Monday, March 12, 2012

Oshoek Day 2

Our first day in Oshoek ended with us heading to the homes of various care workers to spend the night. We all felt that the homes we had visited that day were witness to the love and care of the workers making a difference in their communities. We went away feeling really encouraged that in such a short time, these careworkers were helping improve the lives of those in their community who were vulnerable. We spent a short evening in the company of an incredibly lovely woman named Mavis, her daughter, Bongekile, her son, Phumlani and grandson, Khulekani. Phumlani and Khulekani are 13 and 11 - which was great for Aidan and Easton to have someone their age in the home. These boys were due home at the same time as us and when they arrived, they quickly went out and collected enough firewood for the evening and morning before starting their homework. Aidan and Easton and Jason "helped" them with their homework for a short while I made dinner. The kitchen was definitely the heart of this home with it's welcoming wood stove and oven and a small cat warming himself on the floor beside it. We began to prepare our dinner and I invited them all to eat with us but Mavis told me that they only eat once a day. Suddenly our small dinner of chicken and rice seemed incredibly grand. We ate fairly quietly, did the dishes and then were invited to watch television with the family. The home was very nice and clean and well kept...we were given Mavis' bed and Bongekile's bed for our families while they bunked in together in another room. We felt incredibly welcomed and at home. After watching the news, mostly to ascertain that Cyclone Irina was moving away from us and not directly towards us as was the earlier possibility, we gathered around the table with the family, standing, holding hands, as they sang an evening song and said their prayer for the night. It was really a beautiful thing to be part of, even though it was in Siswati and we didn't understand much of it. We snuggled into our beds and listened to the wind pick up outside, thankful to be in such a secure home with a good roof.
In the morning, we awoke early. Easton and I dressed quickly and made our way outside to the outhouse. A cool mist was enveloping everything, even the chickens in the yard seemed to glisten with is. The wind was cool and we were grateful to have been warned that Oshoek could be a very, very cold place. We both through on extra layers and made our way to the kitchen where the fire was already warming the room. The boys had already left for school which began at 7 am. We all had a simple breakfast of toast and coffee or tea and then packed some sandwiches for our lunch and a few apples. Filling our water bottles, we said goodbye to Bongekile, who we now called "Coco" as we learned she is called by her family. She's a gorgeous girl with a great laugh and and soft spoken but really friendly. She had taken her first term of nursing school, loved it, excelled at it but had to drop out because it was so expensive. She has a dream of becoming a nurse and she would be a great one with her demeanour.
Bentley honked the horn for us outside and we piled in the back of the bakkie with Mavis along and headed for the care centre. We arrived to find several care workers already waiting and joined them inside. It was decided that we would travel as a large group rather than smaller ones and cover as much ground as we could by vehicles.
The first house we came to was the home of a young woman, maybe in her early twenties though it's hard to tell. She was sat in a chair by the door and as we entered the home, we could tell that she had some form of disability that had left her left side partially paralyzed. We gathered in the room, the great mob of us, and were introduced to her, her younger brothers, and an uncle who had been summoned from family in Swaziland to come and care for the girl and her brothers. Our interpreter, Fortunate, asked the young woman if she was willing to share her story. She nodded quietly and then began to speak in her own language to Fortunate who relayed the story to us. When the young woman was a girl, she had both her parents alive and her brother as well. There was some form of car accident, or she was hit by a car, it was unclear...and she ended up in the hospital on a breathing tube for an extended period of time. Her parents were alive and took care of her so she regained the ability to walk and talk again. She recovered to the degree that we saw her, with limited mobility on her one side. In the following years, both of her parents became sick and passed away, leaving her and her brothers alone. During this time, a man kept coming around to the house and raped her. She didn't call the police and didn't have money to even take transport to report it. She ended up pregnant and now has a daughter as a result of the rape. Unimaginable. At some point during these years, the relatives of these young kids decided that they needed a care giver and sent an uncle from Swaziland to care for them. When we arrived the uncle was working and staying in another town and dropped in from time to time to bring them food and some money. In the past year, a young man from the community expressed an interest in marrying the young woman. She knew his family and he started coming around regularly. He, too, like the man before him, raped her on several occasions. Again, she felt helpless to involve the police or the courts. Finally, the parents of the offender actually helped her to press charges against him. It was inexplicable but thankfully, they did and the offender is now behind bars and the young woman feels safe and protected again. As she shared her story, I was just trying not to physically cringe at the idea of some man taking advantage of this young woman. She seemed weak and so vulnerable and the idea of someone using her in that way made my stomach churn. I tried hard not to change my facial expressions from that of sympathy to that of anger although inside I was fuming. I became acutely aware of Easton and Aidan hearing this story and watched them as they looked into their laps, at their knees, absorbed in their knuckles...anywhere but at this young woman. I leaned into Easton and asked him if he understood what she had said and he had. I asked if he had any questions but he told me it just made him feel really bad for her. We stayed for quite a while with this young family while Levi asked them if they ever were visited by people from their church or family. They said that the uncle was the only one who ever came by other than the care workers. Every day, faithfully, the care workers come and sit with this young woman in her home filled with old dishes and furniture from a family long passed away. She sits near the door although her experience tells her the only ones who visit will be someone who takes advantage of her - until the care workers changed all that for her. Every day. She knows someone is coming. Her brothers know someone is coming. Someone who cares. Who asks nothing of them. Who takes nothing from them. Who gives them encouragement and love when anyone else that has walked through their dark doorway has taken, taken and taken. Before we left, Levy asked this young woman her favorite song. She didn't know the name. She hummed it and soon the care workers picked up the tune and we all sang it together. We filled the room with song and she smiled and sang along. It was really beautiful. The song seemingly pushed the words of her story out of the dark and into the light, taking away their power to hold her down, and as we left, she was smiling for all of us.

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