Are we going hunting?" --Rachel Starnes upon entering a game reserve where a lion park was located.

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The Starving Children of Africa

We spent today in Richmond, a town of about 9,000 and a four-hour drive from Port Elizabeth. The day left both of us with very mixed feelings.

Though the soccer clinic was only for girls our age, we were surrounded by young boys and girls between the ages of six and 10. Right after the clinic, we took a walking tour of several neighborhoods. To our delight, the children who had watched the clinic accompanied us. Each child had her or his favorite player and clung to that person. Every Blast player was holding hands with at least two kids, though often chains of hand-holding started and every kid wanted to be somehow attached to us. Each time we would look at the kids they would smile and giggle and look away.

Team

D.C. Blast players walk through Richmond, South Africa with local children on Saturday. (Alice Keeney for the Washington Post)

Jo became a celebrity and the kids who had camera phones (the range of income was pretty wide) all took pictures of her. She stood awkwardly while nearly 50 kids yelled at her to stand still while they took her picture. One of the girls was whistling so I (Molly) made a pathetic attempt to emulate it. The girls had a good time making fun of my inability and showing me up.

Anna taught the girls she was holding hands with the Wave. Kenia found a boyfriend. He is a seven-year-old boy who was willing to learn all of her Latino dance moves and could keep up with her exuberance, unlike the rest of us.

When she asked this boy where he would live if he could live anywhere in the world, he joked, "Where you at." But when she asked again, he replied that he would live in South Africa because South Africa is part of who he is and his home and he could never leave it.

Every single person in our tour group was smiling most of the time, including Lisa. Lisa later admitted that as soon as the children grabbed her hand, what she calls her "awkward aura" -- an aura she sustains even with teammates whom she has known for six years -- disappeared.

Town

The town of Richmond (Alice Keeney for the Washington Post)


Walking past the houses made of tin sheets with very low ceilings and little ventilation was disheartening. While the children we were walking with were joyful, many of them had on very dirty clothing, scars on their faces and bloated bellies. A few children were walking around barefoot on a ground covered in glass shards. As soon as we realized this, members of the team scooped the children up and instantly made a new friend.

Young children who weren't accompanying us had very hungry and longing looks on their faces. People in the U.S. tell us, "Don't waste food. Think of the starving children in Africa" and it always draws groans. Today I realized that I was seeing those starving kids in Africa.

We went in to a couple of the nicer houses and it amazed me how much they had done with so little. They were so proud of their houses.

I can't figure out how much I should feel sorry for them and how much I should just understand that they have a different culture and are happy and proud of what they have. I wonder how they would want us to feel.

By Laura Sessions Stepp
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