On Tuesday, we visited a home set back on a hillside meadow. It was surrounded by a single strand of barbed wire fencing that we climbed under and walked through the long grasses until we reached the yard. Lining the home were small gardens bordered with inverted empty glass bottles,. There were geraniums planted and other flowers giving the impression that there was a mother or gogo in the home that took pride in its appearance. The dirt yard was well kept and swept of debris.
The one side of the home was open to a large room that was evidently a kitchen with a woodstove in the corner and there, behind the stove, sat a young man on the floor. At the stove, stood his brother, who welcomed the men to the house as they approached the door. Our group entered through the side door with the care workers and into a living room. We pulled in extra chairs as the brothers made their way slowly into the room. The young man who sat behind the wood stove had to be helped to his feet and to shuffle slowly towards the room. We offered him a chair but he said he didn’t want to sit on it because he would fall off. One of the care workers offered him a chair with sides but he still seemed unsure of sitting in it. His brother and one of our guys helped him into the chair where he sat looking down into his lap. His brother sat off to one side on a smaller chair. The boy we’d come to see was named Moshe* and his brother’s name was Siyabonga, which means “thank you” in Siswati. Siyabonga described to us the family situation – they were just two boys living with their mother. She worked as a cook at the local primary school. Moshe was about 23 and Siyabonga was 19 and had just graduated school. He wasn’t able to go and look for work because he was needed in the home to care for Moshe. Moshe suffered from some form of seizures that left him with limited mobility. As we spoke with him through the care workers, it seemed that Moshe had very little expectancy for what life would bring him. He sat behind the woodstove all day and probably slept there as well. He listened to the radio but to whatever happened to be on, he had no interest in specific programs or types of music. When Jason asked him what he liked to do if he could do anything, he said, “Nothing”. He was disinterested in us and didn’t seem too engaged in our visit. Siyabonga on the other hand, was quite personable although he seemed to have an air of discouragement about him that he had graduated school but now was relegated to caring for his elder brother. Maybe I read too much into it. I’m not sure what type of job he would have liked to do but it seemed that his role was cut out for him in caring for Moshe.
I noticed that there were football pictures on the wall, cut from magazines. I asked Moshe if he liked football and it was the only time he noticeably engaged when he replied, “No, but Siyabonga likes football.” I asked Siyabonga a bit about it and he talked in English fairly well about how he liked it. On the side, there were some small trophies along a shelf. I walked over to them and asked him to tell me about them. The first was a small trophy commemorating good nutrition and it was in their mother’s name from the primary school where she cooked. The second trophy was in Siyabonga’s name for completing primary school, the third from his secondary school graduation. The fourth trophy was a football trophy with his name on it. I asked him if he had won the award and he said no, that he had just been given the trophy for being on the team. He seemed a little sheepish about it and I laughed and told him that our boys were given the same kinds of trophy in Canada just for participating in a sport. There were no trophies for Moshe.
We didn’t stay too long and as we left, some of the men helped Siyabonga take Moshe back to his place beside the stove. It felt sad to me that we were maybe his only visitors and yet, he seemed more content and happy to sit in his place, on the floor, away from others. In some way, it should have been a comfort, I guess, that the place he has found contentment is the place where he spends most of his time. I just wished that he could hope for something more.