Friday, June 22, 2018

I was in Manenberg, Capetown, South Africa.

Manenberg, Capetown, South Africa. 

It is like inner city 
East London, UK,
but the streets have not been turned on their ends.
70,000 live here in project type flats.
Here they still have real streets but also describable as slums. 
It is a township.
I have feelings.
Poverty is hurting me.
I was in South Africa.
I want to reflect on one experience there. 

This was one day...

We came here to visit a home.
It was in a terrible condition , more like a charity shop , 
with beat-up furniture throughout. Worse than I have ever seen. 
Junk crammed in every small space.
I have lived long in Inner Cities. 

This one... massive poverty.
Feelings - I was amongst angels.

"A nation's greatness is measured
by how it treats its weakest members."
Mahatma Ghandi

An Angel was in residence.
Her name was Angel, she was that to me.
She is from the so called 'coloured' sector of this large city. 

Her sick elder brother was in bed under a blanket
as she warmly conducted us around her home.
The feelings were warmth.
The feelings were shuddering down my spine.

Every Wednesday she cooks a mammoth pot
full of meat and potatoes
to give freely to humans in her crammed community. 

Another pot also went to the local church where,
without any announcement, 

the locals came streaming with a small plastic tub or plate in hand -
but to feed a family of up to ten, a local resident told me. 

That's why we were here.

To help in the preparation and the serving of the dish - 
smelling so good even twenty feet away. 
Feelings were WONDERMENT. 

I was with Gideon.
A local Pastor who was also our chauffeur. 
It was not safe to walk down the streets. 
Feelings - I felt excitedly nervous.
I did some walking around to shake hands
with some young humans hanging around the streets. 
I started with a few early teens.

I sat down on the pavement with them
in the simmering heat of the day.

I felt their boredom as they flicked little stones into the street.
Then some older and older generations of men wandered
over and came within reach of my handshake and to see this strange white man from London. 
Many of the men, old and young,
had their front four teeth missing.

All were quiet, cautious but warm in their communication. 
Feelings - I was on my own in a Capetown township
and I want to reach out to these strangers -

but it was me who was the stranger.
Within me feelings were signals saying 'this is good to do'.

I sat on the concrete pavement with the young ones
leaned on the street bollards with the older ones 
All greeted me with street handshakes
and were up for questions.
I went for it.

The young boys, say 10 upwards,
and really old men
all had no front top teeth.
I felt strange as a stream of beautiful humans streamed out of local flats.

Some coming close enough for me to encounter 
others standing at a distance
I felt privileged.

I asked almost everyone questions
'what is the worst and best thing here'? 
"We are a community"
"The gang violence"
Predominant answers.

Feelings within me -
they were living on the edge
poverty/ hostility/ danger
robbery/ survival was the social norm

The only hostility I felt was from a group,
a gang would be a better description,
who came and stood smiling about 10 feet away. 

Keeping distant from me.
They were all in their twenties.
One repeatedly spun on his heels
lifting his arms high
which lifted his shirt on his back
where I saw a large knife tucked in his waistband. 

I observed that but, only afterwards as I reflected, 
I considered it to be 'this is our manor'.
I felt steeled in the act of going out to them.

"There can be no vulnerability without risk;
there can be no life,
without community."

M. Scott Peck

I introduced a few of those I was talking with
to Gideon the local Pastor.
He worked this patch.
This may help.
Making contact is always the number one challenge. 

Feelings, I sat down more - less of a threat to the locals.
As I was circulating on the street corner
a team of volunteers were helping with the food.
It was brought outside and the community changed. 

Out from the stack of flats came lots of children, 
women and some men too.
All with bowls or tin plates and
they queued, orderly, to receive a portion of food.
I felt privileged to be here.
To see and feel this act of weekly generosity
by one woman serving her community
by giving in her poverty
out of her poverty.
She is indeed rich

Joining a gang in this community means
taking out four front top teeth as a visible sign of belonging. 
Belonging to a gang.
I feel disturbed as I write this now.
I had some brief notes from the day but 
as I click these keys it brings it all back to reality.
My comfort is disturbed.