Thursday, 24 April 2008

Ga – WHAT? Ga - Radingwana!

The last few days in the community were geared towards the tournament. Having already accepted that it would start at least 2 hours after the 'official' start time; a small inner victory was felt when it started merely an hour late. Unlike Apel the focus was sport; netball, soccer and basketball. I will admit too that the real focus was the soccer. From this small community we had 8 dedicated men's teams with huge crowds watching the games. I cannot quite express the elation of looking around the soccer field, surrounded by nothing but mountains and emptiness to see over 200 youngsters from the community getting behind their teams. It is safe to say this was the first soccer experience I have ever actually enjoyed. We had communicated with the local clinic and arranged for a nurse to come down to deal with any minor injuries. This was something new to the community and hopefully an example of best practice that they will continue with. For me the best part was the 20 minute walk with her finding out what she experienced as a nurse. Sexually active youngsters were coming in from age of 12; and pregnancy from 14. The most common STI she dealt with was gonnaherea. Just like in the UK the SA Government pays the mother of a baby each month. Parallel to what I have heard in the UK for her this money is an incentives to the young girls to have children in order to receive the stipend. She said the money was not being spent on the baby and the Government needed to stop it. As a 23 year old in that community; statistically I should already have two children! As a young girl who drops out of education she knows she cannot just walk into a job, because there are not any. Having a child provides a regular income and a purpose; I find it hard to criticise their motivation as when you stay there you realise that outside of the family home there is nothing else. Unfortunately when the child is born, the child herself is unable to cope. This is why so many households are headed by Grandmas (gogo's) who end up looking after the baby. Most children are delivered at home; by the Grandmas. Unaware of the transmission routes of HIV they do not wear gloves or protect themselves. The nurse has reported an increase of over 50's catching HIV through delivering their children's babies. With age against them the disease is far more virulent and can progress quickly to AIDS. Just makes you think. In return, I gave the nurse an up to date understanding of sex and relationships in our society; the hardest part for her to grasp was that parents allow partners to stay over in family houses before marriage! She thought that was actually a great idea because then she could check out her son's taste and make her mark. I thought I should introduce her to Pinda to give her some top tips!

It was a long day; the volunteers staying power waned and it was only I who remained till the very end for the prize giving. When you're in a community you forget how much you stand out as a lehora (white person) and you do not see yourself as different. However, as I stood on a table in front of over 200 10-25 year olds chanting, dancing and singing for the prizes (soccer balls, pumps and whistles- a pigs bladder would have been a better football substitute than what these teams had!) a wave of insecurity hit. I guess it's like stage fright but magnified and worsened because I cannot communicate effectively with my pigeon Pedi! I survived (just) and Gift my younger brother walked me home. At only 12 years old and 4 foot tall he was not my ideal bodyguard as I weaved through the throngs of euphoric people, shielding the child's ears from the variety of unsavoury propositions from the teenage boys!
Alas, we survived. It was my last night with the family and I am grateful my meal was extended from rice and cold baked beans, to be supplemented with an egg! In the morning of departure the community put on a thank you with representatives from the community. It involved singing, prayer, crisps, cold drink and a particularly powerful thank you from an elderly man who said we gave 'the children eyes so now they could see.' Religion is a huge part of the poor communities; church providing the base of the majority of social activity; in the absence of little else. I am not getting into theological debate but you can see when you have less, religion means more. When you cannot control your livelihood or live in abject poverty you relinquish your fate to God. This comment is underscored by an 18 year old community volunteer who said he did not use condoms because his fate was in God's hands. If God wanted him to catch a disease, it was his will. This is ignorance and an unwillingness to take control of your life. (Marx: Religion an opiate of the people??) Do not be fooled into thinking that everyone in the community is like this; it is not true. There are a lot of individuals who have gone out there and grasped opportunity for themselves. They will say a lot of apathy comes down to education.. or lack of it. Not for the first time you draw parallels between out society and theirs. Anyway, I was moved to tears particularly when we said goodbye to everyone; the emotional ties to these communities and these people in these short times are improbable and incomparable.

We left the community and bombed down to Johannesburg where I managed to take a flight to Cape Town; filled with excitement at the prospect of seeing my parents the next day...Shame my luggage never made it; but you do not need clothes to enjoy your first shower and vegetable in three weeks!

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