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Happiness is....A Snoopy Blanket

The orphans at Children's Town in Zambia have few material possessions, deceased parents, a troubled history, and yet their desire to live and love surpasses all. Happiness lives here.
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Before my trip to Zambia, I was told that I had more to learn from the orphans than they could learn from me; I realize this now. At Children's Town they eat until satisfied, not until full. They sleep when they are tired. They express themselves without censorship and show love without restriction. Perhaps this may be true of children in general, but I see the same attitudes in the adults as well. America may be a first-world country, but I find we are somewhat ignorant in the realms of the spirit. We more often seek fulfillment from materialism, and we more often act in response to a clock, not our hearts. Children's Town is living proof that the human heart can be content on faith alone.

After four hours on the back of a pick-up truck, I arrived in Children's Town with a dusty face and an anxious smile. At sunset, most of the children were busy eating their supper and only a scattered few came to greet me at the gate. I saw a white man in the distance, and some black children excitedly ran up to greet me. James, age 12, was dressed in a thread-bare navy blazer and extended his right hand, "You da visita? Come, I take you to da school managa's office." I hesitated to follow him, doubting my assumption that the white man was a school faculty member. I decided to take him up on his offer and followed James' lead to the head office with a warm gaze and a gentle squeeze of the hand. Was every child this friendly, curious, and kindhearted? I expected James' personality to be an exception, remembering that Children's Town is an orphanage of former street kids and vulnerable youths.

At the manager's office, I surprised six administrators who were busy eating their supper of shima, mashed corn meal, and capenta, tiny dried and salted fish. Looking up, they immediately dropped the food in their right hands and signaled to enter, "You've arrived! Come in! Come in! We were expecting you!" As their right hands with crusted with food, I shook their extended wrists; Steve, Eleanor, Annie, Simon, John, and Catherine all gave me a warm welcome. Annie, Project Leader of Children's Town and roommate during my stay, led me to our thatched-roofed and cement-walled chalet. Humble and cozy, my 10-foot by 10-foot home was located in one of three villages of 4 identical, facing huts. Bowing my head to enter through the short door, I found 2 army cots, 2 simple tables with 2 chairs, 1 shelf, 1 small charcoal stove, a few pots and pans, 2 plates, 2 mugs, and 1 plastic basin for bathing. A Snoopy blanket neatly covered my bed and a small canister of instant coffee sat on the bedside table. I didn't need anything else.

Annie told me that I would be eating my dinner with the School Mother shortly, and I had some time to settle in and relax. I plopped onto the bed, exhausted and full of excitement. I admired the picturesque thatched-ceiling and adored the single electric bulb that provided light from overhead. The cement floor was sanded red and surprisingly clean. The colorful drapes moved with the gentle wind. How did I get here! I took deep breaths and sighs of smoked cedar air. My new home was simply comfortable, and my heart burned with glee.

Not a minute later, there was a knock at the door. Two teenage-aged students, Lina and Linda slowly entered. As custom, we slapped hands; they took a seat at the foot of my bed and we started to chat. Then another knock: it was the white man from before. Andra, a volunteer from the Czech Republic, introduced himself and welcomed me to Children's Town. He invited me to join him and the other Development Instructors later that night for a bonfire and beer. Other visitors included: James and three of his grade-school friends, teenager Rosie with long braids, teachers Misozi and Chichi, and Simon the gentleman. My house was small, but full.

This warm and carefree mentality is natural in Children's Town. Since the school is on summer holiday, children keep themselves busy with activity and chores. No one wears a watch, the school bell signals mealtime of generous portions, music is always playing, children dance and sing upon will, and young ones play makeshift mancala on the ground. Boys play soccer and complete laboring chores, while girls braid each others' hair and wash dishes. The elder grades take care of the livestock and grind harvested sunflower seeds into cooking oil. Some attend summer classes, read quietly in the library, or attend organized activities in the grove. Children gather in popular spots like the kitchen, the playground, the common room, and the School Mother's village. No matter the sun's position in the sky, laughter is abundant.

In the afternoon, I find myself lounging around and chatting with some teenage girls. In any other place, I would have would have been bored. I would look at my watch, wondering what and when dinner would be. I would think about work and the piling emails in my inbox. I would feel different because I am privileged, Jewish, white American compared to the Zambian orphans. I would hesitate to show affection for children whom I just met. I would hold back from dancing and singing when lively music blasted from the stereo. At Children's Town, I easily shed my habitual feelings of preoccupation and uncertainty. I've never felt more free in my life: my curiosity tickled with new discoveries, my mind at ease, and my heart so fulfilled.

It's as if the entire Children's Town community is in love. There is a continuous circle of generosity here that I've only experienced briefly in my personal life. Every child, each teacher and member of the school community would do anything for one another. Every inhabited heart is effusively overflowing with kindness and charity. They have few material possessions, deceased parents, a troubled history, and yet their desire to live and love surpasses all. Happiness lives here.

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