August 25, 2013
When it comes to skin color and
race, I have been in the majority my whole life. Living in Birmingham, in a
wealthy suburb, I was just another white girl. No one looked twice at me for
being different in any way. Since living in South Africa, I now know what it
feels like to be in the minority. I know what it feels like to be distinctly
different from everyone else, everywhere I go. I get stared at wherever I go
(except my school, they are used to my difference). In church I stick out like
a sore thumb, being the only white person a congregation of Africans and
colored people. When I am walking through the grocery store or a shopping mall,
people stare and even make comments to me. Don't get me wrong, I in no way take
it offensively or personally. Most of the time no one is being ugly or
intentionally rude. It’s just hard for them not to notice that I'm different.
Being in the minority has been
quite humbling. It's not easy sticking out like a sore thumb, all the time. You
don't get used to people always staring at you. But I have learned to respect
their social norms and to try my best to participate and fit into their
community so that I become part of the whole, not just the eye sore.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
August 25, 2013
I think I’ve got it figured out. South Africa, that is. I have spent lots of time talking with different people living in South Africa. I have gotten many different perspectives and lessons on South African culture and history. It’s been like a puzzle that I have had to piece together. After spending this weekend out and about with Sr. Giovanna, finally, I think I have completed the puzzle…
This weekend 2 new volunteers came from Italy. To introduce a little bit of SA to the new folks, Sr. G took us out all weekend. I think she wanted to show them the good before the ugly because we spent the whole weekend shopping and eating out (which I have yet to do here so it was a treat for me!!). While traveling to the markets and shops, Sister made sure to give us a little background information on each. We went to the farmer’s market in Walkerville, which is where all of the white, country people live. Then we went to the Trade Route Mall in Lenasia South, which is where all of the Indian and Muslim people live. Ennerdale (my town) is where all of the colored people (born from a white parent and a black parent) live. Finetown and Mountain View is where all of the black people live. Lastly, there is the heart of Joburg and its surrounding northern suburbs like Sandton City. These areas are where all of the wealthy, white people and some African people live. We went to all of these places this weekend. All of these places are in Joburg, even Ennerdale and Finetown which are 30 minutes away. Joburg is a large, spread out city.
I say I have figured out the South African puzzle because all of her descriptions of each of those places have helped me to more fully understand the DNA of this country…
It’s the Rainbow Nation and that name fits well as there is so much diversity that makes up the South African population. To start off there were Africans of Zulu and Shoto (and others I can’t spell) cultures. Then came the Dutch explorers, also known as the whites. Then, like any other growing country, many immigrants came to settle. Some of these immigrants were Indian and Muslim and many others. That makes for a heavily diverse country. The aphartide government (the white government) decided to separate all of these groups (sound familiar?). They wanted them to live in separate places within the country and definitely separate in Joburg. They moved all of the blacks 30 minutes far out to Ennerdale area. They moved the Muslims and Indians to Lenasia South area. Some of the whites moved to Walkerville. Also some white people stayed in close to the city and its close surrounding suburbs and cities like Sandton City and Pretoria. Each culture grew within their area building schools, shops and other needs specific to their culture. No mixing though. Separate.
During that time, the whites in mid Joburg area were building the city and the economy. With the gold and mining, Joburg began to grow and become wealthy. With that wealth, the industrial city began to grow more and more modern. To me, it became more worldly. You can see American brands and companies. You see expensive European cars and other luxuries. Then Mandela comes along and becomes president. He ends the aparhtide so blacks and whites and other cultures could join together to unify South Africa. With this idea and a booming Joburg, many people from the smaller surrounding countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique, saw the attractiveness and started to move in. They thought they could get work and live a better life. But they don’t move into the industrial Joburg. They move in to where the other African or black people are which is Ennerdale and other close areas. They set up squatter camps with little shack houses. However, Ennerdale is not like mid-Joburg. There is no work here. There are no shops or companies. There is hardly work for the people who already live here. Most drive into the Joburg city for work every day. That’s where the problem occurs. These black people have moved here, soon to find out that Ennerdale is not where the work is. Now they are jobless and living in these squatter communities that they have thrown together. But the government doesn’t like the squatter camps. I mean after all those camps are not homes for families. They are filthy, disease-filled shacks. The government’s solution was to build government housing for these families in hopes that they would move out of the shacks and into the new homes. BUT that didn’t happen. Well, some did. Just most did not. They stayed in their squatter neighborhoods because after all, why leave? They’ve got the set up there. They don’t have to work because they don’t have to pay property taxes (or any taxes at all), electricity, water or any bills at all really. If they move to the government houses they would have to start paying those bills which means they would have to GET A JOB. They don’t get jobs (they don’t want to travel to work) or they can’t get jobs or they are too sick to get jobs. So they stay in the filthy slums and become basically a community of poverty that they all accept and participate in. That’s where I come in…
The Salesians all across South Africa work for the poorest of the poor. That’s why they have a community in Ennerdale. In Ennerdale is Finetown and Mt. View. Both of which I have mentioned many times. These are the 2 largest squatter or slum communities. The sister’s schools and projects serve to help the children and young adults in these communities. That’s why I am here, too. I and many others originally thought that the conditions I would be living and working in wouldn’t be that bad. After all Johannesburg is the largest and wealthiest city in South Africa! However, that wasn’t the case. Joburg and the rest of South Africa is a culturally divided place where you can find the world poorest children inside the country’s wealthiest city.
Puzzle Solved. I think. Please, anyone reading this from or currently living in South Africa, let me know if I am incorrect or have misinterpreted anything. I love learning about this country and I want to be accurate with my representation. But that is really all this post is. It’s MY OWN representation based on what I have learned in the past 3 months. So please forgive me if I am way off.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
17 August 2013
Other than my work (that’s for another post, another day) the most challenging thing about living here has been adjusting to the different lifestyles of the different volunteers that I live with. I am here until January. The other volunteers that have come have only stayed a month or two. I see them come and go. They are each different in their own wonderful way and each time they come it’s a bit of adjustment for me…
When the Czech girls were here, they liked to sit around the small kitchen table and talk and eat and laugh. Then spent lots of time in their rooms; they were cliquey. They didn’t understand me. They would often look at me like I was stupid. They definitely were not open to the American way. Shortly after they left, the Irish volunteers came for a month. They liked to be out and about during the day. We took walks, spent lots of time outside and we even went to Cape Town for a week. They spoke English well so it was easiest to communicate with them. At night, one person would cook dinner and we would eat in the living room on the couch while watching a “film” as they would call it. We would watch films until late at night. The next day we would go to work and do it all over again. I really enjoyed living with and getting to know them. After a month, they left and it was just Chrissy and I for 2 weeks (Chrissy was here when I got here in June). That was an adjustment too. She was busy with school work and projects for the sisters so she spent lots of time in her room. She didn’t cook, so I had to cook our meals each night and we often ate separately. That was when I got really sick with bronchitis. I spent 3 days in bed. It was very quiet and dreary in our house those 2 weeks. Now the Italians are here! I had been looking forward to their arrival. They are an interesting group. They like to do things their way. They are very particular about how they wash their clothes, what they wear, what they eat (pasta always) and how it is cooked. We all chip in and cook dinner together every night. But I have to approve what I’m cooking first to make sure they would eat it. We sit around the dining room table and eat a huge meal family style. Then when were done, we stay there and talk forever. We would do dishes and then play card games or board games or share pictures from our work that day. The two boys speak some English and the girl speaks no English at all. Lots of times they have conversations with each other and I’m in the dark. After a head nod and look of confusion, one of the boys would jump in to translate for me. I learned some key words thought that would help me communicate with them. That brings me to now.
Now I am looking back on my crazy past 2 weeks since Chrissy left and they arrived. Sister G wanted to show them around town both the weekend they got here and the weekend after. So we spent the first weekend going shopping at the malls and markets and eating out. Then we worked the next week and spent the following weekend on Safari and more shopping and eating out. I think I did too much too soon and didn’t fully recover from the Bronchitis because this Monday I got sick again. This time it’s sinus/cold like symptoms with fevers and headaches. I tried to work but couldn’t. I stayed in bed and slept from Tuesday until Friday. The sisters were really worried and took me to a doctor on Friday afternoon. The doctor wasn’t real clear on a diagnosis but he said infections and pneumonia and he gave me LOTS of medication to help. Now it’s Saturday and I’ve been taking the meds for a day but I already feel better. I have the energy to write this post and most importantly, say hello to TWO MORE Italian volunteers that got here last night. Yes, last night we were a large Italian family of 7 (including Sister Giovanna). We ate a huge pot of pasta and drank wine (well not me thanks to all my medications, wine, cortisone and tranquilizers don’t mix very well). We were also celebrating one of the girl’s birthdays. It was a wild time. Then this morning I had to kiss them all goodbye for a week. They are going to Cape Town for a vacation. When they leave Cape Town, the two newest Italians will be coming back to work and the old 3 will be leaving straight for Italy. So it’ll be a house full of Italians until they leave mid-September. To be honest, I am glad they are gone for the week. That will give me quite time to rest my body, my stomach and my ears (they talked a lot and very fast, I could never keep up). I need to recover fully this time. I have been sick more days then I have been well.
Amidst all of the going and coming and the sickness, I’ve hardly had time to think about the fact that this time, for the past 4 years, I have been preparing my classroom, sitting through meetings and enjoying the start of a new school year. Because I have been so busy here and have had so much going on, I haven’t spent much time thinking about my old life. Now I can reflect on it, though. I thought I would be sad during this time. I thought I’d be wishing I was home doing that stuff as usual. I thought I would start questioning myself and why I chose to leave the job I love to come to South Africa. But it hasn’t been like any of that. My lifestyle, my routine, my health, everything has been so different and I have been totally embracing it. I haven’t been dwelling on the past and my past routine and lifestyle. I do know, though, that one day I will be back to that routine again, just not now. I know that I am meant to be in education. I know that I will always be in a classroom, in a school, with children. But for now, it’s just a different time and place. At home it’s the end of summer, the start to a new school year. Here, it’s the end of winter and the three quarters of the way through the school year. So I have to look at it like that: same teacher just in a different time and in a different place.
Lastly, I have gotten many cards and packages from friends and family at home. Because of all of the craziness, I haven’t had internet access leaving me unable to contact those people to properly say thank you. But I mean it from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. The cards I have received from previous students and their families, cards from my sweet grandmother, packages from my friends and family and even a fundraiser to support my mission, all mean so much to me. Those things make me feel close to home when I am so far away. There are days when I want and need to feel close to home. The first two months here were like a honeymoon period where everything was smooth, for the most part. Now, I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle and gotten into the meat of my mission and its getting hard to keep going day to day (that’s also for another post another day). I am also praying about what to do after January 4th. I have been asked a few times to stay here in South Africa and work at the schools thought June 2014. Some days I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else and then other days the thought of being here any long sounds insane. I am praying hard about it though. I dedicated this year of my life to mission work. I want God to show me where he wants me to spend February through June whether it’s in South Africa or somewhere else. God’s answers and plan are just not always that clear. It was clear for me last January when I decided to go on mission but I have a feeling this time it’s not going to be that clear. I just have to keep praying and be patient.
Love from Africa!!
Sunday, July 28, 2013
July 28, 2013
Luxuryless. Is this even a word? I don’t have a clue. I think it’s just another Rachelism. I’ve been known to make up words. I define my word luxuryless as “to be without luxuries, lacking in luxurious things.”
I am currently luxuryless living in South Africa. Facials and brows done every month, manicures and pedicures, massages from my masseuse (my mom J), Gold’s Gym membership, Amazon Prime membership, Banana Republic credit card, CAR (yes, this IS a luxury), cable television and internet, to name a few, are all gone. Some will think those aren’t really luxuries. I used to think that too. Taking care of your skin with facials, exercising at the gym to stay in shape, 2nd day delivery from amazon for teaching supplies and books, and the other stuff were essentials to my life. I had to have them, right? So I thought. Then I move to South Africa and my world was wrecked…but in a wonderful way…
The only thing you will find in my town is a grocery store, a post office, a Chicken Lickin’, a few churches and a few schools (any lots of shacks, sadly). Nowhere to get a pedicure, no spa for a facial and message, no gym (you put your life at risk simply going for a jog in the neighborhood) and no malls or shops. My house does not have internet, cable television or a TV for that matter, and I do not have a car or even the slightest clue how to drive EURO style, on the right side of the car, on the left side of the street. Therefore, I’ve now got dry skin and bushy eyebrows. I’ve gained weight and have been wearing the same few shirts and jeans that I packed for 2 months now. I have no clue what’s going on in the world of television or the news and I have to walk most places. BUT, I have never been more fulfilled, content, satisfied and happy in my entire life! After being here for 2 months, I have learned that those things in my life were not “essentials”. They were luxuries that were eating up my money and my time. They were not necessities for my life; they were simply add-on’s.
I have learned to appreciate different essentials and a life without add-on’s. Buildings and homes in my town do not have central heating and cooling so I’m very appreciative of the small electric space heater in my room. Its winter and that thing allows me to only have to use 2 comforters on my bed instead of 3 at night! I have lots of time at home, afterschool and on weekends. Other than writing blog posts on my computer, I spend time reading. Before I left home I made sure to buy a good amount of iBooks for the long flight here. However, instead of reading on the flight, I ended up sleeping most of the way. That left me with plenty of books to read during my down time here. I really enjoy reading but when I was at home, I had to stop for awhile because I didn’t have much time. The only time I had for reading, I was using to read my grad school books! Now, I am able to read lots more, for enjoyment. I just got done reading a book called Love Does by Bob Goeff. It is a book about doing the love that God created. It’s about putting love into action and reaping the amazing benefits and graces that come from spreading love by DOING THINGS. This week I have finally begun the book, Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. I have wanted to get to this one since my mom first gave it to me in Janurary, when I found out my mission placement. The book is a real story about the life of Katie Davis. She is young, southern girl who moves to Uganda to volunteer. She ends up staying there instead of going to college. She opens orphanages and adopts children. Most importantly she shares love to all those she meets. She speaks of having her life plans wrecked by God’s call to a life of mission and to serve the poor. She is incredibly moving and inspiring. I can easily make connections with her life and story.
Lastly, I used to blow through my days working, running errands, staying out late (or up late writing a grad paper) and sleeping for only 5-6 hours at night. I had little to no time for rest. I am now appreciative of the down time I have from 3 o’clock until bedtime each day. I don’t have errands to run and certainly no convenient transportation to get there. I have no appointments and no social life or friends for that matter (other than my volunteer roommate). This gives me time for much needed REST. The stress I had from trying to keep up with myself and the lack of sleep and rest, left me constantly tired, irritable, sensitive, and extra emotional and always with headaches. Now, those things have seemed to disappear and I’m thinking it’s mainly due to the rest I’m getting. I find myself happier. I no longer stress and sweat the small stuff. I find it easier to laugh now; easier to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously. Things that normally frustrated or irritated me make me laugh now. Characteristics of others that used to bother me (yes, I’ve never had a problem admitting that I have no patience for adults); I can handle better, now. God has given me (or I’m just now accepting) wonderful graces of extra patience to deal with adults who I don’t understand. My rested mind helps me to see these graces very clearly.
You’re probably thinking, “Electric heaters, books and rest. Those are the only essentials you’re appreciative of now”? No, I have many other things to be appreciative of having here, but those are the essentials that have become luxuries to me in the first 2 months. I mean, look at what they have done for me, especially the rest!!
So, I can say now that life goes on and in my case life is even better without the pedicures and facials and all that other stuff, the add-on’s. I suggest that you try it, too. Try to spend less time running around, less money on exterior things, less stress on things that are luxuries and most importantly, spend MORE time resting and accepting the graces God has put in your life. He gives them to all of us each day. It’s just a matter of if we chose to use them or not. So use God’s graces to plow through your day instead of large doses of Starbucks and a long to-do list to motivate you (that’s what I used to do). His graces will give you all the motivation and strength to get through your days with ease. Not to mention the rest will also give you the energy you need. I’ve said this before, but it sure is crazy to think that it took me moving 9,000 miles away from home to learn such simple but profound lessons.
I thank God for my new luxuries and for slowing me down. Most importantly, I thank Him for opening my eyes to the graces given to me so I can conquer each day.
~Today is my sweet Mamaw’s birthday! I love and miss her very much but I know she is thinking of me and most importantly, praying for me. I received a letter in the mail from her yesterday. She made sure to let me know that the Braves are winning and that they are #1 in their division! Oh how I love my Mamaw and her thoughtful letter to keep my posted on everything going on at home. She is a woman to admire with amazing love and strength. I hope and pray that she stays healthy and happy while I’m gone. Happy Birthday, old lady!! J
Monday, July 22, 2013
July 20, 2013
67 Minutes of Service
On his birthday, to celebrate Nelson Mandela and his 67 years of service to South Africa, my 7th grade class decided to sacrifice their daily loaf of bread and to use it to spend 67 minutes making sandwiches to give to the “poor kids and the orphans in Finetown.” The irony is, THEY ARE the poor kids of Finetown, and they just don’t see themselves as that. They see themselves as young adults who, for most, are the ones raising those poor children and see the injustices around them and want to make a difference for their community. I’d say I’m one proud teacher.
Not only my class, but our whole school and many people throughout South Africa, spent July 18 participating in 67 minutes of service to their community. Their participation and service was to honor Mandela and what he did for this country. He saved the black people from any more oppression by ending the appartide. To the people of South Africa, Mandela represents freedom, future, hope, love and so much more. Most importantly, to me, he represents FORGIVENESS. Mandela was imprisoned for 20 years on Robin Island and was released only to forgive all of those who mistreated, disliked and imprisoned him for all those years. He was able to forgive his own people by the love he had. He had so much love for South Africa and such high hopes and dreams for this country, that he ran and become their president. I taught this lesson on forgiveness to my 7th graders on this special day.
Not only did we serve the community that day by sacrificing and feeding the poor, we took time to reflect on the courage and love it took for Mandela to FORGIVE his oppressors. They think of Mandela as an idol because he ended the appartide and now the blacks are free. Yet the freedom he represents is not a freedom to be abused. Not a freedom that lets you do as you choose, when you choose. It’s a freedom to choose right from wrong. It’s a freedom to better you. It’s a freedom to take all of the graces God has given you and use them for the good of your country and yourself. This starts with forgiveness. Blacks are now free to begin accepting what has happened to their people and to FORGIVE those people and to move on! They are no longer holding you back. They are available, now, to work with you, in union as one country. They must be forgiven in order for this union and peace to succeed.
My lesson that day on freedom and forgiveness seemed to touch most of my students. I think they understood the message and the meaning behind my portrayal of Mandela and his life. They appreciated such a lesson coming from their white, American, volunteer, teacher. I think this because after that lesson, they gave me an African name: Rethabile. It means grateful. Giving me this new name was their way of showing their acceptance and gratitude for me. Instead of Rachel, now they call me “Teacha Rethabile.” Now im officially an African American! I feel that I am really a part of this country now!
I have a sense of pride living in and working in a country with such inspirational leaders who have done amazing things for this country. I have accepted their life. It is now my life, my home and my people. I felt this connection the most when my students and I were walking the streets of Finetown that afternoon handing out the sandwiches to the children. Strangers and people on the street looked at me as if I was one of their own. They have seen me around with the children. They know that I am here for them, to help them and to love them through my work with their children. What was even more special was that all 12 of my students walked right beside me every step of the way. They weren’t embarrassed to be seen with their white teacher, they weren’t eager to ditch me for their other friends and they weren’t ready to go home until we had handed out all of the sandwiches AND until they had all walked me home safety. Each one of them knows the realities that are the dangers of their community. They refused to leave my side until I was at my doorstep. We walked miles that day. They walked even more as they had to take the long trek back home. Their protection for me and their dedication for the project that day was the most moving thing I have ever seen young people their age do before. I have found, yet another, new love in Africa and that is 7th grade.
I spent 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of graduate studies purposely steering clear of middle school and high school education. A bachelor’s and master’s degree in EARLY childhood education says enough about my love and interest for younger children. However, Jennifer, Jill and Nicole, my teacher friends, have always told me how wonderful the upper elementary, middle school and high school age students are. I have just never believed them. Now I do. God sure does have a wonderful way of opening your eyes to new things. He just took me 9,000 miles away from home to do it. Either way, I am thankful and grateful. I am incredibly blessed and fortunate to be a teacher. Education fascinates me. It inspires me. I have found a profession that makes me want to move mountains. How many people can say that about their jobs? I thank the Lord for giving me this gift.
I heard a quote from Kerri Washington (a black actress, ironic enough) a few years ago and it has always stuck with me. If perfectly fits my feelings this week…
“I never want to imagine myself at the top of any climb, because I want to be climbing for the rest of my career.”
For me this quote says it all. Being here in South Africa, teaching 7th grade and working with the least of God’s people, is just another step in my climb. I am nowhere near the peak. I am just strenghtned and little further ahead on my amazing journey. Thank you Lord for this climb and this journey, may it continue as long as you allow.
** This post is dedicated to all of my teacher-friends (you know who you are) who I love and miss so much. Thank you for being the incredible, dedicated teachers that you are. Thank you for teaching me new things and for inspiring me to be better. Thank you for supporting me and loving me, even when you want to shut me off for the night after I’ve spent hours venting about my students, coworkers or the many other things that I can’t fix overnight (or that I can’t fix at all!)…you all know how hard it is to “leave work problems at work”. When you’re a teacher, it’s your life, it’s who you are. It’s not just a day job.
Thank you, God for blessing me with THE BEST teacher-friends.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
For some reason, this blogger website is VERY SLOW with uploading pictures. That is why I have not posted any yet. But I want everyone to see where I am working, the children I am working with and the town I am living so I created this YouTube video! I added music but it doesn't sound very good. I have just muted the music as I watch.
For some reason, this blogger website is VERY SLOW with uploading pictures. That is why I have not posted any yet. But I want everyone to see where I am working, the children I am working with and the town I am living so I created this YouTube video! I added music but it doesn't sound very good. I have just muted the music as I watch.
July 11, 2013
Those of us with iPhones have a little Notes app that came with our phones. I use that app every day to jot down things to remember for later. Well today, as I was lying in bed sick and (yes, apparently I’ve got the flu??? or just a really bad cough), I was looking through my notes and I found one with this quote:
“The kind of LOVE God created and demonstrated to us, is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence.”
I am not sure who said it or where I read it or when I added it as a note. The few months leading up to my departure for Africa, I would often jot down notes and things that inspired me or strengthened my peace about my choice to give up my life at home to mission around the world. I am guessing that that wonderful quote came during that time. It sure makes even more sense to me now as I am actually DOING that LOVE, God created. I am sacrificing my comforts, lifestyle, relationships and job to be fully present with people who need LOVE the most. When I read that quote in my Notes I knew it was meant to be that I stumbled across it now, this week, as I am feeling, experiencing and sharing LOVE in a different way...let me explain…
Every weekday either the sisters or one of us volunteers goes to the bread factory 15 down the road. The factory manager is a gracious man as he gives us the left over bread from the trucks. He has men waiting for us every day at 11:30 to unload the bread from their trucks and help us load the little bed of our truck with at least 12 crates. The manager knows the sister’s work for the children so he kindly supports our efforts in feeding them. This is something that I love (and have mentioned before) about the people of South Africa: their willingness to support those who love and care for their people.
On normal weekdays, we take the bread back to the schools for part of the children’s lunches and to pass out as they go home. But we have been out of school for winter break for 3 weeks. The sisters know that when the children are out of school, they probably aren’t getting fed. The sisters are going to feed the children whether they are in school or not!!
I got the pleasure of joining Sr. Theresa for this week’s daily bread runs. Once we got the bread we would take it to Finetown. Finetown is the worst slum neighborhood around. The living conditions and the crime out-do all the others. However, as our schools and programs only cater to the poorest of the poor, most of our school children come from this town. The kids knew we would come around lunch time so they would all gather outside of the cresh (our preschool in Finetown) and play games until we arrived with the bread. Once they saw us coming they would start shouting in their sweet little voices, “Seesta, seesta, borroto!!” They would line up single file behind our little truck, pushing and shoving each other to be at the front. It was no surprise to me because after all, they are starving and they will do whatever they have to for food even if that means tackling their best friend to the ground. We would hand one loaf out to each child. “Thank you, seesta, thank you” they would say.
This is love: taking time during your “vacation” and “off” days to drive 15 minutes to a bread factory to get bread to feed the starving children you teach, knowing that if you didn’t feed them, they wouldn’t get fed at all. The sisters are a living example and witness of God’s love, the sacrificing and present love that God demands of us.
But it gets even better!! Once we were done passing out loaves to the children, we would have some left over. We decided to drive up and down the streets of the local dump to give the bread to the people who were there digging in the trash. Since I was shotgun, I got the pleasure (not kidding, it was an absolute pleasure) of jumping in and out of the car handing out the bread to the starving, homeless people going through the rubbish at the dump. Watching their eyes light up as I, a complete stranger (a white one for that matter) who comes offering bread to them while they are in search of any spec of food they can find, was completely and utterly the best feeling I have every felt in my life. That’s love.
But, wait, it gets even BETTER than that!! We still had bread left after giving some away at the dump. Sr. Theresa and I thought, “where else could we go where children are starving and in need of the rest of this bread?” Easy answer: right up the road of course, or up the mountain I should say. Mountain View is the slum community that sits on a small mountain. This community sits on the side of the mountain and overlooks our primary school. I had always looked up at it while at the school but never knew how to get to it and neither did Sr. Theresa. We knew though that Mt. View children would need this bread as much as the ones in Finetown. So we went back to the nearby dump to ask the people there how to get up to Mt. View. Most of the people rummaging through the dump were from Mt. View so they could easily help us with directions.
Sr. Theresa and I followed the dirt path leading up the Mountain toward the shacks. At bottom of the dirt road is a large water tank. This tank and others around the community like it are open at the top so it can collect rain water. This is the people’s only water source. It hasn’t rained since I’ve been here. You can only imagine how low the tanks are. As we are about to start driving up the mountain, I see two small children (they later told me they are 5 and 6 years old), one dragging a large jug and there other pushing a wheelbarrow with a large jug inside of it, up the mountain. Really, though, they weren’t moving at all. They would take a step and then sit. Take a step and then sit. The sun was blazing and they looked defeated and they were only a few yards from the water tank. I made sister stop the car and I hopped out. I first was going to offer them some bread when I realized what they were doing. They were filling those jugs up with water and carrying them to their shack at the top of the mountain. They hardly understood my English when I asked them what they were doing, but it didn’t matter because it was obvious what they were doing. I lifted one of the jugs and my arm about ripped out of socket. I couldn’t even life it with one hand. How in the world were these 5 year olds going to get it up the mountain? Not sure, but they were making a valiant effort. They looked sad and tired and dirty and they definitely didn’t have the strength to drag those jugs up the mountain. It’s like they were sent to fetch water and given a wheelbarrow as if it were to help?? I told sister to keep going up and that I’d meet her in a few minutes at the top. I grabbed the jugs and put them both in to the wheelbarrow and began to push. I thought my back was going to give out. I was slipping on the rocks and dirt on the ground and the wheelbarrow was moving at a snail’s pace. But that didn’t matter. The fact that those two children were not killing themselves and enduring the child abuse that their mother inflicted on them is what gave me the strength to make it up the mountain. The children guided me to their house and I stopped outside of their shack (about ready to pass out). A few adults were standing around outside. They looked at me like I was from space, like I had appeared from thin air. I gave the kids a hug and looked at the adults with a smile (although I should’ve screamed CHILD ABUSE at them instead) but I didn’t because of peace. When you’re sharing love, God gives you a sense of peace that puts you at ease. It’s a type of peace that makes anger and frustration easily subside. I think this is why I didn’t let my thoughts on this injustice come hurdling out, as they normally would.
Now the best part has come!!!! Before our bread run on Wednesday (my wheelbarrow adventure happened Monday), I went with Sister Giovanna to see the twins and their brother at their new home! These are the “little angels on earth” from a few posts ago. Since they were taken from their shack and their parents, they stayed only a week with us and were then arranged to live with their aunt in Orange Farm, a small up-scale squatter neighborhood. It started as an informal, squatter settlement but I say up-scale because the people living there started replacing their shacks with mud or brick houses. They still have dirt roads but they are nicely kept. Some homes have grass yards but most don’t. Either way, this community environment is a world of difference then the Finetown shack community that the children came from.
The children were given to their aunt as she is the next suitable family member to take care of the children. When we arrived the aunt was very welcoming. She had a sweet and comforting smile. Her house was very small but it seemed well kept. We talked to her for a bit until the twins came walking in from outside. They second I saw them I couldn’t help but to cry. I had missed their faces and smiles and laughter. I had thought about them every day since they stayed with us. I grabbed Sebongile and hugged her and kissed her chubby little face. She had gotten chubbier then before which is good. She looked like she has been eating well. Bongiwe looked a bit chubbier as well. Both of them had haircuts and were holding their hats in their hands as if they were told to take them off when we got their so we could see their new do’s! The love I have for these little girls is unreal. I have worked with many children and have loved each and every one. But these two little girls are different. I have a love for them that I can’t even explain. Just holding them while they eat, because there was a time when they hardly ate at all, makes me cry. When I’m with them all I want to do it hug and kiss them and talk to them and tickle their fat little bellies.
They weren’t the same though. They weren’t as happy today as they were when we left them a few weeks ago. They hardly smiled this time and they didn’t even try and talk to each other or me. We had taught them how to say bye bye to us before, but this time they wouldn’t do it for me. I was sad to see them this way because they were always laughing and giggling and smiling when they lived with us. Sandile smiled often when I talked to him. He is always quite though. He has been through a lot in his short 8 years. I would imagine he’s got a lot on his mind.
The social worker told me that I could have the girls stay with me one weekend. Maybe that will turn into one week. I told sister G that I’d keep those three at my house with me until I left in January. I wanted to make that my mission. But I know that’s easier said than done. I just know what hell they have gone through I want to wipe that all away. I want to make sure that never happens to them ever again. I want to love them the way they should be loved. I just hope and pray that their aunt has good intentions and they she keep them fed and clean and most importantly, loved.
Done. I sum up my week of love and another realization that has unfolded for me…
Through the smiles and laughter of the children, through the excruciating stories that are their lives, God reminds me every day that I have one purpose, in South Africa and in life, and that is to LOVE. Being here, in their element and out of my own, I realize just how much love I have to give and how it comes pouring out like a waterfall these days.