A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

Soccer Zulu-gans

We were there! Friday I drove the ladies down to Durban for the Brazil-Portugal match. They were alternately in Bafana Bafana jerseys and church clothes. I had to arrive by 1 to fetch my passport from the American Embassy, and of course we arrived at 1:05. Last time I parked downtown I scraped the side of the vehicle in the garage (cities & Valerie-drivers were not designed for 4x4s), so with a bunch of ladies in the car I was confident could talk us out of anything I decided to double-park the double-cab and make a dash for the passport (and of course the Embassy's on the 31st floor, the very top). Since I called ahead someone kindly got my passport anyway (thanks, USA!) and I ran back to the lobby to find two ladies waiting. "The police are there, hurry!" They had asked the security guard, "Do you know Valer?" to which he replied, "There are a lot of people in this building." I froggered across the street back and apologized profusely. The ladies had made up a story of my being an overseas driver not used to the vehicle and that I had to go into a shop to ask for help because it was broken down, but neglected to tell me so I could keep the story straight. The officer let us go, with some words in Zulu that the ladies should be ashamed for making him "look like a fool" and we were off to sit in traffic and avoid the psychotic weaving of taxi vans til I found safe non-garage parking. (Photo: soccer balls of the world & a typical Brazil fan.)

It took about 2 hours to walk 2 km, what with photos, complaints and the slow shuffle of black people (hey, you US blacks know you walk slowly, too). We passed approximately 37 Brazil fans for every 1 Portugal fan, and the ladies collected discarded plastic bottles to fill with seawater. I asked what the water was for, and one said, "We need wives!" Silence and confusion ensued. Another corrected, "husbands!" and we all laughed. I asked the one who has a husband what she'll use it for, and she said she will wash with it everyday and "it is very important! the most important." It reminds me of New Orleans, the mix of traditional customs and ancestor worship with very heavy Christianity. By 3:45 they were all hungry as none had heeded my advice to bring lunch, and kept fruitlessly hoping the next shop would be cheaper. With the game set to start in 15 minutes, half went on a hunt for KFC and half sat at Wimpy Burger. I said I didn't come to Durban to sit at Wimpy and made my way onto the sandy Fan Park. (Photo: Moses Mabida, the best-looking stadium)

Portugal and Brazil were so well-matched it was a rather anticlimactic game. For all the pre-game vuvuzela-ing, parading and yelling, afterwards the fans were all rather subdued as yellow and green with a hint of red streamed out of the stadium. After driving in Durban during World Cup I think I could maybe handle Bombay on a weekend. But I don't care to test that theory. On the way back when we stopped for gas the ladies talked the attendant filling our tank into buying them a big Fanta to share. True teamwork.

Sunday early we were at it again: another community movie showing (Mr. Bones was requested again), using our new popcorn machine. We sold over 100 bags, and everyone was SO excited. Some people in the community walked over 20 min each way just to buy popcorn and not even see the movie. As I started my taxi-ing home with children screaming singing in the back of the cruiser, the ones who remained played Bingo, for the first time. They loved it. This weekend ladies are going to do a popcorn and community Bingo afternoon without me, because I am heading back for a visit to India! And here's hoping no one else breaks into my translator's house to do more witchcraft. (Photo: popcorn & a movie ala generator)

Posted byValerie at 2:08 PM 1 comments  

I both am & will never be Zulu

Last weekend the community was amazed that I went to Bonisiwe's funeral. "You are different," they kept telling me, shaking their heads, impressed I thought to wear a long skirt and black top. "Valer, you are the only white to come to our funeral. And your dress is right." It was a long (9-2) and very lovely ritual. First we paid respects in the house. I'm rarely invited inside houses, as mostly people are embarassed to show me how they live. Usually they bring chairs (or if they're really poor, sagging wooden benches), and no one sits until I do. I'm not sure how much is my being white or in a position of authority. When I do go inside like on Saturday, while everyone else kneeled on mats on the floor (a richer home, instead of a mud floor it was covered with patches of three different kinds of linoleum), I was instructed to sit on one green plastic chair. I felt like I was on a throne above everyone, but when I protest such special treatment, they insist and I don't want to be rude. Then all of us women sat on plastic chairs under a tent. The coffin was brought out and people took turns speaking and leading songs. The pastors interrupted with prayers, while outside the men all dug a huge hole in the yard and piled the rocky soil neatly with planks of wood on top. Once one of our volunteers spoke, we rose and laid a newly bought blanket over the coffin, then folded and handed it to Bonisiwe's mother. We then carried the coffin to the burial site, and the men took over. They lowered the coffin in and covered it with perfectly-cut wood, then ripped a mat and put the mat in, and poured a bag of what I presume were some small things from Bonisiwe's four-year-old daughter inside. While men shoveled, the children Bonisiwe taught in the pre-school symbolically buried her by throwing small fistfuls of soil into the grave. All the while the women sang spirituals, and when we finished we all washed our hands and sat down for a delicious feast of chicken curry, pumpkin mash, yellow rice, baked desserts, roasted beetroot, cole slaw and a host of other food that had been carefully cooking all morning to feed about a hundred people. We paid the family Bonisiwe's salary and each donated some money on top, which may have just covered that food. Funerals cost families small fortunes they don't have. We presented a quote for a group funeral plan, and the ladies opted for the most expensive package, nearly 1/6 of their salary. Sadly, it makes sense: death is damn expensive and way too common. (Photo: you can't see the mountains for the fog)

Sunday I was invited to another Zulu church service. I have mixed feelings about the churches: they are a morally positive force, and they also bleed the community of more money they don't have. I present what we're doing, that I'm a volunteer, and then open for questions, and they always ask me to do X, Y, and Z, when (1) I'm not Christian, (2) I'm here for the kids, not the churches, (3) white ≠ money, and (4) I'm overworked as is and giving up a Sunday to be with them without taking up even more causes. Also, religious services in an unintelligible language despite lovely singing, are rather wearing. Which is why we are all SO looking forward to tomorrow. A lovely friend who runs a soccer league offered to pay for petrol for me to drive the ladies down to the Fan Zone in Durban for the Brazil-Portugal match. "Unbelievable!" and cheers of excitement were among the sentiment. In the afternoon, one of the ladies ran down the road to tell a reserve employee how thrilled she is, even to be bumping along in the back of the buggy for the 2.5+ hour drive down. Crossing fingers we aren't deafened by vuvuzelas. (Photo: cheap Coca-Cola vuvuzelas for sale)

Have I mentioned recently how much I love my job? Today I taught the ladies bingo, as a potential fundraiser to go along with our new popcorn machine. They loved it. "That game is right! Number one!" So we're doing our first community bingo afternoon on Sunday, without even a bingo game set, just printed pieces of paper in a bag. If I've learned anything living outside the US, it doesn't have to look nice or even make much sense so long as it functions.

In closing as a homage to the stupidity of McChrystal, I bring you some South African political humor, including the popular quote, "Don't Touch me on my Studio!" And the most hilarious gift against the cold I've ever received. (Photo: even the spiders are frozen!)

Posted byValerie at 7:34 PM 1 comments  

A Bit of Buddha in South Africa


In need of a little zen, I went to the Buddhist retreat centre last weekend for a mini yoga and meditation vacation. As suspected it was a mostly-female retreat for the kickoff of the World Cup. But we knew South Africa didn’t lose with the vuvuzelas bellowing from the valley below. Which was easy to hear since the lodge where I stayed was 24/7 Noble Silence and the entire Centre was nobly silent from 9 pm to 9 am. One would think that would be calming, but I get plenty of silence every evening on my own, so when I go out I prefer some conversation. So I skipped evening meditation Saturday night to make some phone calls, and got sad news.

One of the ladies passed away on Saturday. She was thirty-three, had a four-year-old and was taking care of her elderly mother since her brother had been murdered last year. She didn’t take a day off from working with the kids. One of the ladies visited her just Thursday to finish putting together portfolios to complete pre-school teacher certification training and found her hunched over her binder in pain unable to walk. She went to clinic Friday, was transferred directly to hospital. Tomorrow morning we’re going together to visit the family. We decided to pay her entire month’s salary, pitch some more money in ourselves, and buy her family a warm blanket. Snow’s set into the mountains, and firewood is scarce (or if you’re me, firewood is useless with a half-built fireplace). I feel truly spoiled at twenty-seven that this is my first winter without climate control. When I was easing the buggy up the mountain on Sunday I was reminded of Red Velvet and how maybe someday I’ll drive a car that I doesn’t slow to 40 kilometers per hour huffing up an incline. Then I thought nah, I’m lucky to have a car to drive at all. Money can be better spent than on an fancier car. People live so day-to-day I’m loaning each the $4 (R 30) we’re donating. (Photo: evening retreat view)

This is why last week I decided to monetarily empower them. This is a community project, and the community should decide how to spend the money. There’s too much drama about money on the reserve, so to stop it from spilling into our work, my translator and I walked an hour from the office to meet the ladies at the Resource Centre and had a money meeting. I wrote on the chalkboard how much we started with, what we have now, and the expenses so far. After we talked about ways to cut costs and make money, they voted themselves a very reasonable raise. Information is so empowering. There’s so much potential waiting to be tapped. That’s really why people here are so excited about World Cup: the chance to Get Out. Out of poverty, out of the same small community and culture they’ve only and always known, out of Africa… (Photo: sunbird)

So many people I work with are so bright, talented, and eager for opportunity. They’ve been oppressed, first in the Zulu culture by following an induna much like an American Indian chief, then by the apartheid system, and now by the current corrupt government and some employers. We need to ease into increased responsibility. Do something once, walk someone through it once, and let go, remaining on stand by. Last Thursday when a government agency didn’t show to speak about how to get grants. I smsed to see how it went and was told they were all still waiting 1½ hours later. No one called the agency to confirm or find out what happened. The instinct was to blame, not take responsibility. Things like this make whites frustrated that blacks don’t take charge or seemingly appreciate opportunities. There’s also frustration people make decisions they’re not prepared for. If you don’t know what you don’t know (and are rather isolated), you don’t know that you need more information, much less how to get it.

I don’t know why Bonisiwe left us. I don’t know what I’ll say to the family tomorrow. I do know she worked harder and smiled through more than I’ll ever experience. (Photo: retreat dam view)

Namaste.

Posted byValerie at 9:07 PM 0 comments  

Green Eggs, No Ham

From a chicken’s head to an emu egg, for dinner last night I baked an emu frittata. Rewind: Saturday I was driven 45 km, dropped off and walked 6 km to pick up my bike from the shop, rode 25 km and the pedal fell off from the crank. Not what one hopes after picking it up from the shop. Top-notch customer service: owner drove out to fetch me, took me back to the shop and fixed the bike, then to his house for lunch with his wife and kids and sent me home with two emu eggs from his farm. The friendliness of rural people is heartwarming: I wasn’t even hitching and three cars stopped while I walked my bike. And someone sold me an avocado. (Photo: emu eggs & peace-sign of a feather)

Seventy-five people turned out to watch Up for movie night number two. The sound still hasn’t been sorted. They prefer to have a quiet movie now to a perfect one later, and don't understand much English anyway.

Family in crisis update: teenage mother had baby a few weeks ago, a sweet little boy. Her mother, who had a grant, moved in to help. Then sadly, she died a week later. Seems like the teenage mom is slowly stepping up. Lately when we visit there’s talk in Zulu with little translation. I'm glad to be less necessary as they sort it out.

New family in crisis: five orphans, two women on one gogo’s old age grant. Mix in TB and a five-year-old who holds up his head with his hand due to a neck injury, with a pained ache of a face and big hungry belly. I asked if they have enough food, and they said yes. We left and they called us back, and said actually there is just half a bag of mealie meal for the lot of them. And the list-of-needs floodgate opened. We offered to help them get an emergency grant and apologized we can’t afford school uniforms for the kids. One of my ladies shook her head and said, “We offer them a hand and they ask for an arm.” I smiled. “Yes, and if they grab our arm when we reach out a hand we’ll all fall over.”

Whites are guilty and also resentful their help doesn’t seem to be appreciated and feel imposed upon to do more and more. Blacks are resentful and angry for lesser education, opportunity, income and feeling of self-worth and feel entitled to massive improvement in circumstance. The effects of apartheid fester. Wonder if this was what it felt like when Jim Crow ended in the South. (Photos: flowering winter grass & perched oriole that brings sunshine to the cold office with his song.)

Helping is important and fraught. Jealousy so rampant. I’m having a meeting to explain why I’m scared if we give too much of a raise we’ll finish the money and all be out of work. Scant consolation for people who struggle to buy food. Growling bellies are understandably less patient. Empowering people to do for themselves is a slower and more stable & sustainable solution. There’s resistance to change yet resentment of the status quo. My translator is getting such threats from coworkers he took out a huge loan to pay a sangoma to put a safety spell on his house. (One threatener was thrown into jail last week, accused of murder for stabbing a man in a bar who was stealing his friend’s wallet.) No one should have to live with such a feeling of desperation.

I aspire to dwell on positive sentiment and am thankful for the friendly ears I’ve been bending lately. I admire so many people I encounter. Like the government lady who helped the new family in crisis. She’s not only on the ball, she’s throwing passes and running as she’s tackled from all angles. Example: she gets hot chocolate donated for people waiting on cold mornings, and someone else donates condoms. Local paper headline: government encouraging sex. Superiors say stop all innovation. Or: schizophrenic is given an R500 loan from an R250 grant. Not surprisingly, he couldn’t pay. The loan officer illegally seized his grant card as collateral. She went to the loan office and yelled that this poor schitzo man wouldn’t remember he got the loan even if he could pay it back. The loan officer opened his drawer to reveal 1000s of seized cards. Each card costs R65. She started thinking of all the grants people could’ve gotten if the government wasn’t busy paying to remake those cards, so she called the police. The police officer was friends with the loan officer, and arrested her. She got a restraining order. She can’t enter an entire block of a very small town, cutting her off from the Old Navy-like clothing shop, Mr. Price, until July. In July she’s going back to call the police again. Here's hoping a different officer comes. (Photo: world cup fever in Shoprite)

Posted byValerie at 11:27 AM 0 comments