House warmings, movies, and disappearing acts

Well, I’m heading into the home stretch here.  First of all, my flight back home is confirmed.  I’ll be leaving Johannesburg the evening of May 3, then arriving in Calgary via London the following evening, May 4.  I was concerned about not being able to lie down for about 36 hours as I have a nine hour lay over London.  I was thinking about staying over night to break up the trip and get some sleep.  However, someone here told me about this “pod hotel” they have at Heathrow airport.  It’s modeled on these tiny Japanese commuter rooms where you get a bed, sink, and shower and they rent it by the hour (four hour minimum, which is a little reassuring, if you catch my drift).  So, I’ve booked a room for six hours.  I’m hoping it’ll help break up the trip as I’m still pretty weak right now.

So, at this stage I’m looking forward to going home.  I really want to get to the bottom of what’s going on with me and why I’m still so weak and tired.  And of course, I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends again and recovering at home.  I think there will definitely be some challenges in adjusting to life back home.  Rather than just the cultural change, I think the hardest adjustment will be leaving life here with Hands at Work.  I found living in a community with people of all ages and cultures difficult in my first few months here but now I have come to value it about as much anything else I’ve experienced here.  Living simply, sacrificing for each other, and just the slower pace of life will be all things I’m going to miss.  I’ve realized just how much I feel the need to be busy back home.  I can remember how a free evening would often feel strange, to have nothing to go to after work.  Though the days are busy here, everyone just kind of hangs out in the evenings and on weekends and there’s always invitations for dinner or a braai at someone’s house and people just popping over and hanging out.  I’m going to miss the mornings we spend together as a community or in my small group.  Again, I found the community prayer and worship uncomfortable at first but now I look forward to it.  Being forced to live alongside someone I wouldn’t choose to is actually quite liberating.  Back home I think I’ve tried to live my life independently of others; to not need to rely on others or, probably just as much, not be relied upon.  I know I’m going to have to create these kinds of connections in some way or another back home.  I’m determined not to lose the lessons I’ve learned here.

Another thing I’ll miss is how nothing is ever really routine here.  Even going to town for groceries is interesting in some way in the people I’ll see or how things are done or the hustle and bustle of the veggie stands on the streets.  I have really met the interesting people here.  For example, on Friday I had to go buy and deliver some concrete for the builders working on the second home for and orphan headed household that my school in Calgary is sponsoring.  I bought the cement, had it loaded into my “bakkie” (pick-up truck) and took it to the kids’ house.  The builders weren’t there, though they said earlier in the week they would be, and the kids also weren’t there.  Considering walking with my backpack wears me out, carrying a 50 kg bag of cement about 20 meters and repeating this exercise nine times wasn’t a good idea.  The primary school was just getting out and kids were starting to walk home.  I rounded up a few 12 or 13 year old boys and offered them 5 rand a bag to carry the cement.  About six of them teamed up and before long, all the cement was stored away.  Some resorted to rolling and pushing the bags toward the end and I realized this might have been a bit too much of a task for some of them.

So, on my way home, I tried to take what I thought was a shortcut to the main road.  I wasn’t entirely sure about it, so I asked a couple guys standing on a corner.  One of them, a guy with a shower cap on, said he’d show me they way if I could give him a lift.  He turned out to be a 19 year old guy named John but his friends call him Scara.  He was going to KFC to busk as a mime.  Seriously!!  He had the white make-up with him and everything.  He was hungry so we stopped on the way for some maize porridge and meat and he told me about his life.  He lost his mother when he was nine and his father abandoned him and his siblings.  He was taken in by neighbors, where he still lives.  He said fourteen of them live in a three room house.  He kept asking me for money, which is always awkward.  After I told him what I was doing here in South Africa, he kept saying, “I’m an orphan, you need to help me!” I learned he doesn’t have an ID so we exchanged numbers and I said I’d look into getting some help for him on that issue. The next day he sent me a message to call him but I couldn’t get hold of him.  It’s seriously overwhelming how many young people in the communities around here have the same story, minus the miming of course.

So, last Wednesday was a big day as I saw the boys’ house for the first time in the daylight.  I’ve attached a couple pictures.  The house looks good, though they still need a couple things.  I have a wardrobe here at Hands to bring them which will help as all their clothes are in a big pile in the corner of the bedroom.  Nonetheless, they are both really happy to have a new house.  This is the first time that Sipho has slept in his own bed and that seems to be the highlight for him.  To put into perspective how important the house is for them, about three weeks ago there was a massive storm at night and the wind actually tore the corrugated steel roof off their old mud house.  Took it clean off the beams.  Mthandazo found it meters from the house.  I can’t imagine how it would have felt to be woken up to your roof being ripped off your house.

I also saw the second house, which is in progress.  The walls are almost done and the roof will soon be put on.  It’s unlikely it will be finished by the time I leave but it should be close.  On Sunday, me and the four kids the house is being built for, Ernest, Sthembiso, Thobile, and Bawanile, all went to the mall to play games and watch a movie.  We saw “Rio” which is a 3D animation.  I kept looking at little Bawanile during the movie as I think the whole 3D thing kind of blew her mind.  We had some Chicken Licken after and it was a good day.

The only wrench in things this past week was a phone call I got from Mthandazo on Sunday night.  He said that Sipho took off on his bike on Saturday and hadn’t come back yet.  He hadn’t said anything to Mthandazo or his friends, he just disappeared.  Mthandazo figured he went to be with his Mom and siblings, who recently moved to the big township, Kan’yamazane, about 30 minutes by car.  Mthandazo just called me to tell me that Sipho was back and that he was indeed at his Mom’s.

He spent the recent school break at his Mom’s and I think he might be conflicted about where he wants to live.  Ultimately, I think being with his Mom is best but there are some issues.  First of all, Sipho’s mother kicked him out of the house in August, claiming that he was crazy.  He roamed around for weeks before going to stay with Mthandazo, which is around the time I stayed with them. When my colleague Busie contacted his Mom, she didn’t seem concerned about him, only saying that he needed to go to a witch doctor to be “cured” of his mental illness.  So, I don’t have any idea about where things stand with his Mom now, though I think she probably wants him to stay with her.

The other issue is that Sipho has good structure in his life with Mthandazo.  He has good, positive friends in the village and he’s doing well at school.  Kan’yamazane has a good deal of crime.  Also, Sipho’s older brother is often in trouble.  The bike that Sipho took off on was given to him by this brother and it’s likely that it was stolen.  So, I’m concerned about school and the influences that Sipho will be exposed to if he goes back home.

In any case, the boys are coming to stay here for Easter weekend and I think it’ll be a good opportunity to talk about the issue of Sipho taking off and where he wants to live.

Well that’s all for now.  Talk to you again soon!

Mthandazo and Sipho Playing Cards for the Camera

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3 Responses to House warmings, movies, and disappearing acts

  1. Jennifer says:

    Safe journey home Chris. You have done amazing work in Africa and have enriched the lives of the people there and the people here who have been able to share your journey. I hope to see you soon.


  2. Linda says:

    Wow, that’s likely been a really tough decision to come home. But you’ll be bac there. I nice Calgary blizzard might be all you need to cure you, and it could still happen then 🙂 So we’ll see you in May, we’re out on the long weekend. What a blessing to have made a huge difference in the lives of the ones you’ve been given there! Those boys will never be the same!
    Do the London bed/drawer compartments have a wake up call?

  3. Bettina Jacob says:

    Hi Chris,

    have a safe trip home … and I hope you are feeling better soon.
    And don’t worry … I know you will be back … one day !
    I know what it feels like to have Africa in your heart ..

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