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"To Khumo, From Rheta" by Hana Wuerker

This could possibly be the most accurate picture drawn of me. Not so much when you’re looking from a distance—it’s a little more insulting that way, looks sort of like Anjelica Huston after taking off her human mask in The Witches. But, look closer and this drawing is insanely meticulous, especially at the hand of an 8 year old girl who met me within the hour she drew this.

Her name: Rhetabile (Rheta)

Our location: Manyana, Botswana

My emotional state: think Anne Hathaway on that stage with James Franco.

think Wilson after he floats away from Tom Hanks.

think watching Gravity without a Xanax.

While I was holding back tears on the porch of my first home stay, Rheta—our next door neighbor—was furiously drawing. It was a great distraction for me, it gave me some time to gather myself after stuttering through a performance of the one Setswana sentence I learned to say to my limited-English speaking family. Rheta knew English. I liked Rheta.

I really didn’t take notice of this drawing until I looked at it back in the US. I had carried it back with me more because my hoarding tendencies, not so much that it had emotional value. But, it did, and it does. The details are important. She drew the nose ring that hung from my right nostril, the necklace that my dad gave me, the moles on my face and chest, the wildly frizzy hair, the slight squint in my left eye when I smile. It’s so fucking true! But, weirdly, I think this picture is a greater reflection of Rheta than it is of me—of the attention she gives to people around her, her silliness, her very creative soul. We grew to be very close over the three weeks I stayed in Manyana. We exchanged language lessons, drawings, and jokes—mostly at the expense of my brothers and our small puppy Chi-Chi. She sat with me under the tree when it was too hot to do anything else, stood by and laughed when my host mom had to help me finish my laundry by hand, and was always there in the morning to say hello before we each walked to our school—her to primary school and I, very appropriately, to the local preschool for language classes.

I brought a lot of things back from Botswana, but this will always be my favorite.



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