That first Sunday in Mish, we worked on posters about the activities going on during the week. The outlying hamlets of Ace Lake, Eric Lake and Ten Houses were invited by email. It is harder for the people in these smaller communities to get to activities on the main reserve, so we wanted to reach out and include the children there, and the band kindly provided us with a school bus and driver for the week.
On Monday morning the children arrived--bright eyed, excited, full of anticipation. They poured from the bus and cars that had gone to pick them up--all ages, heights and sizes--about 100 children.
I was at the dining table when they arrived, editing some photos on my laptop. Susan had given me the grand sounding title of "Writer and Photographer in Residence," on this team. On my last trip I had worked in the kitchen--hospitality, writing and photography are my comfort zone. I feel inexplicably shy and awkward around children so the task I'd been assigned this time was a good one.
Holly came in from the sunshine and I noticed a certain look in her eyes--not quite panic--but a mute intensity as though they were signalling, "Help!" in emotional Morse code. I closed the laptop and grabbed my camera.
Outside there was a need for every pair of hands on deck, and the children; the smart, strong, funny, resilient and independent children; didn't care if you were an introvert, they just saw another friend to help them make giant bubbles, thread beads onto a string, or take their photo to the shout of, "Picture me!"
We learned on our feet. For the rest of the week we realized that we had to break the children into age groups, with those 4-8 years old on Tuesday and Thursday, and age 9 and up on Wednesday and Friday. We had more manageable numbers from there on.
I went on the bus each morning and afternoon for the rest of the week, and that first day to my dismay, as the big yellow bus slowly ambled its way around the streets of the reserve, I realized that it was one thing to pick up children waiting at the curb in the morning, and quite another to drop them off at the right place in the afternoon, especially the very young ones who didn't seem to know for sure where they should get off. The older kids didn't always help--their mischievous sense of humour left me wondering if anyone got home to the right house at the end of that first day and it was to my fervent prayers that they got off the bus.
So many small humans with open hearts, and happy with small things. If they were fishers of hearts, mine was caught 100 times over.