Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 1: 25 November - ONE YEAR!!!!!!

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The 16 Days of Activism starts today! I cannot believe it has been a whole year!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 359: 17 November – It’s NEVER Okay to Kick a Woman! And IF You do, You Better Believe It’s MY Business

I almost got into a fight last night. I usually steer away from them, and I am not the “violent type”. But last night I was very close to being that type. I guess being a week away from the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Towards Women and Children made my experience even more intense. What happened you ask?

I saw a man KICK a woman, several times. She was crying, trying to escape, and pleading for him to stop. And this all happened right on a busy street of Claremont, but it was fairly late so the street was not all that busy; just me and a couple of kids, who live on the streets in the area, standing there chatting.

As soon as I saw the disturbing scene to started for the guy. One of the kids grabbed me and told me not to “worry about it”; this was mostly out of protection for me, and the kid not wanting to see me get into a potentially dangerous situation. I told him I must worry about it. He told me, “They are married. It’s their business. I just stay out of stuff like that.” I told him that I am not prone to minding my own business when I see a man kicking a woman, or a child for that matter. I started for the guy again. He stopped when he saw me heading his direction.

He is obviously more comfortable kicking around women than he is being confronted by a male because he made a quick getaway, avoiding a “conversation” with me. I returned to the kids. The one kid reemphasized his point that they are married, and I explained that being married does not give a man the right to kick a woman. He stressed another point that it was “their business”, and I said that if a man is kicking a woman in public then he makes it everyone’s business, but I would go as far to say if he kicks a woman in the privacy of his own home it should also be the concern and business of others.

Exactly one week away from the 16 Days of Activism this was an excellent reminder that the need to speak out against violence towards women and children far exceeds 16 days! And maybe people would argue saying that other people’s domestic problems are not anyone else’s business, but I firmly believe when good, law abiding citizens keep their mouths closed to injustice, they are not only allowing it to continue, but enabling it and making it easier for the perpetrators. 16 Days of lip service about abuse will not end abuse. We need 365 days of dedication, speaking AND acting against violence towards women and children.

It is NEVER, ever, EVER okay to kick a woman or a child! And you better believe if you do, then I will make it my business!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 353: 11 November – Absence Makes the Stories Grow Wilder

I’ve felt like a real bum lately. As the 16 Days of Activism quickly comes upon us again, I look back on a year that feels like it flew by at warp speed. And in that year I can count on my two hands the number of times I have visited Wise Guy and the others who walked beside me during my 16 days on the streets last year. It’s shocking really. And of that handful of times I did visit Wise this year, many of them were merely quick “catch ups”, on the way to or from a meeting. It wasn’t intentional, and I don’t even know if I really realized it was happening. Though I would think about Wise Guy, everyone else, and the streets on a daily basis, I guess I kind of had this awareness in the back of my head that they were “there all the time”, and was always able to put off a visit to the next time; and the “next time” rarely rolled around.

This is a disturbing reality for me. I hate it! In the past few weeks I have spent a great deal of my mental energy asking myself questions and trying to dig deeper for reasons behind my seemingly unconscious decision to avoid the Cape Town streets. I know it wasn’t intentional, thought out, or even something I wanted! It just kind of happened. So my introspections have helped me narrow it down to three main reasons.

Firstly, I have let personal issues and struggles come in and take a good bit of “the fight” out of me. You know, in my early years in Cape Town, back when I would sometimes spend up to 18 hours a day on the streets and was there on a daily basis come rain or shine, people would always tell me that I was going to burn out. They said I worked too hard, gave too much, and didn’t give myself enough breaks. I never believed them. I never expected them to understand it either. And now, if those people are reading this they are probably about to raise their finger to say “I told you so!” because they think I am about to admit I am burnt out.

Well, I do feel burned out, but it’s not from over work. As a matter of fact, though I feel I have less of myself to give than ever before, when I do get a chance to do what others consider “my work”, it is actually refreshing. But on a personal level, for the past few years, I have been going through some stuff that has proved to be more challenging than the biggest, baddest gangster in Cape Town. And those challenges have seeped into each and every last aspect of my life, zapping me, draining me and leaving me with very little of my self to give, in a field where that is kind of my job. Those struggles took a knock at me; at my person, at my soul, at my fight, often leaving me feeling like a lethargic boxer in the 15th round of a grueling bout.

Second, I have tried to get involved in a new organization: a residential facility for young men ages 16 to 24. I say “tried” because even after an entire year of being “fulltime involved” I am still not all that sure what I am doing a lot of the time. Don’t get me wrong, the guys are great and I love my colleagues! I guess I am just not the “office social worker” type, and so sometimes trying to figure out my involvement within the walls of the home has felt as awkward as trying to force a wild lion to become a house pet. Also, from the years spent on the streets, I am just not all that used to structure, and working in an institution, and no matter how flexible and homey it is, it requires being willing to work in more structured times and ways. So this new “position”, which has felt more like an experiment much of the time, has also slotted in as my day-today; and because of my first excuse…COUGH…reason, I don’t feel that I have even given the organization and the guys the time and energy they deserve.

Third, I realized something pretty deep the other day. Last year’s 16 days on the streets were probably the best days of my entire life. That time was beyond a doubt the most incredible experience of my life. Sure, I was living on the streets and I don’t want to glorify that, but it was a chance to turn ten years of head knowledge into actual manifested experience; feelings, emotions, and first hand knowledge! I remember the night I had to leave the streets when my 16 Days came to a close. I cried all the way home…like a baby! And I think something shifted in me. I had spent time and been with people I had known for years, but those 16 days allowed me an opportunity to commune with my friends on the streets of Cape Town on the deepest level possible, and therefore anything less than that afterwards would be insufficient.

After that, walking around town with a full belly felt weird, saying “hi” to Wise Guy and then returning to my home felt strange, and being at home wondering “who was doing what?” in town made Cape Town feel farther away than it ever had before. I guess it would be like if McDonalds switched back to using processed chicken for their burgers, after their recent switch to whole breasts. I would never be able to enjoy a processed chicken burger again, and would long for the tender, wonderful taste of the whole chicken breast they “once served”. Yeah…or something like that.

I spoke to a friend today who told me she was speaking to a friend (complicated I know) who also works with the guys in town. She was telling me that he was telling her that the guys were telling him (yeah, sorry!) that they were angry with me and they were talking all sorts of things about me. This kind of behind-my-back talk would have surprised me years ago, but at this point, after my year-long absence, I am even talking bad about me, so it is understandable that they are doing the same. Hearing that only further validated the feeling I have had that I need to go visit the guys before I leave the country for a two month period…next week. I hung up the phone with my friend and tried to get some work done.

The only problem, I could not get anything done because all I could do was think about this information I had just received. I don’t like unresolved issues. Even though I had just returned home from a long day and had plenty of work to do, I decided to drive into town and speak to the guys. I had butterflies in my stomach the entire drive there. It felt like the dreaded walk to the principal’s office. I think a message must have also gone out for all of the slow drivers of Cape Town to get in front of me, because it felt like longest drive to the CBD in world history. I finally got there and saw Wise Guy first thing. He greeted me with an enormous smile. Shew! Slight relief. A smile is much better than knife!

“I hear you’ve been talking kak about me!”

Wise laughs at my comment and answers honestly, “Of course! I didn’t know where you were! And I was hearing all sorts of stories from all sorts of people!”

I laugh, “Well, I don’t blame you! I would talk bad about me too!”

He then went on to tell me that some random guy, who I don’t even know, told him that I “no longer work on the streets” and that I am “making a movie about the time I spent on the streets during the 16 Days of Activism”. The millions and millions of Rand I was making on this film were obviously implicit. Who is this joker? I assured him that if there was a movie being made he would be the first to know.

Relieved he said, “Well, I thought so but I hadn’t seen you so I was confused! I knew you told me about the Manenberg movie but I didn’t know anything about that one.”

I reassured him, once again, that he would be one of the first to know if I was indeed making a movie about that time. I also told him about the deal I did just sign for the “Manenberg one”. He seemed happy and proud of me. I was again reminded at how absence without explanation leaves room for others to make up stories and reasons for your absence, most especially on the streets. He told me he would often sit and wonder “what happened to keep Ryan away?” and then he followed it up by saying sometimes he would sit with a newspaper, and though people thought he was reading, at times he was really just thinking about me, our time together during the 16 days, my absence, and what on earth I could be doing. I felt like a pretty big piece of dog poop at that point.

We spoke for a while. Others came, greeted, spoke and went. Wise expressed how happy he was that I had visited. I expressed how sorry I was for staying away, and also gave him my three point theory as to why. He was understanding. We spoke about how time had flown by and how the 16 Days of Activism is just around the corner. I told him I was not even going to be here for the 16 Days this year because I am travelling over seas. Just as I was about to leave he asked me, “Hey Ryan, do you have anymore of those 365 Days of Activism shirts?” I remembered that in fact I did have one stray; a shirt I was supposed to give to someone but I could never remember who, so I just kept it knowing as soon as I gave it away I would remember the rightful recipient. I told Wise Guy about it.

“Well, you think you could bring it for me? I’d really like to wear it this year for the 16 Days, in remembrance of our time on the streets last year.”

If it is possible for a heart to melt from warmth, I think mine did at that moment!

“Of course. I think that’d be great!”

We smiled, did the manly-hug-kind-of-thing, said our goodbyes and I drove home, feeling much more at peace, trying hard to hold back tears.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 316: 5 October – Monday Morning Nostalgia

I woke up this morning feeling sad. It took me a while to figure out why, and I still don’t know the fullness, but I realised Eric was on my mind. I probably had a dream about him that I do not remember. Eric was one of the first kids I met living on the streets of the Claremont area when I first moved to Cape Town back in 2000. We had become close. He was also the first kid, of now many, that I knew who passed away, in 2001.

He was such a lively kid; full of joy, life, fun, continuous laughter. It is always sad to lose someone who is dear to you, but what made Eric’s loss even harder was the fact that his death was a “freak accident” in a drop-in centre that was new at the time, and in self preservation the leaders of the shelter kept Eric’s death on a very low level.

I miss Eric, and others like him who have died tragic deaths here on the streets of Cape Town. Even when I look into the eyes of the living, the older guys that were the younger guys when i first moved here, I feel the same sense of loss that I feel when I think about Eric. Because though they may be living, the lively children I once knew are very far gone, and their eyes tell the story of having seen too much, too fast, for way too long.

And above and beyond Eric, others who have passed away, and the guys that have grown up too fast, I think this morning I woke up mourning the death of parts of myself. I look back on my early years here and see such a different person. I have changed a lot; for the good and bad, and I am pretty in touch with both sides. But on a nostalgic-driven monday morning like today, I wish I could travel back in time, just for a visit, and say “what’s up” to Eric, all the others I have lost, the kids that are now “all grown up”, and my ten-years-younger self.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 282: 1 September - Two Worlds

Today I was on my way to one of the projects I work at, walking back from lunch.

A young man, carrying a black plastic bag of clanking glass, and another plastic bag of unknown items, walked up beside me. He was dirty, beyond the usual "unkept dirty"; dirt was literally caked on his face. His long nails had thick black dirt under them, his clothes look like they had been on and not washed for months, he smelled like a mixture of body odor, horse and mildew, and he had the look of desperation.

I didn't recognize him as he walked beside me and asked me for five rand. I said I do not have five rand. He asked me for any change I may have. I told him I had none. He asked for a cigarette. I told him I don't smoke. He gave up his efforts to try and get something from me and surrendered to small talk.

"You go to the soup kitchen much anymore?"

His question made me look at him properly. He recognized me from my 16 day time on the streets, more than 26o days ago. His question was nonjudgmental, in the sense that he did not look at how I am dressed now, and how I was then, and base a conclusion of why I would or wouldn't go to a soup kitchen on those judgments.

I felt embarrassed for not having paid more attention to him in the first place.

"Nah, I haven't been there in a long time."

He quickly said he also doesn't make it there much anymore. He said he was on his way to change those glass bottles because he was starving and he hadn't eaten all day. And then it hit me. When he approached me, I thought he just saw me as a "whitey", or a guy to "get something from", but he had seen me as a "comrade", someone who had eaten meals with him at the soup kitchen, someone who had to scrape to get by, a fellow "survivor". We continued to walk and spoke until we went our separate ways.

That short, seemingly insignificant, interaction caused me to think about things.

About what a different life it is to literally have to hustle, scrape, beg, and search for basic survival. How the place we are in in life is relative and also a matter of perspective, not only of self but of others. How we as humans can adapt to pretty much any situation and become comfortable in that. Today, this was the thought that was the most revealing, devastating and wonderful for me. I am again comfortable in not having to scrape for very basic survival, and that world, which I lived in for a brief moment in time, seems again very foreign and far off to me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Day 271: 21 August - Nothing for the Cock

I was driving today, and just thinking.

It all kind of started when I pulled up to a red light and stopped. It seems red lights have been used a lot in my life lately to provoke thought. So there is this older man who stands and begs at that red light every day. I mean, e v e r y, s i n g l e, d a y!

Though he is a little bit kooky, he does not seem to be an alcoholic or drug addict; the fear many people have of beggars. Nope, this man just seems to be your average, semi deranged, but usually friendly old man.

He strolled up to my window and held his funny looking, clear-yellow-tinted-plastic cup, looking something like a cup one would be given for a urine sample, in my face.

“Nothing for the cock?!”

“Cock” being an old British word, used as a “term of informal address to a man”.

I smiled at him and did the awkward, sideways-nod-and-wink maneuver, to say “No, I have nothing for the cock today, apart from this smile and wink”. Though I know the Cock is familiar with the response-to-beggars protocol and sign language, his request did not stop there.

“Young man, no small change to get me in the night shelter tonight?”

I said, “No, sorry sir. Not today.”

“Nothing? Ok, young man.” He then looked up to the bus driver, sitting next to me at traffic and pointed at me, “What you didn’t know is he is the piano man!”, playing an invisible piano located on top of my car as he walked to the next vehicle.

Though I am getting a bit sidetracked in the minor details of the story, it was at that moment, pulling away from the intersection, that the self proclaimed Cock got my mind a working. I mean, he is there every day. Some days he seems a little irritable, but for the most part, he is pretty friendly, and carries on conversation, even if it doesn’t always make sense. He is not one of those hostile beggars that shouts and raves and goes on if you do not want to give something.

But he is out there every day, in the same place, trying to get money just to live in the night shelter. He stands all day and tries to get money just for basic needs, basic survival. It made me wonder if the Cock enjoys being out there at that intersection every day, or if it is a task he finds no joy in. If standing out there is just a means to an end, and nothing more.

Like a miserable man, in an uncomfortable suite, sitting from nine to five in a small office cubical, hating every second that goes by.

Then my mind just went.

Some people work, and hard, their whole lives, at jobs they do not really enjoy, just for basic survival. Their lives become one big means to an end, until THE end. I started to wonder how many people in the world are so busy working hard to survive that they don’t really ever get a chance just to “live”. I think about where I come from, where the emphasis on success is based on how hard you work, how much education you get, how much “stuff” you acquire, and so on.

People spend the first 18 years of their lives getting educations they might not really enjoy, just to continue on and do 2 to 12 more years of education they may or may not enjoy, just to continue on to work a job they may not enjoy, the rest of their lives, for stuff; and some not even for “stuff”, but only for basic survival.

Some people seem to live to work. Others work to live. But I wonder how much “living” actually goes on.

On any given day…

What is the ratio of moments enjoyed to moments not enjoyed?

How often do we laugh?

Do we take time to really taste the food we eat? I mean, really TASTE it; not just swallow it.

Do we take pleasure in the sights that surround us each and every day?

Do we enjoy each others’ company?

Are we here to merely survive? Or are we here for a much greater purpose?

Some may say, “We can’t all go off and have fun everyday! Someone has to do the work around here!” And though that may be true in some way, I guess I just wish that every “someone” would find that “something” that really makes them feel alive. And that “something” would be connected to their livelihood, and therefore they are allowed to truly LIVE and not just “get by”, in a way that the means is just as fun and important as the end.

I don’t know about the Cock. I don’t know about you. I am evaluating my own life.