For the past month, we’ve made our home in a small flat at Cranberry Cottage in the small quiet mountain town of Ladybrand, South Africa in Free State just across the border from Maseru, Lesotho. When I think back to the past fourteen months since we’ve been traveling with our daughter, I realize that she’s spent more time here collectively than any other place so far in her little life (this is her third trip to South Africa with us). I also realize how much the community of staff and regulars here have become much like family to my daughter.
A few days ago I wrapped my toddler securely to me and set out of the grounds to the small town to buy a few items. On our short five minute walk to the store, we passed by at least three groups of women and men, most of them local Basotho people dressed in uniforms. They smiled, waved, and called my daughter’s name. Veda responded by waving and smiling back, loudly saying, “Hiiiiiiiii,” in their direction. I don’t even know these people, and it seems my daughter knows everyone in town!
During the day while I am here at Cranberry Cottage the cleaning staff often disappear with Veda. They tie her to their backs with towels while they go about their cleaning business. They take her to the laundry room where my daughter seems to gravitate to first thing in the morning. There they sing and dance with her. They turn over plastic buckets and taught my daughter how to sit up and stand up from a sitting position. When music plays my daughter rapidly stomps her feet in a two step fashion and squeals in delight, the dance she has learned from them the group of women here.
At 14 months my daughter says only a handful of words including the obvious, “mama,” “dada,” and “hi.” She recently started saying “chia-chia” for chinchilla, and also now says “nana” which means “baby” in the local Sesotho dialect. She also shakes her head furiously and says, “Eh-eh” for “no,” as the women say here (with a huge grin on her face).
It’s a comforting feeling as a mother, seeing my baby develop and grow, and it’s equal as comforting to know that there’s a group of incredibly boisterous and loving women that are always somewhere near that my daughter seeks out for their friendship. They’ve become family to her, and have become a source learning- how to trust other people outside her parents, how to lose oneself in dance and song, how to laugh, how to say hello and goodbye in the small and big ways.
As we ready ourselves to depart our little cottage today to leave to India, all of the women are making more visits than usual, saying goodbye and “I love you,” to Veda, who doesn’t realize that she won’t see them all tomorrow, this little family of hers. Although we are going to India to visit family, there’s a sense of loss as we depart and leave this little village who have become a great source of support for my daughter, and for me. How beautiful it is for a mother, wherever we are in the world, to be surrounded by other mothers and other strong women as we watch our children come into themselves.