Journal for South Africa: November 2004

November 25, 2004

"Say yes to life, even though you know it may devour you." -- Stephen Larsen

It is Thanksgiving in the United States. Nearly 100 of my extended family members are gathered together now for dinner. I am wishing I were home right now more than I ever have before. I have been sulking the entire week about missing my first Thanksgiving and then just last night I realized that this is the second Thanksgiving in a row that I have missed. I missed last Thanksgiving as I was preparing to graduate and my future plans had been abruptly cancelled. I wonder how I would have felt a year ago if I were to be told where I was headed. I doubt I would have believed what I was told. Last night I was describing my homesickness to a friend and he said, "this will not be the last Thanksgiving you miss." And I realized how quickly times and people change. My family is still as important to me, I just have very important things going on in my life right now that cannot be accomplished in Indiana. With aspirations of changing human rights in Africa I also doubt this will be the last Thanksgiving I miss.

Even though I am not in the States right now I am extremely grateful for the freedoms that I have. I am possibly more grateful now than I usually am on Thanksgiving because I am more aware of the greatness of the United States. I am currently living a dream that most people will never even imagine. I am living that dream because I was fortunate enough to attend an excellent University that has enough resources to make such dreams come true.

I am also grateful for the people that have played such an important role in my life in Africa. I am getting ready to eat a traditional African meal with Mike and Vuyi. I told them I was a little homesick and we organized a night out to celebrate Africa. Tomorrow afternoon I am taking chocolate chip muffins and a DVD to the children and my friend Chaba is bringing his video camcorder to take the children. Tomorrow is my last real day of work at the shelter. I will be going in on Monday to cook a Thanksgiving meal for the women. I would like to include the children as well but it is already getting quite expensive because there are several women living in the shelter right now. I will cherish the video of the children forever. No words can describe the strength and determination they have given me. I am so grateful for the time that I have spent at Saartjie Baartman. This month has gone so fast. I feel like I just arrived in Cape Town. I know that I can't go back and change my schedule, but if I could I would spend more time here. I feel there is so much I am missing.

Today I spent an hour interviewing Chriswyn who is the social worker at the shelter. She is in charge of empowerment counseling and organizing programs for the shelter. The women are allowed to live in the shelter for three months and during that time they have an opportunity to attend three different training classes that provide them with skills that help them find jobs more easily. Chriswyn organizes these programs and also helps the women make long term goals. She has a very difficult job and does it well.

November 18, 2004

"The Welfare of each is bound up in all." - Helen Keller

It is about 10 till 8:00am on a Thursday morning. I am getting quite frustrated with the African time issue. I have an important meeting to go to at 8:30 at work and my ride is still not here. It is almost certain that I will not make it to the meeting on time. The meeting is at the Centre with RAPCAN and will focus on the effects of child abuse on men. . . .

I just returned from a hectic day at the shelter. I attended a full day seminar on the empowerment of boys as an abuse prevention strategy. It was incredibly interesting because during the last semester of my senior year I wrote an extensive paper on the effects of masculinity. There were doctors, psychologists, social workers, child care workers, etc. attending the seminar. It was the first time that I have been to an academic event since the first week that I attended the Women's Day Celebrations Seminars with CSVR. I enjoyed the discussions and realized how much I am looking forward to going back to school.

The first speaker was the director of Mosaic, another NGO that works with women and children. She was previously in an abusive relationship and spoke about how the abuse affected her relationship with her sons. The majority of abused women that I have worked with are staying in the relationships for their children. Many abused women had only one parent and believe that a child living in an abusive household is a better than a child living with one parent. Each child is affected by the environment differently but it is certain that many children learn behaviors and attitudes from abusive parents. I have worked with several abused children while I have been in South Africa and the effects of living in an abusive environment are evident. I quickly learned the importance of building trust with a child who has been abused or who has seen abuse. This is not an easy task but has been one of the most important lessons that I have learned. If I tell a child that I am going to stop by the crøche before leaving work and I don't I can immediately see a change in attitude during my next visit. This illustrates how such an environment effects the behavior of abused children in all environments. It has become easier for me to recognize the effects of abuse on a child. For example, an abused child is often very edgy and defensive. They are used to acting compulsively and being targeted when they least expect it. This behavior does not just disappear when the child leaves the home or the abusive environment.

The second speaker, Dr. Andy Dawes was the most influential for me. For years the women's sector has focused on the education of girls in preventing the prevalence if abuse. This concept is changing and the focus of much worked has shifted to males. Dr. Dawes presentation focused on how the constructs of masculinity often push men into abusive roles. Male identifiers that can be positive thrusts in a boy's life often become negative. This is true around the world; not just in Africa or in cultures that maintain traditional values.

There are many factors that can be categorized as risk factors for Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). The first can be called gender socialization or socio-culture. These are the ideologies a person holds about gender and the different roles males and females play in society. For example, in South Africa more than 50% of women believe that their partner has the right to beat them. With this belief, the man who is not beating his wife is now performing against the norm.

The second factor is economic stress. Ironically this factor has been more influential in my work in the United States than it has been here. Although there is more poverty in South Africa it is more acceptable. Many of the battered women I worked with in the United States were victims of economic stress. Their husbands felt the pressure of having to provide and living up to the American Dream. Often a man begins abusing after losing a great deal of money and having to change his family's lifestyle.

The third factor of developing abusive behavior deals with Interpersonal Relationships. A husband or father who consistently has emotionally distant relationships is much more likely to be abusive. This sort of parenting lacks empathy and understanding and therefore makes it difficult for one person to relate with another. And the fourth factor deals specifically with personal history. If a person has had an abusive past, poor attachment with their own parents, or their peers support their behaviors the person is more likely to be an abuser.

CIET, a research organization in South Africa recently published a study in the British Medical Journal on the ideas surrounding sex in South Africa. The study was shocking and revealed that even the women of South Africa have a very minimal understanding of their rights. For example, 44% of people surveyed believed that you had to have sexual intercourse to show true love. 58% of children believed that forcing unwanted sex with someone you know is not a sexual violation. 30% of girls believe that they do not have a right to refuse sex. 43% of girls say that 'yes' means 'no'.

There are several issues that the women's sector needs to face to break down the above principles. One such issue that needs to be examined is the relationship between alcohol and abuse. Rose, the shelter manager at the Sarah Baartman Center said this relationship is evident. Most of the cases of abuse come in during the night when men return from drinking at the Shabeen. This is one reason that it is vital that a shelter function 24 hours a day. Most shelters in South Africa do not function 24 hours making the shelters unavailable during the peak hours of abuse. The shelter at Sarah Baartman is one of the few shelters in Cape Town that function during the holiday season when the highst levels of abuse occur. One other issue that relates specifically to my project is breaing down isolation between different NGOs. Domestic Violence is can not be solved by working on one issue. It is a multifaceted problem and thus, there need to be several different NGOs working on the problem.

There were several cases of abuse that were discussed at different stages during the conference. In my project proposal and pre-project work I cited the story of a five-month old child who was gang raped. I was often asked specific questions about her development and it was hard for many people to believe the lasting affects of rape on such a young child. Yesterday a woman from Childline spoke of a young girl who was rape when she was 9 months old. Initially researchers were unsure of what her memory of the crime was but they soon learned. When she was 2 years old she visited a Childline office she had been in just after they rape. They had a doll that featured the proper anatomical parts of the human. When she entered the office she went straight to the doll and performed the rape that she had experienced over a year earlier. This is sad but undeniable evidence of the lasting effects of rape.

November 15, 2004

It is Monday night and I already feel like it is Friday! Things are still hectic and exhausting. I didn't even make it to the creche all day at work. On Friday I decided to take a bubble bath before going out with Malika. When I stepped out of the bath I realized that I had a rash on my back- several small bumps that didn't hurt or itch. Since then I have been very paranoid about what they are and if they could be an infectious disease that I received from one of the children. I know for a fact that one of the little girls has TB. I am also currently sunburned and have a spot on my leg and my nose that I worry could be skin cancer. I will definitely have to have a full body examination and lots of blood work done when I get home.

Several mothers left the shelter this weekend. This is nice for Maria because there are very few children in creche and she is getting a well deserved break. I mainly worked in my office and spent sometime with Ilse in her office. I sent out a group email to family and friends and mentioned the need for computers for the children. When I checked my email this morning I had received several emails from family and friends offering to donate old computers. I told Ilse and she was so excited for the centre and the children. Also, Tracey at the DA's office is working to get some children's clothes donated. I can't wait to share these things with the children.

I had a very nice weekend. Friday night Malika picked me up and we went to a fashion show. It took forever to start and it was very hot in Rhodes House but it was an interesting experience. We don't have fashion shows like they do here because we don't have fashion schools everywhere. The only other fashion show I have been to is Kendall's at Vandy. This show was much different because all of the clothes were designed by students who were basically my age. When I arrived home Mike and Vuyi were still out so I decided to go ahead and go to bed. At about 4am I heard my door open and saw a man walking towards me in briefs. I had been sound asleep for several hours but I was certain that the man was not white which meant that it was not Mike, the only man in the house. Fortunately I was awake enough to mumble something and he turned and walked away. The next morning I learned that it was Mike and Vuyi's friend who would be staying with us for the weekend. He had confused my room with the bathroom. He turned out to be a very nice person and we spent much of the next evening talking about George W Bush and politics in the United States. It is certain that the reelection of George W. Bush has made my traveling experience less friendly than it would otherwise be. I have to spend so much time defending America and I am no even a George W fan! I am trying to relax this weekend so I will discuss George W another afternoon.

It seems that every Saturday Mike, Vuyi, Chaba, and I cook a breakfast much like one Grandma Irene would make for me! Pancakes (which are called flapjacks here and are served as dessert!!), lamb sausage, biscuits, bacon, granola and yogurt, etc. We carry two tables into the back yard and fill one entire table with food. I hung around the house all afternoon and watched White Chicks with Chaba. This is a movie that would not have been amusing to me a few months ago but I have watched it three times since I have been in RSA and enjoyed in more each time. It examines the differences between white females and black males and how different the two cultures are. I have experienced more than a few of the differences and relate quite well to the film.

Saturday evening Mike and Vuyi cooked a huge meal and had several people over for dinner. Once again the conversation turned to talk of politics in America. I try to explain that most American's do not understand how much our decisions and politics effect the rest of the world. It is partly stupidity but is also a result of being the most powerful nation. No other economy or country effects us like we effect the rest of the world. This makes "Global Citizenship" very difficult to understand unless specialize in foreign policy or have traveled extensively. Hopefully we will learn to make more mindful decisions in the future.

November 9, 2004, Letter

Hello everyone! Sorry that it has been so long since I have sent out an email. I have been unable to update my webpage due to lack of internet connection and technology issues. If I do not sort the problems out the page will be updated when I arrive in the United States for Christmas. I have several journal entries and photo albums to add. Things are going well and I have made the move from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Cape Town is definitely the place to be if you come to South Africa to vacation. This year it was voted the second best vacation spot in the world. I can't wait to put pictures on my webpage! The environment is much more relaxed than Johannesburg and I am enjoying the different lifestyle. Johannesburg is obsessed with posing. You must have the newest car, the best clothes; Cape Town is relaxed and you can be yourself. There isn't a Lexus or BMW around every corner and no one cares if you even have a car! The students at the University of Cape Town are just finishing their end of the year exams, summer is on the way, the International Film Festival starts this weekend; it is generally a good time to be in Cape Town.

I am currently living with Mike and Vuyi, a couple in their mid twenties who just finished their MBA's. Vuyi is my friend Biko's cousin. They live in a nice apartment complex about 25 minutes from where I work. The apartment complex is across from a massive mall and a twenty screen movie theatre. Biko introduced me to several of his friends who live in Cape Town. Fortunately one of his friends recently quite her job and offered to drive me to and from work everyday! I have met several amazing people who take great care of me and are determined to show me what life in Cape Town is really like. For example my friend Malika has invited me to her family's Ramadan celebration and to a fashion show she is a part of, Mike and Vuyi have invited me to tour a vineyard with them, and Chaba and Papi are looking forward to introducing me to Cape Town night life.

Since the last update I have traveled the Wild Coast solo, gone cliff diving, visited a traditional healer, spent a night in a traditional village, seen the Big 5 in Krueger Park, had food poisoning and been sicker than I have ever been in my life, eaten 10 different types of game meat, and been cage diving with Great White Sharks. I have been making the most of the little time I have left in Cape Town and packing my weekends full of activities. I am looking into skydiving over Table Mountain this weekend.

After doing all of these exciting things I must admit that I look forward to the time I spend at work more than anything else. I am working at the only one-stop women's centre in all of South Africa. There are seven NGOs that provide a variety of services to women. Rape Crisis, Sanca (a drug rehab center), a soap factory (for economic empowerment), and a women's network are a few of the NGOs involved. This system proves to be much more effective in the rehabilitation of abused women; mainly because it eliminates travel between organizations which makes getting the services much safer for women who are in hiding. The bulk of my work is in the creche at the battered women's shelter. This is where the children of the women who are living in the shelter stay.

The shelter is located in Manenberg, a township which is known to be the "gang capital" of South Africa. It is not a safe place and most locals are very surprised that I am working here. The security at the center is very good because unlike most shelters, the Sarah Baartman Shelter is located at the center and not in an undisclosed location. This means there is 24 hour security and gates in order to protect the women and children who are in hiding. The population in the area is about 90% "coloured" or mixed race, 9% black and 1% white. This is quite different from Johannesburg where the majority of people are black. Unlike the United States, the coloured population has a very distinct and separate culture from the whites and blacks. They speak Afrikaans and live primarily in the Cape Flats Townships.

The children are amazing and surprise me everyday. Each child has been in the shelter for a different amount of time and I am tracking their progress. There can be as many as 40 children in the crøche and 15-20 of the children might be under the age of one. There is only one woman who works in the shelter who cares for the children. The shelter receives donations from Woolworths which allows them to provide lunch for the children but the women and children are still very needy. Several of the little girls don't have panties and when they don't make it to the bathroom the urine and feces gets all over the floor. All of the children are abused either physically, emotionally, or sexually. Today is the last day in the crøche for a family of four children who have been at the shelter for three months. I made Rice Krispie Treats and we will watch Harry Potter on my computer after they finish napping. Some of the children are placed in the surrounding schools but often they can't go to school because it is likely the fathers will find out where the children are and kidnap them. I am currently looking for used computers to donate to the children's shelter. This would allow the children who are in hiding to continue their education through computer programs. If you are interested in donating a used computer please contact me.

It has been difficult for me to adjust to the environment here. Volunteering at the orphanages in Soweto was emotionally exhausting but it was nothing like this. I find it impossible to leave my emotions at work and the days are becoming more difficult as I spend more time with each child. Knowing the mothers of the children also makes this job particularly challenging. Most of the moms are my age and have been forced into marriages, raped, and abused. I have created relationships with many of them. They tell me their dreams - they want to come to America to work and escape the abuse. They ask me if there are women's shelters in the US and are shocked to hear that there are many abused women in the States.

One child last week had several scabs on her arms. I asked her where they came from and she said they were from her dad. I asked her again where they came from and she said that he put his cigarettes out on her arms. She is five. My favorite little girl who is three went to visit her father this past weekend and she never made it back to the shelter - we aren't sure where she is. There are many health issues in the creche. Because it is a poor area the health standards are lower and there are fewer good health care facilities. A seven year-old girl is sick with tuberculosis and wasn't able to get treatment until recently.

One mother just read what I have written and wants me to explain that I am not writing in order for you to pity her. These are strong women and children and they are sharing their lives with me so I can educate my friends and family. She doesn't want to be pitied she wants to help make a difference. These are the issues I am learning to deal with on a daily basis. I am learning to find my happiness through their successes and focus on each individual child and mother as a person I might meet at a mall or grocery store and not at a shelter. I find the work easier if I focus on making the children happy, if I am able to bring out the best in each child I work with. I just left the crøche for the weekend and had to say goodbye to the four children who are leaving. Having to say goodbye to the children is one of the hardest parts of the job. I will miss them but the uncertainty of their future is the most difficult aspect of saying goodbye. I can only pray for them and hope they will remember something I taught them.

I hope to send pics and write a more descriptive update next week. But for now I am off to the beach - it is summer here! Sorry for typos, spelling errors and poor grammar- I have no time to reread what I have written and would like to send the email off before the weekend. Please keep in touch. Thando

November 5, 2004 Soweto and every other ghetto . . .

I have recently begun listening to Kwaito music. Kwaito is a mix between hip hop, rap, and what the South Africans call house music. Nearly all Kwaito comes from Soweto and the lyrics are sung in a mix of African languages called the survival language. The Survival language is a mixture of all of the official languages of South Africa and also has some words that mean nothing in other languages. The language was created by the blacks in Soweto during the apartheid so the enemy could not understand what they were saying to each other. Kwaito seems to capture the energy and rhythm of life in Soweto, an energy that most people believe does not exist anywhere else in the world.

A good friend of mine was raised in Soweto. He was forced to leave the country to study as an eight year-old due to all the trouble he was getting into. He studied in Zimbabwe for several years and only returned to the South Africa after he had finished high school. There are several types of poverty in Soweto. My friend explained that he was amongst the poorest of families. His extended family lived together under one roof and he shared a bed every night with several people.

We spoke of how poverty effects the environment children are raised in. He is certain that if he had not left Soweto he would either be dead or in jail. I asked how he was certain of this. He said that as a child in this environment you don't have the sort of direction that most children have. Living with a large family is hectic and most of the time the adults are trying to find work or are abusing alcohol. So the children have to fend for themselves; they have to become tough in order to convince themselves that they can survive, that they are as strong as the other children who are in gangs and have guns, and use drugs. I realized that not all children have a chance and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given and the love I have received. Look for some Kwaito music on the website in the near future!

November 4, 2004

Finding time to write has been much more difficult than I would have liked. After having a few weeks to travel I have moved to Cape Town and started a new job at the Sarah Baartman Women's Centre. For the past week I have been staying at a friend's house but I just moved into another friend's and I feel like I am beginning to get settled. Living with Papi and several of his African friends was interesting. Even in the United States I might have difficulty adjusting to living with several men in their twenties. However I was not totally looking forward to moving when I left this evening. I am finally out of my backpack and fully moved in with Vuyi and Mike. Vuyi is Stylz sister and Biko's cousin. It is strange how one strong contact can connect you throughout an entire country. Vuyi is 25 and just finished her MBA and Mike is in his late twenties and also finished his MBA.

During the past week I have learned a little about Cape Town but I am still in the process of adjusting. Cape Town is much more relaxed than Johannesburg, there are a lot more drugs, and there is less racial division. Cape Town is by far the most beautiful place I have been. The ocean is bordered by mountains and cliffs and the sunset is the typical African sunset with florescent oranges and pinks. It seems that the black and white people mix more easily and there is less fuss about this mixing. For example, Mike and Vuyi are a mixed race couple and I believe they have far fewer problems in CT than they would in Johannesburg. In Johannesburg it is difficult to go to the store with black friends without having to deal with at least one negative comment.

Yesterday I began my first day at work at the Sarah Baartman Women's Center. Saartjie (Sarah) was a local Khoisan woman who was persuaded to travel to England to exhibit her body for financial gain. At the age of 25 she was taken to Paris where she was subjected to scientific research on which European ideas about black female sexuality were based. She died at the age of 27 and the Museum of man in Paris made a plaster cast of her body, removed her skeleton and pickled her brain and genitals in jars. These were displayed until 1985! After a long struggle, Sarah's remains were returned to South Africa in 2003. The centre was named in honor of Sarah, a woman who experienced abuse, discrimination, and oppression.

Before arriving at the Centre I thought it was an NGO that provided all one stop services. Rather, it is an organization that brings several NGOs together in one building. There is a shelter, Rape Crisis, a substance abuse organization, a soap factory run by the women at the shelter, a medical clinic, etc. The combination of the different NGOs makes the Sarah Baartman Centre a one-stop women's center. This will prove to be advantageous to me because I do not have to commit to one organization. I plan to spend my time flip flopping between different organizations and learning several dimensions of the women's sector. The 'one stop' idea is new in the South African women's sector. This is actually the only one stop women's shelter in all of South Africa. This sort of model has proved to be very successful in rehabilitating abused women. The women are safer as they do not have to travel between communities to get all of the services they need. For example, they don't have to leave the building to apply for an order of protection, to get counseling, or to find a place to live! Furthermore, the transition from organization to organization is much easier because the employees know each other and the process is much more fluid. Hopefully the model will spread throughout Africa and women will find rehabilitation much easier to handle.

Another interesting aspect of the Sarah Baartman Centre is the center's collaboration with the government. The social department works directly with the centre and has played a major role in the formation of the one stop model. The building and land is actually owned by the government. A high level of collaboration between an NGO and the government is unheard of and has proved to be extremely beneficial. However, the Centre still has a lot of growing and planning ahead of them.

Today I began working in the children's center. There is one woman that works with the children. When the shelter is full there can be as many as 40 children and several of them might be under the age of one. It was evident that the children's center is an area where much help is needed. At first this frustrated me. I didn't come to Africa to be a babysitter. But no one was forcing me into this job - it is just what was needed. Then after spending a few hours with the children it was evident that I will learn more from them then I would from any research project. In order to really know what is going on in a community it is important to start from the root. Just working for a few hours in the nursery taught me so much about the lives that the children live. I left work wondering how and why children's lives are so different. For example- Why does this four year-old have trouble speaking? Why is this twelve year-old not in school? Why is this five year-old not toilet trained? Why was I so fortunate and these children were struggling to stay alive? What would happen if these children had been given the same opportunities I have had?

The past week has made me even more fortunate for my upbringing and the environment that I was raised in. I had an extensive discussion with a close friend about what it was like growing up in Soweto and other townships in South Africa. It used to bother me when I heard a person say, "he or she doesn't have a chance." I thought that everyone had a chance - but now I really understand the meaning of not having a chance. Sadly some of the children not only do not have a chance of succeeding but also have little chance in living a healthy life.

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 October 2004

Read entries from September 2004

Read entries from August 2004