Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shacking Up in the Slum - Pt. III of III

The next morning Siphiwe (pictured) and I met at the shebeen to go to church – his invitation. Most of his friends were there already, having a Hansa. They gave me the local handshake like we’ve known each other for years, and I didn’t really feel much like a tourist anymore. It was an odd sight: Siphiwe and me, in our clean church clothes drinking Lemon Twist, and the others in the clothes from the day before, passing a bottle of Hansa between them.

On the way to church, children tugged at the leg of my pants and women looked out from their homes, concerned that I was leaving for good. I admit that some people did just see me as a walking pile of money, but as the days went on this seemed to dissipate. People were starting to accept me.

The service was good. Being there was like gasping for air filled with hope, in an atmosphere filled with so much futility and negativity. Over the days I’d learned a bit about Siphiwe, and on Sunday we talked more. About a month ago he pretty much stopped drinking. With a sense of sadness, he is now trying to distance himself from his friends. He explained to me, “These guys (his friends), they have no hope. They don’t think they will achieve anything in their lives.” Talk with most slum dwellers in Soweto, and all you will hear is “no jobs” in refrain. But most of them aren’t looking, says Siphiwe. Instead, they expect jobs to just fall into their laps, and often jobs for which they’re not qualified.

Siphiwe is now going to church regularly and has joined a weekly Bible study group. He has recently started a small tourism outfit, after leaving another one that also operated in Motsoaledi. He had a dispute with the owners, who only wanted profit, while Siphiwe wanted it to be a community project to help the children. Siphiwe is trying to get out.

As I went to leave Sunday afternoon, I stopped by Patricia’s to say bye, just as she had vehemently demanded the night before when she was, quite frankly, hammered. Laying on her lawn, nearly passed out, she barely acknowledged me, not even getting up. This was coming from someone who had said that our simple stop by the shebeen on Thursday made her want to cry.

Three days, while not sufficient, is much more revealing than 15 minutes on a tour. You get to see people more for who they really are. Sadly, Patricia and most of the others, it seems, are just passing their days with the help of alcohol. A rare few I met, like Siphiwe, are trying to claw their way out. As Siphiwe helped me into the minibus with my bag and said goodbye, I handed him some money, unsolicited, and promised to stay in touch. Hopefully in the future I can help him in bigger ways. It’s people like him who really need our encouragement to keep moving in the right direction.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you developed a relationship with Siphiwe much like you did with Anis - one of mutual respect. Sad about Patricia, tho. Look forward to hearing more about your time in South Africa.