Sunday, July 22, 2012


Tomorrow morning, I will board my plane to come home. Leaving South Africa is hard and a very bitter-sweet endeavor. I have learned so much in my year here that it is hard to put into words. Some of my greatest teachers and friends have been my high school students. Their stories, trials, and their absolute eagerness to learn has inspired me in so many ways. My group of about 20 students, meeting three times a week, has become a family; the most lively and spunky one you can imagine. Leaving them makes my heart ache and I pray that they will continue to support each other the way we have all supported each other this year.

Nozuko's school motto is: "The sky is the limit"

My other and most important teachers have been my South African family. Nonzuzo Sibusana, a university student at UNISA, has been my best friend and confidant here and has taught me more about Xhosa culture and about life than I could have ever thought possible. She is 21, but has wisdom and courage beyond her years. She has been my best teacher of language, constantly testing and correcting my Xhosa, my insight into seemingly cultural mysteries, my shoulder I could always lean on, and ears that would always listen. As anyone that has met her can tell you, she has a great sense of humor and I will never forget the countless hours we spent laughing about this or that or Chuck Norris. Nonzuzo and her family have been my family on this side. Their home has been my home away from home. Where I was treated differently because I was American by others, she and her family accepted me as one of their own (instead of treating me like a guest or a walking ATM) and excused many a social faux pa without batting an eye. When I spent time at their home, I was treated just like everyone else and it was wonderful. They will always have my heart and when I come back to South Africa, it will be because of them.

Nonzuzo and me at Tsitsa Falls

Goodbyes are hard and I’ve never been good at them. These goodbyes that I’ve been saying the last couple days have been some of the hardest I have ever experienced because there are so many things left open-ended. I wonder if and when our people at Rotary will get housing, if my students will be able to attend school next year without support from the Project, what Mthatha is going to be like without AMM anymore. I will never be able to come back to this world I’ve been living in this year because it is all breaking apart and scattering to the winds presently.  And if it was going to be hard to let go of this place to begin with, it is infinitely harder now without any closure or a knowledge that the good work being done by AMM will continue when I leave. As they say, though, all good things must come to an end. Life will go on for me and for everyone here. So, Mzansi, it has been real. Ndiyakukhumbula qoqoqo. I will remember you always.


Thursday, July 12, 2012


The conditions at Rotary Hall continue to worsen. Trash is piling up on the fringes, people and their belongings are covered in dust, and disease and body lice are spreading like wild-fire. We are still doing all we can to stay on top on the municipality to get housing for the 200 some-odd people living there. In the meantime, we are still taking bread every day and doing a weekly shop to keep people’s nutrition up. I try to spend some time there with the kids every couple days to play games and offer some kind of entertainment for them, but it is still difficult with the language barrier, even after 11 months’ time, to do any kind of organized activities. People are beginning to get restless and, worse, seem to be losing hope. Looking back at pictures that were taken just over a month ago, it is hard to believe that this is the same lot of people. They look so downtrodden and discouraged when each day brings only empty promises of housing and no results. Going there is like re-opening a wound every day and I get so angry when I think about all of the events that have led to this. These actions – the bulldozing, the displacement, the complete disregard for the dignity of these people – are like events straight out of the Apartheid era when demolishing settlements and forcing people to move was common ground. Only now they are done by the people’s government; brother opposing brother. It saddens me that in this country where there have been many great strides made towards reconciling and righting the past, this kind of stuff is still happening. Though Apartheid is over and has been for 18 years, I think there is still another step; there will still yet be another reawakening in South Africa. The racial tensions and the massive gap between rich and poor are still so tangible and so thick. I was reading today and came across something that Nelson Mandela said that I think sums this up:

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

Though South Africa is free of the bondage of Apartheid, it is still a long way from freedom.

Thanks for tuning in-

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hula Hoops!

I've been taking the hula hoops and balls from the preschool out to Rotary Hall every couple days for the kids to play with in the field behind the hall. We're sharing hula-hooping tricks and I'm getting my butt handed to me at soccer, but it is fun for all parties involved. Some of the kids are really honing their skills and getting insanely good at hula-hooping! How many kids do you know that can walk and hula-hoop while singing and clapping?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rainy Day

It's been rainy and miserable most every day this week. I won't complain too much because we do need the rain, but it has meant that everyone at Rotary have been cramped inside all day, every day. So I just so happened to have this ginormous stack of coloring books and crayons that my friend, Kelsey Willis, sent me a few months ago. I've been sitting on them and waiting for a proverbial "rainy day." Now, we've had 4 actual rainy days this week and they have been the perfect solution! Not only did the kids enjoy having an activity to do, but some of the younger moms got in on the action and did some coloring as well!

Someone had a little help!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sala Kakuhle ("Stay Well" / "Goodbye")

Where to start? In the time between my last blog and this one, much has happened. Almost 2 weeks ago, Jenny was invited to a meeting in Ngangalizwe where she was essentially ambushed by police and angry Waterfall residents. This group of residents demanded the clinic be closed and threatened to come do harm to us if it weren’t (much like they did with the burning of the shacks). The police present said not a word of objection. What choice did we have? We stopped going to work for our own safety while trying to get some answers from the municipality. They were in agreement with the Waterfall residents that the Project should be closed, though with more logical reasons and seemingly better judgment than the mob violence of the Waterfall group. The municipality feared that things would escalate to an even more severe level and that people would be hurt. As well, the Project still being there encouraged people to come back and resettle on the dump. The final word was that we must close. And so we have. The Itipini Community Project is gone. Last week, we cleared out all of the buildings. All of our medical supplies and patient records went to the Ngangalizwe clinic (a government clinic we worked very closely with), our play equipment was broken down and taken to the Temba Lihle children’s home (where they don’t have any play structures), and one of our containers is going to the Themba hospice to use for a new kitchen. Everything else has been put into storage for the time being and we’ll slowly start making our way through it and selling it. For the past few days, our wood workshop men and a few others have been dismantling the wooden buildings so that the timber, doors, zinc, etc. can be sold or used. The place looks like a disaster zone today.

Inside the clinic

Long view of the project

Where the wood workshop and a playset for the kids used to be

Inside the preschool

The rainbow container. No awning, no bench, no people.

No roof on the clinic

In good news, new developments with the municipality have been arising right and left in the last few weeks. They seem to all be small victories to be sure, but they are victories nonetheless and they are steadily getting us closer to housing for those that have been displaced. Jenny met with the General Manager (which is like the vice-Mayor, essentially) two days ago and he gave his apologies for the way that things had been handled by the municipality up to this point. They are working diligently to get housing for the people who are living at Rotary Hall, but are coming up against some problems. There are two areas of government housing, Ilita and Zimbane, that have houses built and available, but those already living in those communities do not want the people from Itipini. When the municipality said they were going to move people to Ilita, residents from Ilita marched at the municipal building in protest. They marched because of this long stigma of people living at Itipini as being the poorest of the poor, low-life, criminal people; a stigma which was affirmed by the municipality when they bulldozed the entire place like it wasn’t home to anyone. They affirmed that stigma when they treated the Itipini residents like they were worthless. They set the tone for how these people should be treated and perceived and now they’re battling against that to find a place for these people to live.

A view of the Ilita housing area. It's not fenced in, I just took this picture from inside the gates of the Ikhwezi Lokusa grounds that back up to the settlement. 

As well, yesterday the Minister for Human Settlement for the Eastern Cape came to Mthatha and had a meeting with residents of Waterfall and also came to the Rotary Hall to meet with our Itipini people there. She is now also working on the issue in trying to get housing for those at Rotary. So progress is slow moving, but it seems to be moving nonetheless.  The show must go on, as they say, and AMM continues to truck along for the time being. We are doing our best to keep on top of the municipality and be a voice for those at Rotary Hall and a liaison between them and the municipality. We are also still helping to feed the folks at Rotary and are doing songs and games with the preschool-age kids to keep them entertained at least a little bit during the day. Their favorite game (and one that requires no equipment) is “Chase Karen Around the Field” – which I have to admit is quite fun!  Singing and playing with the kids in the midst of all of this is I think therapeutic for everyone (I know it is for me). We have take our small joys where we can get them, right?

Singing in the field next to Rotary Hall

Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers. 


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quick Update from the Ground

Conditions for living at Rotary Hall are uncomfortable to say the least. There are a couple hundred people in this small hall and everyone sleeps on the hardwood floor. Some did manage to bring their foam mattresses, but most just sleep on top of a blanket. During the day, all of the bedrolls are folded up along the wall to make space for walking, eating, bathing, etc. There aren’t any clothes lines, so people wash their clothes and lay them out on the blacktop parking lot next door to dry. There are 4 toilets and it’s not clear how often (or if) they are serviced by anyone. People have their life of belongings, mostly outside because there’s barely enough room inside for everyone to sleep. There is no privacy whatsoever and when people drink or smoke, it’s directly in front of kids. Also, when there is drinking and smoking, men start fighting and there’s nowhere to walk away to.

Jenny is working like a hound dog at the municipality to get housing as quickly as possible, but quickly for the municipality could still be awhile.  

The project is running normally and we’re even bringing the preschoolers down from Rotary in the mornings so that they can use their regular classroom space. 

The yard at Rotary Hall

Inside the hall. Note all of the bedrolls lining the walls. 

Serving up some lunch.

Thobeka Kiliva and her son, Nkosivumili.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


In recent events, I have become hyper-aware of outside perceptions of Itipini. I found out early on that when I say “I work at Itipini” to someone in Mthatha, the response that usually comes out of their mouth is “Aren’t you afraid?” Itipini is viewed as the hub of crime and violence where desperate people do whatever they please. To some extent, this is true. The people of Itipini are ignored by their government and fellow citizens and left to their own devices. So, yes, it is a perfect breeding ground for crime and some people take advantage of that. Where people get the picture wrong is when they say that all people from Itipini are criminals and thugs, which is simply not true. A former YASCer, Jesse Zink, summed up some of this (much more eloquently than I can) in his blog.

So people in Mthatha hold this view of Itipini as the one place in town that you would never want to be. Trying to get a police man or social worker to come down to Itipini is like pulling teeth. And yet, somehow in the last few months, we had achieved getting a city counselor down there, policemen down there, a social worker coming regularly, people from the Home Affairs office coming to conduct interviews for IDs, and handfuls of people from other municipal departments. Somehow, with the upsurge of violence in recent months, it seemed like the government might actually be starting to pay attention and, even more, CARE about what was happening there. It seemed like everyone – the counselor, the social workers, the Social Development department, and the Home Affairs department – were going to pitch in to get housing and IDs for everyone. It seemed like they were all going to pitch in to help people get off of the dump.

It seems that finally having the attention of the municipality, though, has come with a price. However, being on the radar meant that when the incident in Waterfall happened, the police and municipality pounced. Itipini, to the municipal government, was always the problem that they just never dealt with. Now they’re dealing with it, but in way that completely disregards the humanity of people at Itipini. The way they’re handing it is dehumanizing, destructive, and utterly reckless. The community was demolished with little aforethought as to where people would go or what they would do. That, however, didn’t seem to be the concern of many people; the exception being one man from Disaster Management who told me he spoke against the demolition at a meeting (on grounds of not having a place big enough to keep everyone) but was overruled by all other parties present. Has this stereotype of people who live in Itipini become so engrained that they are not seen as people anymore? When does smoke start preceding fire instead of following it?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

And the Show Goes On...

It’s strange how things that seem to be broken find a way of coming back around. After a few days of upheaval and chaos, the project was back into full swing today as if nothing ever happened. A normal number of people came to the clinic, we had prayers on the veranda, people came for food, and there were people hanging out on the bench outside the clinic all day, chattering and laughing. It was almost surreal. But then as I think about it, I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. As I stated before, people here have a resiliency like I have never witnessed anywhere else. When hard times come, they just push forward and carry on. This is a trait I admire deeply and wish I had a little more of. I have to admit to myself that I have grown up having a fairly comfortable life and, because of that, my definition of “hard times” and the way I handle them are vastly different than the way people here define and handle them. It makes me think of all of the times in my life I have heard people in America complaining/ranting about the most seemingly insignificant things (How dare they put half-and-half in my coffee when I asked for skim milk!) and thought, “Are you really letting this ruin your day?”  Now I’m embarrassed because I feel like I’m on the other side of that. Some of the things that I see as being a big deal may not be viewed as such by others. Not that the demolition wasn’t a big deal for all involved – it was. But maybe the way I reacted was a bit more intensely than others did and more than was even warented. I felt like this was surely the end of the project and it happened on my watch. But, nay – the show goes on. For the time being, the project continues to truck along like usual. Thinking about this today has made me aware that more than once this year, I have probably unknowingly complained about something that someone else has thought was an incredibly ridiculous thing to complain about. Maybe something like asking for my own cup that I wouldn’t share seemed like an incredibly spoiled thing. It makes me wonder if we might all be a little less dramatic about all the going-ons of our lives if we lived with a little less material possession. What kind of deeper appreciation for life might prevail if we all experienced a bit of scarcity of necessities every once in a while. 

Friday, May 11, 2012


Yesterday, Itipini was demolished.

A notice was issued a few weeks ago when the incident with the woman who lived near Waterfall occurred stating that people should vacate Itipini. No one really took this with any seriousness because there have been statements like this made in the past and nothing has ever happened. Not only that, but taking the threat seriously or not, the people that live in Itipini, by and large, don’t have anywhere else to go. Hence why they are living in a shack on top of a dump. It seems, though, that maybe we should have headed this warning a little bit more. How we should have done that, I’m not so sure. We’ve been working like mad to get people IDs and to get housing forms filled out and turned in for everyone possible. Once out of our hands, though, those papers go into the hands of the municipality who, like most government agencies, take a fair amount of time to process. In the meantime, the same municipality has now made homeless all of those that still lived in Itipini. This is all done, of course, under the guise of doing what is “best” for these people – getting them off of the dump and out of an area prone to crime. While this may have been their long-term goal (and certainly ours as well), wires got crossed and some policemen (whom I suspect are holding a grudge for an officer that was killed a year or two ago in the area) foraged ahead with the demolition part of the plan prematurely. Now everyone has been evacuated to the Rotary Hall turned into a disaster shelter and it has created a whole new mess of problems. Not only is the hall not big enough to house that many people, but, as I said before, there is no place to cook. So instead of having to feed around 90 people, that number has just jumped to several hundred that need to be fed all of their meals every day. I’ve been assured that they will all be allowed to stay there and be provided for until they can be put into government houses. This, I think, is a lot of lip service. I think that they will grant houses quickly (which could means weeks or months) to those who are eligible and for those that don’t have IDs and are thus, ineligible, I think they kick them out to their rural homes. These homes, keep in mind, are places of origin in most cases and not their homes. Their homes, where they have lived for 20+ years, were in Itipini. Their friends and family are all here in Mthatha. Their work and livelihood are here in Mthatha. And, if it’s hard to make a living in the city where there are at least odd jobs to work, making a living in the rural area – especially if you are coming from somewhere else and starting with nothing – might be damn near impossible.

People were digging in the rubble for their belongings that they couldn't get out in time

People were piling their things around the project to wait for a truck to take them to Rotary Hall.

Brother and sister (their names are escaping me right now) with what used to be their shack behind them.

Nonzuzo Fokisi waits with her things for the truck

View of Itipini from 2007
The same view today.

As for what it’s like on the ground, I don’t have so many words on this subject and the ones I do have seem inadequate in describing the kind of loss I’m witnessing and feeling. Talking about this politically and in terms of ideal social improvement seems incredibly distant when faced with the people of this community. The municipality can is playing chess but these people are not pawns – they are PEOPLE. And this was their home. I find what the municipality is doing to be deeply unfair even if their road is paved with good intentions. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

I am Not a Stone

Sister Dorothy, who is our other nurse in the clinic besides Jenny, is an absolutely outstanding woman. She has a personality that was hard for me to understand at first, but that opened up to me the more I started to understand her and the Xhosa culture better. My favorite part about being around Sister Dorothy is that she has endless little sayings and phrases for every occasion. Some of them are pretty cheesy and ridiculous like saying, “I’m back from the moon,” every time she comes back from her lunch break or saying, “Those people are selfish. They sell fish.”  Every once in a while though, she just drops these little profound bits of wisdom, like she did today. We were talking about all of the stuff happening at Itipini and brainstorming what our way forward would be. I was lamenting a bit about how terrible and unfair the whole situation was and she said, “These things happen to us, not to stones,” meaning that we experience hardship because we are human. To forgo those hardships (and thus, also the joys) would be to deny our humanity and be no better than a stone. In that light, things are left to be what they are and we have no option but to just accept what joy and sorrow each day might bring as it comes. We must live one day at a time and be grateful that we are not stones. That thought has really helped me today to rise above the hardship of it all and be thankful that, for today, we are alive. I am thankful that we are human.

Sister Dorothy (right) with patient Koliswa Qinisile and her son, Anenceba

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vigilante Justice

Recently, I’ve been reminded of a movie I watched in the states just before coming here. It is called “Super” and I wasn’t much of a fan. It was really graphic and cynical and just a bit too violent for my taste.  The basic premise is about a guy who decides he wants to become superhero and fight crime. The problem? He’s just a dude in a costume with a skewed view of reality and morality. He does things like beat people up with a pipe wrench because he deems their acts as wrong. The movie is an interesting approach on why classic superhero plots don’t work in real life and how messy this business of “justice” is because it relies upon human interpretation. But let’s take a step back from Hollywood and talk about South Africa.

I talked in my previous post about the incident with the woman that was killed in her home between Itipini and Waterfall. When that happened, people in Waterfall were naturally upset. They tried to get the police involved, but no one in Itipini was talking for fear of retribution. They, after all, have little to no protection in a place like Itipini from thugs like this. Thus, there was an ultimatum issued over the radio and in the newspaper (issued by whom, I’m still not sure) that everyone should clear out of Itipini within 10 days. The proposal was almost laughable. If these people had anywhere else to go, why would they live in a shack on top of a dump? So nothing changed and no one left.

This is the point when some people in Waterfall were not satisfied with the way the justice system was working, I presume. On Tuesday, when they knew the clinic was closed because of "Workers Day," a group of thugs from Waterfall came and burnt down 8 shacks. Two of these shacks were old abandon ones, but several of them housed multiple families. These threatened that they were going to keep coming until all of the shacks were burnt. The police came and got involved and arrested 30 people, but ended up only holding something like 3 for questioning. Will this solve anything? I’d like to say I have faith in the competency of the justice system and the police in Mthatha, but the truth is that their job is very hard because getting information and witnesses is damn near impossible.  In this part of town, people don’t talk to the police because, like was mentioned above, they don’t have any protection from the people they would be informing on. Thus, vigilante justice becomes a dominant theme here. People take matters into their own hands and make their own “justice” when they feel it isn’t being served. But whose shacks did they burn down on Tuesday? Not the shacks of any of the men involved in the murder. No, they burnt down the shacks of families and old men that had nothing to do with it. It seems to me that this entire incident had actually very little to do with avenging this woman’s death, even if that was what sparked the fire. To me, this entire scenario just seems like more mis-aimed aggression and frustration on the part of young men. The Daily Dispatch ran an article this morning about the whole incident, saying that a “township war” was “raging” between the two communities. But I found that rather dramatic and misleading. There’s not a “war” between Itipini and Waterfall. Many of the people who live in Waterfall once lived in Itipini. Lots of people from Waterfall come to the clinic for treatment, send their kids to our preschool, or are given help with school fees (and free tutoring) for their high school students. No, there’s not a “war.” There is a group of thugs here and a group of thugs there that are butting heads and everyone else is getting caught in the cross-fire.

 So people have fled. In Ngangalizwe, about 90 Itipini residents have taken shelter in the Rotary Hall which has been declared a disaster shelter for them for the time being. The municipality disaster unit is taking them one meal a day and we are taking them bread and another meal since there is nowhere to cook. People are sleeping on wooden floors, but at least they have a roof over their heads for now. I guess the real question is how long the municipality is going to let them stay there and if they will come back to Itipini and rebuild or what. I don’t know. I guess the best we can do is keep providing our service and take one day at a time.

Inside the Rotary  Hall where people are staying. 

Thanks for tuning in.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day Trip to Bethany Home

I had the day off yesterday because it was Freedom Day! That's the South African equivalent of 4th of July (ie, the end of the Apartheid government), except with less explosives. So I decided to go to Bethany Home to visit our kids there, hang out with the mammas, and play around a bit. I like going to Bethany to play with the kids because play is a universal language and you don't need words. That and, let's be honest, it's FUN. So! Here's to South African democracy and to the world's cutest kids!

In the playroom

Sharp, sharp.

Singing and dancing while they're waiting to go to lunch.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Amanzi" Revisited

In a previous post, I talked about water scarcity. Remember that grueling picture of the Mthatha River that was that really nice brown color? Today, I caught a couple snapshots of one of the reasons why the Mthatha River is so polluted: sewage. People that live near the river dump their own raw sewage into it often as a way of disposing of it. I've also seen quite a few trucks dumping things into the river from time to time. Today, as group  of workers were "cleaning" out the dumpstation (that runs the sewage to the municipality water-treatment) that is situated near the river on the Itipini road, they were pumping out gallons and gallons of black water straight into the road way. Not only did that mean people were having to literally walk through poo to get to and from town, but it was running straight down the road and into the river.

THREE sewage trucks lined up along the road

You could see the black water where it was flowing into the river near the banks

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tsotsis: "Thugs"

The violence at Itipini continues. We thought it had been dying down and that maybe whoever it was that was behind it had moved to another place or stopped coming to Itipini. It was circulated for a while that the perpetrators were from Maiden Farm, a government housing community across the river. That, however doesn’t seem to be the case.  It’s come to light that the acts are definitely being committed by a group of young men inside of Itipini. Last night, these men went to the house of a woman who lives alone somewhere in the area between Itipini and Waterfall (the next settlement down). This woman, in an attempt to eek out a living, sold liquor from her house which, if we’re going to be honest, is one of the easiest ways to make money. It doesn’t, however, come without danger. These men went to her house and stole all of her money and liquor. But the terrible and heart-breaking part is that they shot her. Right there in her own hut. It wasn’t enough to steal all of her money and goods; they killed her. And for what? A little cash and a stash of liquor? But this is a sad reality in many parts of this country. This is a sad reality in the Eastern Cape. Young men, wanting to escape from their frustrating lives, drink liquor and often too much. Young drunken men, desperate to feel some kind of power and control in their lives, take out their anger and rage on those that are weaker than them. When women come into the clinic because they’ve been beaten by a husband or boyfriend, it is almost always reported that said husband or boyfriend was drunk. Last week, when we learned about the child being raped by her older brother, he was drunk. All of these instances of violence and abuse seem to come about when men are drunk. But alcohol isn’t the root of the problem; it’s a coping mechanism (and not a good one) to some deeper feeling of frustration or inadequacy. Unemployment in the Eastern Cape is among the highest in the country. Men can’t find work and the work they do find is not skilled labor and is often very temporary. They grow up caught in this cycle of poverty and all around them see signs of a better life, a more rich life, a more comfortable life. They want more and many of them have the drive and the brains to do more, but they are trapped. Despite their desire, there are many forces at work that keep them poor. They are stuck in the cycle of poverty and can’t get out. So they stop looking for more and instead look for comfort and escape. The amount of alcohol abuse here is stunning and I just keep thinking, “There has to be a better way.” There has to be some way to start to alleviate those problems that cause people to turn to drugs and alcohol. What that way is isn’t clear to me yet, but hopefully some day it will be. Hopefully, some day, this country will function in a way that uplifts its citizens of all races and class. Hopefully, some day, all countries will.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

That Glass is not Half-Empty; It just Needs to be Re-filled a Little.

Mission work, in it's nature, can be quite draining and I'm discovering more and more the importance of refilling myself. Some days, I feel completely put-out by being constantly asked for things. Some days, I come home completely run down and feel as if I have given absolutely everything I can give in one day. Then the phone rings, and I give a little more. By about 6pm on days like that, I have a one-track mind that can only think of being in bed with a book.  There are also times that, because I can on Saturday, I stay home all day long. It’s not because I’m being a hermit or upset, but simply because I just want to do whatever I want to do in a day without answering to anyone or anyone asking me for anything. It seems really selfish when I write it out like that and maybe it is, but I need it. I need a day every now and then that is completely mine, where I am 100% intact, and I can spend the day refilling myself so that I’m ready to give of myself again for the coming week. So maybe it is a bit selfish and maybe I’m not a perfect missionary because of it, but I think I’m okay with that. I’m okay with accepting this fact about myself knowing that I do what I can, which is really all anyone could ever ask for. If we each were to use our capabilities in what ways we are able to better our lives and the lives of those around us, then we all benefit. As the side of my truck reminds me in big blue letters every day, “drops fill buckets.” I try and remember that on the days that I am feeling really overrun; that even something small can make a difference. Something that requires only a tiny amount of effort from us can make a huge difference to someone else. And vice versa. That fact alone makes that extra mile seem much more like an inch.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Working 9 to 5

Since I was a teen, I’ve known absolutely that I never wanted to work a Nine-to-five.  From that first part-time job as a cashier/waitress at a dingy streak house when I was sixteen, I knew. It’s funny how sometimes we create these absolutes in our minds without the slightest consideration for an alternate scenario. So, here I am, currently working what we, for all intent and purpose, will call a Nine-to-five. Clinic starts at 9am and, on all days but Monday, I am going home right about 5pm. But, folks, this isn’t something that I ever in a million years would have pictured being classified as what I think of as a “nine-to-five.”  I ran headlong into this realization today.

Captian’s Log, Friday the 13th of April, 2012:
“What my Nine-to-Five Consists Of”

With Jenny away in the States to do fund-raising, my clinic duties have been elevated to include doing all of the dressings, injections, HIV tests, and anything else that doesn’t involve giving medical advice. This is on top of my regular duties of pulling cards, packing pills, weighing patients, filling medications, doing all of the paperwork and filing, taking care of our TB patients, and transporting patients, etc. That being said, dressings, injections, and HIV tests aren’t really something that we have a lot of in a day; maybe one or two of each, if that. Today, however, I bandaged 7 people, one of whom was an infant with burns from scalding water from the thigh down on one leg (his mother was also badly burnt on her ankle and foot). I would be lying to you if I told you I didn’t think that part was really insanely cool. Not the burnt baby, but the dressing wounds. I felt like I was getting to play doctor (or at least nurse) and actually getting to use all of that stuff that I learned from the Red Cross. On top of that, I also gave 4 injections today – a record in a single day for me. I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at them by now, but am very grateful for my dear friend, Thobeka Kiliva, who had to put up with 60 streptomycin shots done by my hands, the first 10 of which I’m sure hurt like hell. Luckily, she was very gracious about it and agreed to let me do it knowing I was an amateur. She’s a great lady. But, as Jenny would say in her wonderful British accent, “that is another kettle of fish entirely.” All in all, clinic was pretty intense today.

After clinic, about 2:30, I had high school tutoring. We’ve just embarked on reading Charlotte’s Web and, so far, the kids seem to like it and think it’s quite comical. I also think it’s comical to hear them pronounce names from the book; I adore the way they all say Avery. They say it like “a-VER-y” with the emphasis in on the second syllable and kind of rolling the R a bit. It’s great. Towards the end of our time today, all of a sudden, my students are scattering like roaches and Luleka literally dove over my lap to get behind the couch. I look up from the book and there’s some man in the doorway with a gun pointed into our shipping container. Yes, a GUN. I immediately stood up (which seems like the last thing you’d want to do with a gun pointed at you), and when the guy saw me, immediately put it down and cracked a smile and said something that I meant to take as he was just playing around. But it wasn’t funny. I walked out of the container and gave him a whole slew of reprimands about bringing a gun anywhere near the project and especially having it out and pointed at people, whether he was joking or not. I don’t think he really understood a thing I said, but he got the meaning of my tone and promptly left the premises. But my kids were now terrified, (and, quite frankly, so was I) and they didn’t want to walk home to Vezinyawo (where most of them have moved since the events mentioned in my previous post). Thus, I loaded up about 12 of them in my truck and took them home.  That was around 4 o’clock. 

From there, I needed to go to Bethany Home to check in on our little ones there. We have a child named Linamandla, whose mother has been an ongoing TB patient, that I took back there a few weeks ago (she’d done a good stint there the last time her mother was really down-and-out). She is an absolute peach and I really enjoy going to see her and being able to give her the one-on-one attention that the kids don’t get a lot of there. I also take pictures of her most times I go so that I can report back to her mother about how she is doing. So I went to see her and also to check on another little girl that was supposed to be taken there yesterday. This other little girl, whose name is Ntombizanele and is 4-years-old, we found out on Wednesday had been a victim of rape by the hands of her 19-year-old brother. I won’t even go into that situation and how furious it makes me. The point is, she was supposed to be taken there by the Ngangalizwe police because she had to be taken there first to open a case and what-what so that her brother could be arrested. But when I got to Bethany, I couldn’t find her, none of the mamas knew anything about it, and the women who work in the office had already gone home early because it’s Friday. So I called our social worker, Lusanda, so that she could call whoever they’d been in contact with at the police station (since I didn’t actually go to the station with them). In the meantime, I decided just to pop into the police station and see if she was still there. She wasn’t. And the cops on duty couldn’t tell me anything except that they’d heard about the case, but didn’t know anything about where the child was because it was officers from the morning shift that had handled it. Now, this is kind of typical in dealing with associates of any business in Mthatha – unless you’re talking to who you were talking to to begin with, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to have any clue what you’re talking about. But because this wasn’t a supermarket and the item in question was a victimized child and not a block of cheese, I was losing my cool. (This was, I'm sure, compounded by the fact that I was tired and still hadn't eaten any lunch that day.) They tried to call of few people and still couldn’t tell me where she was. I asked how could they just loose a 4-year-old girl and, if they just sent her back home, didn’t they think that was the most reckless and irresponsible thing they could have done since the violence was inside the home? This is when they told me, no, they had arrested the brother that morning and gave me some name that was close to his, but still slightly incorrect. I was about to go back to Itipini to find the child myself and take her to Bethany when Lusanda called back to assure me that the other social worker they’d been working with had indeed taken the child to Bethany home today. Call me cynical, but I am still a bit suspicious about if the child is at Bethany. Social workers here aren’t really known for being the best. But, I could have overlooked her or maybe she was in the bathroom or something. I don’t know. I will go back and check again tomorrow morning when the office lady is back.

At a little after 5pm, I run to drop off sputum samples at the lab – my last piece of work for the day. Then swing by the supermarket to get some milk and eggs and now here we are.  So maybe today was a pretty intense day and a little out of the usual, but even on a normal day, this job is not your average day job. In conclusion, though I swore I’d never have one, I love my current “nine-to-five,” and all of the random, exciting, terrifying, frustrating, fulfilling, ridiculous things that it encompasses from day-to-day. Like I said before… there is never a dull moment in Mthatha.

Captain out.

Linamandla Gcume ready to go to Bethany home on a rainy day.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Times They are A-Changin'

In recent weeks, things at Itipini have shifted in a big way. In late January/early February, there was a string of break-ins and violent assaults going on at Itipini at night. The rumor was that it was a group of young men from across the river in Maiden Farm, but we never found out exactly who the culprits were.  It was a really terrible situation where people (mostly women) were being beaten up by whoever these thugs were and all of their money or things of value were taken from their houses. All of the Project buildings were broken into as well. Because of this surge of malicious crime, A LOT of people moved away. For weeks, it seemed like every day we would just count another round of shacks that were being torn down and the clinic and preschool seemed almost desolate. We got the police involved and, though little happened in the way of finding the perpetrators (people were really reluctant to talk for fear of retribution), it got their attention. Itipini is often written off by people as just a place in town where only criminals live, but when the police came down and saw the Project and all of the things going on there, their attitudes changed a bit.  And it was enough change that it sparked a sort of chain reaction. They connected us to a city Counselor so that we could set up a committee of people who would act as the sort of “collective head-men” of Itipini. When the Counselor first arrived, she looked terrified and said (and this is a direct quote), “I am scared of this place.” By the time she left that day and had seen all of the good things going on at Itipini (the garden, wood workshop, craft workshop, and tutoring, etc.), her attitude had also changed.  She connected us with another person who connected us with someone else and so on to land us at the point we are at now. Right now, we have had several rounds of people come down to help people fill out housing applications to get into government housing (and out of shacks/off of a dump). For those that don’t have IDs, we have been working through the processes of getting them ones so that they can apply for government housing and grants. We have a SOCIAL WORKER that is coming out to Itipini TWICE A WEEK. [THIS is amazing. From about October onward, I have watched Jenny have a weekly phone battle trying to get a social worker to attend to this particular family who don’t have any parents and either getting ignored or getting the run around every time. Now we have a wonderful woman named Asanda that is coming EVERY Monday and Thursday!] She is really helping to get all of these housing forms, IDs, grants, special food parcels, and other services allotted to the people of Itipini. 

What is the bottom line in all of this? The people at Itipini are finally being recognized by their government. Within the course of three months, Itipini is all of a sudden on the map with city officials in the Municipality Office and Home Affairs office. People are actually talking about this place seriously and taking real steps to getting something done for, in my understanding, the very first time. It has been incredible to be a witness to this change and the start of a process that will hopefully drastically improve the lives of these people. I just hope that the momentum keeps going as it is now. It would be a real shame if it all lost steam in the middle. But that’s the trick, isn’t it? It’s not the starting of things that is difficult, but the sustaining of those things.  I guess the secret is just to keep trucking and see where this whole process takes us!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

INKUKU: The Chicken

Meat is not something that is eaten on a daily basis by most people in the Transkei. It is expensive for one and most people don’t have a way of storing it (ie, a refrigerator). Because meat is a rare treat, there is lots of celebration and ceremony surrounding the consumption of it and it is a big part of any kind of special occasion.  In the rural areas, when it comes time to slaughter an animal (especially something large like a cow), you HAVE to have lots of people because the meat has to be cooked and consumed immediately.  Thus, meat = a party. There are also certain animals/meats that are traditionally used for certain occasions, though I won’t claim to be any kind of expert on what all of those are. What I do know is that, when you succeed in a task that you have been working on and pouring your heart into for a long time, it is customary to celebrate by slaughtering a white hen and sharing the meat with your friends and family. This is exactly what Nonzuzo and I did last week to celebrate the excellent grades she got last semester.

It was like any regular Sunday afternoon, hanging out with Nonzuzo and the gang at WeeMama’s house. That day, we were watching wrestling (kind of in love with John Cena) and one of the young men that lives there walked by the window carrying a chicken. I didn’t think much about it; people walk around with live chickens all the time. (My favorite mode of chicken transport is the chicken in a bag with the head sticking out perched on top of a woman’s head). When wrestling was over, Nonzuzo turned to me and said, “So, should we go kill that chicken now?” I wasn’t even really given an option of “No,” even though she phrased it as a question. So we did. Along the way, she explained the significance of the chicken to me and why things were done this way or that. The women ate the uterus after it was cooked for fertility and the eggs that the hen had yet to lay were cooked and reserved for the women, as well. We also cleaned and fried all of the gizzards (which was not my favorite part). The head and the feet were also cooked for consumption (and are eaten here quite commonly). There’s also evidently a piece of meat that is ‘the Man’s piece’ and is always given to the head of the house. This is the piece between the two thighs on the upper side ie, the butt of the chicken. The only part of the chicken that wasn’t used was the gallbladder which, evidently, you have to be really careful when removing because it will make everything very bitter if it bursts.

 The entire experience was informative, fascinating, gross, and natural at the same time. I have eaten countless amounts of chicken in my life and never once even held a live chicken, much less killed, cleaned, cooked, and eaten one from start to finish. I found the entire process much less gory and much more intriguing than I thought I might. It was like being back in science lab when you have to dissect a frog; that moment when the entire things turns from being slimy and disgusting to being really, really interesting. I felt like I was observing (because, let’s be honest, I didn’t actually DO much – mostly just watched and asked questions) something more than just killing an animal. It was this vital piece of the human condition and history that I’d missed out on until now and something that billions of people over the history of this earth have partaken in. Having this experience, I somehow feel a little more connected with people that live/have lived that way their whole lives. There’s something that makes your value and appreciate your food much more when you live with it, whether that be livestock or a garden. Being involved in the production of your food makes it something more because you have to invest more into it. But I guess that is true with all things in life. The outcome is always more satisfying when you’ve really worked for it. 

Bulumko was keeping watch over the chicken for us.

First time to even hold a live chicken. No, that is not a smile - I was screaming when this picture was taken.

Plucking the feathers. Or rather plucking a feather occasionally and letting Nonzuzo do most of it.

Thanks for tuning in - 
Sorry if you're grossed out!