So I have failed miserable to blog and I am now almost two weeks in. I have, however, kept up pretty well with emails, so I am going to use this first post for many of the stories I have already written and many of you have already read. Prepare for a long one, but they will get better and shorter from here...
Anyway, to a FULL update of my experience thus far in Cape Town.I think I will do it through a number of different stories, so bear with me here :-) On Friday, I went with one of the workers here named Joy to an informal settlement called Sweethome farms. Notice the name and you will later understand how fitting it is. This informal settlement, or squatter camp (or shanty town as I have heard americans call it), is like nothing I have seen in America. It is rows upon rows of tiny shacks, made of scraps and wood and mud and metal and anything else they can find to use. There is no sewage or electricity(though both are coming with new construction) and running water is brought back in buckets usually balanced atop the heads of the women getting it, and often with their babies strapped to their backs as well. Trash is piled up outside and when it rains, it is extremely cold (it is winter here) so not only did many of the shacksflood but they have no heat and very little to stay warm and dry. And the crazy part is that it sits in front of the beautiful mountains, so as you look at the community, the magnificence of nature rises behind it all (as well as the mansions on the mountain). Anyway, Joy (a fitting name as well) has started an HIV support group of women in the community. They meet in one of the little shacks, share a meal and tea, talk about struggles and blessings, and are now trying to figure out what else they want to do. They were so welcoming, teaching me some Xhosa (and laughing at my miserable failures), offering us food and tea, and showing me a little of what real warmth in community means. At one point, Joy was asking them to talk about some of the needs they have in terms of small material things. The Warehouse will help with things like pots and pans, warm clothes, and stuff like that. SO they were naming things like plates and spoons in Xhosa, when one all of a sudden shouts in English, "DVD PLAYER!" They all start falling over with laughter and carrying on the joke (again,there is no electricity). Then later in the conversation, they were talking about what they wanted to do as a support group. One of the woman, without a seconds pause, said, "I want us to go to the places with children that do not have mothers, so we can spend time with them, love them, and sing to them as a group." My mouth dropped. These are all women who have tested HIV positive and live in these tiny homes with little supplies, but yet they are so willing to give,to love, and to see the needs of their community regardless of their lack of material goods. As I have said many times already in myjournal, we have MUCH to learn about what it means to be faithful and to give from your heart. Joy has also taught me so much. He focuses on the relationships andthrough those, community is built. He knows everybody in thiscommunity that we come across and is so warm. His story is actuallyvery powerful as well. His family was forced from their home in 1986and stood on a street corner as their house was bulldozed. Now helives in a township here with his six, soccer playing boys, and isstudying divinity, working to create all kinds of things in sweethome, and building incredible relationships.
-Story two: we were still in this home and I went to play with some of the children in the back room (there were two rooms, a tiny livingroom/dining room/kitchen and a bedroom where the children were). They did not speak any English, and at that time my Xhosa was to the extent of greetings, so it was almost impossible to communicate. They played on a little area next to the bed that was probably about three feetwide and five feet long. It was dark, cold, and they had no toys but a single marble. Nevertheless they all sat there with huge smiles,waiting for me to create some game. I had no clue what to do because they couldn't understand what I was saying. So, I started teaching them little hand games, making funny faces at them with weird voices to make them laugh and carrying them around the little area as best Icould. My ideas were pretty weak, but they were so content and just played right along despite the communication barriers and my genuine weirdness. Again, they had such a sense of both community and joy that I don't know that I have ever seen. Here they were in the dark with nothing but a tiny space and a little marble (that they lost because of a game I tried to teach them) and they were so willing toplay, to smile, to create. I am prepared to return with some new ideas...
-Story three: I went back to sweethome yesterday for a seniors support group that Joy has also started. They met to talk aboutdifferent activities they have done and will be doing-- everything from beading to running RACES. In fact, two participated in these"Golden games" here for people over the age of 60 and won gold medals in 100 meter dashes and relays. It is hilarious.
-Story four: I am staying with one of the workers here in a prettywealthy suburb not too far from this extreme poverty (the contrast here is completely in the open). I am actually planning to move in with Joy in the township pretty soon, but for now, I am staying with this middle aged white couple who are very great to talk to-- about everything from politics to sports (I have learned cricket and rugby)but are not very active people, as their kids are well out of the home. Newho, Erica's (the woman I am staying with) mother comes on Sundays to hang out, and she reminds me lots of my great grandmother Mimi. She has kind of lost her mind in many ways and is quite forgetful. So we were allsitting in the living room reading the paper, and I had just finishedthe main section of the paper, which had an article on the back of it with the headline, "English Woman Ellie has disease which gives her 250 Orgasms a Day." When I had handed off the paper, I saw the article and kind of laughed it off on my own, but as Graham (Erica's husband) was reading the paper, the article was facing out towards granny (Erica's mom). She turns to Graham and asks, "Does Ali (her son in law who has cancer) have the same thing as that Ellie? Does he have the same organism?" Graham turns the paper around and we both just fall out laughing. Imagine his face as he responds, "No, granny. This is not the same organism. Ali has cancer and is in chemotherapy."
-Sexual things are talked about a bit more openly here. They took meto a relationship talk for singles at the church so I could meet someyoung adults like myself. Instead, it turned into a two hour panelabout marriage that I could not really have been less interested in.The line of the night though was with a couple in their fifties when the woman says, "Don't worry about sex now. You will have the chance to BONG for the rest of your lives." I just about fell out of my seat.
-Back to a serious note, here, they take prayer very seriously and do it as a group for an hour at the start of each day. Yesterday, Craig(my supervisor and the head guy here) led prayers and had me talkabout the Sudan crisis. The hour was then spent praying about it and about the things which God could be calling all of us to do. It was extremely powerful to be with a group that believes so strongly in the power of prayer and was willing not only to talk, pray, and do things about poverty here but also realize the connections elsewhere. The staff is really amazing. There was a staff meeting monday with updates on all of the things that go on, and then they have time totalk about struggles and things that as a staff they need to improve on. Yesterday, Craig began to talk about the need for the staff to continually address problems like racism in themselves. He said that he had never realized what that meant until a friend told him about a time of prayer in which somebody apologized to her about apartheid. Of course, Craig is very much like our family back home and has in many ways gone against the mold, so he said he had always assumed that it was kind of an unspoken thing. Finally, he said he had realized that he needed to apologize to his friends and to others for apartheid, for his participation and benefit from it and from any hurt and pain others went through and for his white privilege. He almost broke down as he talked about the change that had happened in him since he had done so out loud, and it was amazing for me to see the reactions of people like Joy who lost so much to apartheid, as tears came to their eyes. It struck me how much work we have to do in Memphis, how much work I have to do in my own life. I always take it for granted that I have worked against things like racism, but rarely do we admit and apologize for the hurt and pain that our families had and that we have benefitted from, no matter how indirectly. Reconciliation very much starts with the realization of what is inside each of us because as soon as we say, "ah, we were not and are not one of them" we are often doing exactly what caused the problems in the first place. Enough of my sermon, but more thoughts on that process to come, because it is a process here which is just beginning here, so I am lucky in that I have gotten here in quite a time of reconiation for this place, both outside the walls and within.
That's it for the stories, but much more has happened as well. I have been to work with the unemployment initiatives where four businesses have been started by some amazing characters, I have been back to Sweethome for youth projects, and to one of the orphanages with two UNC grads (who are incredible people) and a prison sometime this week. This first week was so interesting because I have just been seeing what all of the different programs are doing. Then after this week, I will start to be a bit more focused, and may even work on some type of documentary as well. I went on Saturday with my friend Nitin (from UNC, here forenvironmental work) to the District VI museum. We made our way arounddowntown and had a great time catching up. He has been gone all semester doing environmental work and following baboons and all kinds of interesting things. he had some very interesting stories from a different side of life. The museum was yet another powerful experience, and did a good job of mixing individual stories with the context of things, as well as presenting things in a very confusing fassion, supposedly to represent the confusion that many experienced during that time. It is another wonderful example of the way that people are working here to remember and feel the pain, and in doing so, also to move forward with a reconciling spirit. It is disturbing though the extent to which the move toward reconciliation if most often from the side of the oppressed. We went to a nursing home last week in Jo-berg with two black students fromthe divinity school. At the school, they have to go to a placement with a different culture, so these two have to go to a nursing homewith Afrikaner (white) women. When they first arrived, the nursing home had made out a list of all the things they could do-- take the women to the mall, form relationships with them, and on the list went. Once they saw that the students were not white, the list narrowed todoing a short devotion for them. They were welcoming of me and wanted to talk to me, but not the black American with us. Isn't it interesting that they are so closed off to it, yet when I go into theblack townships, people are so welcoming to me, despite the fact that I come from a race of those who have oppressed them? And speaking of welcoming, Joy has taught me some Xhosa, and people love it when I try, even if I cannot even respond to their simple responses or have to repeat something ten times. They have even agreed to give me a clan name, without having to go through the painful process to get one :-)
Last funny: I also got an offer for marriage from one of the people in the community :-) we all laughed together as she joked, and then she cracked up when she found out I was 20, "way too young."