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Pretty Tiches

Agotich smiles for the camera at her mother's shower while friends Achon, Adhieu, and Arouar look on.

If there is a single lesson I’ve learned from my Sudanese friends, besides to be grateful every day for the life I was born into, it’s that charity does not exist the way I had previously imagined it. It’s not just that I think altruism is a myth (most people I know who volunteer find that it adds to happiness), it’s that acts that look charitable can turn around and become reciprocal before you realize what is happening.

With one of my friends, a fellow board member, her initial sponsoring of a single Lost Boy turned into her helping this man bring his wife and two-year-old son over from Kenya. Then the couple had a second baby. And while I’m sure my friend was hoping to get to know this larger family and incorporate them into her life, I doubt she saw where it would end up, which is with the two boys being her grandchildren. As her only other grandchild lives a day’s drive away, these two boys fill a very real void. She visits nearly every week, she gets antsy if she goes too long without seeing them, and she gets a spark in her eye when she talks about them. This isn’t charity any more if it ever was; it’s family.

As Gabriel and I are part of the same generation, and as he has a more reserved personality, our dynamic is different. We’re friends and sometimes confidants. (Gabriel is still traditional enough that he did not tell me about Alek’s pregnancy. It’s bad luck in Dinka culture for men to discuss babies before they arrive safe and sound, a sort of extreme version of the Jewish superstition I grew up with.) By now, Alek is a friend, too.

Where things have taken an unexpected turn in my house is in the flowering of the friendship between Simon and Agotich. Those first few days/weeks, Simon wouldn’t even come downstairs while Agotich was here. He hated her crying and probably resented her being here and interrupting his familiar morning routine. Then she stopped crying, and he deigned to interact with her. And then at some point, a time I cannot pinpoint, Agotich went from being the child he tolerated twice a week to being his weekly highlight.

“Is today an Agotich day?” he’ll ask me with hopeful eyes. If no, I may get a trembling lip and a tear or two. “How am I going to see Agotich again?” he’ll ask after every goodbye. When she’s over here, he tries to get her to play games, he describes everything she says and does like a proud parent, and he gets his feelings a bit hurt if she leaves him in one room to come visit me in another. And just in case he’s not being clear about his feelings, he’ll periodically—out of the blue!—say things like, “I sure do love Agotich.”

Perhaps the greatest manifestation of his esteem is that he has coined a nickname for her. I started calling her “Tich” (pronounced “teach”) early on. It’s my legacy as an American to give everyone a nickname, even though I resisted one myself and chose a mostly nickname-proof name for Simon. Go figure. But Agotich (“Uh-GO-teach”) seemed like a lot of name for a tiny little thing, so I couldn’t help myself. Once Simon fell in love, he upped the ante. Tich wasn’t cute enough. “Tiches” was better. And better still?

“Pretty Tiches.”

When this little preschool carpool favor began, I never could have foreseen this. And when people tell me how great or amazing or nice I’m being for watching a little girl and driving her to school twice a week, they can’t imagine how much it means to my son—and to me, as I get to see him in a big brother mode I never thought I would. It’s not charity at all, it’s enrichment, and proof for me that happiness can be measured in relationships and interpersonal responsibilities.

2 Responses to “Pretty Tiches”

  1. goldsteinrita says:

    Sure glad I read this before I put on mascara.

  2. Amanda says:

    So beautiful!

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