Who is Betsy Blake?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day Three: Cape Town HQ & MFULENI (Mmmm-Full-eenie)

On Thursday, we flew from Johannesburg to Cape Town, about 2 hours south, and on the coast of South Africa.  We began the trip with a visit to MaAfrika Tikkun's headquarters, to meet Gala and Catherine, for a quick lunch.  We then headed to the first of the two locations we would visit in Cape Town, Mfuleni.  One of the first things Lisel and Lungi showed us was the garden, which was quite large, but the soil was mostly sand!   The centre works hard at adding nutrients to the soil to encourage growth, but it's costly and wind erosion and irrigation issues makes the garden's success a great challenge.  These people must work with what they have, so educational programs to encourage the Mfuleni Centres' recipients to tend a garden at their homes is also promoted.  Unfortunately, the cost of maintaining a sandy garden with the proper additives, as well as having to pay for more seeds, has led to a mostly "one-time" effort for these very poor people. 

Next, our group split up and we were put into groups for home visits.  This was probably the hardest part of the visit for me, as I was too shocked, uncomfortable and self-conscious to do anything but try to "fit in."  We walked across an expanse of sand (several hundred yards away from the centre) and entered the community of homes.  Many of the homes within this shanty town were nothing more than corrugated metal  “walls”  fashioned into a home with 1-2 rooms; others were made of cement block and/or stucco materials with a kitchen, living area, bedroom, and plumbing.  Electricity was available to some, refuse is collected on Thursdays. Like many areas in the US, one could see some homes which were obviously cared for, and some which were surrounded by what appeared to be trash.  Many were no more than corrugated metal, pieced together with wire, and somehow fashioned into a shelter/home.  Occasionally, a home would stand out because of a beautiful flower garden, or a meticulous, paved sidewalk, or lace curtains in the window.  Much of that was of course in stark contrast to the whole picture, but looked like little beacons of hope on the street.  I was not comfortable taking pictures during these visits into the community, because it felt disrespectful.  There were so many people watching; I wanted to just be polite and low key.  I even kept my sunglasses off, so that I was not "hiding," and people could see my eyes. 

Our first family had no home.  They had a plot of sandy grounds between two shacks, and a shelter which was made of the corrugated metal and some plywood, while they waited for their home to be built.  A mother, teenage boy, twin boys (5) and toddler (2) lived in a shack which was 6 x 12 feet.  As we made introductions, it was clear that the mother was very, very shy, but that the boys were quite happy to have the MaAfrika Tikkun weekly visit.  On the sandy plot, under the sun, we laid out squares of plywood, and covered the plywood with a bedspread; this was to be our "schoolroom" for the session.  The boys were told to listen and behave by their mother--universal motherhood rules!  We used a  puzzle to name body parts; the boys were very excited to put a puzzle together, and were rewarded by all of us with all of the correct answers.  We used a book to cover the color "yellow", and the boys were asked one by one to recite, "yellow CHEESE, yellow CHICKEN, yellow BALL, etc."  It felt terrible to put the toys away after each exercise, knowing the children had no toys of their own.  We sang songs (a version of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes", but in their native language.)  When the visit concluded, we all helped to put away the blanket, the plywood, etc., and said our goodbyes.  The cluster of neighbors and other children who had gathered to watch the visit waved goodbye.  Lungi "two" is a most gracious worker.

Our second visit was quite a walking distance away, which gave me a great opportunity to see first hand the village.

I was looking at a stunning garden, when I heard a sort of moaning noise which got louder as we approached the second home we were to visit.  The ladies I was with told me the sound was coming from the very house we were to visit, and they were puzzled by the sound as well.  We went into the home, and found that the child we were to visit was grieving and sort of "keening"...she was nearly 3, and was missing her father terribly.  We were told that her Daddy was killed in traffic, on the way to work, four days prior.  (more to come)

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