Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Losing the 50-50 gamble

Watching the BBC World News I was informed of the violence against foreigners in Joburg; the brain clearly affected by high altitude and stupidity took about 20 seconds to realise, oops, that's in South Africa. Currently I'm so close to the border in a place called Venda; it's a region rich with art, culture and tradition. When I was sick they offered to take me to the Sangoma (traditional healer) but I declined, citing immobility.. not fear as my excuse! Here there are a lot of Zimbabweans that have come on foot, walking over the mountains. They come with nothing, and stop in villages asking for 'piece jobs,' earn some money and move on. Crime here is not an issue like the city and people seem to coexist quite peacefully.

In this community it is more advanced than the others, and most of our work has been directed through a Foundation called Muthzendi Youth Learning and Resource Foundation. Set up by a 26 year old from the area he has seen the biggest problem to these youth is access to information. Information on bursaries for universities, job schemes, knowing how to apply for identity documents. He took over a building built for community purposes in 2000 but had been vandalised and left, as no one knew what to do with it. I realised that he was the person we should focus on, and so we ran a 3 day Active Youth workshop for youth he had identified. The thing you learn about facilitation is never underestimate your group.. Part of the workshop involved the participants doing a 3 minutes presentation on anything of their choice in English. One of them grabbed me at the start and said 'listen carefully to mine B, it's for you,' and so it went 'THE CRISIS IN ZIM.' He went on to say Mugabe was a freedom fighter and the West should butt out, then I got a wink, he bowed and that was that. We heard about HIV, pregnancy and many other issues. One of the participants requested my hand in marriage; I set the barrier quite high at 80 cattle (5-10 is average) unfortunately he was part of royal family so that, he felt, could just be arranged. In my absence however, my dear friend Marte negotiated me down to 1 goat and a couple of chickens; a bargain!
Two of the participants were young boys from Zim, they had walked together on foot and been taken in by an orphanage, they have no papers or know nothing of their families. So when you sit here and read and see the carnage taking place in the townships and settlements around Joberg (coincidently including the one I sat eating goat leg merely 6 weeks ago) I feel a real sense of despair. Buying a newspaper the cashier looked at my paper and I said 'terrible isn't is?' Yes she said, but they Zimbabweans come, they steal, rape, murder and take jobs (employment is at around 40%), something had to be done. So I asked, is brutal murder, chasing families from their homes and burning people in tires (reminiscent of how traitors were treated in Apartheid times) the right way? This country has only been free since 1994 and before then, these people were supporters of anti-Apartheid and in 14 years look where we are at? She said she hadn't thought of it like that.
I do not have any answers, it needs Government intervention and it means the volunteers around the Gauteng area (particularly the Indian, Asian and Chinese) to be even more careful. I'm in a safe haven up here, but it is something that needs to be kept an eye on; it's a bloody war.

We leave this community on Saturday, I'm watching the boys play rugby (they lost last week, I was sick couldn't make it but received the following sms from the best english speaker:) OH.B.BIG.STRING.BOYS.SO.HARD.THE.BEAT.US.GOOD.LUCKY.IS.BROKE.
In short, they got hammered and my star player damaged his wrist- it does not bode well. I'm also now driving the SCORE combi, a frightful thought for my father and you may fear even more after the following story.. We were invited to a camp in the mountains for one night after the workshop to unwind. Excited at the prospect of braai (BBQ) and a couple of cold ones I agreed I would take the volunteers. Caught up in the moment I forgot the fact that African's in general have absolutely no concept of time or distance and believed it really was a 45minute drive; no problem! Nothing is ever easy with this group and first I had to pick a volunteer who had taken a lift to a soccer game, then realised his driver had had 8 beers. We made the dirt path, good I thought, we'll be there in 20 minutes. 1.30 hours of driving on petrifying paths, clinging to cliffs with huge pot holes; I have never driven anywhere like it, we arrived at the camp. The tension in my shoulders and stress in my face was not helped by the fact that my petrol had dropped from half full to just before RED. There was no phone reception, electricity and the prospect of the 2 hour drive home in the morning- cross mountain range. I did the only responsible thing I could; drink some beers, eat some food and try and not think about it until the morning. Morning came, the volunteers were late and we started on our 'journey.' Things started ok, I put my IPOD on, didn't mention the petrol crisis and went for it. Flying around the mountain, coasting down hills (although there were not many) I tried to save the petrol. The 'light' went on and we were still, according to our African guide, 10k away from the tar road.. 10k would have been ok, 30k, not so. At one point we conked out up a hill, covered in mist, I made them push. We coasted the last 10k down to the tar road and drove to a gas station. The gas station did not have any unleaded. Suffice to say if you were travelling through Rabali, Limpopo on the 18th May you would have seen the unusual sight of 5 white Europeans pushing a VW Van 2kilometres up a busy road towards a gas station. Sitting in the driving seat was a blonde, English girl 'steering.' We filled up, I breathed and thanked God we did not break down atop a mountain. I also decided I would never listen to an African distance measurement ever again; there is a reason I hate driving! It's a shame because the camp was phenomenal with a natural waterfall creating slides and pools, we really were as remote as you could be with the animals. I would love to take my visiting guests there, but not until they make a road.

The fun does not end there. Marte and I went to buy sports equipment for the Foundation (we decided to do an informal sports day there and leave equipment that can be used by the community.) We arranged with TK to pick us up from the town, he agreed. As such, we enjoyed a meal and some wine and waited for him. He called to say he was outside, but he was not. It was now dusk. Again, some English-African communication barriers were breached and he was not in town, but in the local complex. So, Marte and I find ourselves in the taxi rank at night carrying quite a lot of brand new sports equipment. Not ideal ahead of a 40 minute drive, not ideal being in a taxi rank, or indeed a taxi at night; not safe. So we tried to amuse ourselves on the journey; plotting various escape routes and being pretty pissed we got ourselves into this situation. Just as we made it near our house, we called 'short left' the sign to stop. The driver said no. 5 seconds of panic was replaced by a wave of relief when he said 'you're staying with Magoma aren't you, we will take you to the nearest point, send him my regards.' If only the taxi driver had thought to make us aware of this fact at the beginning of the journey it would have saved a lot of panic and adrenaline. You see, you hear so many terrible things, you forget it is only a small percent of the people. I guess it is a good thing my senses stay heightened but I really miss feeling safe! It gets dark and you just do not go out unaccompanied, if at all. Next time you walk back from the pub or whatever, really enjoy that freedom. As is shown by recent events, this country has a long, long way to go before freedom in that sense is experienced.


One Wedding and Tombstone

I celebrated Miss Griggs' birthday this year at a party on this side; I'm not sure this one could have been replicated in the UK. I was cordially invited to the blessing of a tombstone, back near my first community. Having the weekend 'off' the volunteers, I relished the opportunity to try some more African culture.

Wearing my 'traditional' outfit; bright orange skirt and scarf, huge jewellery and perhaps most telling white face and blonde hair, I arrived a little after 6am as the family and friends were walking in procession towards the tombstone. I immediately found myself being pulled along in a wave of women and girls cooing over my outfit. When someone dies in South Africa the funeral is a very costly occasion; it is necessary to slaughter a cow and feed all the funeral goers (up to 1000) so at the time buying a tombstone is usually an expense too far. The family then save up for a tombstone and when they have enough there is a celebration of that persons life and the unveiling of the stone. I read a polemical article that reflected that there as a lot of money in South Africa, but most of it was in the ground. Driving through the rural communities you see tin shacks but then graveyards full of lavish stones; this one was no exception. It was a tombstone in it's own little house! It cost the equivalent of £1500 and it was pretty 'out there.' On top of that cost there is then the feeding of the people, the 'DJ' yes, DJ and the alcohol. So really, like a party all over the world..

The sermon was conducted in Sotho but the 'hilarious' pastor who couldn't fail to miss me kept throwing a few English words in, and saying he should translate to accommodate me.. ha ha. This was fine, a little awkward and more so when I noticed all the video cameras popping up, I tried to keep well back. At one point it felt like a Mafia funeral because out of no where all these expensive cars turned up and well dressed men in dark glasses stepped out to pay their respects. The celebration of the stone allowed for happy songs, speeches by family members and the Sangoma's (witch doctors) dancing around the site screeching to ward off evil spirits. Fine, I thought I was home and dry. Then, the crowd in front of me parted and my hand was clamped and I was forced to dance up to, and around the grave stone/house with these ladies with everyone clapping and wailing. Inside, inside I had spontaneously combusted...I do not think I have ever been more embarrassed in my whole life; and I have done a lot of crazy things. So imagine, you're in your rural community and you see ME dancing around a tombstone. Honestly, I'm pretty sure any evil spirit will never return. To make matters worst it has been caught on 5 video cameras and I have had threats of YouTube...

Once I got over that, and my face stopped being bright red it was 'breakfast.' A full meal at 9am, fine by me. Then it was all this dancing in circles; it looked a bit like the Macarena or Saturday Night. My link to the event were my friends whose Grandad had 5 wives in the village. So, the party was their 'cousin-brothers' and of course I met at least 30 close family members introduced as sisters, brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins. After a while I just nodded and paid appropriate compliments regarding their children, other family members. I could not help thinking that quite a lot of unintended second and third generation incest must go on; these villages really aren't that big!

Later in the day was also to be a Lebolla. When a man and woman are to marry, the family of the man go to her family and agree a 'price,' once that is settled the woman is bought to the community and that is her new home. Any children they have belong to the community, she now becomes 'one of them.' So the rest of the day everyone waits for the bride to be to arrive; they eat, drink and dance. With the influence of Western cultural norms Africans are also having 'weddings' in the Western traditional sense after the Lebolla, but I'm told the Lebolla really is the wedding. On that, after the tombstone part we all got given these chocolate eclairs (Cadburys) attached to some card that said 'Compliments from...... ' Compliment cards!!!! It was just like any party I've ever been too, and I danced until 9pm when the bride arrived and everyone goes absolutely crazy with car horns and the like. She receives gifts of food and Coca Cola (of course) and the celebrating went on to the small hours. I stayed up till 4am; a 24hour day. It made a pleasant change because I was with friends so I was no longer a novelty and I could just have a good time without worrying too much; probably why I drank so much brandy.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Flirtation and Manipulation

Dancing GoGo & Equipment Coup
It's hard to imagine before you live it that you would be missing a mattress on a floor and pigs. Whilst I'm at it I miss my host family, my rugby team and even the pap. I miss that community. As for the pap I can explain; I was getting used to it. Here, Community 4 which I will get on to, they eat it soft- it's like a savoury semolina pudding; vomit.
The rugby team and I travelled to Musina which is on the border of Zimbabwae and very hot. As my friend suggested my time of travel was a little off; being a white English girl in a taxi with lots of very black South Africans. You see with the British the number 1 enemy and half of my boys not owning SA citizen identify documents I could have languished in Zim jail for a long time for human trafficking. Luckily they were too pre occupied with the scandalous election process to bother, which is a relief I guess, but would have made one hell of a blog addition..
Ah the taxi. We were to be collected at 7am by the mini bus taxi to transport us the couple of hours North. We know that a squad of 20 and 2 extras really should be transported in, to be honest, a 22 seater taxi- but this is Africa. When the 15 seater pulled up, already full and I and 5 others had to get in with the kit, I threw a short prayer upwards. 3 of us sat on 1.5 seats and travelled along 'roads' I throw that word tentatively, because a road usually is straight and doesn't involve dropping a couple of feet down into potholes.. Thankfully the ridiculousness of the situation was not lost on the driver who arranged some bigger transport, shame we had to drive 1 hour to get it.
Messina Rugby Club was a revelation. Having trained on some waste ground behind the facility which contained a huge pole in the middle running live electricity (when it was turned on) up it, it felt like I had rocked up at Esher! Club house, changing rooms, an immaculate pitch and some wonderful coaching stuff. The team was made up of black South Africans and very talented ones, their two coaches were very knowledgeable, helpful and will be great contacts for SOS Kit Aid. They also looked like rugby players; whereas mine look more like street fighters. I asked the coach if we could spend some time at the beginning with both packs going through scrummaging for the sake of safety. We did and props to the Messina boys who taught their 'to be' opposition with patience and genuine sportsmanship, insofar as helping them during the game. We lost 43-12, but the improvement was 100%. The game flowed and my street fighters did me proud. They tackled, not body checked and they ran. Only 3 of them have shoes to play in, the rest play bare foot. When my star back got his bare foot caught under a pile of boots he swallowed back the tears and continued to play; I saw the post game bruising- he was a soldier. It was Lucky that scored the two tries. Lucky is a black version of Fred Priggs in stature and in the way he plays. He also has better chat than Fred which is funny because he can only speak about 10 English words... :)
After the game the boys were more reflective, the prayed together (can you imagine that happening at home?!) and then discussed tactics and improvements. I introduced the concept of 'man of the match' and Lucky was awarded with a huge bar of Dairy Milk, was thrilled. I think we are a way off initiations and club curries but it's in the Grand Plan... (more on that later.. Collins you will be consulted ha!.)
We trained the last week and it was only a day before my last day that most realised I was leaving. Coaching can be a universal language, understanding I was actually leaving the community was harder for them to fathom. I decided to go to the Municipality and see the Sports and Recreation Officer and see what arrangements I could put in place in terms of sustaining this. The Messina coaches had already agreed to come down I just need to find petrol money. Whilst I was there I noticed what looked like a Gilbert tackle bag... I went digging and low and behold it was. Sitting in the office was a tackle bag! Taking my opportunity when he was out the office I had a hunt around and found also 4 Gilbert body shields and a stack of cones. Deciding attack was the best form of defence I staged an equipment coup and piled it in one corner, wearing one of the vests. When he returned I gave a full demonstration of the uses of the equipment and told him, directly, but with some charm, I would not be leaving his office without these things.
The fear of course was that it would be stolen in a community; my counter argument that it was an ugly dust collector. I think I deployed the following skills and in no particular order: manipulation, coercion, charm, flirtation and maybe put some fear into the staff members as I ran up and down the hall of the Municipality demonstrating how to use a tackle bag. A painful 4 hours later I had the equipment released and drove to the community feeling extremely pleased with myself. To show people you give a shit you need to give them some responsibility and respect and this was a sign of it. Having been to the school of these boys it was not hard to see why some were so behind in their education. It was like a prison, I visited on 4 separate days and only half the teachers were ever present. One depressing hole. No teacher, you just sit in your classroom, all day, and then leave. Seriously it was not acceptable and my boys need a teacher. I got the Principal to agree to hand them out certificates in Assembly. Certificates are extremely well received and motivational in this country... I wish I could be there to see there embarrassed pride..
That night I was pretty euphoric and danced with the family to some hardcore house music that is very popular; me and the gogo (Grandma) really rocked out. Imagine I'm sure those lucky enough to know my dancing will be cringing at the thought- I went for it.
The tournament was the best so far and after the initial stresses I enjoyed the day... I was sad to leave on the Friday; it's hard to make and break so many friendships all the time. The Police came down and put off the all day drinkers.. which is nice because it saved me reverting to the trick of pinching someone's hand who won't let go of it. Drunk pests... they are a global menace. When we finally said our goodbyes to leave we realised the trailer lights did not work; there is always something. We spent over 2 hours getting that fixed. One of the volunteers had his bank card scanned ... someone went on a spree; drained his account of £5000... a vast sum in UK let alone SA. They bought stuff for a house, half a liqor shop and a lot of clothes. Money is gone, trail is cold. I'm not too worried about that considering all someone would get if they tried to overspend on my card would be a letter from my bank regarding charges and the student loan company on them. Things don't change. All the volunteers have now had their phones stolen (one of them has 3 times), so for me it's just a waiting game. Aowa.