Thursday, August 21, 2008

July 27: Sunday in Turffontein & Orphans' OT

Today I worked alone all day reading drafts from home. So, at about 4:30 pm, I walked down to pick up some chicken, veggies, and fizzy water from the Quick SPAR, which is the closest grocery store to Cotlands in Turffontein. There are actually other stores in the neighborhood, but I’ve never asked why we only shop at SPAR. As today was Sunday, only SPAR and the fruit and vegetable store across the road were open. The walk to the SPAR begins on our street, Ferreira (named after a gold speculator who discovered gold on the Turrfontein Farm back in the 1870s) to the large street at the end of the block. I have wanted to photograph this area, but have been afraid of being robbed of my camera. At the corner, there’s an abandoned building which often has shattered glass scattered on the ground and sidewalk. There is a wide stretch of what would be grass between the spotty sidewalk and the street; it’s got some patches of ‘grass’, and consists of the red-orange dirt that is everywhere. Across the street, there is an awning where one or two men sell haircuts and shaves. I think this was here last year, without the cover. There’s an open doorway next to the barber that leads into a small room packed with fruit, vegetables, and selected necessities; one of the little "Spaza Shops" that can be found on almost every block (There’s also one along the walk to Cotlands from my apartment, but it’s bigger and in the evenings sells things through an iron grating. An even larger market is further down the road, situated on a classy corner spot). Spaza shops are black South African's retail opportunities, and are as ubiquitous as the thousands of minute fruit or vegetable sellers scattered throughout the townships.

As I walk to the QuickSPAR, I pass many other pedestrians and am unsure whether to smile or to avoid eye contact; I do a little of both. The pharmacy is in the block before the main intersection and the street that holds the SPAR. All over-the-counter and prescription medications are sold at pharmacies, even vitamins. The main street is a divided road, and its broad sidewalks are always bustling with both pedestrians and cars. Next to SPAR is an internet place that also sells some technology and a liquor store, where one can buy wine, beer & liquors. SPAR sells wine, but only very sweet varieties, which seem to be favored by the locals. Across the street from SPAR is a vegetable market, a clothing store and others locally-run outlets; a constant braai is in process in front of these shops, which sends smoke and the scents of burning meat throughout the neighborhood. Cars move very quickly on and off the sidewalk to access precious parking spaces, so one needs to stay alert and be prepared to jump out of the way. Sometimes a couple white bums drunkenly call out to us as we walk by. Tonight, as I left the SPAR, one of the numerous guards gave me a friendly nod of his head--an acknowledgment that was as unusual as his gesture: he moved his head upwards and to the side after making eye contact. I felt a flush of satisfaction; the unexpected joy of being 'OK'.

The sun was low in the sky, but things were hopping on the street in front of SPAR, and I could hear music down the street at the corner. I walked to the end of the block, and crossed to a small crowd in front an auto parts store on the corner where they were listening to music blasting from speakers and watching three men dance and sing along. Their dance moves were synchronized and their steps reminded me of some Zulu dancing I’ve seen—but I really have no idea where the style comes from, except that it’s decidedly South African. That said, it also reminded me of the Four Tops and the Temptations...which only confuses my attempts to ascertain the form's etiology. Many of the songs sounded like some of the SA gospel I’ve been hearing from the kids’ apartment downstairs (Anna has the TV on with gospel singing on Sundays). I felt self-conscious that I was the only white person, probably within miles, but I was determined to enjoy the experience—listening to the music and watching how the locals participated. Many women stepped and swayed along with the rhythm, some singing along with what must be well-known songs. Not for the first time, I wondered which of the nine Bantu languages was the shared vernacular. A couple young women eyed me curiously and, perhaps, somewhat warily. I can't blame them for wondering what I was doing there. An old man danced eccentrically and with enthusiasm off to the side, and a few young women (who tried not to stare at me) looked tempted to join the three men dancing. One of the trio was selling CDs and, of course, I felt compelled to purchase one. Six bucks. I'm listening to the distinctive, warming South African sounds as I write.

The extravagance of the CD meant that I didn’t have enough cash with me to buy the double electric outlet extension I’ve been wanting all week. (I never carry a purse with me to the SPAR, as robbery is so common here). There are two electrical outlets in the apartment; Louise and politely share the use of the one next to our chairs in the 'living room' area of the apartment (she needs the electric heater to stave off an asthma attack & I need it for either my laptop or the reading light). The ceiling light is glaring and hurts my eyes, but a torchiere, which relieves my eyes, flickers out all the time so I’ve given up on it and am writing in the dark now. In addition to frustrations with inadequate or eccentric lighting, electricity is a major problem now in Gauteng; every night there are notices on the TV announcing that supplies are too low & asking residents to cut back on their use. Not a problem in my place tonight...

A Trip to "Wendy's"

Yesterday, Saturday, I joined the Sanctuary kids on a trip to Wendy’s with Louise and local volunteers. Wendy’s is someone’s home (Wendy’s!), who donates it for use by a group of Occupational Therapists; every two weeks, the kids from Sanctuary are brought there in volunteers’ cars. I drove with Claire, sitting in the back with "Lerato" and "Thandi" (not their real names). Thandi is a little girl I met last Friday, who perpetually asked me, “What’s your name?” She seems to be about four, though she’s very small, and yesterday had a sore above her lip. I remember her from photos I took at Educare last year. Lerato was in the hospice until fairly recently; she was very quiet on the ride and paid little attention to things outside the car. Instead, she concentrated on removing the hairs from the sticky bonbon (“sweetie”) she gripped in her left hand. Thandi also had a sweetie in her hand, but was curious about things we passed, from painted walls, to passing cars. On the way home from Wendy’s, I encouraged her to wave to people as we passed them, and she would make a high squeak whenever she saw a car with people in it. "Thandi" is evidently further developed than Lerato, though the same size, either due to age or abilities (Lerato's sluggishness also be what some of the volunteers referred to as “hospice syndrome”). I gather this is a kind of shock or numbing that comes from the transition from all the stimulation of hospice to the competitive dangers of sanctuary and educare.

I tried to pay attention to "Nkomi" (not his real name) who seemed at sea during the OT exercises (introductions, singing, dancing etc.). I held him in my lap for an exercise that involved choosing a musical instrument from two boxes, and using it during a song. He did nothing for a while, so I picked a shaking cymbal for him. He did nothing during the song, and when it came time to turn in your instrument & pick another, he also was passive. I had to ask the OT to bring the box over to him, and then he chose another cymbal, which he did play during the song.

The last exercise involved the child lying down and resting under a starry cloth held above them and moved gently by the OT & a volunteer. Nkomi refused & cried when I gently tried to move him. Eventually, I lay us down, rested his head on my shoulder, and he immediately relaxed and fell asleep. It was a short respite, and it was very difficult to rouse Nkomi, even after all the other kids had hurried outside to juice and snack. I took his hand and slowly walked with him to get juice, which he held almost unconsciously in his hand. Then, I sat us together on a bench; after a few minutes, Nkomi came back to himself, drank his juice and ran off to get on the swing. This was one of the saddest experiences I’ve ever had with a child---such an utter regression-- I can only infer that Nkomi has suffered severe traumas and loss in conjunction with his illness. His attachment problems seem powerful, which is what draws me to him. Nkomi is a child that appeals to few (as Odette said about Gift), but needs therapeutic interventions if he is to develop with any independent capabilities. I don’t know if the mental health needs of these children can or will ever be addressed.

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