Friday, March 23, 2012
Since we travelled to Oshoek a few weeks ago, I can't get the words out about two particular families we met with. I am weighed down by the stories and have tried many times to get past the choking feeling when I think of them and begin to process all we saw and heard and felt. I'm on my fourth or fifth attempt to write what I saw. I can only communicate pieces of a story so complicated it would take novels to tell. Here is just a glimpse of what I saw. The first was a family that we travelled a long distance over rough roads that back home would loosely be called trails. We drove as far as we could up into the hillside and then walked for the last bit through the woods and a large open meadow to their home. It was a beautiful setting and when we first approached the home, it was like walking back in time. A collection of small square buildings facing into a courtyard, all surrounded by a low mud fence. There was a large garden area with only the early beginnings of pumpkins and maize growing, though it was already well into the growing season. Rains have been few in the area and it's been unseasonably cool causing things to grow more slowly. There was a goat pen with no goats in it just behind the garden and no visible sign of a water source nearby. Entering the courtyard, we saw a few school aged children sitting. None of them were wearing school uniforms and it was early enough after school that it seemed unlikely that they had attended school that day at all. Upon closer look, the buildings were in various states of disrepair, seemingly left for a long period of time from the looks of the crumblings walls and hanging doors. As the care workers introduced us to the kids, they told us that there were seven children in the home living with their gogo or grandmother. She had had two children who had both passed away, leaving their own children, in her care. The gogo was in her room bathing and she yelled out to us to wait for her. She was worried she would miss us if she continued bathing. A young girl of about eight went and helped her dress and come into the courtyard with us. We were all seated on various rocks and stumps and wooden stools that were hastily brought for us. The gogo sat on a reed mat, similar to ones we've seen in every visit, in the doorway of one of the rooms. She greeted us all saying, "Happy New Year" with a huge toothless smile. She was very happy to see us and have us visit. She told us that she was always expecting people from Hands at Work to come visit as she had been visited a long while before by Hands at Work volunteers who accompanied their care workers. She told us that once, she had been on the main road in a taxi and seen a Hands at Work vehicle go by. She was so sure that they were going to her home that she left the taxi and walked back home from the main road, only to find no one had come. I felt so bad for her...we'd just driven from the main road and it was a long and arduous drive, never mind walking! And she was old! Add to that the idea that she had spent what little money she had on a taxi probably en route to the market which was two towns away - for the hope of a visit from someone who showed her care. My heart was already being wrung out by this family and their circumstances. They were visibly in dire need. Their shelter was not enough to protect them from the elements, they showed us where the rains leaked in through the tin roof. Each small room was open to the courtyard but not to each other so that if any of the children or the gogo sleeping in one room needed assistance from someone in the next room, they had to enter each others' rooms from the outside. It hardly seemed safe enough without the added fact that none of the doors I looked at seemed to be hinged properly or have a working lock. They were removed enough from neighbours and others that it may have offered them some protection but on the other hand, if someone were to come to harm them, they would be powerless to probably alert the neighbouring homes and whatever help their occupants could offer, if any.