Below are the smile-fuelling musings of MAF Lesotho pilot, Justin Honaker, as he tells us about a friendship warmer than any Christmas fire.
“Sebongile and Neheng are two of my favourite people. The best of friends with a lot common, they are the same age and go to the same school. They’re also frequent MAF flyers and they are both mute and deaf!
However, for all the things they have in common, their homes aren't one of them. Just 22 miles apart, their villages are separated by range after range of towering mountains.
It’s a pure delight to see these girls interacting. Their sign language gets better each time I see them - I only wish mine did too.
So far I've got “you are my friend” down, and that seems to make them giggle. They've flown MAF for years, and each time I see them they seem a little more mature; and my jokes aren't quite as funny.
They are not the only special needs kids we fly. MAF Lesotho flies about a half-dozen students for specialised schooling not available at their homes in the mountains. All of them are so precious.
Today my name is on the schedule with Sebongile and Neheng. I've got a bag of M&Ms… They’ll probably enjoy them more than I will. Plus, it will be worth it to see their smiles.
Between two friends, a bag of M&Ms doesn't last long, but their smiling and signing never miss a beat.
Neheng’s home is the third stop on the girls’ return trip, and we are there before you know it. Sebongile knows it, though. The moment to say goodbye comes and her countenance has fallen.
The smiles are gone, replaced by tears. It will be two months before she sees her friend again.
Neheng tries to comfort her in sign words far beyond my comprehension but the message is clear, “I love you and I’ll see you soon my beloved friend.”
Today I'm feeling like the terrible pilot that is separating two great friends. Tomorrow, though… tomorrow will bring a great reunion of these friends. I'm hoping my name will pop up on the schedule that day too!”