back to the Journal homepage

Click here to read August Entries

 

September 30, 2004-
Orange Farm Police Station

"Never lose your child's heart." Mencius

Today was the second day of domestic violence training at the Orange Farm Police Station. Spending two full days with volunteers who are fighting to end domestic violence helped me understand the stereotypes surrounding DV and rape. If these people want to end domestic violence and have such an inaccurate understanding of rape then it is difficult to image what the people who are against women’s rights think. The best way to convey the days experience is to start by describing some of the cases that the counselors have already dealt with- before they went through training.

Recently in Orange Farm a woman was beat up by her husband. She escaped after he fell asleep. She was walking down the road on her way to the police station, bleeding and confused. A truck with four police officers drove by and stopped to pick her up. They told her they would take her to the police station only to gang rape her and leave her in the road.

A husband called an ambulance to pick up his very ill wife. When the ambulance arrived the driver told the husband that it was hospital policy that he drives separately for safety purposes. The woman was raped on the way to the hospital.

A child called into the police hotline telling the counselors he had been abused by his parents. After the counselors investigated the case he discovered that the child had been classified as “demon possessed’. All the counselor could do was call a bishop to help the child.

Recently a counselor escorted a rape survivor to an interview with a police officer. Upon arriving one officer announced in the waiting room that there was a rape victim, and then all of the other police officers came in the room to see. The officer proceeded to ask the victim if she enjoyed the assault. The counselor wondered what questions were asked when she was not present.

I chose the quote for this entry based on the following story. We must learn to protect our future. One police station recently rejected a case of a male child raping a girl child because the officer did not believe the male was physically mature enough to penetrate the female. The medical exam of the female showed that she had been raped. The officer still refused the case because the “children were just exploring; it is only natural to want to know about the opposite sex.” On a side note it has been scientifically proven that by the age of seven males are physically mature enough to have sexual intercourse.

Several counselors spoke of the impact that living in a shack has on children. Many children tell counselors that they want to move out of the shacks that their parents live in because they do not like to see their parents having sex or be in the same bed as their parents when they are having sex. Furthermore, through play therapy researchers have learned that such a closed environment teaches children sexually abusive practices.

In a rape case in Soweto a five- year old survivor was testifying. She did not know what the word for penis was and continued to call it a play name throughout the trial. At one point the magistrate didn’t know what the girl meant and he asked her. She said it was like having something like a fist inside of her, but was still unable to use the word penis. The magistrate let the accused out of jail because he did not accurately understand the girl’s testimony.

Many suburbs of Johannesburg are divided into extensions. For example, the area I am currently living in, Lenasia, is divided into 10 extensions. I live in extension one. If a suburb is divided into ten parts each part is not a huge area and does not a contain large numbers of people. In extension one in Orange Farm, one neighborhood over from Lenasia, there is at least one gang rape reported daily. This would be equivalent to saying there is one gang rape reported on the Vanderbilt campus, or the Indiana State campus daily. One police officer said, “If I am knocking off at the end of my shift and a gang rape hasn’t been reported it feels strange.”

I also realized that definitions for some crimes are much different here than they are in the United States. For example, incest is only considered a crime if it is not consensual sex. This is because many tribes allow for marriage within blood lines. In a traditional Sotho family it is not uncommon for an uncle and niece to marry. Within a customary marriage incest is legal because if it was not it would be discrimination toward an ethnic group. Also, because South Africa’s constitution is new their laws are progressive. Also in South Africa sodomy is legal, unlike the United States where it is still illegal. South Africa believes that making sodomy illegal would be discrimination towards sexual orientation.

After a page and a half of negative stories I do have several positive things to say. Today there was a landmark judgment made in the high court of South Africa. A woman who had a customary marriage had been raped several times by her husband after leaving him. He was initially sentenced to five years in prison but the case was taken to high court because there was a question if rape existed in customary marriages. The high court judge not only upheld the judgment, but he also changed the sentence from 5 years to 10 years. This is one of the first times rape in marriage has been tested in South Africa. I wonder if such a positive outcome would happen in the States. Also, at the end of the second and final day of the workshop the participants are much m ore equipped to deal with the problems they are facing. They are knowledgeable of the myths surrounding rape and most importantly aware of secondary victimization.

 

Date: September 25, 2004
Feature Entry:
Living in a Beehive

"Hold out your hands to feel the luxury of the sunbeams." Helen Keller

I am sitting in a beehive hut right now at Mlilwane Game Reserve. It is nice to really get out of Joburg and be in the wilderness of Africa. When I do activities such as this I begin to miss people at home. I am used to camping and hiking with certain people and it is difficult when they are not around. I would like to share this amazing experience with them.

Continued September 27, 2004

Wow- I have so much to write about again. I wasn’t busy last night and should have written but instead I watched Harry Potter and Top Gun on my computer’s DVD player! It was a nice break. This weekend I visited Swaziland. It was a fantastic trip and I was proud of myself for planning all the activities and accommodations. Friday was a holiday in RSA, National Heritage Day, and there was no work. I left with friends on Friday morning to run errands before the trip. Biko wanted to stop by his father’s grave before we left for the trip. It is a Zulu tradition to ask a parent for safe travels before leaving on a trip. Biko’s mother was in Durban and it was important that he speak to a parent before leaving for our trip. We went to the grave and Biko asked for his father’s blessing on our trip to Swaziland. On the way to the cemetery Biko joked that his father would be rolling in his grave when he showed up with “the man’s” daughter at his grave. The term, “the man” is occasionally used by black people when they are speaking of a white man. It was used frequently during the Aparthied.

My best friend lost his mother when he was 14 years-old. I have learned about the stresses such a loss brings not only to a child but to a family. Fortunately the loss of a parent at an early age is such an uncommon thing in the United States. It seems our society (in the USA) has trouble dealing with such loses. Not being comfortable or familiar with death is not a bad thing. In South Africa it is not uncommon to have lost a parent. I can think of six friends who I know have lost a parent or a child (and I don’t have that many friends here!!) I am yet to have a friend who has lost a parent from HIV. Most have lost parents from poor health or violence. The health care system is starting to improve but simple procedures or illnesses cause death. Because death is much more common friends seem to have a mutual understanding of the grief that accompanies the loss of a parent.

The cemetery had an enormous impact on me. I had never seen so many freshly opened graves. There were newly buried bodies everywhere- I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. In the states when you visit a cemetery there are a few freshly opened graves scattered throughout the cemetery, but not row after row. I began to cry- it was closest I had been to understanding the impact of AIDS and the continued violence that the country must deal with.

We finally left for Swaziland- it was later than we had hoped. When we arrived we went straight to Mlilwane Game Park to check into out hut. The first night I stayed in a traditional Swazi hut called a beehive hut. The huts have small strips of wood as the main structure. Dried grass covers the wood. Most modern Swazis live in mud huts now because the beehive huts burn so easily. The doors are only a few feet high and you must get down on your knees to enter. The doors are low for two reasons. If intruders were entering the huts being on the ground would put them at a disadvantage. It also shows respect to the others in the hut. The hut was very simple but comfortable.

Friday evening we had dinner at a friend’s house; he is originally from Swaziland. It was his birthday and his mother cooked dinner for all of us. When she brought out curry I almost died- I was so far from Lenasia and I was still being fed curry. After spending two months in Johannesburg it was nice to fall asleep to the buzz of insects, the croaking of frogs, and the swishing of an impala’s tail. Around 11:00pm I went to the communal bathroom to brush my teeth. When I stepped outside of the hut there were nearly 40 impala grazing within a few feet. They made a path for me to get to the bathroom but didn’t let me bother them.

I awoke early Saturday morning and was ready to get started. There are only two international ATM’s in Swaziland. I had to drive to the Royal Swazi Sun Hotel to withdrawal money for the day’s activities. The Royal Swazi is a luxury hotel and costs $500 per night. It is one of the nicer hotels that I have visited (even compared to the States). After visiting the Royal Sun I went straight to the traditional market. I had been told that the Swazi crafts are some of the best around and the prices are very low. I enjoyed walking the long line of booths and comparing the crafts from Joburg and Durban to the crafts of Swaziland. It is amazing how different each ethnic groups’ crafts are.

I really enjoy walking in markets with Biko. One benefit of growing up in Soweto is being fluent in nearly all eleven African languages. In Soweto it is likely that there will be a Tswana, Xhosa, Zulu and Venda family living on the same street. In all other parts of the country the ethnic groups are divided and it is much more difficult to learn all of the different languages. Biko is fluent in several African languages and this allows him to speak Swatsi, Swaziland’s official language. It is fun to know what the different people are saying when they think you do not understand them. They frequently make comments about a black and white person walking together or guess where we are from. One Afrikaans woman said something that startled me. Her little girl was about five years-old and was playing with an African infant. When the Afrikaans women saw her daughter in the dirt with the little girl she told her that she must not play with the black babies because they will make her sick. The baby was clean and healthy. Such myths and stereotypes irritate me. I hear similar things when I speak to some of my friends and family in the States. People ask me, what I am thinking, why am I here? Africa is war torn, there are diseases, I have no chance of leaving alive, etc. People believe that the five second clip they see on CNN is the real Africa. I hope that my journal and photo album give my friends and family a more accurate picture of the country that I love.

After the market I headed back to the game reserve for a one hour horseback game ride. I love riding and was thoroughly looking forward to the trip. I took horseback riding lessons when I was younger and knew after being on the horse for only a few minutes that there were going to be problems. The two guides were not in control and could not help us if our horses got out of hand. My horse continued to act up throughout the ride. It was not until Shotgun took off at full speed and almost threw me onto a warthog that the guide decided I should ride his horse and he would try to manage mine. We saw several different animals including a crocodile, warthog, wildebeest, Blesbok, Hemsbok, Springbok, and Impala. We were trotting back into camp when one of the riders lost control of his horse and was bucked off. He ended up being ok but I was frustrated that the guides had let such a simple ride become so dangerous.

After the ride I checked in to the cottage that I would be staying in the second night. The cottage was on the edge of a hill and looked into a beautiful valley. After I carried my bags in I walked outside and standing ten or fifteen feet from the door was a Nyala. He was grazing and didn’t mind my interruption. I sat outside in the grass and watched him graze for several minutes, he was beautiful. He finally decided to head to the road and just walked down the road into camp, it was amazing. I had scheduled a sunset game drive. Sunrise and sunset are the best time to see animals because they are feeding and migrating to different areas of the park at this time. The game drive made me realize how much I learned on my last trip to South Africa with Duke University. I remembered the common and scientific names of many of the animals. Halfway through the drive we stopped at one of the highest points of the park. There is a rocky mountain called Execution Rock. Years ago the rock was used to kill criminals. The community would walk them to the top of the rock and force them to jump. The family would then collect the body for proper burial. It was extremely windy but beautiful. The sun was just starting to set when we arrived. We headed back to the camp in the dark. I have never been on such a crazy ride in my life! The driver was flying around trees in the open land rover on a dirt/rock road going over 35mph!

On the way back to camp I was able to have an interesting conversation with two South Africans about women’s rights and traditional marriage. They explained to me that young South African men are smarter today than they used to be. The first wife they marry will be an uneducated woman who is chosen to be a housewife. A few years later he will marry an educated woman who will help him support the family. Understanding the different cultures of Africa is a vital piece of my project that will help me succeed. If a South African has a civil law marriage they are only allowed to marry one woman. However, if the couple is married through traditional law, many of the tribes allow for many marriages.

Saturday evening I decided to eat at the outdoor buffet at camp. Everyday they cook wild game around a fire pit at the camp and then serve it at a buffet dinner. Since my last trip to South Africa I have been yearning for a juicy Impala steak. Ironically the camp was serving Impala on Saturday night and it was as good as I remembered it. When I was waiting for the game drive to begin I heard a family that was checking in and I was almost certain that they were from America. When I was in the buffet line I was standing next the man I thought was from the United States. Sure enough he was from Minnesota and had been traveling around Africa for the past three weeks after his son’s wedding. He invited me to finish my meal at his table with his family. It was so nice to be with other Americans. After a late dinner I went to a traditional Swazi dancing performance in camp. I didn’t know how much dancing I had ahead of me! I spent the next hour driving to different gas stations looking for marshmallows! There aren’t graham crackers in Africa so I wanted to show my friends how to make S’mores. I even brought a box of graham crackers my mother had sent me from home. However, marshmallows are not a ‘sweet’ in Swaziland like they are in South Africa. In South Africa people eat marshmallows like Americans eat Snickers; but in Swaziland the petrol station attendants didn’t even know what “chewies” were.

I spent much of Sunday afternoon at the Mantenga Cultural Village. The village has a craft center but more importantly has a functioning traditional Swazi village. The people wear traditional clothing, follow all traditional law, and live in the village. Before the tour of the village there was a traditional dancing performance. These dancers were much better than the ones that performed at the camp. I was impressed and loved the rhythm of the drums.

The tour was interesting, insightful, and frustrating all at the same time. In touring the village I learned about the traditional Swazi cultural norms. For example, women can only stand on one side of the hut so they don’t contaminate the ‘good’ side. The women’s hut is placed at the front of the village incase intruders come. If a woman’s husband dies she becomes the property of the husband’s brother. It is vital that I learn such traditional norms in order to have a better understanding of the culture I am working in. It helps me understand how to better explain ideas and respond to challenges when I am counseling. After a long weekend I was ready to head back to Jo’burg. My visa didn’t get extended at the border as I hoped it would but the trip was still a success.

 

 

Trying To Catch Up

September 21, 2004

 

“If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.” Joseph Campbell

Go to Photos Page to See Pictures from Durban and Orange Farm

Wow- time has gotten away from me again. I am not sure if I haven’t written because fewer crazy things have been happening or because I feel more settled and the craziness now seems normal. In my last entry I spoke briefly about the trip to Durban. To sum the weekend up I had a fabulous time and bonded with my new friends. It amazes me how differently I view activities such as road trips when I am abroad. At home, I would be excited to go but I would see the process as a hassle taking time away from all of the work I must do. Now I not only go on the trips but I organize them.

When I was walking along the beach in Durban I kept thinking about my grandfather. One of my favorite things about my grandfather is the stories he tells. My grandfather is living an amazing life and I love learning about all of the interesting things he is doing and has done. When I told him I was going to South Africa he began recalling the time he spent in Durban when he was a young boy in the Navy. Looking into the ocean I imagined him docked on the Durban shore enjoying the beauty of the white sand.

The big event occurred not while I was in Durban but when I returned home around 2am Sunday evening. The family that I am staying with was also in Durban for the weekend attending a wedding. I was told that the gate to the driveway would be unlocked and to get a key I should knock on the door of one of the tenants living behind their house. When I arrived the gate was locked. I called the family in Durban and they immediately called one of the tenants. I became nervous when he came out of his room and began to walk towards the gate. He was a large Indian man who I had not seen during the two weeks I had been living at the house. When he approached the gate he did not speak a word. A friend of mine followed me into the house with my bags. When the man began to lock the gate behind us my friend explained that he was not staying, he was just dropping my bags off. The man replied, “Oh, so she will be alone tonight.” This is when my anxiety turned to fright. I walked into the house and began discussing my options with my friend. I knew the man had the keys to the house since he was unlocking the door for me.

During this discussion I went to the kitchen to fill up a water bottle and surprisingly saw numerous cockroaches on the floor, walls, cabinets, and doors. My friend and I began a killing spree and soon mutilated cockroaches covered the floor. I was not happy. I returned to my room only to find two ticks on my pillowcase. Ticks in South Africa carry many nasty diseases such as Tick Bite Fever. Needless to say, I did not sleep more than an hour that night. I had my knife in my hand the entire night in case the man from the back of the house decided to use his keys to get in. I remembered several safety tactics I had read about. For example, I left the keys in the door, so he could not use his set of keys from the opposite side. I left all the lights outside on and I used a rubber doorstop on my side of the door so it would be difficult to open. To protect my self from the roaches I ended up sleeping in my sleeping bag, with the head cover cinched all the way down so there would be no way any bug could get to me. I was more likely to suffocate than to have a cockroach crawl on me.

I spent much of last week trying to decide how to confront the family. It is difficult to accept the fact that there are cockroaches everywhere (even falling out of your pillows). I have had friends and family ask me what I expected when I am living in Africa. My response is that there is a difference between poverty and dirtiness. I have been in one room shacks in townships and very poor houses in different areas of Jo’burg and I never saw a bug in any of these homes. It has been difficult to deal with. I also have trouble eating Indian food every night. I enjoy experiencing the differences in cultures but when my stomach disagrees it is much less desirable. I would also like to share my culture however it seems they have little interest in American foods. I tend to spend all of my time out of the house, which is offensive to some of the family members. Learning to deal with people in such situations is an invaluable experience that I hadn’t expected to be as common on my trip as it has been. I only have 2 weeks left and I will be traveling for part of this time so I am going to try to stick it out. It would be easier to negotiate the situation if the woman I live with didn’t work at Nisaa, but she does, which complicates everything. The family and children I live with are incredibly nice people and I worry about offending them or losing my friendship with them.

The rape awareness campaign in the schools hasn’t been going as well as we would have liked. The schools end for their holiday break this week; this means that the schools have been in final exams for the past several weeks. Also, for the first time in years the teachers have decided to strike. The students were not in school for a few days last week and negotiations are still taking place. Currently, teachers do not receive pay raises until they have been teaching for over ten years. In the newspaper one of the leaders of the teachers union was quoted as saying, “If you pay us in peanuts, you’ll get monkeys.” I found this quote on point. It is ironic how countries all around the world take teachers, one of the most important professions, for granted. Because of exams and the strike we have had trouble scheduling new presentations. During the days I have been typing up the essays that have made it to the finals of the Nisaa essay contest. Although, this is a tedious task I have learned how many students view sex and rape. This will help me focus on the most important issues when we do begin presenting again.

I was able to attend one presentation last week at a school in Orange Farm. The school was a primary school and we spoke to 11 year-olds and 13 year-olds in two separate sessions. These were special presentations in which we worked with a local group of actors and actresses. They performed a special play that focused on sex in relationships and the spread of HIV. It was amazing. The play mixed Zulu and English so it would be easier for the students to understand. In one scene in the play a mother and father talked to their child about the importance of safe sex and using condoms. At the end of the play nearly all of the questions revolved around this scene. The students didn’t understand why the parents were talking to their child about sex- it just didn’t make sense to them. It was evident these students had not had similar discussions with their parents. The students were also confused about ho HIV was transmitted through sex. They believed that if you had unprotected sex for a few minutes the disease could not be transmitted. It is scary that the children did not know how HIV is transmitted; especially in an area where the infection rate is at record levels. This day was challenging and eye-opening. Listening to the children ask questions after the presentations revealed how much more information we must provide in order to give the students a chance to protect themselves from HIV.

The week moved along and I spent nearly every night out of the house in order to keep my distance from the roaches and ticks. Thursday evening I went to a club to meet up with Stylz and his friends. It was his last night in South Africa. He will be studying music production for the next year in London. There were several local rap artists performing at the club. Each of the artists performed at least one song in their native language and many of the songs were a mixture of multiple languages. I enjoyed listening to the rappers express themselves in different ways. South Africans use the eleven official languages as a way to identify themselves with the different cultures and ethnic groups of South Africa. It seemed so strange that I was standing in a club listening to an artist rap in a language that many of the other people in the club did not understand.

On Friday I learned that Maria, the domestic help in the house, had a baby. No one knew she was pregnant. She was not even overweight. We were all in shock. Apparently she was afraid she would not be hired if they knew she was pregnant and so she did not tell them. Maria told me that Friday morning she was scrubbing the floorboards and started to feel nauseous. She realized she was getting very sick but did not know she was having the baby. She left the house and began to walk to the nearest doctor’s office. She said she was having strange occurrences of pain. So she would walk until the pain came and then she would just stop in the street and stand there until the pain subsided. I asked her if it ever occurred to her that she was having contractions (she has another child). She said it felt differently. When she finally arrived at the doctor’s office it was 10:30am. He examined her and told her that the head was already out and she needed to hold the baby in until the ambulance arrived. This was not possible and the baby was born and bathed by 11:15am.

I spent Friday afternoon with Maria and the baby. I told her that it was crazy that she had worked up until the second she went into labor. She told me she had no choice; she had a child to support and had to continue working. I admire Maria for being such a strong person.

Since I have arrived in Africa I have been fighting a cold. This weekend it caught up with me and by Sunday I had a sinus and ear infection. Being sick is a horrible feeling, being sick away from home is a horrific feeling. I am on tons of medicine and know that I will be fine in due time but I yearn for my bed, a bowl of chicken noodle soup, and a cup of Daiquiri Ice (all things I love when I am sick in the States).

Even though I wasn’t feeling good, Saturday was a great night! I baby/house sat with a friend. After eating curry for the past three weeks I decided that it was time for me to cook. I went to the store and bought ingredients to make tacos and Rice Krispie Treats. I cooked for my friend and the food was great. After dinner we watched School of Rock with the kids we were babysitting for. It is amazing what a good laugh can do for you! It wasn’t just the movie that made me feel good- it was the memories of my friends at home whom I had seen the movie with that made me happy. “Cello”- to all of you who are reading this! The movie and food made me feel very American. I arrived home at about 11:30 and called to be let in the house, because I still have not been given a key. It is obvious that they want me to get home by the time they go to bed, between 9:00-9:30pm. It is frustrating to have to provide explanations of who I am with and what I am doing at 11:00pm on a Saturday night. This is something I am not used to.

Sunday was a very long day filled with errands that I did not want to be doing. I was sick and not very friendly so I am sure the people I was with did not want me to be running errands with them either. However, I did make it to the Rosebank Market where I purchased my little brothers birthday present. The Rosebank Market happens on Sunday afternoons and is the largest market in the area. The day I spent at Rosebank on my last trip to South Africa was one of my most memorable days. I still wear much of the jewelry I bought that day and walking through the stalls at the market reminds me of how amazing my last trip to RSA was; and reminds me of how much I miss C.

I spent most of my day on Sunday helping Biko run errands and prepare for taping (he is a researcher for a reality TV show). Biko spends so much time making sure everyone else is happy. It is frustrating to me. On Saturday we spent an hour and a half driving to a friend who had run out of gas. Sunday we drove his brother-in-laws maid for a half an hour because she was bored where she was. We even drive to meet his friends so he can lend them money (that he will never see again). This is all nice but is annoying when you have plans and you can see that your friend is being used. His friends often put him in ridiculous situations like asking to borrow his car at 4am to drive to Durban (6 hours), or repeatedly asking for money. I have talked to him about this and it seems to be a difference in cultures. Biko describes this sort of “assistance” as brotherhood. He can’t let down the people he considers his friends. I admire him for his loyalty but it is so important to do what is best for you. Otherwise he will put himself in a position where he can no longer help others. He sincerely believes that this is part of the African culture. I am not sure because I have not experienced this sort of attitude from any of my other friends.

When I woke up on Monday morning I was so sick I was struggling to breathe. My throat was too dry to swallow water, my ears were popping and I couldn’t hear anything, and my eyes were stuck together and would not open. I was miserable. I somehow managed to dress and walk to work. I barely made it through work, getting little to nothing done. I think being sick made me brave enough to walk to the supermarket alone. This was not a bad experience, just an experience. I was harassed to no end. People stared, and followed me. Finally a security guard came and asked me if he could escort me out of the store. I took issue with this. As a customer shopping at their store, why should I be escorted out if I was the one being harassed? The security guard tried to build a case for his reasoning but it didn’t work. We agreed that he could escort me around the store so I could get my shopping done quickly and get back to work.

As crazy as it may sound- the visit to the grocery store was emotional and challenging. Namely because I was very ill, but there were also several other factors contributing to my inability to deal with such a mundane activity. For example, it was my first time to shop for groceries in Africa alone. Shopping for groceries alone always makes me realize how independent I am. I remember the first time I went grocery shopping after my parents dropped me off at Vanderbilt. The realization that I was totally responsible for feeding myself, a necessity of life, hit me hard. Standing in the grocery store alone made me realize how alone I was. No one around me could even relate to the type of food I was used to eating. It was even more difficult when I could not find one familiar food in the supermarket. All I wanted was Pillsbury Biscuits to make Monkey Bread, a box of graham crackers or saltines to calm my nervous stomach, and a bottle of skim milk.

While I was shopping I realized that I had not seen one white person the entire time I had been in Lenaisa (three weeks). Lenasia is an Indian community in Johannesburg. It is the furthest suburb from the city and it takes nearly 40 minutes to drive into downtown Johannesburg. In Soweto I was shocked at how few white people there are. However, you frequently see a bus full of tourists taking a tour of Soweto or when you drive by the Mandela home you see several white people standing in the yard. But in Lenasia I had not seen one white person in three weeks. This may explain why the people of Lenasia are even more surprised when they seeing me shopping in the supermarket alone.

At 3:45 I left the office and was in bed asleep by 4:15pm. I woke up at 8:00pm for dinner. This is when the husband and wife I am staying with realized how sick I was. They took me to the Chemist to get more medicine and I was back in bed by 9:00pm. When I woke up this morning I felt significantly better and was reminded by that is was because I didn’t stay out late! I am feeling much better and hopefully will continue to improve. I was told the maid who replaced Maria only speaks Afrikaans so I have made little effort to speak to her. This morning I was having trouble with the washing machine and it occurred to me that she can probably speak Zulu. I know very little Zulu but I was able to introduce myself, ask her what her name is, and tell her the machine needed water and detergent. This was incredibly exciting.

 

September 9, 2004

Thando

“Be absolutely determined to enjoy what you do.” Gerry Sikorski

Today was an amazing day. My brain feels like a sponge floating in a pool of water. I had so much information to soak up in such little time. This morning I asked Phindi, a coworker, if I could go to a leadership conference with her before going to Seana Marena, the secondary school we were going to at 2:30 to speak about date rape.

Phindi is a very interesting person. She has been working at Nisaa for the past three years. She focuses on youth projects. This means she goes to the shelter everyday to check on the children there and also runs campaigns in the local schools. Calling Phindi eccentric doesn’t quite do her justice. She is quite amazing and has a very obscure perspective on life. Her energy, her speech pattern, and the way she moves are all very unique. I thoroughly enjoyed spending my day with her.

We arrived at the leadership conference a half and hour late. Phindi is not the best driver. She lives in Soweto and uses the mini-buses to get to work everyday. I am just now learning how to drive manual on the left side of the road and I would have done a better job driving than Phindi. She stalled the car at least 10 times, one time was on a hill and we started rolling backwards. She never got scared or nervous, she just kept telling me not to be afraid to drive- it wasn’t hard, she just wasn’t very good at it. On our way into the conference the conference invitation was whisked out of Phindi’s hand by the strong winds. It is currently spring in South Africa. It went over the side of the parking garage into an electrically fenced in embankment. The invitation was only five feet away but it was impossible to reach. Several security guards came over to help us retrieve it. After about ten minutes we decided to try to get in without it; no we were only 40 minutes late. Of course getting in was no problem, there wasn’t even a guard sitting at the desk. For some reason this meaningless episode of everyday life was hysterical to me.I could not stop laughing at the most mundane things. It was as if I was watching a Seinfeld episode. The security guards working together to break through their own security was the funniest part of the event. And listening to them work the problem out in several different African languages was even funnier.

To me the conference was meaningless. It was at the British Council’s Office and it was for leaders of the South African community. They were discussing ways in which to make Africa a more successful continent. There will be visioning workshops in all African nations in order to create a uniform plan for developing African into a successful, powerful continent. The conference didn’t make sense to me. As an HOD major I began looking at the logistics of such a plan and trying to figure out if it was possible. Also, how can you have an NGO outside of Africa, like the British Council, creating a sustainable Africa through networking within the continent? It just didn’t seem logical. It was also difficult for me to give input. The issues they are facing are vastly different than our own issues in the United States. For example, one of the prominent goals was to use the continent’s diversity to their advantage. They spoke of ways to integrate all the different African languages. Integrating Spanish is difficult in the US but it obviously doesn’t compare to integrating eleven different languages in one country ( South Africa) which is the size of Texas.

After the conference we had some time before our presentation in the school. Phinidi’s sister’s son is in the hospital with an ear infection. He is a year and a half old. Phindi decided to take me to the hospital with her to visit him. We went to a private hospital in Soweto. It was small but was probably the cleanest hospital I have ever been in. The floorboards in the main hallways were sparkling. I hope to visit Baragwaneth Hospital in Soweto before I leave. It is the largest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere of the African continent.

We arrived at the school in Soweto nearly an hour early. We were hoping they would let us begin early but this was not possible since they are taking exams right now. Phindi and I went out and sat in the car for an hour. We planned to review the presentation but in the process of doing this I began asking her questions about the South African and Zulu culture. My first discussion had to do with rape and the spread of HIV. This is a major part of my project and I try to have this discussion with as many people as possible. I don’t understand the shame women feel for being raped, even in the US culture. In South Africa so many girls and women are being raped and refusing to go to the hospital to get anti-retrovirals because they don’t want anyone to know about the rape. In a culture where some provinces have a 40% HIV infection rate, this is not acceptable. If a rape victim receives anti-retrovirals within 72 hours of when they were exposed to the infection the chances that the survivor will contract the HIV virus are significantly reduced. However, very few women are discussing the rape with their friends, let alone going to the hospital. The message that rape is never the survivors fault is one of the most important messages that can be delivered in the South African culture. Until women feel they can come forward men will continue to rape because they aren’t being prosecuted or even confronted.

After discussing date rape Phindi and I began discussing the issue of sexual partners and sex in relationships. Generally speaking in South Africa if you don’t have sex with someone it means that you don’t love them. Furthermore sex is treated like a commodity. A boyfriend will pay for the dates and transportation and in return the girl must have sex with him. Thus it is nearly impossible that a girl and boy be dating for a long period of time without having sex. Relationships without sex do happen in the US especially among high school students. Also in South Africa the importance of having sex without using a condom is stressed. The skin to skin contact means that you truly love the person and proves that you haven’t been sleeping around (otherwise you would wear a condom??). In a previous journal entry I spoke about the excessive number of sex partners the young people in South Africa have. With such cultural traditions surrounding sex it is evident that South Africans would have more sex partners than people in cultures where such norms no longer exist. Furthermore, norms that are being passed from one generation to another are much stronger than pressure that exists between two people in a relationship. Unpacking these cultural norms helps explain why the spread of AIDS is so rampant.

Finally, we talked about Labella. Lobola is the tradition of the husband paying the bride’s father before marriage. I explained to Phindi that it would be unacceptable for someone to offer anything to my father and in return receive my hand in marriage. In the US culture it would be putting a price on me. Phindi explained that the gift has nothing to do with the bride; it signifies bringing the families together. It mixes the blood and strengthens the bonds between the families. However, this doesn’t make total sense to me since it is not a set price. The price the father receives depends on how old his daughter is, how much school she has had, and if she has had any children. To me, this seems as if the daughter is being sold. In a recent wedding between prominent Zulu and Xhosa families 250,000 cows were given to the bride’s father!

Finally two students came to the car to get us. After our recent conversations, it was ironic that the first thing the two boys did was come and get our bags and books. In the South African culture it would be impolite to let us carry our bags ourselves. The school was set up like a strip mall. All the doors to the classrooms were on the outside of the building so the students walked to all of the classes outside. When we entered the school it was passing period. After professing my love for Soweto I must admit that I was quite intimidated. The students were definitely not intimidated of me! They were very excited to see a young white woman in their school. When we arrived in the classroom I realized that the young boy with my backpack had disappeared. I had a slight panic attack- it had my laptop, camera, ID, credit cards, money, etc in it. Fortunately the boy was just outside the classroom talking about the white girl to his friends.

The room was crowded and it was hectic. Phindi introduced me as Thando, which is the African name my coworkers gave me. The name has stuck and now nearly everyone calls me Thando. It means “to be loved”. The students were all very impressed that a white American woman, who was living in Lenasia, an Indian community, had an African name. It was hysterical to hear them call me Thando- and even funnier when I responded. After I was introduced I grabbed my books and went to sit in a desk to take notes. All of the boys began to scream; apparently the desk I chose to sit at was dirty. A few of the boys ran over to the desk and began wiping it off with their handkerchiefs. I was laughing so hard I could hardly breathe. One of the boys decided that the desk was not going to be clean enough so he found another desk for me to sit in and smoothly “moved me up” so he could sit next to me. “Move up” means “scoot over”. No one here has ever heard the term “scoot” before. I sat among the students taking notes. As I surveyed the room I realized that most of the students were not paying attention to the lecture- they were staring at me. The fascination many Sowetans have with white people always catches me off guard. I never know the appropriate way to respond.

Listening to how the students responded to Phindi’s questions gave me insight into how young people view rape, or what they call sex. For example, a boy said that it was not considered rape if he was already making out with the girl. Phindi asked what he meant by that and he said that if a girl gets him “worked up” then it is her fault if she doesn’t want to have sex. Thus, many of the boys believed that when a girl began to make out she was consenting to sex. It was obvious in the discussion that women within a relationship are treated as objects that are owned.

After the presentation two girls came up to me and wanted to talk. They had both been raped and had never told anyone before. One of the girls was 15 years-old and she had been raped three times, once by her step-father, once by a friend, and once by her brother. She was emotionally unstable and very depressed. Also, her brother recently passed away and this was contributing to her inability to deal with her feelings. She had never been to a doctor or been tested for HIV. She continued to say, “Thando, please help me.” Phindi and I tried to arrange for transportation for her so she could come to our office but this is difficult. The students have peculiar relationships with their teachers. Both Phindi and the girl were adamant that we not speak with the counselors at the school to help arrange the appointments and transport. They both told me that teachers use their power over students and if the counselor were to find out about the rape she would hold it against the girl forever. I couldn’t understand this. How could a counselor hold something such as rape against a student? We are still trying to find way to get this girl into our office. Currently we are going to try to see her after she finishes exams. She will have to find transportation and set up the appointments on her own.

After an intense week of work I am headed to Durban in a few hours!

 

September 4, 2004

I love him because he didn’t kill me

If we have the opportunity to be generous with our hearts, ourselves, we have no idea of the depth and breadth of love's reach.
Margaret Cho, weblog, 03-09-04
I spent the entire morning at Dora’s Arc in Roodeport. Dora’s Arc is an orphanage without sleeping facilities. It is located in an area that is surrounded by shacks and many of the children come during the day to get food or find a place to study. Dora has applied for a grant to build on and create sleeping facilities for the children next door. On some Saturdays there are as many as 200 children at Dora’s Arc. I met Dora three weeks ago during my visit to Sky Orphanage. She is an elderly woman who has spent her life helping others. Today she told me stories of times when she bailed women out of jail and brought them back to her house to help them get back on their feet again. She said “Sometimes compassion gets you stuck in a ditch.” I feel blessed when I am around her.

Trevor a man who also works with abused children picked me up this morning. When I arrived at Dora’s Arc, Dora told me that there were people waiting to speak to me. The first people she introduced me to were a mother and her 10 year-old daughter who was recently raped by her father. I was shocked that I was being given such responsibility- I continued to stare at Trevor waiting for him to say something but he didn’t. My stomach began to turn. I was not qualified for this, and the importance of the quality and frequency of counseling is vital to the full recovery of rape victims. The door closed and I was left in the room alone with the mother and daughter. The woman immediately began to tell me of her traumatic life. The rape of her daughter seemed unimportant to her. She had been through so much; such trauma was a normal feature in her life. She told me that she wanted to overdose, that her life was no longer worth living. She told me that she beat her daughter out of frustration, that she didn’t want to but she had no control. She spoke of being a bad mother, of getting her clothes cut off of her with a knife, and of being beaten time and time again. She had a long history of abuse beginning with her father when she was very young. She had begun to believe what her father and husband were telling her- she told me of her worthlessness and stupidity. I have dealt with many similar cases while I was working at the District Attorney’s Office in Nashville and this allowed me to keep my composure.

Suddenly, she told me she was feeling dizzy and tired. Within seconds she was having a full blown seizure. I was holding her head and trying to get the 10 year-old to call for help. However, this took much too long because the little girl didn’t speak enough English to understand what I was saying. Fortunately I had learned the word for ‘Help’ in Zulu yesterday and was able to recall it. The little girl immediately left the room to seek medical help. I couldn’t recall the Zulu word for help again; even to save my own life.

In the meantime I remembered the woman telling me that she had been on the run from her husband for several days and had no sleep and little to eat. It suddenly occurred to me that she might be having a seizure from a low blood sugar. Help wasn’t coming so I decided to take action. This morning I decided to pack a glucose gel tube with me. I have not carried one for years but this morning seemed like a good time to start. You only use them if you are nearly unconscious; otherwise it is easier and tastier to drink juice. I pulled the gel out of my bag and began putting it in her cheek until the entire tube was gone. During this time Dora arrived and began helping me. The gel made the woman conscious enough to allow her to eat without choking. She had actually been having a seizure from a low blood sugar. No one understood why I was feeding her but it was clear that she was feeling better so they let me continue. By the time they had reached an ambulance, she had come around and was nearly able to start talking. If I had not been there, if I did not have diabetes, if I had not put the gel in my purse, she would have died. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. While the seizure was happening and even afterwards, the little girl sat only a foot way peacefully drawing pictures. Such havoc did not disturb her- this helped me realize what kind of life she was living.

Mama Dora moved the woman out of the room and onto a stretcher in another room to rest. Mama Dora was determined that she was going to make the most of me while I was there and immediately sent another woman into the room to talk to me. On top of feeling unqualified, I was emotionally exhausted and had to force myself to begin the next session. This woman was 25 years-old and had her 7 month-old child with her. She was from Durban but had been living in Johannesburg since 1996. Her mother left her when she was eleven months old and her father left her when she was seven years-old. When she was seven her father left her with some of his friends and they raised her until she was 16 years-old. When she turned sixteen she decided to move to Johannesburg with a friend in hopes of finding her mother. I asked her how she would feel if she found her mother and father. I wondered if she would be angry at them for leaving her on her own for so many years. She said she would be happy and thank them for not killing her. I asked her what she meant and she explained that many babies are killed at birth because the parents don’t want them. She said she was fortunate to have parents that allowed her to live, even though she has suffered tremendously. She lived with her friend in Johannesburg from 1996 to 1998 when he died of AIDS. In 1998 she moved in with her family and has been living with them ever since. Everyone in her boyfriend’s family has extreme alcohol problems. There is not a second in the day they are not drunk. Her boyfriend’s sisters and cousins abuse her and force her to clean house and take care of all of their children. The past several months she has been coming to Dora’s Arc with her baby to get food. Mama Dora has also helped get the mother clothes.

The woman desperately wants to get a job so she and her husband can move out of the house and start a new life. However, since she has no mother or father she has no ID card and without an ID card you cannot work. This weekend she is traveling to Durban to get her school records which will help her get a new ID. She must drop her old name and find two people to testify that they knew her when she was growing up and she went by a different name. If she is able to get an ID she will find a job. Once she has her ID and job she still must find a caretaker for her child, etc. But she seems confident that she can succeed. The woman’s beauty was astounding. I said “Wena umuhle kakhula”, which means “you are beautiful” in Zulu. She could not stop laughing. She told me that she never thought she would have a white American woman telling her she was beautiful in Zulu. Her laughing gave me strength, I felt like I had done something right. There is no doubt in my mind that she could have been a model. She was composed and confident. It was strange to hear her tell me that she had tried to commit suicide. She disguised her pain well; her smile was vibrant and sweet.

The last group I saw was an 18 year-old boy and a 19 year-old girl. They were friends and played in a band together. They were not regulars at Dora’s Arc, they were just there performing- I have no idea why Mama Dora had me see them. I quickly realized that they were just there for the day and decided to talk to them as friends finding out what their interests and passions they had. They were both in high school and seemed very smart. Their English was perfect with a slight American accent. The girl had more personality than most people I know. She wanted to be an R&B artist. She has two children with the same man that she had just broken up with. She was happy that the father of her children was out of her life- he had made a turn for the worse and started using drugs. It was strange to be sitting there having a discussion with a girl who seemed much like my sister. They are the same age, both are intelligent, funny, and pretty. However, the girl sitting in front of me had two children and it was perfectly acceptable.

The boy didn’t really want to talk to me about himself but he was willing to ask questions about the US. The first question he asked was if there were shacks in the US. He wanted to know about black people and white people in the US. He wanted to know why “someone like you (me)” would be in South Africa. He seemed honored to have someone from the US in his country. I enjoyed talking to these kids and at the end of the conversation the girl asked me if I wanted to be a proper friend. I asked her what that meant and she said it meant that we would call each other and I could listen to their band play. I told her that I would love to be a proper friend of theirs.

After visiting with these students for 30 minutes Mama Dora returned and wanted to speak to me. We sat in her office for about an hour discussing her work and life. During this time a woman named Irene came in and began to listen to Mama Dora speak to me. As she was leaving she handed Mama Dora a hunk of cash and told her to use it on herself not the children. Then Irene sat back down and began telling me a fascinating story about her experience during the Apartheid. Irene had been jailed for three years during the Apartheid. She was arrested for being politically active with Winnie Mandela. However, Irene had never participated in politics; she had never spoken to Winnie Mandela. Everyday in jail they took her into isolation and questioned her about her relationship with Winnie Mandela. She never gave in and continued to deny their friendship for the entire three years she was in jail. Apparently during the Apartheid wealthy activists would pay large amounts of cash to have the names on their court papers changed so they wouldn’t be arrested. This is what happened to Irene and she spent three years in jail. Mama Dora met Irene on one of her trips to jail and listened to her story. Mama Dora was outraged and did everything she could to help Irene. Finally she had a court date with a Supreme Court Judge and he released Irene. Since then Irene has considered Dora her mother. Irene is such a happy, positive person. It is difficult to believe that she had been falsely held for three years. When I returned to Melville I slept. I was emotionally drained from the day. In the evening I went to a nice Japanese restaurant at Monte Casino. I arrived home by midnight and slept an entire night- my last night in Melville.

 

 

September 2, 2004

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."- Helen Keller

Violated

Violation- to act contrary to something such as a law, contract, or agreement, especially in a way that produces significant effects; to treat something sacred with a lack of respect

On Saturday I will be spending the day with several young orphans who have been raped by their fathers. I have been preparing for the event for the past two weeks. Unexpectedly, in the past week, I have had two conversations with women who are my age and have been raped. I also listened to a good friend tell me the story of another close friend who was raped. Both women who had been raped were not friends, just acquaintances. Upon sharing my project with them, questions began to trickle out and then a flood of information about their personal experience with rape. There were very few questions asked, rather I spent the few minutes I had with them compassionately listening to their stories. One of the women had never discussed the assault with anyone.

After speaking to these women and recalling memories of the work I did with survivors at the District Attorney’s Office in Nashville I am certain nothing can prepare me for Saturday or any discussion with someone who has experienced rape. The stories in the South African papers and on the news are so numerous they seem insignificant and inconsequential. In the United States a rape story only makes the papers if the perpetrator is someone like Kobe Bryant. I am not sure which scenario is the better option. Looking into the eyes of someone who is recalling her rape or describing the pain that it has caused her makes every story significant and consequential.

When I arrive at the office in the morning I always do a quick read of the online version of the New York Times as well as CNN’s website. Upon arriving this morning I learned that the charges had been dropped against Kobe Bryant. The news was more than discouraging. After all the woman had been through she had to give up something that she was fighting for yet still deal with not only the rape but also the consequences of taking a rape case to court against someone like Kobe Bryant. The rape shield laws did not protect her and she went through secondary victimization at so many levels. Even more frustrating was his apology to her and the residents of Colorado. According to the legal definition of rape, Kobe admitted in his statement that he raped her. Click here to read the article on the CNN webpage as well as Kobe’s written statement. This illustrates his misunderstanding of unwanted sex. It is obvious that many people still believe that unwanted sex is different than rape. To these people unwanted sex is not forceful, therefore it is not rape.

Since arriving in South Africa I have made a concerted effort to take note every time rape is mentioned in a conversation. Often times the discussion begins by explaining my motivation for working in Africa. However, on numerous occasions the discussion begins when friends are sitting around talking about the most recent “accusation” of rape made by or against one of their friends. Working with rape survivors often puts me in a peculiar situation. Women who have never told anyone about their experience feel comfortable discussing something as painful as rape with me. I am from another country, they most likely won’t see me again, and I have some understanding of what they are going through. Speaking with women about their experiences is both powerful and painful. I feel as if I am making a difference, as if I am giving this person an opportunity to share something that they would have otherwise carried with them for the rest of their life. It is also painful because I feel the pain these women feel. I don’t, or rather can’t, just walk away and forget the things I heard. I internalize their experiences; I would rather internalize than not have compassion or feel at all.

Even more strange, is the attitudes toward sex amongst my friends. They are willing to talk about sex, both consensual and not. I obviously can not state the differences between the US culture and the South African culture because it would be a vast generalization, but I can share my personal experiences. My experience in the US with rape is that when it is being discussed the conversation always revolves around whether it actually happened or not. The conversation is always defensive, even if the discussion does not involve the survivor or perpetrator. This is the nature of the crime. It is his word against her word. It is the only crime where the “victim” must prove he or she did not want the crime to occur.

This conversation also takes place in South Africa and may be more intensely discussed in legal matters than in informal conversations like the ones I have been involved in. However, it has not been the focal point of my discussions about rape. Most conversations I have had about rape have been straightforward; it either did or didn’t happen. Upon assessing this I recognized the openness surrounding sexual relations. There is no shame in having multiple sexual partners (for men and women). Or if there is shame it is not on the same level that exists in the United States. In part, I think the disgrace many people feel for having sexual relations with multiple people is a factor in the US cultures denial of the occurrence of rape. The argument given by perpetrators, attorneys and police officers often revolves around the accuser regretting the sexual relationship and then falsely accusing the perpetrator of rape.

The openness in South Africa regarding sex and relationships is contrary to everything I read or discussed with people before arriving. I was told South Africa is more private about relationships. I am certain this privacy does occur in many families who still live very traditional lives. However, I am making a comparison between my friends and acquaintances here and my friends and acquaintances at home. Even discussions not about rape but about sexual relationships are open and forthright. It would be unreasonable to not discuss what role AIDS plays in this equation. It is possible that such openness is imperative in a society where the AIDS infection rate in one of the highest in the world.

Yesterday I learned that one of my friends is HIV positive. I was having a discussion with him and all of the things we spoke of suggested he had HIV. For some reason, I asked. I am not sure why or how I did it, but I did. And he was honest. He was stunned. He was scared. He doesn’t have the drugs he needs to survive. He seems healthy right now. He takes nutritional supplements, but that is all he has. It was unreal. It was unreal to hear someone tell you they are dying. A bright person who is in his twenties, who by fate lives somewhere you can’t get medicine when you need it. This is extraordinarily frustrating to me because as a type one diabetic, I too would die without drugs. Coming from a place where getting lifesaving drugs is not a question makes this situation incomprehensible. It is difficult to see him and not be able to help his situation. And he is one of hundreds of thousands of people in the same situation.

 

back to the Journal homepage

Read Uganda Journal, Part IV (June 2005)

Read Uganda Journal, Part III (April-May 2005)

Read Uganda Journal, Part II (January-April 2005)

Read Uganda Journal, Part I (January 2005)

Read entries from December 2004

Read entries from November 2004

Read entries from October 2004

Read entries from August 2004