Tag Archives: community

#2 ~ For Colored Girls London: Reading the Foreword

One of the most beautiful aspects of putting on ‘FCG’ again, is revisiting ‘old friends’. Old poems and known characters who spoke to me with aggression when I was a fresh 18-year-old, excitement when I was 19, and now, at 20, with a depth, a caution, a humanity.

The first time I approached the script  all the words were literal. The poems, ranging from the very brief but powerful ‘Abortion Cycle 1’, to the long, lyrical lament of ‘Sechita’, were so vibrant, so forceful in their barraging voices all seeking to take centre stage, that the idea of analysing and challenging my first impressions was absurd. Of course Sechita should be a lament, she’s a washed up dancer who is serenaded by chipped coins that are dashed through the air to bounce on her thighs, which aren’t lovingly creamed with coco butter, but stained with sweat, smoke and semen.

However, as I read Shange’s forward to the second edition of the ‘For Colored Girls […]’, I see that the Lady in Purple’s persona is much more than that. Sechita’s journey is not just the degradation of a woman, but of a nation, a history and a people. It tells the story of the demise of the black African, from inventors and rulers of the Ancient world, to the chattel that powered the Industrial Revolution of the West.

I see that the Lady in Orange’s exposure to ‘mambo, tango, meringue’, in the dance halls of America, is a journey of discovery. The same discovery of other black people, communities, cruelty, misogyny and adventure that the Lady in Brown experiences when she meets Toussaint ‘in de library’.

I see that, whoever wrote the tag line for Tyler Perry’s bedraggled attempt at transforming page to cinema, was right in one respect. It is one poem, one story, one woman, one life – but told through many voices. Like the colours that form a single rainbow, it is the journey of a people, of nations, of humanity, embodied in one unified story of fractured experiences.

I look forward to the days I shall spend scrutinising these poems, these voices, and women as I seek to join them into my own cloth, my own woven pattern of a history, of a woman, of a colourful identity.

Join the journey.

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#257 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 22

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

That was a bizarre proverb I never quite understood. How could the image of ultimate evil, be in any relationship with the concept of ‘goodness?’ It didn’t make sense. Yet so often, in aid work, good intentions when not thought through, or when not carried through with a good heart, can cause more problems than anticipated. This morning, as I was teaching at Mountain Home Primary, a shiny van pulled up with eight bright red bicycles at its back. A unanimous ‘Ooooh’ saluted the people as they stepped through the barbed wire gate into the littered playground. I was intrigued, and will admit, a slightly hostile attitude crept into my heart. These are my  children, who were these people coming here now, who were these people with their shiny-red bicycles and clean clothes who gingerly stood on the verandah and did a small wave? Who were they, and what did they want?

Community outreach is such an important aspect of aid work, especially in a country like South Africa, where affluent communities closely boarder extremely impoverished ones. The people who arrived at ‘my’ Primary school this morning, where there to present the top students with prizes. Now, I don’t want to slate the work that they are doing, nor do I wish to undermine their initiatives and incentives. The fact that Mountain Home has more than one interested party excites me. Yet, for the first time, as this group of people stood talking to the children, I found myself no longer a ‘European’ or a charity worker, but one of them,  a teacher at Mountain Home, a member of their community,I felt protective of my students, and hurt.

These bicycles, sponsored by Coca Cola, were the size of my bike back at University. Standing at 5″10, I’m a pretty tall lady, so I have a pretty tall bike. Yet these children range between 5 and 9 years old. They are, literally tiny. Not only that, but these bikes are only awarded to the children in the top grades who had achieved the best in some exams. Of course they would have, they are the eldest, they  have had the most education, they should  be the smartest. At the realisation that the whole school was standing to attention, the lady who was heading the team whispered “Oh no, I have nothing for the grade R’s 1’s and 2’s.” A great way to create incentive and to be inclusive?

Not only that, but Sweetwaters is a rural area. The roads within the community, though smooth, aren’t tarmaced and are extremely rocky. We fear getting car punctures let alone bike punctures. Throughout my month in Sweetwaters, I have very, very rarely seen anyone ride a bike. Could these children ride bikes? When you learn, often you need stabilizers. There weren’t any stabilisers on these huge bikes. Even the teachers, through pleased, found it amusing the gifts weren’t really suitable for the children. Moreover, they had to be kept within the school till Sunday when the parents were expected to come and legally sign for them. In between now and then, the school has just potentially become a prime looting arena. And what happens when these bikes are careened through Sweetwaters? Will these homes have space? What if it rains, and they get wet, and rust? How will they pay to get them fixed, will the presents even be useful at that point?

Obviously, on one hand, I can clearly see that I personally felt hostile towards the project. Having worked with Ithemba Projects and seen the ground work they’re doing, though presents are few and far between, they are working towards building a future, implementing strong foundations to be built upon. And it made me think; how often, do we have a brilliant idea to bless those in need, but don’t really think the process through. We see how  we  want to bless them, but don’t necessarily see their need. See that, perhaps it would be more beneficial to provide the top students with school equipment, pens, papers, books to read which will not only be useful, but further their education and also bless and help other students, than a larger than life bike, which they might not be able to ride (especially considering the extreme gradients the Sweetwater roads follow), may potentially become obsolete, get stolen, or create friction.

Prayer for Day 22: For relationships between the various charities that work in Sweetwaters to be strengthened, so they can work together for the best impact in the Community. For wisdom when we desire to give, bless and support outreach work, that we really see and do what’s best long-term for people, and not what makes us feel better. For a heart that welcomes others working in our areas, and to pray against hostility.

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#244 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 11


Ithemba Projects has a long term vision to make the community of Sweetwaters both self-sufficient and sustainable. It means that the progress, though at times slow and even painful, is rewarding, tangible, and the eventual change belongs firmly in the hands of the community. Too often aid projects waltz into failing, poor situations, give a glamorous make over and vanish in elusive puffs of smoke. As Ithemba Projects strives to develop a relationship with the community, as it works to make the inhabitants of Sweetwaters feel involved and responsible for this long term development , it is also firmly digging its heel into the red soil, planting itself within the community foundations.

Last week I was dismayed and frustrated at the lack of innovation and initiative the teachers at the Drop in Centre appeared to be showing. Was it because they expected something from my colleague and I? Were they waiting for us to take over for these few weeks? My JD was to work alongside and support the creche teachers, not take over. I firmly believe, and so does Ithemba, that one of the most important aspect of aid work is to encourage the locals; to make them believe in themselves and their potential to create the change they want. Yes, they might not always have the resources or even the education needed to start up a development project, that’s where aid charities come into play, but they do  have the potential to continue them. By virtue of being human beings they are as capable to run a creche, teach a lesson, engage in community outreach, tree-planting, development, as someone from England.

Yesterday, the creche teachers demonstrated that – and my word were they good. Not only did they split the 19 screaming, laughing, singing children into two, smaller, more manageable groups, but they engaged them, of their own accord, in puzzles, drawings, outside play and songs. Ithemba Projects creche outreach, Asidlale, provides every creche under the Ithemba umbrella with teacher training, and daily schedules for class activities. Yet, perhaps  the benefits of following these schedules isn’t fully recognized until the teachers claim it for their own. Seeing the positive response from the children could only have been a huge encouragement to the two creche teachers. I am excited to see how this burst of initiative flowers over the next few weeks.

Prayer for Day 11: That the creche teachers are inspired and encourage to continue following the Asidlale program. That a spirit of confidence is born within them, and the Drop in Center would flourish.

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#235 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 2

If you sleep with a virgin you will be cured from Aids.

As you drive from Hilton into Sweetwaters a large billboard sign greets you. !Qaphela! It shouts in bold writing, Sugar Daddies Destroy Lives. It might initially cause you to grin. Sugar Daddies in the UK and presumably the States, hold connotations of Playboy Bunnies and Hugh Hefners who thoroughly believe age is no barrier to ‘play time.’ The ‘purchasing’ of women’s affections through gifts, money, expensive luxuries, though the implications are dangerous, the term appears harmless, humorous even.

In Sweetwaters, and many impoverished communities that are plagued by the AIDs stigma, it is believed that sleeping with a virgin can cure AIDS. Perhaps the purity of an untouched girl restores the impurity of an infected man. Whatever the reason, the connotation of a Sugar Daddy in Sweetwaters tends not to allude to fancy holidays off the East Coast of America, and leans instead towards teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS infection, an aborted education, and future of, if not squalor, then dire need and dependence. Sugar Daddies really do destroy lives.

Aware of this predicament and the growing pressure on young Zulu girls living in Sweetwaters, Ithemba Projects runs a program called Home Visiting. It’s a process by which the children who attend the weekly running club, the Saturday Jabulani Kids Club or any of the weekly life groups, are given the opportunity to form closer relationships with the charity. It’s a chance for the Ithemba team to see them and their families in their home environment. To show the kids they are willing and excited to form familial and community wide relationships.

I never knew that fragmented communities really existed outside of London. It sounds naive, but we all have that ‘African proverb’ in mind: It takes a village to raise a child. You drive down the misty roads of Sweetwaters and the apparitions always raise a hand in greeting, calling, Sawubona, Ninjani, as you drive by. Courtesy demands that you also wave to strangers, and respond, Yebo, Siyaphila; We greet you also, we are fine. Sitting on a London Underground Tube, you don’t even make eye contact with the person opposite, let alone the workers at the train station. ‘Community doesn’t exist in the West, it’s an Eastern thing’. That’s the subliminal message that laced my mind more or less these past years.

Yet, entering the home of a secondary school student, tucked away in the winding paths of Sweetwaters haphazard geography, I saw my mistake. Ithemba staff make unplanned visits to prevent families from spending money buying or preparing niceties. Hospitality is fundamental in Zulu culture; even when one cannot afford to give, honoring strangers is a requirement and a blessing the inhabitants of Sweetwaters yearn to perform.

Though the mother welcomed us kindly enough, she hid in a corner, face to the wall. We sat and greeted her, and then an eerie choking sound came. I couldn’t understand what she was saying and turned to my colleague to ask – Is she laughing or crying? The gurgling, heaving sound filled the poorly lit room. Perched on the edge of a sofa, I realized that laughing sound was turning into hollow sobs.

I am so embarrassed. I am so ashamed. I don’t deserve this.

It was like a mantra that fell from this lady’s lips, eliciting tears from her daughter’s eyes. Where moments before she had been excited to show us her home, now, her face contorted between grief and shame, she was crying. I cried. I was so ashamed of myself. Ashamed that my presence could make someone feel so unworthy.

As her crying dwindled, our translator and colleague was able to explain she was embarrassed because she didn’t feel she was important enough to be visited. She was of no consequence, why should we come to her home. No one ever came to visit her. Here, situated in a sprawling rural township where one house ends at the doorstep of another, here, in the heart of ‘African community’ was the same loneliness and isolation that plagues the terraced street I live on. Here was the same loneliness that glares at my face as train doors shut and Metro papers are raised.

I don’t deserve to be visited, to be seen, for someone to care about me.

Yet, just by sitting for ten minutes in a stranger’s home, telling her how worthy and important she is in her community, to her daughter, in the eyes of God, a shamed cry turn into a grateful smile. Surely I didn’t have to travel to another continent to show someone that meager display of love, of community. Surely I could’ve knocked on my next door neighbors door, waved as I walked past their home on the way to the train station. Surely anonymity should not be present within community.

 Prayer for Day 2: That my eyes would be open to the loneliness and isolation that characterizes my home city, my university, my lectures. That I would be unashamed to greet and acknowledge strangers and remind them how worthy they are, by virtue of being alive.


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#10 ~ Enforced Silence

There are times when you are seated in what would appear to be an egalitarian community. Your own literal round table amongst those who share supposedly common interests, purposes, activities. Conversation is flowing, bellies are filled, thirst is sated, the moon is low and the radiators are turned on. As your ears bend closer, and your lips twitch into a slightly bemused smile, you realise you have been quietly breathing through your nostrils for the past ten minutes. You have yet to even wiggle your tongue. On paper everything appears compatible. Yet silence has been enforced on you like a muzzle, clamping your vocal chords, their vicious grip suppressing even the throb of blood as the muscle spasms, contorts and finally submits. You cannot speak. It is not because you have nothing to say. Far from it. The twitch of your lips is not a grimace, but a look of amusement. Humour is found in the intricacies of the banal conversation that is playing out before you.

You do not speak because what you have to say is contradictory. It juxtaposes the contrived social norm that has taken precedence at said round table. The viceroy grip of silence is self-imposed. Or if not self-imposed, it has been allowed to reign. You appear in their peripheral vision as a specter standing mournfully on the outside looking in. Sometimes your image wavers like a mirage. Because you do not speak, to them, you do not exist. This externally inflicted, internally accepted silence has made you an invisible mute, for fear that were you to utter a word, a sound, even a half expressed syllable, you would ostracise yourself physically. Then the silence would not be within you, but it would surround you as you found yourself alone, alienated, a human without community. A body with a voice, yet no one to hear it.

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