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Five years from now, this summer will feel like a distant memory. When I look
back at photos, I will be reminded of the people and the place that left me in awe for
three weeks straight. But in the same way pictures never capture the full beauty of a
sunset, I know that my pictures won’t do my experiences in South Africa justice. So, this
letter is addressed to myself, five years in the future. I don’t want to forget any of the
details of my amazing three weeks in South Africa.

Dear Abby,

Do you remember your first couple minutes with the kids? In case you don’t
(which seems impossible to me now), it was chaos. From the moment the 12 of us
walked into the first Early Childhood Development Center (ECD), the kids erupted. I was
shocked there was never a moment of awkwardness, silence, or hesitation. We were
immediately swarmed and on the receiving end of hugs, high fives, and bright smiles.
For the next three weeks that is how we started our days, and that highly anticipated
joyful chaos carried us through the first class period and straight into our second ECD
each day.

The children at the second ECD met us with a calmer welcome each day. Instead
of running to us at the beginning of class, they sat patiently on the floor ready for high
fives and the start of the lesson. However, their calmness evolved into excitement and
energy as the class went on, being very obvious in the songs, dances, and a rendition
of Duck, Duck, GOOSE that we taught them (Duck, Duck, SNAKE). Their joy was
incredibly infectious.

The language barrier was something that we learned to work around.

– Abby Geiser, Duke Women’s Track & Field

I remember how tired I was walking into the classroom on some days, but the
part I might not remember in five years is that no matter how tired I was at the beginning
of class, I always felt full of energy by the end of class. It’s only been a week, and I
already miss teaching the kids about fruits, clothing, animals and much more. I miss the
smiles, laughs, silly songs and dances, and joy.

The language barrier was something that we learned to work around. Sometimes
the children showed frustration and disappointment with our inability to correctly
pronounce the clicking in the Xhosa language. We really wanted to be able to call each
child by their name when we talked to them, so with the help of their teacher, we made
each child a name tag. There were times when, even with the name tag, I wasn’t able to
pronounce names. They would pat themselves on their chest and say slowly in English
“My…name…is..” then say their name and look at me expectantly as I tried to repeat it
back to them.

These children taught me that putting my ego aside and allowing myself to be wrong and make mistakes was okay.

– Abby Geiser, Duke Women’s Track & Field

Remember the disappointed looks on their faces if we couldn’t say it properly? It
was the worst feeling in the world. I felt so guilty and wanted nothing more than to say it
correctly for them. Remember how the kids would repeat themselves over and over?
Remember how it felt to struggle to understand? These children taught me that putting
my ego aside and allowing myself to be wrong and make mistakes was okay. I
pronounced their names incorrectly over and over, but they didn’t give up on me, and I
didn’t stop trying.

Looking down on Cape Town from Table Mountain, watching the sunset at Signal
Hill, and seeing wild ostriches, penguins, and seals were all breathtaking experiences,
but it was working with the children in the ECDs that made this trip truly unforgettable.
As I head back to Duke this fall, I hope to bring their energy, patience, and joy into
everything I do.


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