Thursday, May 27, 2010

Saturday, 22nd of May, 2010. Nkandla

Three years ago I sat on this bed in moments of stolen calm listening to the sounds of little voices echoing in the hallway. This became a sacred space in which I caught my breath, distracted myself and created some order with what little possessions I had. How funny to be back here these years later seeking calm so soon after my arrival. The sites, the sounds the energy is virtually the same. But there are more systems in place, there is more structure that makes it easier to step away in order to rearrange hair left frantic by tiny hands and carefully stow the camera or ipod responsible for thirty minutes of ecstatic entertainment.

I know these faces so well. I stared at them, worried over them and captured them on film for the time in which I would be elsewhere. Their limbs are longer and their baby fat may be gone, but I see unmistakably Funeka or Paga or Lindilani. Some haven’t grown much, certainly not to the stature expected by their age. But one whose legs may be short and whose belly may still be too big speaks perfect English, the result of a private school scholarship that has him bilingual at six – a rarity in rural S.A. What a revelation to be able to speak in a shared tongue with these kids for whom a hug or a song or a craft used to be the only way I could give them love.

I’m only a quasi-celebrity this time around. My name is shouted and spoken but I’m not sure if it’s because I’m recognized or because I’m a visitor. Nosumo grabs my hand and gravitates to me just like she did when she was little– is that recognition or is that simply the chemistry of our body heat drawing each other together for swinging hands and hugs? Zinhle is the only child at the center with serious physical and mental impairments. She is blind and cannot speak, though she understands most Zulu and some words in English and German. When she was younger she was brutalized by male family members in unspeakable ways and it’s hard to know whether her ailments trace back to this or they simply made her more vulnerable to attack. I arbitrarily decided she was 17 when I was here before – only to realize she’s only 14 now.

When I first came to Sizanani in 2007 I tried to set aside a few minutes a day to give Zinhle some one-on-one attention and one of the few things I came up with in an attempt to keep her stimulated was variations on paddy cake. Mostly we just ended up slapping hands repeatedly but sometimes I could create very basic patterns and eventually get her to follow. Today as I walked down to greet the children who had stayed behind at the center* I saw Zinhle for the first time seated next to a beautiful play structure (this was in the works while I was here and a friend of the center had finally managed to make it happen). I approached her and one of the mamas asked her if she remembered Megan, and she immediately grabbed my hands, placed them out in front of me and started slapping them with her own.

When the opportunity to visit here cropped up the idea refused to die, regardless of logistics and funds. I think I am seeking to arouse some muscle memory from the time in which I blindly boarded a plane and arrived laden with craft supplies and good intentions, only to discover how little I understood about the nature of this work. In the years since I have peeled away my expectations as I began to prepare myself for the start of my career in the development sector – now I fear I’ve peeled myself a bit raw and know precisely nothing as I try and finish my degree and prepare to launch my job search.

What can I glean from these few days back where this journey began? What shall I take away for the sake of building my confidence moving forward, of being reminded of the certainty in which God whispered this path in my ear until I heard it and believed it?

Here in Nkandla there are a few new buildings, fresh looking paint and a list of continued improvements to be made as the funding comes in. I treasure the care that is evident in this my temporary of homes that is now the only one known to these kids. After two short days I am reminded of the hope I found here after I confronted the absurdity of poverty and disease and its littlest victims. I hope I can get to that same point back in Kenya where I struggle more and more to make sense of an aid structure that seems to further empower the wealthy while robbing the poor of the faith in themselves to change what’s going on in their country.

How I hope to find that peace in hope itself.

* The other children had gone to a football match and returned proudly sporting World Cup t-shirts provided by President Zuma, who is from the region – thus Nkandla has finally made it into the modern lexicon of South Africans countrywide.

If you are so moved, please consider making a tax-free donation to the sisters’ work in Nkandla via The Africa Project.

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