Tuesday, December 20, 2011
FROM MONKEY’S TO FIRES
Nicole’s day began with a very mistrusting Thembi asking why he was given rotten food, we don’t normally eat any breakfast other than mealy meal [polenta] every morning [which is white], but have managed to buy a few bags of maltabela porridge which is a dark colour. Thembi refused to eat because the colour made it look bad.
We had real chaos getting everybody up this morning, the group, training at Mount Grace Hotel are very tired and are finding daily living chores very difficult. The cold snap that hit our Village in the last two days did not help anyone’s’ mood either. The other change is that the Trust took a decision to close our central kitchen, because the youth were not all helping and the kitchen staff were also taking short cuts, not realizing what a huge job it is to manage the monies to buy the food and how precious every bit of food is.
We also found food was disappearing, we were not sure where to, perhaps the older youth who have their own homes and some of the Village children ‘helping’ out their parents. Plates and spoons kept disappearing as well, so we divided the family into six groups of around 22 to 26 children. From the twenties down to babies, this means that time keeping is imperative, the food is collected from the central container and handed out by Pauline. We divided out the pots, cutlery, knives etc.
The groups are responsible for the entire living life of their groups. We began a week ago, results; we have to cook more food because, obviously, the food tastes a lot better and so the family want more food, but everybody is suffering from time-management fatigue.
It is much easier to have somebody do everything for one. We have realized that children are children, regardless of background, nobody wants to take responsibility, mothers and fathers normally do this. The question is how to balance the work ethic, the age that children begin chores and what is fair and not fair and how does this impact on their future work ethic. We grapple with these questions every day.
We also want to be careful to balance gratitude with normal ‘givens’ that a child would expect. Even though the children, youth and adults need to be grateful for the help given by Botshabelo, and other adult helpers and sponsors we don’t want them to feel obliged/ forever beholding, to make it too much part of their daily living. However, they need to learn that we are all in a partnership and that we need each other and our sponsors to facilitate their future and that every cent that comes in was someone’s labour. We have to balance work ethic and entitlement.
We have an ‘open door’ policy, even if a parent needs Botshabelo’s help but the child or teenager does not want it, we refuse to give it. This is the same policy I use in our ‘death work’. If someone does not want help, for example, If I see that someone is dying, inform them of this fact and explain that they have an option – that it is entirely their personal decision.
This reminds me of a young girl, who is now eleven, when she had just turned four years old, she came to visit me. She told me that it was not safe to live in the Village and that she needed to move into our part of the Village. I must admit, I had to centre myself and prevent myself from treating her request with adult derision. I find that we adults tend to treat children as if they don’t have any idea of their destiny. I thought that she may have had a fight with her parent, she is angry, etc. I found a small chair for her and she and I sat down for a talk. I asked her if she could give me more details as to the reasons why she felt she was not safe? She said ‘no’, she wouldn’t tell me yet because it was not my business. So, after I had been put in my place, I asked if she spoke to her mother, she said yes and that her mother said that if she wanted to leave, she should . I explained to her that Botshabelo could do it [after all, we are all on the same property], but that her mother would have to give me permission because of her age, which her mother did. I treated the situation with respect not mentioning that I had literally saved her life a week ago, when her sisters had arrived screaming that the mother was drunk and that she was repeatedly smashing her head on the ground while holding her by the ankles. The mother realized that her addiction and hard social life added to the challenge of making space for her love and safety for her child.
The point of the story is that after twenty-five years of working and living in poverty, I have discovered that everybody knows their soul journey, regardless of all the socializing, family myth building, culture and so on. We all know, it just depends on whether continuing on a life path that you realize is not good for you, is less painful than changing it. I guess because death has become part of our daily lives, the question is more pressing for poor children.
Speaking about treating children with respect, Michelle, my granddaughter showed Nicole a beautiful bangle she received as a present from a friend on the Village. It was strong, good quality until Nicole realized, with a gasp, that the bangle was obviously good quality because it was the rim from a female condom, and no, we did not ask the obvious question, was it used. It is obvious that I will have to do some research on that present. And no, Nicole did not rip it off her arm and admonish her, she was gentle, although I believe she was trying to balance her laughter and disgust.
A monkey has moved into the trees outside my door. It ate a piece of bread out of my hand, lucky me. Thembi and Alex, who are not much bigger than the monkey, were running around hysterically dancing from foot to foot in excitement. The monkey and the boys summed each other up, obviously recognizing the same naughty template regardless of diverse DNA lines. Nicole and I gave the boys and the monkey the same mother look.
One of the ewes dropped twins, the first large and strong, the second, frail and weak, she totally rejected because he was a runt. After trying several times to get it to stand, she abandoned it and concentrated on the strong twin. It reminded me of the difference between rich and poor kids. Anyway, Tshegofatso, who has the animal portfolio, called Leigh and I to help, I suggested they leave the lamb and see if the mom would come back for it. When she eventually came back she began to butt it, to the extent that we eventually had to intervene. After running across the veld like nutters, chasing the mother’s udders, we gave up.
We could see that Tshegofatso was divided on whether to take the lamb or not, but two things stood in his way. Firstly, he and his partner Maphifo are helping a sick mother look after her new born baby. Secondly, Tshegofatso reared another lamb called Merlin, whom Obakeng [a guy who lives in the village] decided to slaughter. Tshegofatso only found out that it was Merlin when he heard that someone was selling lamb meat on the village and realized that Merlin was missing.
When I spoke to Obakeng, he had nothing to say, even though he knew that the lamb was Merlin and belonged to Tshegofatso. We realized that to have him arrested and go to jail for stealing the lamb would have an impact on his job, let alone his life. So we let it go. Obviously, we wanted to take revenge and do all the normal, violent, revenge things, but in these situations, we have to teach the youth that even though life is cruel and most of them have grown up in a violent, brutalized society, parents still being bruised and destroyed from the legacy of Apartheid, they have to change their reactive behaviour from violence to compassion. However, I still feel my heart tearing when I see the pain and misery in their eyes, I wish I could take them and wrap them into my heart when they are so sad. It reminded me of when I had to go and tell Tshegofatso and his five siblings that their mother had died on the way to hospital. Even though Tshegofatso was only one year old, he never survived it and added to that when I had to wake him up in the middle of the night to tell him that his much-loved older brother had died in a car accident.
So many children are reared without the privilege of being exposed to respect for other living creatures, so general aesthetics do not have much of a showing, the realities of poverty crushing anything beautiful that raises its head. Merlin not viewed as something with rights and deeply loved by Tshegofatso, only seen as a lamb chop that can bring in a fast buck. We explained that it is up to the new generation to learn to be more conscious. We all had tears in our eyes when we saw the stark pain in Tshegofatso’s face, trying to find a place to put his agony, other than in the convenient anger and revenge corner.
Anyway, the new lamb, called Lightning [Leigh gave him this name because it looks as if he has a bolt of lightning on his head] is sleeping in our bedroom and we can assure you, the bleating of a lamb for milk in the middle of the night is a lot louder and incessant than a human baby. Jellytot, an old ‘pavement special’ [mixed breeds] dog, that was saved by Leigh and Nicole, has adopted Lightning.
Jellytot was being used as a puppy factory, by a family on the village. The problem is that people who take the puppies don’t have sufficient food to feed or take them to the vet for their injections, and inevitably, they get tied up and turn violent . So, we arranged, with the agreement of the owner, to have Jellytot fixed. And yes, I admit, not without the owner saying unsavoury things about my mother’s genitalia –in this culture this is the ultimate insult towards another person, fortunately for a feminist this is no longer taboo, so I took it in my stride. After Jellytot came back from her operation she went home for a few days then left to join us. I think that Jellytot was around when we were having the conversation as to whether or not to send her to the dog pound, but, because of her age, there would not be much chance of anyone taking her and that we would be sending her to her death. The owner was not interested in her anymore, for obvious reasons. So she joined our Botshabelo Animal Outreach, who also struggle to get their fair share of food each month.
Oh yes, we had a huge fire at the back of the village which we had to fight on the weekend, fortunately, the neighbours came to help before it ran onto their property. Oupa, a youth from the village tried to clean his yard, while really! Really! drunk and the rest was history. He was trying to fight the fire with us but we realized that there was a good chance of him falling into it, so we sent him back to the village and the rest of us ran like crazy. Shanna’s beautiful white skin looked as if someone had locked her into a sunbed for a week. Fighting a fire is a good teaching tool for teamwork because everybody panics and out of sheer instinct and adrenalin, begin to run around, no plan, trying to beat the fire to death instead of fighting it, [I must say, while I was trying to herd everybody the scene was metaphorical of how a lot of us approach life] so it took a huge amount of screaming from the adults to keep everyone in a line and work together. We would wait until the wind changes direction and then we jump in and kill it and when the winds changes direction back towards , and that tall dry grass bursts into flames our entire long line jump back, as if a well-trained choreography is leading us. And what did Oupa have so say, “eish, sorry Magogo”!!! [grandmother]. After this, we were even too tired to play volleyball.