Moana is shy.
At 17 and the youngest of three children, one would expect her distance to be that of a normal feisty teenager. But Moana just keeps to herself, does what she is asked and rarely contributes more than a “yes” or “good” to any question she is asked.
One of my main fears of living with a host family was children. Contrary to my reactions of the last year and a half, I do like kids but I was not eager to live with them. I imagined children knocking my door at all hours of the day, coming in although I didn’t invite them and then ruffling through my things. Some PCVs have great experiences with their adopted younger siblings and love when they come over for visits to watch movies and color. Others have horror stories of kids pulling off doorframes to get inside and then sneaking sweets when the volunteer isn’t looking. I did not want that a part of my life.
So I was quite relieved when I discovered that my siblings are grown. Maseeng and Thebe are both out of high school and pursing their adult lives; Maseeng is a wife and mother and Thebe is the eternal student. I clicked with both of them almost immediately, sharing jokes and teasing the way blood relatives do. Moana, though, was different.
During most of my time here, Moana is the one I see most. She lives at home and commutes an hour each way to school. She washes clothes, cooks papa, fetches water and mops when not studying. Every night, while busy preparing my meal with candlelight, I hear her call out to the herd boys that their super is ready. Younger girls, maybe by three or four years, come to visit and help with chores because that is just what children do in the village. It doesn’t matter what family you belong to, in the village, you do whatever an adult tells you. Moana giggles with these children, seemingly much more comfortable with younger people than ones her age or older.
At first, I didn’t think Moana really liked me but Maseeng, who was living at home at the time, told me that Moana, or Oanini (Waneney), is shy with everyone. My bruised feelings healed and I tried to find small ways to build a relationship with her. I asked her about school and would sneak up on her while she was washing. I invited her to my girls’ club and gave her sweets for helping me. The ice didn’t break but it melted some. However, we couldn’t get as deep as I was with Maseeng and Thebe, whose English was undoubtedly better and part of the reason why Moana and I struggled.
Moana now stays with family closer to her school. She will write the national exam to essentially determine if she graduates high school in November. This exam is everything. Students prepare all year so Moana spends as many hours outside of school studying. Although Maseeng and her little boy now live with us, I missed Moana. I noticed her absence during Rhythm City and the lack of the supper call at night. Sometimes, I craved her face when I walked out of my house, hoping it would be there with her arms stuck into a washing basin.
One day while running through the village where she attends school, I saw a few girls near a shop buying pieces of fried bread. It was a Saturday and unusual for them to be in uniforms, but I assumed there was special weekend classes for those writing the national exams. When I got closer to the group, I noticed one of them was Moana. I burst into a wild smile and she threw her arms around me.
Moana has never hugged me before.
We talked briefly. She explained they were on the way to a funeral of a fallen classmate and that school was going well. She promised she would visit and then she returned to her friends and I continued running.
Moana is shy, yet that doesn’t mean that her feelings of love for me are any different than her brother and sister. Her embrace proved to me something I had always wondered: She does see me as a sister. I, too, realized how much I care for her because that two minutes along the road filled me for the whole day. It was so good to see her face and hear her voice.
Like natural siblings, we have different relationships with each one but it doesn’t mean that we love them less. I may joke with Maseeng more and have deep conversations with Thebe, but Moana and I have something special. It is less defined but that doesn’t matter. All that does is that it is there.