We continue to do well here. There are many “this is incredible” moments, and plenty of “TIA (oh well, This Is Africa)” moments as well. The TIA issues usually come down to frustrations with either technology (or lack of), inefficiency, or crime. Here are a few examples… Every time we go to the computer store to purchase internet airtime they give us a different story, and as a result we spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to get internet access each month. When making a purchase or reservation, it is common for the “system” to be “down”, ie credit cards don’t work, or they can’t give you the info you need from their computers. Ironically this happens almost every time we are in the COMPUTER store. The power supply systems often don’t work either. Usually driving through town there is at least one area where the traffic lights (robots) are out… As if driving around here were not challenging enough! We were in the mall last week (yes they have a mall here!) and the power went out – everything went black until the generator came on to provide lights in the hallways, but then all the stores had to close, purchases could not be made with credit cards, and using cash was only possible with exact change because cash register drawers did not open. The funny part to me was the response of the store workers who pulled out candles and flashlights (torches) immediately because this is a common occurrence! We have found that the best approach is to plan that places will be closed, systems won’t work, and stores will be out of what you need, so planning ahead and having back-up plans is key to accomplishing anything.
The “this is incredible” experiences usually revolve around the people here. The stories I have heard as a result of investing in people will stay with me forever I hope. The chasm that exists between the “haves” (primarily whites) and the “have-nots” (blacks) continues to shock and disturb us. There are literally two worlds co-existing in a bizarre way that makes it even harder for those in poverty because in addition to struggling to provide for their daily needs, they are also trying to function in a fairly modern world that has left them completely behind. The infrastructure and basic systems were established for people who are educated, have cars, etc. but most of the population is not and does not. It is overwhelming and incredible to me that more is not done.
Ruthie and I like to spend our mornings at Bonginkosi preschool in Edendale township. I need to write more about the school soon, because it is a “this is amazing” place. But even our drive to and from the school is interesting. Every time we are there we see something that would never be seen in Virginia. There are the goats and cows in the middle of the four lane highway, the burning garbage everywhere, the many people walking or piled into black “taxis” or standing in the back of pick-up trucks. Recently we also saw this:
This particular day several of us were walking down the dirt road in front of the school to visit the family of one of the students whose mother had died that week, probably from AIDS complications. This man is in his 80′s and was lying in the middle of the road on a hot day with no water. The Zulu folks I was with tried to speak to him but he was apparently delirious and unable to give them any information about his family or where he lives. I was shocked to learn there was nothing that we could really do for him. There is no one to come get him…the police and ambulance will not pick him up because there are so many people lying around on the road that it is not considered an emergency. We kept walking with me shaking my head saying, “this is incredible.” Several hours later when I was leaving the school he had moved only a few feet from the road to the grass. Ruthie and I went and got the largest water bottle we could find and gave it to him. After drinking most of it he laid back down in the grass. We took the picture and drove away saddened.
The following week after leaving the school on the same road we saw a Gogo (older Zulu woman) walking. There are literally hundreds of people walking, so that is unremarkable, but something about her grabbed my attention. I stopped and asked her if I could give her a ride. She struggled to get into the car and moaned in pain as she sat down. She spoke almost no English, so as I drove approximately 2 Kilometers to her house I tried to determine what was wrong and what help she needed. She eventually pulled out from her pocket some pills and a paper from the doctor’s office. Her diagnosis… Pulminary Tuburculosis. There was nothing I could do except continue to follow her cryptic directions. When we arrived at her house her eyes filled with tears as she repeated “thank you, thank you.” I gave her the money I had hidden in the car and told her Ruthie and I would pray for her. I took this picture after she made it into the house so I would maybe be able to find her again in the future.
As I started to drive away I faced the fact that I would need to find my way back to the main road…a potential problem since there are no “real” roads, no street signs, and we were probably the only white English speaking people for miles. I asked Ruthie to pray for that lady and for God to help us find the main road. She did and we easily drove right back to where we needed to be. I had a brief moment of panic about potential exposure to TB, especially for Ruthie, but then felt very peaceful realizing God had led me to drive this lady so she did not have to walk that far distance, and led me back to safety. Like the old man from the week before, this lady is also etched in my mind, and the opportunity to help her in a small way was incredible to me.
In a couple of weeks I am going to a Christian AIDS project that assists child-led families whose caregivers have died, or are dying from AIDS. I am also planning trips to local poor schools and a few orphanages. I think I could stay here for years and still continue to be shocked by the suffering of so many. It really is incredible. However, the attitude of people we have gotten to know is incredible as well. My friends from Zimbabwe are two perfect examples.
Tsitsi and I
Tsitsi and her husband are attending graduate school in theology and have two children, Ano and Toto. Until Easter, they had not been back to Zimbabwe to see their parents for over two years due to the expense of it. They live in a small two bedroom apartment with a total of nine relatives. The incredible part – Tsitsi never complains about it. She is content to care for other family members who are less fortunate, and graciously crams into a tiny space with no privacy. Tsitsi and Kenneth invited our family there for dinner recently where she showed us their wedding pictures. She told me another incredible story… On their wedding day one of Kenneth’s relatives came and gave them a 6 year old boy as a wedding gift! This older woman was caring for 18 children…many, including this boy, were her grandchildren who had been orphaned by AIDS, and she thought Tsitsi and Kenneth would provide a better home. So, she arrived with him as their “gift.” I asked Tsitsi about her reaction, and she just smiled and said “Kristin you are not used to these types of situations, but we are. It was fine.” He still lives with them.
Tsitsi washed everyone's hands as part of a traditional Zimbabwean dinner
Thembi and Rabson only came to South Africa from Zimbabwe in January. They have been friends with Tsitsi and Kenneth since they were children
Thembi and husband Rabson
Thembi is a computer and math high school teacher and Rabson is in graduate school for theology. Unfortunately they had to leave their daughter Anesuishe in Zimbabwe with her Grandma until they can earn enough money to pay for the passport. Zimbabwe has begun to charge exorbitant passport fees, and there are bribes that need to be paid as well, so they could only gather enough money for the two of them. Yesterday Thembi spent Mother’s Day without her daughter, and today is Anesuishe’s 7th birthday. In addition, although Thembi has been working for four months here, she still has not gotten paid. This is apparently fairly typical when teachers are paid by the federal government. Thembi and Rabson live in one room of a small house and need to borrow money from Tsitsi and others to buy food. Again, what is incredible to me is that Thembi never complains. I saw her at church yesterday and asked if she was having a difficult time being away from her daughter on her birthday and Mother’s Day, and she just smiled and said “I miss her but am thankful I will be able to call her on the phone tonight.”
Finally, you have got to read this story of our friend Lazarus who we drive to Bible Study each week.