I found this article Sondra wrote when she was 14. It ended up being published in one of the Chicken Soup books, describing an experience she had in Africa.
I was a normal kid that only listened half heartedly as my parents told me I should be thankful for what I had. My friends were girls that had the same interest in soccer and school that I did. We all tried to act like individuals, but lets face it…we wore the same style jeans and sweatshirts. Things changed when I got the opportunity to go to Africa. After the 21 hour flight, we arrived at our destination; Bugala island in the middle of Lake Victoria. The eight mile long island had only one rutted road. People lived in cow dung huts without running water or electricity. I don’t even want to describe what the toilets looked like!
While on Bugala Island, I got the chance to meet the girl I sponsor named Annette. Annette’s parents and relatives had died of Aids. Because our family paid $30.00 a month to Childcare International, a Christian relief agency, Annette was able to live in a group home and go to school. For the past several months, we had been writing letters back and forth. I made sure not to write about our house, my closet full of clothes or the trips we took. Here was a girl my own age that owned only two dresses and one pair of flip flops. Before we left, my mom and I thought about buying Annette a backpack. I’m glad we didn’t because I soon saw she had nothing to put in it! No stuffed animals, no boxes of markers, no books.
When I first met Annette, I had on my favorite khaki shorts, not knowing that most girls in Uganda seldom wear shorts or pants. She hugged me cautiously. After all, she had never seen a Caucasian kid! Within five minutes of meeting, Annette disappeared for a few minutes. She returned wearing a faded pair of shorts…trying to look like me. Annette spoke English fairly well so we could talk. I panicked. How could I talk and be friends with someone who had never seen water coming out of a faucet?
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to form a friendship. She showed me the room she shared with twenty other orphan girls. (Who by now were all wearing shorts also.) Annette taught me their jump rope games. We played the drums together and did craft projects I brought along. Many of the kids at the group home didn’t know how to take the caps off of markers to draw pictures! I found myself having fun with Annette even though she had never seen a video or eaten at McDonald’s.
On the last night at the group home, the 120 kids planned a celebration for me. Since they didn’t have crepe paper streamers, they twisted toilet paper along the walls. Annette, (still wearing shorts) led the group in singing and dancing. The dancing consisted of small shakes of the hips back and forth so their grass skirts swooshed and you saw a blur of color. The children invited me to join in their dance. Three years of ballet lessons could have never prepared me for what was to come. Trying to mimic their dance, I fell short and resorted to my pre-school years of twirling and waving my body wildly to the beating of the drums and chanting of the children. They laughed hysterically at my African dance attempt.
After the dancing and singing, the director announced a special treat: A frosted cake! He brought out a homemade typical one layer, 8 inch cake. Annette and I cut the cake and the 120 kids excitedly waited for the rare treat of sweet cake. (The group home cook made meals over an open fire, so a baked cake was a real treat.) I figured the Costco sized huge sheet cakes were on another table. After all, we had to serve over one hundred kids. Instead, Annette cut the 8 inch cake in smaller and smaller pieces. These were really small pieces! I then went around and passed out the cake pieces, which each child picked up with their fingers. Every child smiled at me as they ate their miniature-marshmallow size piece of cake. No one asked for seconds and no one tried to sneak two pieces. They were simply happy with what they had. Annette made sure I had a piece of cake also.
The next day, while leaving the island, I thought back on that cake. In the United States, my friends would have complained about the tiny piece of cake. “We want a bigger piece! Where’s the ice cream?” I found myself happily eating a few cake crumbs next to Annette. It wasn’t about the sugar rush, it wasn’t about the frosting. It was about the friendship.