Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Mother's Necklace

The longer I am here, the more I am finding grand meanings in small things. Small gestures, small objects; Everything is symbolic of something and has more depth than meets the eye. Maybe this is the Xhosa culture sinking into me where lots of things are unspoken and silence can mean more than words. Or maybe it's a manifestation of my missing home. Maybe both.

Before I left home, my church family at St. Dunstan's gave me a really warm send-off and I was presented with a necklace from my mom that the priest had blessed. This necklace is one that I have seen my mother wear for years. She has had it for as long as I can remember. Now it has been handed over to me and is halfway around the world. This necklace is a small object that is ever-evolving into new meanings for me.

I wear my mother's necklace and I feel her with me. I feel her history, my history, St. Dunstan's history, my family's history, my childhood, my becoming an adult. This necklace is not a piece of jewelry. It's an inheritance, an heirloom. This necklace is strength. It is the strenth of my mother. It is the strength of my family, my roots, and all we've been through together. It is the strength of my church community and all that they have meant to me, done for me, taught me, and how I have grown in that place. It is a sign of my faith and my belief that there is something that binds us togther, my belief that peace and understanding can prevail. This necklace is my talisman. It reminds me of who I am, where I come from, what I believe. And it guides to tomorrow.

This is not a necklace.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bethany Home

Once a month, Jenny and I go to the Bethany Children’s Home to administer immunizations to the wee ones there. Bethany Home was started in the early 1990’s by a group of nuns and has been growing ever since. Starting as a small house, Bethany now has a multi-level, multi-building complex and is located in a community in town called Ikhwezi Lakuso. Ikhwezi is a community for those with disabilities and includes a school for disabled children and skills training for disabled adults. That, however, is another story entirely. Bethany Home is for children that are orphans or that have been removed from their homes by social workers. We have a few kids from Itipini that live there. While it seems that there are some issues within the administration at Bethany Home, it is still a place of refuge for these kids. They have lots of space to play, a large yard with play sets, and mamas and volunteers who care for them as their own. I’m always amazed at how all of them seem to be able to sit on the floor and let 10 babies crawl around them and on them at once without losing their minds and still being able to show attention and affection to each of them. These ladies are doing amazing work and I applaud their patience and compassion. To learn more about Bethany Home, check out their website!

One of the Mamas hanging out with the babies.

The baby-playing crew!

Official baby-holder.

Ouch! Shots stink.

Thanks for tuning in!


Friday, November 11, 2011


 “Amanzi” is the Xhosa word for water and, in South Africa, as in many places in the world, water and access to water are big issues. It’s easy to take for granted something that is always running from the tap, is easily accessible and, most times, drinkable. In the US, restaurants and many other places even give out water for free! It’s not something you have to consciously think about in the US; water is something that is expected and it’s always there. I thought I’d share a few of my experiences with water in South Africa so far.

My first clue to the fact that water would be an issue here was the Mthatha River. As you drive into Itipini, the road runs along the riverside. I’m told it used to be quite beautiful, but it is not so with brown water and trash lining the banks. The Mthatha River is not an anomaly in this respect; there are countless rivers around the country that are the same. The water is nowhere near drinkable and is not even arable for planting because it is so polluted. And yet, when the single water tap at Itipini is not working, this water gets used for cooking, cleaning, etc. In rural areas where there is no other alternative for water, these polluted rivers get used for everything. Here a snapshot of the Mthatha River:

At Itipini, we have a single water tap and there is rarely a time when there isn’t someone using that tap. People (mostly young girls) bring their buckets and fill them to the brim with the water for their homes. Children play in it. People put their mouth to the spigot and drink from it. Near the tap is a small drain where people pour anything and everything you can think of.  The women that cook for the preschool wash their dishes at the tap every day. Last week when I painted our high school room, I had to rinse my brushes with it after cleaning them with turpentine. People rinse the filth out of their buckets there. The problem is that the drain is not connected to a sewage line – it simply disappears under the concrete and reappears 20 feet away at the edge of the project where it runs down the hill to where people live and into, you guessed it, the river. Here is a picture of the Itipini water tap:

While Itipini is fortunate to have a water tap with water that is generally fine for consumption, the infrequency of the water tap shouldn’t go unnoted. This infrequency isn’t something that is only reserved for Itipini, either. At the municipal level, distribution of water is tricky as water is always in short supply. Everyone I know in Mthatha has days without running tap or days when the tap water runs brown. On the grounds of Bedford Orthopedic Hospital where I live, the problem seems to be worsening and it’s becoming a very rare ordeal to have running water for more than a few hours at a time. The solution? When you’ve got it, use it. When you don’t, we have these handy containers of rain water that are good for everything but drinking:

However, it is easy for me to say that as a mere resident here. If I go a few days without washing dishes, flushing a toilet, or bathing, it’s not a big deal. If I have to use rain water for all of the above, it’s not a big deal. But when you’re talking about an orthopedic hospital whose main function is surgeries trying to function without clean water (because they can’t use rain water), the situation is reaching a critical point. 

There are so many factors that go into why there is a shortage of water that it seems impossible to pinpoint which one is at fault or what the solution should be. Better managed water at the municipal level doesn’t do any good if there isn’t any water to manage, rivers will continue to be polluted without a wide-spread funding/construction of sewage lines/purification plants, and people will continue to use whatever water they can find whether it’s detrimental to their health (and the health of their children) or not because they have to. All of these issues, like I said at the beginning, are not confined to South Africa and are prevalent in most parts of the world. Our well-ordered sewage and water treatment system in the US is among the exceptions. So here’s my challenge to all of you: try and use less water than usual this week; take shorter showers, flush less, don’t wash clothes that don’t need to be washed, etc. Be conscious of the resource you are using and how lucky you are to have it.