“Friendship Is a Caterpillar,” Friend, May 1972, 44
It was easy to understand why Kefa’s head was filled with ferocious tigers, leopards, mighty buffaloes, and elephants, for he had always lived in Cambodia until a few weeks ago when he moved away with his family.
One day his dreams took him thousands of miles away from his classroom until his friend Randy, who sat next to him, brought him back to class. It had begun to rain, and Randy’s nose wrinkled with disappointment as he moaned, “Oh, no!”
Miss Johnson heard Randy’s remark and smiled. She noticed Kefa’s puzzled eyes and explained, “We do not have Cambodia’s rainy season with all of the rain-filled days from April to October. When it rains here, it often means only a called-off ballgame!”
Kefa’s dark eyes were puzzled. A picture of a fat woolly caterpillar suddenly flashed through his head. He hesitated but finally asked, “What about the caterpillars?”
“Caterpillars!” exclaimed Randy, who thought this was a funny question. Everyone else thought so too, and laughter soon spread throughout the class.
Miss Johnson smiled, but Kefa was glad to see her head nod with understanding. He knew she would explain to him. But the bell rang, and there was no time.
Kefa wished there had been time. He would have liked his classmates to know that in his homeland the caterpillar, the woollier the better, was given as a present to a friend as a sign of real friendship.
The following day Kefa hoped he could tell his story. It seemed to him that everyone would want to know about the caterpillars. But no one seemed to be interested.
“There is much that boys and girls here do not understand about you and Cambodia,” his father explained, “and you must not expect them to understand everything.”
Kefa listened, and with a sigh decided his father was right. He would try hard to be patient.
But soon there was a big problem. Miss Johnson told the class that she was taking a leave of absence to go on a long journey, and everyone began thinking of giving her a going-away present.
“I do not know what to give my teacher,” Kefa said to his father. If I were back home, I would not have a problem, he thought. He remembered the many times when he had taken caterpillars to his teacher in Cambodia—how she had bowed her head in thanks and how he had come away with a heart full of friendship and joy.
“Give what your heart tells you to give,” Father wisely suggested.
Kefa’s dark eyes grew large and round. He could hardly believe that his father meant that Kefa would even dare to give his American teacher a caterpillar!
His father told him where to find a fat woolly caterpillar. “The great shade tree on the corner will surely house one or two, and so will the heads of cabbage in the garden.”
Kefa decided to look first in the garden. The cabbages housed the woolliest of caterpillars!
“You are going to make a good present,” Kefa told a fuzzy caterpillar, carefully setting it on a dark green cabbage leaf. He smiled, knowing the leaf would serve many good purposes—as a temporary home for his fine caterpillar, as food for it, and as a box for the present.
At school the next day, Kefa waited until his classmates placed their presents on Miss Johnson’s desk. After they were all opened, he shyly gave his gift to her.
“It’s a caterpillar,” he explained softly.
Miss Johnson eyed the fuzzy caterpillar perched on the green cabbage leaf. Then she reached out for it and bowed, just as his teacher in Cambodia had done.
Miss Johnson held up her present for all to see and asked, “What is this, class?” A voice from the back of the room answered, “It’s a caterpillar, and friendship is a caterpillar!”
Kefa’s eyes sparkled. Everyone has been told about the caterpillar, he thought happily.
There was much that Kefa did not understand about boys and girls and the new country, but it was wonderful finding out!