Tomorrow, it will be time for us to say goodbye to Zimpeto: goodbye to our home, our friends, our community and the boys we have loved.
Over recent weeks we had parties, balloons, chocolate cake and face painting. We gave out extra jumpers, t-shirts and shorts. We had afternoons of egg-frying-lessons and evenings with hot dogs and bean cakes. We gave away all the little things left over in the present box: bouncy balls, bubbles, marbles. We tried to do all the things that needed to be done: glueing broken shoes, repairing the dorm bike, blowing up footballs, helping with homework. But still it did not feel enough. As though anything could.
I talked to them about the inevitability of change. We looked at the trees: thinning in the winter air, the fruit invisible to the eye but due to arrive in the right season. We looked at the sand – each morning raked into neat patterns, but within minutes the careful lines blown away by the breeze and smudged underfoot. We thought about the different feelings change can bring, and the importance of compassion for one another at these times. But still it did not feel enough. As though anything could.
And then I had an idea. One of the boys recently showed me how to make simple friendship bracelets. What if I were to make a bracelet for those who wanted one? A unique, no-cost, imperfect gift, infused with time, attention and love. Something they could wear, tie onto a school bag or hide under a pillow.
So I began with Shelton, who loves red and navy blue. Then Lourenço who loves turquoise and orange. Then Francisco who likes bright, happy colours: pink, yellow, sky blue and lime green. As each bracelet needed around six hundred little knots, I had time to think about the boy whose bracelet I was making: time to think about what I loved about them, my hopes and dreams for them, the sadness I felt about leaving them. Time to send up a little prayer for their future. Time to let go of them just a little bit.
As I began to give out those first bracelets, more boys asked for them, even the older teenagers, until it became clear that I would have to make all twenty-two of them a bracelet. So I pulled out more colours from the box of threads: brown, black, gold, orange, purple, and committed to hours and hours of work. With so little time, it seemed madness to sit and tie thousands of tiny knots in thread, but it also seemed exactly right: an activity and a gift that would help them and me. A gift that would not be “enough” (as though anything could), but was perhaps “good-enough”.
Who knows how long these scrappy bits of wool will last. Many of them are probably already lost, stolen, dirty, or frayed. But whatever happens to the bracelets themselves, at least twenty-two boys will know that someone cared enough to choose some colours just for them; that someone knew them well enough to know which colours would be best; that someone made them something that money could not buy. That someone tied six hundred knots for them.
As for me, I don’t have much in a material way to take back to England. Everything fits easily into two suitcases and two backpacks. But I leave rich with invisible treasure; my heartstrings knotted and woven together with the people left behind.