Paper Balloons
In a South African township


We all have certain rules by which we live our lives. For me, these include the following:
  • Always look both ways before crossing the road. 
  • Always carry an omni-tool or Swiss army knife in your purse. 
  • Always be prepared to whip up at least two different toys should you find yourself in close proximity to bored children. 
In regard to the last rule, I've found origami cranes and balloons make good ideas, and both have saved me on more than one occasion. The most memorable time came while volunteering in the townships on the outskirts of Cape Town. 

Ah, the townships...truly an interesting place, I must say. There, a vicious dog almost mauled me to death. Another time, children stopped skipping rope to stare at me and point while shouting "umlungu" (white person). And once, a rather large mama barreled out of her house for no real reason, smothered me in the largest hug of my life, then spit into my eye "I'm HIV Positive!" with an epic amount of hopeful resolve. These are memories one does not easily forget. 


I spent a brief time running a drawing workshop for a local NGO catering to children affected or infected by HIV in these areas. It was a great time. We spent the weeks drawing various things and at the end compiled them into a booklet for each participant of their work. We even managed a field trip to the City and had a blast bouncing around Company's garden, the South African museum and the Slave Lodge. How I managed so many kids with only one colleague is the stuff of miracles. But the kids were great and we had so much fun. I also wore a backpack as big as my body full of lunches for everyone. It was something. 


But back to the workshop. It ran in two neighborhoods, and while one was absolutely splendid, the other...well, let's just say it kept me on my toes. Though equally vibrant, at the second neighborhood, things had a greater tendency of disappearing, and on one occasion this resulted in me finding myself inside a container full of pre-teens with no paper or pencils or much of anything to be had. Fortunately there was a stack of old newspapers lying around and with that, thanks to rule three, we folded a near flop of a drawing workshop into one of the best sessions of the semester. The secret: newspaper balloons. 

As with paper cranes, the method for folding a newspaper balloon is pretty easy to remember once you get the hang of it. The trickiest part comes right at the beginning with the triangle fold; after that it's smooth sailing with a lot of repeating folds. I like this one because it can double as a ball. The inflating part also gives an added wow-factor, I feel. Any sheet of paper can be made square by folding across a diagonal until the bottom and side edges meet. The top part can then be cut or ripped away. After that the only limit to what you can do, with the paper and I guess with life as well, is at the edge of your hopeful resolve.