I realized the other day that I have probably never explain well the context of where I am living and what I am doing on a day to day basis. So for an explanation before the few stories for the week:
-I have been living in a house in khayelitsha (one of the bigger townships) with 6 guys, all about my age. They all grew up in different parts of khayelitsha and were connected by an amazing counselor. This counselor grew up in the eastern cape and became extremely involved in the ANC during apartheid. He became one of the regional directors in the late 80's and early 90's-- even being tortured a number of times for his involvement. In 1994 (year of the end of apartheid), he had a dream that he was talking to an Afrikaans man and that the man talked to him and connected with him about Jesus and the need for reconciliation. He woke up the next day and went to one of the churches, to find that exact man from his dreams there, who sat down with him and talked to him about the same things he had dreamed about. Even after years of pain and what he describes as hatred for all white south africans, he was overcome by his experience of Jesus and this powerful dream (which is hard for me to describe). He ended up taking the path of forgiveness and deciding that he wanted to work with youth as a counselor in khayelitsha. He helped put together safety and leadership camps and was also a normal school counselor. THrough all of that, he became attached to the five guys I now live with, and their hope and potential despite the hardships they had all grown up with. He ended up becoming a mentor and spending more and more time hanging out with them and working with them. In the end, he got a house nearby, found funding (through both organizations he had worked with and new connections with those he had reconciled with...and some interesting americans), and got all of the guys to live together in community, to support each other through the struggles (especially family related) and to live with all of their best friends. And amazingly, I have had the chance to live with these guys, to experience that community, and to hear their stories of perseverence...and of course to play soccer in the middle of the night in the street and have juggling contests and create all kinds of inside jokes and eat LOTS of bread.
So, this last week:
-stayed at Craig's (the boss at the warehouse) this weekend while the guys were again on retreat. He has a family very similar to my own (but at a much younger stage) so I spent my weekend playing soccer at the park with little kids and monster games with two of his kids. I also got the chance to have a number of amazing conversations with him about experiential learning (new ideas for working on the wealthy community in memphis and chapel hill that I will have to share)...and watched more world cup.
-made it back to my real home here in khayelitsha, to return to the soccer craze, the bread overdose, the great conversations, and all kinds of xhosa I am trying to learn despite my time running short.
-went to bophapumele orphanage for church on sunday (they have a lot of singing and dancing for the kids). Again, I understood little of what was being said but loved being packed in with the kids...though I had a headache, so the 90 energetic kids singing loud praise songs certainly didn't help improve that. I can't imagine what it would be like to work there day in and day out; how much respect I have for those who do. and how much more are needed. This orphanage is one of the more staffed ones in the area and still there is like a 1 to 9 ratio and it is impossible to give individual attention that is needed. The kids really have to learn to grow up quickly and take care of themselves. I have talked to a lot of social workers at the warehouse who talk a lot about the program here that seeks to find homes for the children in these orphanages because as wonderful as they are, the kids really need a family to be present. It is such a huge thing here though...so many kids without homes or who are neglected. I have never really opened my eyes to similar things in america. One story I heard, for example, was of a one year old and five year old who lived in a leaking one room shack and whose mother did not take care of them. The five year old took care of the one year old, and the social worker found both sitting in the dark, starving, covered with dirt, water, and their own excretions. How can we as a world let this happen to any child? And how can we stand in the gaps and change it? The social worker then had to drop the kids off at an orphanage, where they will be cleaned and cared for-- but never to the extent that they should be, that all should be.
-visited youth in prison here (with two staff members from the warehouse who work with the youth and an incredible preacher who used to be a gang leader). The first time we visited, the preacher talked to them about his transformation and the hope they could still have for the future. The concerns the guys replied with were so hard to hear though: we will be killed by our gangs if we drop out of them; we have nowhere else to go; our families aren't around and we don't have alternatives. The preacher's witness and honesty was amazing but still I can imagine how hard it was for them to hear-- and how it could easily just sound like a 1 in a million kind of thing...luck if you will. The cycles that I talk about too much are so present here. I have learned after visiting again that many of the guys have already been in prison 4 or 5 times by the age of 20 (started around 14) and have no support, nobody to care for them, and no system that will help restore them back into community. The retributive stuff does not work at all-- at least for these guys. In fact, it digs them deeper into the holes they are already in because the prison community is full of punishment and more gang activity and when they get out, they come back out to more pressure from gangs, more pressure to get money again, and little substantial anything about how to choose an alternative route. Yesterday, they all painted their life dreams, and every one of them was an escape from life in a way-- a car, a boat, a cricket field with people cheering him on. One even said half jokingly, "why care about that? we are just born to die." So what is the best way to respond? Could I have done something that would have helped? Honestly, I think what they need most are people like grant and jonathon (warehouse guys) who care enough for them to visit them week in and week out and listen to them. Again, how important it is to LISTEN and to receive the gifts that these guys in prison or the women in sweet home can give. They have so much to share but the world often just shuts them off. I also keep wondering how it would be different for these guys if they had families (especially fathers) who were able to fully show them that love, which always leads me to the question of, "and how many of their families-- and especially fathers-- were limited in this because of the destruction and fear of apartheid?" Things are never as simple as they appear, and the system of fear that resonates from apartheid is clear in every facet (and we have very similar fear in america).
And for little funny notes: they all ask me if I have met puff daddy or 50 cent (who they call fifty cents, which makes sense) and always want to know what it is like in America. learned about some interesting cultural differences as well. One is that in the colored (again, what they refer to people of mixed race as) community here, many youth use dominoes to knock out their front teeth. I am yet to figure out why and nobody seems to be able to explain it.
I am off to the safari this monday. It will be interesting rapping up things here, right as I feel like I am getting my foot in the door. And I don't know how a safari will be when I feel such a connection to working and living with people in khayelitsha. It is a learning experience though, and can always fuel more in this crazy journey. I will try to post a shorter rap-up of work before I go.
Well, this has gone on far too long, though I will have more to tell about soon. Sorry for the gigantic posts!
As for the title of this post, it really has no great meaning. The guys in the house have been teaching me funny tongue-twisters (the q's are all clicks) and that is the first line of one and thought would make me sound like I am quite fluent, though I probably have learned enough to make good conversation with a one year old. Let me take that back. Even they still laugh at me :-)