A Pen-Pal Friendship Changes Two Lives

May 6, 2015 - accent chair

When Pennsylvania schoolgirl Caitlin Alifirenka was offering a coop companion in a unfamiliar country, she chose Zimbabwe given she favourite a sound of it. But as she began to conform with Martin Ganda, who lived in Zimbabwe with his family, she had no suspicion a border to that that association would change both of their lives.

As Alifirenka began to learn some-more about a misery that Martin faced on a daily bases, her perceptions of her possess universe began to change.

“He was indeed traffic with real-life problems and misery and my friends here were dissapoint if they couldn’t get a new Spice Girls CD,” Alifirenka told Here Now’s Robin Young.

Alifirenka and her family finished adult apropos deeply inextricable in a lives of Martin and his family.

Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, along with Liz Welch, have customarily expelled a new book, “I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives.” Robin Young speaks to Alifirenka about their story.

Book Excerpt: ‘I Will Always Write Back’

By Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifirenka with Liz Welch

September 1997


I’D NEVER HEARD OF ZIMBABWE. But something about a approach a name looked adult on a blackboard intrigued me. It was exotic, and formidable to pronounce. It was also a final nation in a prolonged list that Mrs. Miller had created in chalk. She asked any tyro in my seventh‑grade English category to collect one place for a coop companion module a propagandize was starting that year.

I was sitting toward a behind row. Usually, we spent that duration flitting records with Lauren, my best friend, or staring out a window daydreaming about boys. It was late September, and a leaves on a trees were commencement to spin from colourful immature to rusty red and mustard yellow. we was an normal student. If we practical myself, we did well. Honestly, we was not all that meddlesome in school, yet there was something roughly captivating about this crazy‑sounding place: Zimbabwe. we lifted my hand.

“Caitlin,” Mrs. Miller said, surprised. She customarily had to call on me to participate.

“How do we pronounce a final country?” we asked. “The one that starts with a Z?”

“Zim‑BOB‑way,” she said, sounding it out like it was 3 words. “It’s in Africa.”

“Oh, cool,” we said. we had a camber it was there, yet couldn’t name any other countries on a continent. we had a good hoop on Europe, as my family had left to Germany a summer before to revisit my dad’s relatives. On a same trip, we went to Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, and France. Other than several trips to Canada, that was my initial outing abroad, and it was a outrageous deal. I’d never illusory roving to Africa, or even wondered what life contingency be like there. we had no idea, and that was all a some-more exciting—like a commencement of an adventure.

“That’s a one we want,” we said.

I didn’t know it then—how could we have?—but that impulse would change my life.

Before then, we was a standard twelve‑year‑old American girl, distant some-more meddlesome in what we should wear to propagandize than what we competence learn there. we insincere many kids, regardless of where they lived, had lives matching to mine. And while we illusory that Zimbabwe was radically opposite from suburban Pennsylvania, where we grew up, we had no suspicion how much.

My trust of Africa consisted of what we had seen in a National Geographic magazines my mom subscribed to for a family. we desired looking during a colorful photos of genealogical people who wore face paint, loincloths, and beads. we didn’t consider my coop companion would dress like that, yet we had no suspicion what kids in Africa wore. Jeans, like me? we had so many questions.

I was innate and lifted in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, a tiny middle‑class city forty miles outward Philadelphia. Both my relatives grew adult there as well. They met in facile propagandize yet didn’t start dating until college. After they got married, they altered to adjacent Lansdale, that was some-more affordable than Hatfield. My brother, Richie, was innate there. By a time we came around 5 years later, they had altered behind to Hatfield and bought a home they still live in today.

There was no reason to ever move—Hatfield was a good place to live: still streets lined with plantation and colonial‑style houses with well‑kept yards, a good open school, and an old-timey downtown with a deli called a Trolley Stop. There was a Dairy Queen within walking stretch of my house, and I’d mostly accommodate Lauren there for Blizzards on a weekends. Otherwise, miles of farmland surrounded Hatfield, even yet it was reduction than an hour divided from a vital American city. Truthfully, we frequency went to Philadelphia given there was so many to do in Hatfield, possibly softball games on a weekends, drum skating during a internal rink, or customarily unresolved out with friends during a circuitously mall. My summer outing to Europe did give me some clarity of a universe over suburban Pennsylvania, though.

When we was in Germany, we was struck by how opposite my cousin Carola was from me. Like me, Carola was high and blond, yet when we initial met her, she was wearing cut‑off jean shorts and dim brownish-red knee hosiery with sandals. we suspicion she looked ridiculous. She also spoke English with a harsh‑sounding accent, like she was always angry. She ate pointy cheese and dim bread for breakfast, and favourite chocolate with hazelnuts, and tainted black licorice—nothing like a Hershey’s Kisses and Starburst candy we had grown adult with. we insincere she was a sum dork, until we went to propagandize with her one day. The propagandize year started in early August, and as shortly as we walked into a building, everybody conspicuous hello to her, including all a lovable boys. She was indeed unequivocally popular! And many of her girlfriends were also wearing knee hosiery with sandals. It was fashionable! Meanwhile, we knew if we showed adult during propagandize wearing that outfit, people would say, “Why are we dressed like a nerd? Halloween isn’t until October.”

That outing non-stop my eyes to other ways of vital over my tiny town. Everything and everybody in Hatfield felt so familiar—even a tiny boring. we wanted to learn about somewhere radically different, and carrying a coop companion in Africa seemed like a good approach to do that.

Mrs. Miller went around a room, pursuit on people. Lauren picked Germany, as did many other kids in a category who had some ancestral connection. A few kids picked France, and others picked Italy and England. By a time everybody had chosen, we satisfied that we was a customarily chairman who had picked a nation in Africa. we consider it repelled my teacher, who had already destitute me twice that year for nipping resin in category and once for flitting a note to Lauren. Each time we was caught, we was somewhat embarrassed. In seventh grade, we customarily wanted to mix in. we assimilated a margin hockey organisation given all my friends were on it, even yet we did not like regulating adult and down a vast margin focussed over a stick. we theory my outing to Europe had altered me. For a initial time, we saw that being opposite wasn’t a bad thing. It was indeed kind of cool.

Our task assignment that night was to write a minute to a new coop pal. Since we did not know who would be receiving a letters, Mrs. Miller conspicuous to simply write Hello! instead of Dear so and so. we was indeed vehement about homework, maybe for a initial time ever.

That afternoon, we sat on a train subsequent to Heather, my other best friend, who was a year comparison and lived dual houses divided from me. we told her about my coop companion assignment.

“That’s so cool,” she said. “What are we going to ask?”

It was a good question: we had no suspicion what to write or where to start. we suspicion about it as a train pulled out of a propagandize driveway.

Pennfield Middle School is customarily down a transport from Hatfield Quality Meats, a pig slaughterhouse, that my propagandize train upheld any morning and afternoon. That meant many days, we could see a pigs, some as vast as tiny ponies, nearing on a behind of outrageous stock trucks, their pinkish and bearded noses adhering by a steel crates. That image, and a squealing sounds they done as if they knew what would come next, always pennyless my heart. But a digest days were even worse: The atmosphere filled with a stink of rubbish baked in bacon. The smell would hang to your hair and clothes, like cigarette smoke, as it wafted into a classrooms’ open windows on comfortable days behind when a propagandize didn’t have air‑conditioning.

I positively would not write about that—it was a one thing we didn’t like about my hometown. Hatfield was also famous for a dairy farms, that we many preferred. we pulpy my front opposite a window as a train upheld by rolling immature fields dotted with black‑and‑white cows grazing. They had many improved lives than a pigs, we thought. we wondered what my coop companion saw on her or his approach to school. we knew there were elephants and giraffes in Africa. Were they like a cows, extending on a side of a road? There was so many we wanted to find out.

Twenty mins later, a train stopped during a finish of my street, a cul‑de‑sac. we knew any family in any of a twelve houses that lined a road. In a summer, we played flashlight tab and flog round with other area kids. In a winter, when it snowed, we’d build snowmen in one another’s front yards. My family’s residence was beige with navy‑blue shutters and a relating front door, that we frequency ever used. Instead, we always went in by a side door. There Kava and Romeo, a dual hulk schnauzers, would always be watchful for me, doing their acquire dance, that entailed wagging their whole bodies and jumping adult and down during a same time. They followed me by a washing room that was also a mudroom for all a coats and boots, and afterwards into a family room, where they returned to their still‑warm spots on a couch. As always, we threw my trek during a bottom of a stairs—one of my mom’s rules—before streamer into a kitchen to squeeze a snack.

My mom was always home when we arrived. Before we was born, she worked as an bureau manager for a alloy in town. Then, when we was still a baby, she motionless to go behind to propagandize to turn a teacher. She wanted to be home when Richie and we finished propagandize any afternoon, and she wound adult removing a pursuit as an facile propagandize clergyman in Central Bucks School District in a adjacent county. Now that we was in core school, we didn’t see her during a day, yet we always found her watchful for me in a kitchen when we came home.

That afternoon, she was sitting during a kitchen table, reading a newspaper.

“How was your day?” she asked, peering adult during me, her vast blue‑green eyes peaceful yet curious.

Most days, we filled her in on my softball diversion news or complained about too many task or meant teachers. But on this day, we had something engaging to report.

“I got a coop companion today,” we said. “From Zimbabwe.” “Where?” she asked.

“In Africa, Mom,” we said, and rolled my eyes. we couldn’t trust she did not know where Zimbabwe was. She was a teacher, after all.

“Oh, do we meant Rhodesia?” she asked.

My mom went to get a universe map from a vital room, that she laid opposite a table.

“Rhodesia,” she said, indicating to a teakettle‑shaped nation in a southern partial of Africa above a place called Botswana and subsequent to one called Mozambique. My mom afterwards forked to a date on a map: 1977. It was twenty years old.

“Countries in Africa change all a time,” she conspicuous in a matter‑of‑fact way. She mentioned colonialism, a vaguely informed word.

“What does that meant again?” we asked.

“It’s when absolute countries take over   other countries and call them their territories,” she explained. “Like America—it used to be a British colony, yet we fought for a freedom. The Zimbabweans did a same thing.”

I had complicated American story a year before, yet we was carrying a tough time creation a connection. It was all unequivocally confusing, yet one thing was clear: we indispensable to learn a tiny some-more about this mislaid place before we could even start essay my letter. we didn’t wish to seem stupid.

When my father was not roving for work, he arrived home any night during six. He worked on appetite contracts for a government, that sounds as puzzling as it was. All we knew was that he had tip supervision confidence clearance, and he could not pronounce about his work with anyone—including us. My brother, Richie, was seventeen years aged and a youth in high school. He customarily hung out with his friends after school— yet he was always home in time for dinner. That was another one of my mom’s rules. We ate cooking together any dusk during 6 thirty, and afterwards afterward, my father logged on to a family computer, a beige Dell a distance of a radio set. My relatives kept it in a den, as my mom had review about predators posing as kids in discuss bedrooms and wanted to guard a websites Richie and we used. Back then, we had dial‑up Internet, that took forever, and afterwards once we were connected, everybody took turns regulating a computer.

That evening, we went first. we waited for a snap‑crackle‑pop Youve Got Mail sound method and afterwards typed “Zimbabwe” into a hunt engine, that led me to a Encyclopedia Britannica site. My mom had a subscription, that meant we could entrance information. That’s how we detected that Zimbabwe was “liberated” from a United Kingdom in 1980. we was commencement to see parallels: The Africans wanted to be giveaway from British rule, customarily as colonial Americans did dual hundred years earlier. we review that some-more than 90 percent of a Zimbabwean people were called Shona, yet that there was another clan called Ndebele, that we consider was conspicuous en‑duh‑BELL‑lay. Shona was a country’s inhabitant language, yet many people spoke English as a outcome of being colonized.

Phew, we thought. At slightest my coop companion would be means to know me.

I wondered that clan my coop companion was from, and what it meant to be from one or a other. Could we be both? Was it like being German and Irish, like me? It was removing late, so instead of doing some-more research, we went upstairs to my room to start writing.

There, we took out a square of lined propagandize paper and sat on a bottom of my berth bed, where we customarily did my homework.

I began: Hi, my name is Caitlin, I’m twelve years old. we live in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. I’m in a seventh grade. My hermit Richie is in eleventh grade.

I paused. What else should we write to this chairman median opposite a world? we scanned my room for impulse and speckled my collection of sports trophies won over a years, customarily for good sportsmanship, as we was never a best player, or even unequivocally athletic. we continued: I play softball and soccer and margin hockey. I did not embody that we had started holding stats for my margin hockey organisation given it harm my behind to hook over a hang all a time. we was already 5 feet three, a second‑tallest lady in my class. My posters tacked to a wall held my attention, so we continued: I like a Spice Girls and a Backstreet Boys. And my favorite tone is pink. This was all true. My mom had stenciled pinkish hearts on my walls, and a carpet in my room was magenta, yet no one would ever know, given it was totally lonesome in clothes.

I continued: For fun, we like to go offered during a mall on a weekend. we also like to go drum skating and bowling with my friends. And to eat pizza. What do we like to do for fun? And what is it like in Zimbabwe?

I knew there was some-more to ask and tell, yet this was a good

start. we sealed it a approach Mrs. Miller had showed us progressing that day: Sincerely, Caitlin Stoicsitz.

When we incited in my minute to Mrs. Miller a following day, we felt giddy, like this was a start of something big.

October 1997



“Class, we have coop companion letters from America!” she conspicuous in a chipper voice. It was mid‑October and toward a finish of a propagandize year, so this was a acquire surprise.

Everyone started chattering—we all knew and desired America. It was a land of Coca‑Cola and a WWF, World Wrestling Federation. Kids with income would Xerox opposite wrestling photos from American magazines they found in town, and afterwards sell them to other students. It was unequivocally renouned to have an eight‑by‑ten black‑and‑white duplicate of Hulk Hogan—he was deliberate a God in Zimbabwe. My comparison brother, Nation, managed to get one somehow, and we hung it on a wall during home, regulating burble resin as tape. It was a standing thing. “Do we have Hulk Hogan? Or Macho Man?” This was my perspective of America—men with vast muscles who wore skullcaps and knee‑high boots and done lots of money. The vast life! we wanted to know what kids my age were like in this mislaid country.

Mrs. Jarai customarily had 10 letters—and there were fifty students in a classroom. we was in Group One, so we was one of a propitious ones. The propagandize year in Zimbabwe starts in January, when any tyro takes a chain test. The kids with a tip scores are put in Group One. we had been in that organisation for a final 8 years, given initial grade—my mom done certain of it. On my unequivocally initial day of school, when we was six, she kept asking, “Who’s a best teacher?” An comparison lady was forked out, and my mom approached her and said, “This is my son Martin. Make certain he is in your class.”

It worked—I wound adult in that class. At a finish of initial grade, there was a rite where a tip 3 students were named: Number 3 was announced first. Then series two. When my name was called for series one, we listened a joyous cry from behind me. we incited to see my mom jumping adult and down, like a rabbit, ululating, that is how we celebrate. we had to reason behind a grin as her high‑pitched cries—“yul‑yul‑yul”—pushed me toward a front of a crowd, where we perceived my certificate. On a approach home, my mom said, “Martin, if we wish to do good in life, we contingency always be series one.”

I was series one again a following year, yet afterwards in category three, we took second place.

“Why didn’t we take series one?” my mom asked a day we got my news card, her face screwed so tight, her eyes were squinted slits.

“The other male is unequivocally clever,” we explained, handing it to her.

She swatted it out of my palm with such ferocity, we was startled. we watched a paper as it fluttered to a building and kept my eyes there as she shouted, “That’s no excuse. Next you’ll be series five, afterwards series fourteen. You contingency work harder.”

“I will, Mai,” we said, still stunned. we picked adult a paper and smoothed it out on my thigh before perplexing to give it to her one some-more time.

“I don’t wish to demeanour during it,” she said, still this time, yet still fierce. “Or you.”

As we incited to leave, a news crumpled in my hand, she whispered, “School is your customarily hope.”

She took a low exhale and finished her thought. “Otherwise we will finish adult like me.”

I understood. My mom wasn’t being unkind; she was being protective. My mom was smart, yet she had to dump out of propagandize when she was twelve given her relatives could not means a fees. My relatives were also poor, yet during slightest we was still in school. we betrothed her, and myself, that we would always work as tough as possible.

The subsequent semester, we pushed myself and was series one from that year onward. That meant we always got to lay in a front quarrel of a classroom. Since there were so many kids and not many room, 4 students common a table meant for one. It was crowded, yet it done it easier to share textbooks—the clergyman had customarily four, that she brought to category any day. we mostly stayed after propagandize to take records to make certain we accepted what was being taught. We were unequivocally frequency authorised to take a books home. They were too precious.

Everyone in Group One got a minute from America, yet afterwards Mrs. Jarai ran out, withdrawal a final 4 groups with nothing. we felt generally advantageous that we was in a classroom that morning. Due to a overcrowding in a school, any organisation was also separate into teams: 1A, B, C, and D. That meant any day, dual teams would start classes inside and afterwards finish outward underneath a vast baobab tree—our clergyman would transport with us and lay in a chair as we sat cross‑legged in a mud and listened to her review passages from textbooks or harangue us on a topic. On balmy days, it was indeed utterly pleasant. But when it rained, we had to pierce into a hallways, that was not as fun. The other teams started outward and finished in. This was called prohibited sitting and was common via Zimbabwe.

Mrs. Jarai handed me a initial minute and asked me to review it out loud. We schooled English in school—Zimbabwe used to be a British colony—but we spoke Shona with my family and friends. Mutare, where we lived, was 99 percent Shona. we knew how to pronounce English yet used it customarily in this class, so a difference felt humorous in my mouth. we attempted to impersonate a voices we had listened on a radio and television: high‑pitched and nasal‑y.

“ ‘Hello, my name is Caitlin,’ ” we began. It was such a bizarre name that everybody laughed. we had never listened of Pennsylvania, and had a formidable time pronouncing it. But afterwards we got to a partial where she listed a sports she played and smiled: We had something in common. we played soccer daily with my friends yet had never listened of margin hockey and was not certain how to contend a word.

“ ‘Field hooky,’ ” we tried.

“HAH‑kee,” Mrs. Jarai corrected me before we continued.

“ ‘I also unequivocally like a Spice Girls. Do we know them? Baby Spice is my favorite.’ ”

Someone sang “If we wish to be my lover!” and everybody laughed, including a teacher. The Spice Girls were unequivocally renouned in Zimbabwe.

“ ‘What is life like in Zimbabwe? we wish we write me back! Sincerely, Caitlin Stoicsitz.’ ”

The category detonate out in delight again as we attempted to pronounce her final name.

Mrs. Jarai customarily shook her head, smiled, and said, “I can't assistance we with that one!”

Mrs. Jarai told those of us who had gotten letters to qualification a response and pierce it behind a following day. we always desired homework, yet this felt some-more critical than any unchanging propagandize assignment: we had a new friend. In America.

That afternoon, we walked home with a garland of other kids who lived circuitously me in Chisamba Singles. It was a housing growth built in a 1960s as a place for organisation from a farming areas to stay during a week while they worked in opposite factories on a hinterland of Mutare, a third‑largest city in Zimbabwe. My father had arrived there in 1980, after my comparison brother, Nation, was born.

My mom grew adult in a farming encampment several hours north of Mutare, circuitously a Chimanimani Mountains. She had dual comparison brothers and one sister. She was unequivocally crafty and always was initial in her class. The problem was that her family was mud poor. They had no electricity and bathed in a rivers. My mom stayed in propagandize until fifth grade, yet afterwards her family could no longer means to send her. She forsaken out, and shortly after, they sent her to work for my father’s family given they could no longer means to feed her, either. She was twelve years old. Or rather my mom suspicion she was around that age, as there is no grave record of her birth. She was innate in her family’s hut, as were her brothers and sister. This is how some people in farming areas of Zimbabwe are born. And it was also common to send children to work for other families—one fewer mouth to feed. My mom worked in sell for her food and keep, that still happens today.

My father grew adult in a circuitously village, and while his family wasn’t wealthy, they during slightest had goats and chickens. They were abounding compared to my mother’s family. She was around fourteen years aged when she got profound with Nation. My father was twenty‑four. It was not like my relatives fell in love— in Zimbabwe, if a lady becomes pregnant, a Shona tradition requires that she get married or else she brings contrition on both families. Basically, my father was forced to marry her. we don’t consider it was a choice for possibly of them. And we know it was since my mom was also unequivocally despotic about any interactions with girls. we was not authorised to pronounce to them, or play with them, or even demeanour during them.

Shortly after Nation was born, my father left a encampment for Mutare to find work. He got a pursuit during Mutare Board and Paper Mills, a biggest paper indent in Zimbabwe, that was how he wound adult during Chisamba Singles. He common a room with another man—there were 4 bedrooms per housing unit. The organisation worked hard, saved their money, and afterwards headed home once a month with groceries and income for their families. My father’s strange idea was to save adequate to build a residence in his village, yet apparently he started to misbehave. My father favourite to drink, and he favourite women, so a story goes that his every‑month revisit home became any 6 months. During one, my mom got profound with their second son, who died a few days after he was born. People conspicuous terrible things to my father, like “Why keep a mom who bears passed babies?” They even told him to get a new wife.

Culturally, any emanate around birth was a woman’s fault, possibly a child was crippled, or he died. Polygamy was not common behind then, yet it also was not a vast deal. My father’s brother, Uncle Sam, had to get a second mom given his initial mom customarily gave him one child. But my mom was stubborn: After she mislaid her second son, she insisted on relocating to Mutare, into a one‑room shed that my father common with another man. They put adult a screen in a core of a room, and my relatives lived on one side with Nation, and a roommate, Mr. Dambudzo, lived on a other.

I was innate there in 1983, 3 years after Zimbabwe was liberated, that meant we was one of a “born frees.” That was what people called children who were innate after ransom from British colonial powers. In Zimbabwe, there’s mostly some kind of approach stress to your name. Nation was named after my father’s favorite cow. we was lucky: A medical tyro from England delivered me, and his name was Martin. If we were innate on Friday, we could be called Friday. Or if we were innate during a dry period, we could be named Drought. we knew people called Disaster and Weakness.

I have a Shona name as well. It’s Tatenda, that means “thank you.” Nation’s other name is Tawanda, that means “We are many.” He indeed named a other hermit Simba, that means “power” in Shona—his English name is Mack, my grandfather’s name. And afterwards Lois, my sister, was named after my aunt. Her Shona name is Hekani, that means “surprise,” like, “Whoa! Finally a girl!” And afterwards a youngest, George, was named for my father. George does not have a Shona name. we consider my relatives were too sleepy by afterwards to consider of one.

My father was not a customarily chairman to pierce his whole family to Chisamba Singles—soon everybody did this, including his roommate, who had dual wives. Each mom would barter any dual weeks, travelling behind and onward from a farming areas with her children. It was chaotic. Some weeks, between a family and theirs, there were twelve people vital and sleeping in a room dictated for two.

During a day we common a same space, yet during night we pulled a screen opposite a room, that was meant to give us privacy, yet we could still see and hear everything, a shade puppet show. My mom and father slept on a singular mattress, a customarily square of furniture, that took adult a third of a space. During a day my mom stored a pots and pans underneath a bed, yet during night she built them in a dilemma so Lois and George could nap there. Nation, Simba, and we slept on a petrify building beside them. This was how all a kids lived in Chisamba Singles.

I know now this place is called a slum, yet for me, it was home. we illusory Caitlin’s life as unequivocally opposite from mine, and we was vehement to learn some-more about it, and her.

The tiny we knew about America we had schooled on television. Several thousand people lived in Chisamba Singles, yet there were customarily a few TV sets in a whole settlement. One was a fifteen‑inch black‑and‑white set owned by a male who worked as a manager during a same paper bureau where my father worked. Whenever World Wrestling Federation with Hulk Hogan came on, or The A‑Team with Mr. T, people would squeeze into his vital room and accumulate around his house, perplexing to watch by his window. we infrequently climbed onto Nation’s shoulders to get a improved demeanour as others peered by a door.

As shortly as we got home that afternoon, we showed my mom Caitlin’s letter. we did not consider my mom would mind that Caitlin was a girl—she was too distant divided to get in any kind of difficulty with. And we was right.

“You can learn many things from her, Martin,” my mom said, smiling.

I wanted to write Caitlin behind immediately, yet we had to do my chores first. First, we had to change out of my propagandize uniform—I had customarily one. It was a span of immature shorts and a immature shirt, that we wore any day and cleared twice a week, on Wednesday and afterwards again on a weekend. My siblings and we any got a uniform any Christmas and had to make it final a whole propagandize year. we altered into my unchanging T‑shirt and shorts, that hung from my nail—we any had one— and afterwards we went to accumulate timber for a fire.

Our family common a glow pit, that was directly outward a home, with 4 other families. There, my mom baked over a glow in a vast steel can once used for cooking oil that we now used as a stove. This way, we could pierce a glow into a residence if it was raining.

My father left any morning during 6 to conduct to work during a factory, and returned by 7 PM. We’d customarily hear him singing before we saw him, his rough voice bellowing a ransom strain by Thomas Mapfumo, a Zimbabwean legend, or “It’s customarily stone and hurl yet we like it.” My father desired a Rolling Stones, Cream, and Led Zeppelin too.

“Baba!” I’d shout, and start regulating past women offered

tomatoes or mangoes on a side of a road, dipping underneath a clotheslines that crisscrossed between a dozens of matching wooden chunk shacks. Nation and Simba would always come running, too.

My father used to warn us with tiny gifts, maybe a square of paper from a factory, or a pen, or a silver for any of us to spend on a container of peanuts. And he’d customarily pierce something for my mom to cook—greens or a bag of duck feet. But these days, he was mostly empty‑handed. My father used a word “inflation” to explain since we no longer ate bread, that rose in cost overnight from dual to 5 dollars.

Back home, we’d accumulate around a glow to eat, sitting on stones or overturned cans done into stools. My mom dished out sadza, a cornmeal porridge that is a tack food. Sometimes, we had collard greens, too, that were common and cheap. Chicken was a once‑a‑year Christmas treat. We’d get beans from time to time, if a father could means it. But lately, it was mostly customarily sadza.

After dinner, Nation and we had to rinse a dishes before we could start a homework. Electricity was rationed from 6 PM to 6 AM, yet infrequently it did not come on during all. That night, we wrote my minute by a light of a fire. we knew Caitlin was a girl, and we insincere she was white, that done me even some-more extraordinary about her. White people lived in Zimbabwe, yet we didn’t know any personally. we had customarily ever seen a white chairman adult tighten once before, when a organisation of people from a Netherlands came to revisit a school.

They were so pale, they most glowed in a dark. They also smelled unequivocally sweet, like flowers. We called that a white smell. we consider it was from deodorant. We used soap when we could, yet if we ran out, we customarily bathed with water.

That was all we had to review to Caitlin. we wondered if she glowed in a dark. And smelled like flowers. Did she know Hulk Hogan? Or was she customarily a unchanging child like me?

I did not wish to overcome her with all my questions. Instead, we wrote a simple letter, regulating hers as my guide. we told her what category we was in, and a names of my siblings. we told her that we desired to play soccer, and that we unequivocally hoped we’d continue to write any other. we betrothed her we would not let her down, and we hoped she would do a same.

Excerpted from a book we WILL ALWAYS WRITE BACK by Martin Ganda, Caitlin Alifirenka and Liz Welch. Copyright © 2015 by Martin Ganda, Caitlin Alifirenka and Liz Welch. Reprinted with accede of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.


  • Caitlin Alifirenka, co-author of “I Will Always Write Back.” She tweets @milamommy23.

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