June 28th

There are distinct scents to this part of southern Africa. It’s smoky — most of the trash is burned. It’s sweet — the tropical trees are heavy with papaya, banana and oranges this time of year. It’s savory — dried fish is a staple to the diet. It’s earthy. The people smell like they live — a life of hard work, sweating in the sun, living near a wide sandy beach in the salty air, bathing occasionally when the bucket from the well is full and nearby.
Last night a child stayed with us at our guest house. Among the dozen American volunteers, this 14-year-old girl has found a team of friends. One of the organizers of our group took to this girl — Amelia– several years ago and ever since she has been a staple of the volunteer house. This morning when I woke up in my bunk bed, I forgot that she was sleeping on the couch nearby. I clicked on my headlamp and rolled over to read for an hour. (Silence is precious here. Living with a dozen people leaves me craving for alone time.) I was five minutes into my book when I felt the mosquito netting being lifted and suddenly Amelia was climbing into bed with me.
I scooted over and greeted her in my basic Portuguese. She gave me a big hug and tried to read the words on my page, occasionally finding one she recognized.
“Good bye!”
“Sit down!”
I nodded and smiled. She kept trying to hug me. I laid there with her, our arms entangled and thought about how nice it was to have this child with me. She talked quietly and from what I could gather, she babbled about perfume, new underwear and school. I thought about who I was at 14. I probably wanted perfume, new underwear and to be popular at school too. But would I have been able to care for my little brother at that age? Do we know what we are capable of? At 14 I was very naive. I still loved playing with toys and remember taking troll dolls and gummy worms with me to Mexico when I was this age.
Amelia doesn’t have dolls — she has actual children she is caring for.
When we crawled out of bed, I realized there was still at least an hour before anyone else would get up. I went through my backpack and found red nail polish. Amelia and I sat at the kitchen table. She smiled wildly as I painted her fingernails.
I suppose there are certain universal truths to being a teenage girl. You want security. You want to feel pretty. You want to be smart and well-taken care of. You want to be loved. This teenage girl wants to be able to take care of her siblings. And I even managed to find her some new underwear and a half-full bottle of Dove body spray that made her jump up and down in delight. If only all of her wishes were so easily granted.
I wish for her to stay in school, be able to keep the boys away, go to church and be the recipient of a fabulous stroke of luck that keeps her from sickness and further sorrow as an orphan raising a family. If good fortune had a scent in Mozambique, I’d say it would be clean and smart — a combination of bleach and that musty smell that rises from old library books when you crack one open. For today, body spray will have to do.


Posted in
Africa, Public Health, Travel
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21 Responses

  1. sweet amelia. kelli that is a beautiful story, it made me misty. a hug to amelia. your heart is full of love kelli.

  2. Beautiful post, Kelli. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Holy moly is all I can say. Sweet girl. I wish the same things for her and all there.

    You are such an amazing writer. Wow!

  4. What a great story. This girl will remember your kindness for the rest of her days.

  5. I hope for all of those things for Amelia. So much responsibility for someone so young but I realize it is all too common.

    Wow, what are the odds of you having RED nail polish in your backpack????

  6. Hug Amelia for me. I am speechless. The things you write about from Africa make me speechless.

  7. Oh, Kelli. This is the stuff of real life isn’t it? I am so glad you get to know and be known by Amelia. It takes sucha courageous heart to face what you are looking at in Africa and yet still be open to love and experiences beyond what you may be comfortable with. May you be blessed Courageous Heart…yep, I think that’s a good name for you.

  8. Oh my goodness Kelli you are so sweet and precious with so much love to give. Amelia is a beautiful young lady and you both are so blessed to have each other.

    Thank you for sharing this story. Reading it can ground you.

  9. Wow, beautiful..

  10. Kelli you are so full of hope and love you light the world and all those you touch. Amelia like you is a very beautiful and brave girl, and your loving heart and soul have given Amelia special joy she will always remember. I bet she is looking at her red fingernails and smiling from ear to ear. Stay well Dear One.

  11. wow, beuatiful story Kelli. Lord knows I’d be cranky and exhausted during my “private time” you must’ve made her day :O)

  12. What a beautifully written post Kelli. Your words transport your readers right into your world.

  13. Kelli-

    I’m so glad you and Amelia have touched each other’s lives and that you are exactly where you should be this summer, for better or for heartbreaking worse.
    Love and prayers to you and those you touch.

  14. What a sweet story. You made her day, plus some. You’re awesome.

  15. You made my day too!

  16. I wish I could write as eloquently as you. You make me feel like I am right there in Mozambique. I wish all the best for Amelia and the other children.

    You travel with a bottle of red nail polish?!

  17. (I type this with tears in my eyes)
    Thanks for this.
    I am going to have my 13 & 15 year old daughters read it…they just don’t know how fortunate they are.
    Please hug Amelia for me.

  18. What a nice way to start a new day!

  19. Sweet post!

  20. Thinking of you and Amelia this cool Birmingham morning. 🙂

  21. What connects us as women is far more than what divides us. I have a ministry to poor moms who have just given birth or are in labour and I see that all the time. Aren’t we so privileged to be used by Him!