The children on the left are both 10 years old. The children on the right are 11 and 9. The children on the left live in a one-room shack without running water or concrete floors. The children on the right live in a 3-bedroom apartment with a shower and wall-to-wall carpeting. The children on the left sleep on the floor at home. The children on the right have bunkbeds from Ikea w/fluffy pillows and crisp sheets. The children on the left will go home to extreme poverty, disease and destitution. The children on the right will go home to a refrigerator full of food, a color television with digital cable and health insurance. The children on the left are South African. The children on the right are American.
But they all have the same light in their eyes. The all have the same love of green grass and sunshine. They all intensely love McDonald's french fries. They all are intelligent, compassionate and loving.
Busisiwe (front) and Memory came to visit the United States for the first time in their lives....but just for the summer. They boarded a plane and crossed the ocean for hours upon hours alone. They'd never left their town before. They'd never left their family before. They'd never left their country before. I can't imagine how they felt, as children, landing and hearing the captain bellow "Welcome to New York". Were their tiny hearts bursting with joy? Were they afraid? Did they cling to each other and speak in their native tongue of all they would see and do?
But more than that, I wonder how they felt when they went home. America behind them; South Africa ahead. They've seen potential. They've seen leisure. They've seen privilege. Busisiwe stayed in Brooklyn with a wonderful host mother. She slept in a Bed for the first time in her life. She had her own room with a nightlite and a poster of Beyonce over the bed. She ate hotdogs and potato chips. She went to museums. She danced to music from the radio. She went to the cinema. She looked up at tall buildings touching the sky. She wore slippers and robes.
Tonight Busisiwe sleeps on the floor again next to her grandmother's bed. Who is she now? Is she the girl who cries all the time for all that her life is not? Or is she the girl who smiles to herself all the time, knowing...now FINALLY knowing, what her life can be?