was already re-thinking my choice.
Life was so busy. I had things I needed to do. It would be a lot of money to feed two more people. I hate packing lunches.

By the time the day came to pick the kids up, though, I was excited.
It was going to be an adventure.
I thought of all the things that I could show them. How fun it would be to introduce this amazing Western life to them.

I had no idea that the things they would show ME would far outnumber the things I'd teach them.

I wanted to feed them. All the time.
All the images of starving, half naked African children I'd ever seen came flooding in and I just couldn't stand that thought.
I wanted to fix it.

But the looks on their faces as I opened my pantry and my kids rushed in to request any old thing they wanted to eat struck me.
What an overly priveledged life we lead.
We stand looking in an open fridge and whine that there's nothing to eat.
6 kinds of cereal. 5 kinds of crackers. What do you want for breakfast? Eggs? Toast? Cereal? Oatmeal? Waffles?

How indulgent.

Instead of feeling proud to give it to them, I was feeling different than I expected.
I felt embarassed.
I thought of the money that was sitting stale in that pantry alone.
Probably more than their families see in two months.

I asked if they had any laundry that needed washing.
They brought to me armfuls; each item with their names written on the tags.
Some with other kids' names written on the tags. Handed down and down again.
Then I wanted to clothe them.

I started pulling things out of Alena's closet that she'd outgrown. I pulled more out than they'd probably ever owned. Beautiful dresses and skirts.
I laid them on the bed and told them to pick one.
Their eyes danced and they tried to hold back smiles, but instead of diving in like I'd thought they would, or fighting over the prettiest one like MY children probably would have, they just stood there.

"But do you have some for the others?"
"The other girls?"
"Yes. Can you give them dresses, too?"

Not until I assured them that I could give dresses to everyone would they even try the dresses on.
I had to help them zip and button.
They had them backwards and completely twisted.
By the end of it, they had skirts under dresses under shirts.
Like they just couldn't choose.

The moment they saw their own reflections will live in my mind forever.
They saw themselves as beautiful.
Two of the most beautiful girls in the world.

Over the days we had them, we painted and sang, we danced and they taught us to balance bowls on our heads while we danced. Well.....They TRIED to.
We did manicures and pedicures. We swam. We took them on their first fair rides.

And as we did that for them, they did things for us.
They did our dishes, they cleared their plates, they made their beds, they stacked their shoes.
They completely stole our hearts.
Every small thing we did earned a hug and a "Thank you."

I checked to see if my own children were listening and watching.

By the time we reached the end of the time we'd signed up for, an email was sent out that they were in need of people to volunteer to have them for longer, if possible. There wasn't even a question.

In just a few short days they had become daughters to us.
I found myself staring at them often.
Studying their beautiful skin. Watching their mouths form words in their beautiful language.
Wishing I could just smile and laugh and spill out joy no matter what my life brought my way.

We had been told not to ask them about their pasts.
Many of the children had survived genocide and civil wars.
Many were orphaned or had just been turned out onto the streets because their familes were unable to care for them.
Capi told me she didn't know how long she'd been with the choir.
She didn't know how old she is.
She didn't know her own birthday.

When they found a set of birthday candles in the drawer and asked what they were, I struggled to even explain birthday parties to them.
Making a wish?
Forget it.

In this week
Capi and Divine showed me how connected we are as humans.
At least how connected we SHOULD be.

These are children.

They love dressing up.
They love ice cream and being tickled.
They don't want to go to bed at night and they're scared of the dark.

And yet these children load onto a bus day after day with the hope that someone, somewhere will see them and be moved to help ANOTHER child across the ocean.
They dance until their feet are sore and they do it for someone ELSE.
They perform multiple shows a day and yet never asked to eat.
Only if it was offered would they light up and say, "Yes, Please."

Meanwhile, Tessa cried that Chloe had more Cheese-Its than her.

The very best times, though, were at night as we sat around talking and laughing.
They tried explaining movies they'd seen to us and we'd take turns guessing what on EARTH they were talking about.
Like the hardest game of charades EVER.
They would laugh and the beauty of their teeth alone would draw me into a daze.

It's been amazing how they've touched my family.
I have never seen Justin like this.
He's been changed by them.

Last night before bed, he ran them up the stairs by piggy-back and I sat on the couch and took pictures with my mind.

In just one week.....How could you fall in love so deeply?

They didn't know last night was their last night with us until about 9:00.
I had thought they'd know, so I never spoke of it.
When we told them, they looked sad for the first time.

Capi told us she hoped tomorrow never came.

Today we dropped them off at their bus.
The whole drive there, they sang songs with the girls in the car as Justin and I cried.

Our daughters singing together.

They didn't jump out of the car. They walked slowly and held on long.

I handed them their lunches with their names written on them as the tears dripped off my chin.
I'd drawn hearts above the "i"s.
They loaded their bags and came back off the bus to say their final goodbyes.

I could hardly even look at Justin as he knelt to the ground and told them he loved them, sobs shaking his body.
I could hear Chloe crying behind me.

"Ndagukunda" I choked out.
"Ndagukunda" they replied.

They have taught us "I love you" in the most real way it could ever be said.

In a way that transcends oceans and jungles and color.

When we returned home we found this note on our bed:

This week has been life changing.
It has divided my heart and now part of me will live forever in Burundi.
Capi and Divine will never be forgotten.

So to them I say "Asante", which means "Thank you."

Asante for changing my life.


  1. What a beautiful tribute! You have expressed many of the same feelings that we have experienced since sponsoring 3 of the little girls from Rwanda. We have met one of our girls, Cynthia. She was in the Asante Choir that was here last year. We probably will never meet our other girls but through Cynthia we have a stronger bond to Olive and Delphine. Thanks for sharing! The Browns from California

  2. So glad others are having their hearts melted and lives changed by experiencing Asante. We were blessed to host Josianne and Barbara (the choir director) last year for just 2 nights. When they left, my boys cried and proclaimed she was the sister they never had. We enjoy looking through the photo book I made of the occasion and look forward to seeing Josianne and the choir in Calistoga in October. Thank you for sharing your experience. The Bota family in CA.

    1. Luke, the same kids that will be here in October, by a turn of events, are back in he area now, and will be performing at the Bodega Bay Community Chirch on Friday, September 14 at 6:00.

  3. This made me cry. My friend is touring around with them and sent me this link to your blog. I'm still sitting here with tears streaming. Their love is so genuine and beautiful. Thank you for posting your experience! I'm all the way up in Canada and have never even met these children and already have a huge love for them.