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!