BY ELEANOR PARK
I wasn’t very informed on what was going on that week. I knew we had three guests arriving, but I didn’t know who they were or why exactly they were staying here. It seemed like any other week, and life would proceed as normal, with maybe a few unfamiliar guests in our house. I didn’t realize that in just a few days, these guests would teach me gratitude and generosity, show me joy and the power of music, and overall, change my life completely.
That October day, I heard the garage door slam shut. I went downstairs to greet our guests. Two small figures in bright blue jackets walked in, accompanied by a taller, older girl, rolling a suitcase.
Once we welcomed the three girls into our home, we talked to them and listened to their stories. They were in Pittsburgh on a tour, the Rescue Story Tour, that brought together talented children living in disadvantaged areas of the world and took them to different cities to perform music. I learned that Tabitha, the chaperon, was from Nepal, along with one of the younger girls, Jamuna. Jamuna shared that she was named after the Jamuna River near Nepal and had a twin sister living back home named after a different river. The other younger girl, Praise, came from Uganda. The three of them were from different areas, but were brought together through the Rescue Story Tour.
Though we were all from different cultural backgrounds, we were all able to connect immediately, especially through food. The first night they arrived, we placed in front of them a simple meal of spaghetti and meatballs. I was shocked by the amount of gratitude they had in their hearts. The meal wasn’t much, but they continuously expressed thanks, saying they loved noodles. This happened with every meal we provided, and their behavior inspired me to approach life with more gratitude as well.
Tabitha and Jamuna especially loved spicy food, a characteristic shared by my family as well. We handed them hot sauce and red pepper flakes, which they would add to every food item. However, Praise took the opposite stance and did not enjoy the burning sensation of spicy food at all. One night, my mother made a spicy Chinese dish that was made up of fish. When Praise saw this fish, she immediately brightened up and began exclaiming how much she loved fish. She told us that in her hometown, the people ate a lot of fish, and it was one of her favorite foods. Ironically, the fish was spicy, preventing her from being able to fully enjoy it. However, her love for fish overcame her hatred for spice, and she decided to take a bite. This was a regrettable decision, and the spice even caused her eyes to begin watering. To my surprise, throughout this whole incident, Praise did not utter a single complaint or negative comment. Once her mouth had calmed down, she simply said the fish was delicious, but she could not handle the spice.
Where I live, there’s a large deer population, and deer often visit our backyard. Whenever we host friends and relatives from other cities, many who have never seen deer in real life, they often become excited, laugh, and take pictures. However, when Praise saw a deer, in a calm voice, she immediately said, “It’s a female.” This reaction stuck out because of how different it was from the excitatory reaction my family had grown accustomed to. Another noteworthy characteristic about Praise was her ability to play the drums my mother had brought back from a visit to Ghana. As soon as she began playing the drums, it was awe-inspiring. The drums had finally met a person who could play them in the way that they deserved.
As we got to know Tabitha, we discovered that she absolutely loved music and was an amazing singer. Throughout her stay, she loved my ukulele and played it beautifully. On her last day, I told her I wanted her to have it, because she would make better use of it than I ever could, and she was overjoyed. Additionally, she loved Korean dramas, and picked up many Korean words through watching them. When she found out my family was Korean, she addressed my mom as “azuma,” which means “aunt” in Korean. However, what I remember most clearly was her unbelievable talent for braiding hair. She explained that she learned and practiced while taking care of younger girls, and I was delighted when she offered to braid mine. Her fingers moved swiftly through my hair, yet she maintained a clean, tight braid. That night, I made sure to adjust my sleep position to minimize damage to the braid, so I could show off my intricate new hairstyle to all my friends at school the next day.
While my brother and I were at school, Jamuna and Praise did various activities with my mom. They would play with our scooters in the driveway or walk around the neighborhood. For quiet time, they read books found around my house. What was interesting was their distaste for the Halloween decorations around my neighborhood, which they found ugly, scary, and a waste of money. They didn’t understand why people would willingly spend money to celebrate a ghost festival. When asked if they wanted to go to the zoo, they politely declined, saying they were happy with playing around our neighborhood. When I heard this story, their gratitude touched me, inspiring me to be more appreciative of little things I take for granted, like my backyard and neighborhood.
The final day of their stay was the day their concert was held at my church. The group of children on the tour were all extraordinarily talented and lit up the whole venue with their music. Many children, including Jamuna and Praise, had solos that highlighted their beautiful voices. Praise was very shy and soft spoken, but on stage, she shone. The music lit her and Jamuna up. The two of them were so excited by the music and the show that they immediately ran to my family and gave us huge hugs after they left the stage.
It was clear that after all their hardships, these children had all truly found their place in this world.
After the concert, the night before Tabitha, Jamuna, and Praise had to leave, I was heartbroken. I wished they could stay for another week and continue to teach and inspire me. They presented us with a journal in which all their host families at various tour destinations would write and sign. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I doubt I was able to express how thankful I was for their stay in my home.
When the three of them were about to depart, Praise quickly rushed to me, handed me a coloring page that she had completed, and said “Here, I want you to have this.” That moment stuck with me forever. Seeing the look on her face, I knew she wanted to give me a physical representation of her time at my house. This coloring page has hung on my bulletin board in my room ever since.
Just as I still have a piece of them with the coloring book page, they hold a piece of us through the ukulele and coat that we gifted them. My family and I will never forget them and the hope and joy they brought into our house, as well as our hearts. Though Tabitha, Jamuna, and Praise came from disadvantaged backgrounds, they held more hope and optimism than I had ever seen. Since then, I have been incredibly inspired by them, and if I can emulate even a fraction of their positivity, that would be a great success.