It's been another busy week. Part of it's due to me starting to say good-bye to people, which I'll have a lot more of this week.
The week started with more action on Nancy's house. (I found out that Nancy's real name is Nonkulelo. Another case of using an English name for me and a Xhosa name for everyone else.) As you may have read, she'd found a big house to buy but the price was prohibitive at R10,000. Well, she and Howard kept looking and found another place, smaller but still twice the size of her current place. This one also had an electric box. The price? Only R4,500. I went to see it last Monday and, although it was in tough shape, it would have been a big improvement on her current one. She and Howard were going to see “The Committee” that evening to get approval to buy it.
[1 March: They didn't get this one, either. Apparently the guy selling it is actually the brother og the owner. They called the actual owner, who said it was only R4,000. Someone was keeping R500 as a commission. In any event, the seller said it was already taken. So, it's back to square one. Since I'm leaving before Nancy comes back I gave her R3,000 and she'll keep looking. I'm fairly certain the money will go towards something other than a bungelow, but it's her call. It's tough to weigh food now against a house later.]
In the meantime, insult got added to injury. Nancy's younger brother, who lives in the Eastern Cape, was killed over the weekend. I heard it was a stabbing but I don't know how reliable that is. That put Nancy in a difficult situation, as she now had to travel to the Eastern Cape but had no money to do so. I loaned her the money to go, since she really needed to be there. She sent me a cell phone text message on Friday saying that they didn't know when the funeral would be because no one has any money to pay the undertaker. Nancy's mother was putting a lot of pressure on her because she's “working,” not understanding how little she makes and how fleeting it is. I know her message was a subtle request for help. I haven't responded yet, because I really don't know what to do. I've already committed to helping her with a bungalow, and I don't have another R4,000 or R5,000 to fund a funeral. (Okay, so I have it, but I'm trying hard to draw a line and prioritize where I support people. They could have a pauper's funeral, which would only cost R1,500 or so. But there's some stigma and bad karma wrapped up in that and people try to avoid it. I'm also trying, in my own way, to help people recognize that support is not always open-ended.) I'll speak with Howard tomorrow and see what he knows about it.
I also got a surprise call from Mogise on Monday. (Mogise is the guy I was buying food for a few months ago, who I stopped supporting when it kept escalating.) He wanted to see how I was and tell me it was his birthday on the 21st. He said he'd be fully 30, which seemed like a milestone. I told him I would stop and see him this week.
I was really dreading that visit. I wasn't sure what I'd find, since he'd been quite ill the last time I saw him in December. I also wasn't sure if I'd be pressured into giving him or his family money. Well, I went on Thursday, after stopping to buy a cake. I got a big shock when a seemingly healthy Mogise greeted me at the door. He's been on treatment for TB for a couple months now and he looks 100% better. He's getting out of the house again, and it looks like he's put on some weight. His brother, Livingstone, said he's eating all the time, which is a great sign. Livingstone is still the only one working, but their sister (Leticia) is selling cigarettes on the sidewalk and earns a few rand every day. (A lot of street vendors sell individual cigarettes here, usually for R1.20 each. A pack of 20 goes for about R20, so the vendors make about R5 per pack. And people can support their habit without a bid cash outlay.) We ended up having a nice visit, and I told I'd come back before I left to get a photo of them. I did give them some money, but I felt much better about it than when I stopped last year.
The baseball team held another practice on Thursday. We did batting and base running, and again the kids amazed me with their natural talent. Some of the kids were cracking balls 150 feet or more. There was one boy, 9 or 10 years old, who connected on every pitch (underhand, but still...). I'm hoping we can have a game next weekend with one of the more developed teams so they can see what it's all about for real.
Wednesday night brought a new group of visitors to the Centre. This group is from Arm in Arm in Africa, an organization affiliated with St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis. About half of the 18 had been to JL Zwane before, some as many as 9 times. I didn't spend much time with them until Friday when we did a tour around Gugulethu and stopped at some homes. We also went to Mzoli's for dinner (the place where you order a big pile of meat and eat with your hands – kind of like Famous Dave's without the salads or beans). They were good fun. They'll be heading off to Malungeni (Spiwo's home village) on Monday to spend a few days and distribute some emergency food parcels.
One of their stops on Friday was Brown's Farm Clinic. Zethu called me and asked if I was coming with them, as she needed to see me. So, I stopped there at the appointed time. She told me she was having some trouble with her laptop and could I look at it. So, I played with it until the group came a few minutes later. Zethu asked me to take them into the conference room, so I led the group down the hall. While we were waiting for Zethu, a few of the clinic staff came in to join us. I commented to one of the visitors that she was pulling out all the stops for them, as it the staff usually didn't get introduced. Well, they were there because it was a surprise going-away tribute for me! Zethu read a letter from Dr. Rob Martell, the Health Department head for our region, thanking me for coming to South Africa and working at the clinic. Then, Zethu gave me a beautiful carving of two giraffes. Our doctor thanked me for helping her (even though she doesn't really make mistakes), and Tami said thank you from the pharmacy. It was very sweet, totally unexpected. It will make my last couple days there more memorable.
Today (Sunday) was the annual fund raising service. Each of the 17 community zones come forward and offer the money they've raised over the past few weeks. Everyone sings and dances as they come up, with the occasional shout and mock battle with another zone. A lot of people also dress in traditional outfits, so it's very colourful. I got in on the act by wearing a Xhosa outfit Marvin made for me a while back. Sadly, I had to work the money table so I didn't get any photos, including of me. I'll have to get one from one of the visitors.
The congregation raised over R248,000, R18,000 more than last year. Given the economy right now, Spiwo was very pleased with the results.
I now have about 10 days left. It's really more like a week, since Thursday will be my last day at the clinic and Friday at the Centre. I found out today that Spiwo will be gone from Tuesday and will not be back by the time I leave. No doubt we'll have a long talk tomorrow about how things went. I was going to say a few words at the service next week, but we'll have to see how that plays out.People are also finding out that I'm leaving soon. One of the women I've supported recently came to my office last week and asked if she could leave her bank account details so that I can send her money when I'm back home. I had to explain to her that I wasn't going to do that, that I would leave money with JL Zwane to distribute as they saw fit. She didn't like that answer because then she would have to ask them, and they're much tougher than I was. I've felt for a while that some people believe I'm just here to give away money, that they can come to me whenever they feel stretched. The reality is starting to sink in that I was only a stop-gap measure, that they still have to take responsibility and continue to look for ways to improve their situations. But, people survived before I got here and they will figure out a way to survive once I'm gone.
More to come.