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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 268: 18 August - Fear Monster

I just thought of something today. I am most definitely sure it is not the first time this has been thought of by someone, in the every same way I thought of it. I am also sure it has been expressed many more eloquent ways than I am capable of. But it struck me all the same, and I want to share it. I realized something.

Fear is like a pet monster.

We all have different levels of fear, about different things in life. Some fear rejection, others fear acceptance. Some fear public speaking, others fear solitude.  Some fear “the other”, others fear self. Some fear the exposure of things in the light, others fear the darkness.  

Some of our fears are valid, and experience based, others are irrational uncertainties we have allowed to spiral out of control.

But no matter what the fear is, as long as we entertain it, we are giving it a place of residence.  That fear becomes our very own pet fear monster. And like any pet, the fear monster thrives, or dies based on our maintenance of it. And this maintenance of that pet fear monster, its means of survival or extinction, comes out of how we engage with the object of our fear.

Surely denial of fear, along with avoidance of the object of the fear, only gives nourishment to the fear monster.  It eats it up, grows, becomes more powerful, acts more rabidly, and becomes less and less easy to contain. Our fear monster becomes like a raging Rottweiler, foaming at the mouth, barking behind the fence, scaring those who pass by. After a while, even us as the pet owners lose control, and that fear monster literally eats us up alive!

But maybe that fear monster should not be seen as a pet at all. Maybe more of a pest; like a disgusting rat that managed to burrow its way into the walls of our house, only taking from us, spreading disease, and giving nothing positive in return. But depending on the size of the fear monster, mere once off poison will most likely not do the trick to rid our lives of this vermin. We have to work more long term.

We have to stop feeding it, and cease giving it the nutrition it needs to survive. We have to starve it.

Without doubt, this is a process of challenging it, engaging the object of fear, putting our self in a place to confront it and even be beaten by it at times, to stand back up to it again and again, over and over again, and then a bit more.

The fear monster will starve, be malnourished, a bony being with no meat, weak, feeble, delicate and tired. The fear monster will have no strength to stand and absolutely be powerless over us.

But we have to determine whether our fear monster is a pet, or an unwanted visitor. And depending on the answer to that, we need to treat it accordingly.

Friday, July 31, 2009

patience helps you give others permission to be human. it understands that everyone fails. when a mistake is made, it chooses to give them more time than they deserve to correct it. it gives you the ability to hold on during the tough times in your relationship rather than bailing out under the pressure.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Day 163: 5 May - True Activism

I think true activism is birthed from the connection of two parents...

a deep, unconditional love for someone, a group or something

and

a deep, unconditional hatred for anything that threatens the existence or well being of that person, group or thing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 157: 29 April - Humanity is Refreshing

It has been way too long since I last wrote and I am terribly sorry for that! No excuses!

Much of my time is spent trying to convince people to act on injustices they see around them instead of merely accepting those injustices as reality. Sometimes when I am speaking with people I can tell they want to “right the wrongs” but just don’t know how; others go through the motions of nodding their heads, but I can see on their faces that they are fortunate enough to be unaffected by the injustice, and will happily continue to allow it to cause misery for others, as long as it does not begin to impose on their way of life. One of my biggest “battles” of this nature has been with the pedophiles that prey on the children living on the streets of Cape Town.

I do think the average citizen feels disgust and disdain about these happenings, but I have rarely seen that emotion turn into public action. I personally have worked with all different forms of police units and “protectors of the public” to see justice be served, but due to the complexity of the situation, formerly weak policy (now changed and still evolving), the fact that “they are only street kids” (in the words of National Intelligence years ago), and other complications, children on the streets of Cape Town are the most vulnerable and easily accessible group of sexual prey for pedophiles.

This morning however, I was refreshed by humanity. I checked my Facebook and I had a message from a person that I am not “friends” with, and have never met before, neither on Facebook or in real life. She said she had seen me on one of the Special Assignment episodes done about pedophilia amongst street children and she wrote hoping I was the “right guy”. She then told me about an event that happened Monday night on Long Street.

She was driving around the corner of a dark, back street, just off Long, when she saw an old white man calling two children to get into his car. The way the man was behaving let her know that he was a pedophile. She told me that she immediately drove towards him and blocked him in. She wrote down his number plate, the make and model of his car, and she said she would have done more but she had her friend’s child in the backseat of her own car and did not want to put him at risk. She contacted me and is going to take matters further, whatever that looks like.

I am thankful for people like this lady who are willing to act when they see injustice! I am so thankful she made contact with me, to take matters forward, but also reaffirming something in me that I already knew but sometimes forget: basic acts of humanity can be so refreshing! What a way to start the day!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day 94: 26 February - Let’s Make a Movie!!!!

I know I have been quiet for a while, and I am sorry for that! Things have just been busy! But a good kind of busy. I am trying to get the word out, in as many ways as possible, that it is child abuse to allow children to live on the streets. A while back I wrote a book called Life Under the Table about my experiences (from the first few years of living in Cape Town) in working with the kids. I have posted it as a blog, for those of you that would like to read it just click on the title. While writing that book I was struck with a harsh conclusion: many stories I would like to tell would not fully be “understood” unless the reader has walked a long road with the individual. So if I told stories of hectic crime or drug abuse that the children partake in, I fear the reader might tend to feel negative feelings about the children, without truly understanding the fullness of the situation and reality with which they live. To remedy that, I decided to write a fictional series, based on a mixture of real experiences of real children, combined with my own imagination and story telling liberties.

The idea for the series is to focus on one “character”, tell the story from his point of view (taking him from his community to the streets to wherever his path takes him), and allow the reader to build a relationship with him, so that when he begins to participate in “questionable” behavior of street life, the reader is on “his side”. I have finished the first book of the series (though I have not approached publishers yet) and am working on the second. As I was writing the first book, which I titled Out of Manenberg, I often pictured it as a movie and dreamed about seeing it one day manifest itself in “film” form. I want to make a proper, great quality, feature length film of Out of Manenberg, and though I realize this is extremely ambitious, I know that dreams have to start somewhere. So I have decided to pursue this dream with a little more aggression and I am trying to raise funds to actually MAKE the movie! I have a very talented director friend who is excited and willing to work on the project. All we need is money.

I am trying to raise 1 Million Dollars, which sounds like tons of money but for a feature length film it is merely a drop in the bucket. I started a group on face book “I hope to find 1 million people willing to give 1 dollar each, to make a movie” and I opened a Pay Pal account so that people can give. If you are interested in giving you can click on the “donate” button on the right hand side of your screen or click here. If you want to give but do not wish to use Pay Pal feel free to contact me at capetownbrown@gmail.com. It only takes 1 dollar to become an executive producer of this film! Please help spread the word, even if you can’t give 1 dollar you can help by telling all your friends! As a little incentive, here is the first chapter of the book:


OUT OF MANENBERG - Chapter 1: Learning To Survive

I can’t sleep. Its nights like these where I lay and think. All of my shattered dreams, aspirations, and hopes, of what I could have done, of what I could have been, swirl around in my head like a raging storm. I lay here on this thin mattress with nothing to drown out my loud thoughts except for deafening silence and the sound of rats scratching around the prison floor. Yeah, I have had a rough life, but I truly have no one to blame but myself for the place I am in now. I had an opportunity to make it out of my life, that was destined to go nowhere, and then because of one stupid choice, I threw it all away. I will spend the rest of my life behind these walls, encaged within these bars. How did I get here? There’s no simple answer, but the best place to start is the beginning.

I was born in 1987 in Manenberg, a suburb of Cape Town that has a reputation for violence and gangsterism. I never knew my father, but from what I hear about him, I don’t really care to ever meet him. He lives far away or is dead by now. I don’t really care. I have three brothers and two sisters, all except for two are from different men. I am the oldest. My mom was as loving as she knew how to be. She also didn’t know her father. That’s because her mom was raped by a white police officer. She grew up during a hard time and the white people made it difficult for her to succeed. She had no education and she would try and drink away her problems with alcohol. She didn’t have a job but we never seemed to struggle too much for our basic needs. Well, that is if you consider water, sometimes food and shelter basic needs. Our neighbors would always give us rice and bread when we needed it.

I have always been a natural leader. I am small, but I learned how to use my mouth at a young age. I got into my fare share of trouble because of my mouth, but I also learned how to use it as a deadly weapon, when need be. I have also been in my fair share of fights, and though I am small, I am pretty tough. I remember my first fight. I was seven, and my brother, the second oldest, Andre was four. He came home one day screaming and blood was streaming down his face. Mom had sent him to the store to buy her a cigarette and on the way Melvin, one of the known troublemakers of our area, tried to take his money. Melvin was a thirteen-year-old bully and he got away with it because his older brother was one of the big shots in one of the prominent gangs in our area, the Hard Livings. When Melvin tried to take the money from Andre, my brother knew that the beating he would get from Melvin would not be nearly as bad as the one he would get from my mom if he returned home with no cigarette and no money, so he stood up to him. Melvin hit Andre so hard that he fell and busted his head open on the ground. Then Melvin sat on Andre and took the money from him.

I listened, as Andre stood there crying and bleeding all over the floor. After I had gotten the facts straight, I decided to go settle things with Melvin. No one messes with my little brother. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I ran to confront Melvin. By the time I got to the shop, Melvin was standing there, smoking the cigarette that was supposed to be my mom’s and he was laughing and telling the story of how he had gotten it, to a group of about five of his friends. I felt a warm sensation all over my body and it felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Melvin was twice my size and known for his fighting abilities.

I picked up a brick that was lying on the ground and started for him. Before he knew it, I had jumped up onto him and I hit him on the forehead with the brick. As he fell to the ground, I landed on top of him. The brick fell out of my hands and bounced as it hit the ground. My arms went numb as I punched him in the face over and over again. I could feel my knuckles being shredded by his teeth but I could not stop myself. I had never felt that kind of rage before. His friends stood there in shock, not really knowing what to do. When I saw that he was unconscious, I stopped. There I sat, on top of bloody, unconscious Melvin, with a group of kids standing there in absolute shock. I slowly stood up and picked the brick back up, in case some of his friends got any bright ideas. I looked at them and I could tell that I had a wild look in my eyes that scared them; a look of a wild animal on the prowl, ready to devour his next prey. They all just stood there like statues. I announced, “You tell Melvin, when he wakes up, that if he EVER touches my brother again, I will finish what I started.” Pretty big words for a seven year old! But I had heard the older gangsters in our block of flats say things like that before.

Then I remembered my mom’s cigarette and I searched Melvin’s pocket and found a whole rand. I went into the shop and bought the cigarette for my mom and two sweets, one for me and one for Andre. I walked proudly back to my house. I felt a sense of power that I had never felt before. I felt like I ruled the neighborhood. I felt like I could take on a whole army if I had to. When I got back to my house, I gave my mom her cigarette and I gave Andre his sweet and I sat down and told him the whole story.

Fighting was a necessity in my neighborhood. Those who couldn’t fight for themselves, had to walk around with those who could both fight for them and for themselves. The gangs ruled the area and they preyed on the young boys. They recruited from a very young age. If you didn’t join a gang, you were in danger. At least if you were in a gang, you would only have the threat of the rival gang and the protection of your own along with it. If you were not in one, you would have to watch your back all the time for all of them. I hated them. I decided from a young age that I was never going to join a gang.

Andre’s dad was a gangster. He lived with us around that same time. The hatred that I had for that man is not describable with words. Every night, he would sit with his friends, in our kitchen, and smoke buttons until he could barely talk right. I hated him even more when he was in that state. He was an evil man most of the time, but when he was dik geroek , he would put the devil himself to shame. Sometimes he would even pass out right there on the floor. I preferred it when he would just kap om , which was only every now and then, because the other times, which was basically every night, he would end up beating my mom and then he would turn his attention on Andre. He hated Andre and always talked about how he was a “mistake”. He beat every bit of dignity and self-respect that was left in my mom, right out of her.

I remember her from a real young age. Even though it seems I was too young to remember things like that, I can still picture her beautiful face in my mind! I thought she was the most beautiful lady that had ever walked on the face of this earth. She was young, at the ripe age of 19, when I was born. When I was three she got with Andre’s dad and then everything went down hill from there. Their relationship was never that good but he only started really beating her like that when he found out she was pregnant with Andre. He blamed her for getting pregnant and some nights he would make her drink and drink to a dangerous point, to try and abort the baby. Some nights he would beat her and even hit and kick her on her stomach. I was young, and I would just sit there on the floor crying, but those pictures are still engraved in my mind.

When Andre was born, it got even worse. He beat my mom on a nightly basis. By the time Andre was three and I was six, my mom looked like a totally different person to the beautiful young lady that I once remembered. The beatings had added years onto her and she looked like a forty-year-old lady. She had also lost sight in her left eye from one of the more vicious beatings. Her eye was white and cloudy. Her skin was worn and looked like leather and her lips were always swollen. It broke my heart to even look at her because I loved my mom more than anyone else in the world. When I was eight years old, I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I came in from playing with friends one night and I found my mom, bleeding and unconscious, on the floor. Then I heard Andre screaming in the back room and I could hear his dad beating him and telling him to shut his mouth. His words slurred together, as they often did when he was dik geroek.

I felt that same feeling that I did in that first fight with Melvin. By then I had gotten used to it because I had been in many more fights over the years. I picked up a screwdriver that was laying in the kitchen and I ran back to the back room. I stopped in the doorway and saw the bastard standing over Andre with his belt in his hands. Andre was curled up on the floor and was crying and pleading for him to stop. “Jou ma se poes kind! Jy’s net soos jou ma!” He continued to hit Andre, with the buckle part of the belt. I could not take it anymore. I felt a rush of rage and then everything turned black. I jumped on his back and stuck the screwdriver into the back of his neck and he immediately fell to the ground. He fell on top of my leg and I had to pull it out from under him to stand up. I went over to Andre and helped him sit up.

His eyes were swollen shut from the beatings and he was bleeding all over. I held him and told him that everything was going to be alright. My heart felt like it was ripped into a hundred pieces. I loved my brother more than anything or anyone else in the world, apart from my mom, and it killed me to see him like that. I started to cry and I sobbed like never before. We just sat there on the floor and I held Andre until he fell asleep in my arms. I was in shock and I just sat there, shaking, crying and I held Andre tight until I eventually fell asleep. I was awoken by a loud blood-curdling scream the next morning. My mom had woken up and came into the room and saw her man laying on the floor in a puddle of dried blood with a screw driver sticking out of the back of his neck. She picked me up and started shaking me, screaming, “What have you done?! What have you done?!” I searched deep within for words, but nothing came out.

She collapsed to the ground and held me tight in her arms and began to sob. I could see that she wasn’t crying because she was sad, but because she was actually relieved. Andre woke up and came over and we all sat there on the floor for hours. Time passed by slowly and we all just sat there and didn’t say a word. Looking back, strangely enough, that was the best time I ever spent with my mom. For the first time ever…maybe the only time…we felt like a real family. We sat there until the night and my mom finally went out to a friend’s house. A little bit later she returned with some men and they took away the body and we never heard anything about it again. The police didn’t get involved and there wasn’t even a funeral. Of course the word got out in the neighborhood, that I had killed a man, which only helped my reputation amongst the kids.

I had killed someone. I felt no remorse, no grief, but that wasn’t the thing that scared me. What really scared me was that I knew if I were put in the same situation again, I would do it over again. I had to protect my mom and my brother. They were all I had.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day 87: 19 February - FACT

No child should ever EVER be allowed to live on the streets for any reason what so ever, exclamation point!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 77: 9 February - Unfair Truths Continue

I woke up earlier than usual this morning in order to meet Lee’s new found “guardian” to pick her up and take her to the school that Lee attended last year (the school where I teach). I wouldn’t have forgotten my promise to “help” because Lee had been on my mind the entire weekend after our meeting on Friday, but had I forgotten about my engagement with his “auntie” this morning, I would have been reminded by her call last night, “making sure we were still on”, and then her call again this morning, “just wanting to make sure that I was still coming”. This was encouraging to me. I could feel her sense of urgency and genuine concern for Lee. When I arrived at her house she was eagerly waiting for me. We drove to the school.

When we arrived at the school the principal was busy in a meeting and so we were informed by the secretary we would have to wait about thirty minutes for him. Lee’s auntie did not seem phased by this. In the meantime, I took her into the secretary’s office and introduced them to each other. Lee’s auntie then sat down in the chair across from the secretary’s desk and began to spill out her story with a gush of emotion. I just sat there and watched as she explained to the secretary how when her daughter had first brought Lee to her house and asked if he could stay with them, she immediately rejected the request without blinking. She said that Lee began to cry and ran off, and her daughter chased after him, probably making some teenage-like comment to her mother as she ran away, chasing after Lee.

Lee’s auntie’s eyes began to fill up with tears. “Then it became late, and my daughter had still not returned home so I went up to main road to look for her... where she said Lee had been staying…” The dam blocking her tear filled eyes broke and tears began to stream down her face, “When I got up to main road I saw her standing beside an old broken down BMW. I walked up to it and looked inside and saw Lee. He had his shirt pulled over his knees and was curled up in a ball. My daughter said, ‘Look where he is living mom!’ and it was at that moment that I realized I could not allow a child to live in that situation, even if he was not my own child.” Her tears streamed down heavier as she told the rest of the story of how she took in Lee, how his drunk grandmother had visited her house and the only interest she showed in Lee was to swear at him profusely and then left again, and how she wanted so badly for him to get back in school. My heart broke for her.

Before long the principal got out of his meeting and we met with him in his office. Lee’s auntie had hoped he would change his mind about refusing to enroll Lee at his school, but he did not. He explained that he has a whole school of students to think about and teachers that would be very unhappy at Lee’s return to school. But he did show a true concern about Lee and said that he wanted to help in any way he could to get Lee placed in another school. I felt caught in the middle because I fully understood his side and reasoning for not wanting to take Lee back, but I could also see the heartbreak in the Auntie because she has seen a “new Lee” and was not as familiar with the one that the principal and I spoke of in that meeting. I could see the Principal’s frustration with the “system” as he explained that he has been having literal nightmares about this situation.

He asked if there was nothing that could be done in holding Lee’s parents accountable. He asked it, knowing the answer: it would be a long road with social services that would probably be in vain. The Auntie also informed us that the new school had said they would only take Lee based on his report from last year. I knew that his report was far from something they would accept. I asked the Principal what the possibility was of the new school accepting him in order to do grade five over again. The principal informed me that last year was, in fact, Lee's second time to do grade five and they are forced to push up a student, no matter what, if they are more than two years behind the grade they are supposed to be in. That is when I once again noticed how policies are failing our children and are also not being holistically implemented on the ground level.

Though this “push them up” rule is true, and occurs way too frequently, often producing children in high school who are completely illiterate, I also know that the South African School Act of 1996 states that a parent that does not see that his or her child is going to school can be prosecuted. I can see how the latter policy could come in handy in meeting the principal’s request to “hold the parents” accountable, but I know the reality of the situation is that would never happen. So we all walked out of the meeting not feeling much more positive about the situation. The principal remains haunted by the fact that he is caught between what is “right” for his other students and for his staff, and what is “right” for Lee, Lee’s auntie feels disempowered to help this child that she has now taken into her care and cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I can’t help but feel a little apathetic. Because I know the system, I have seen it mess many-a-kid over, and I can see where this story is headed. However, Lee’s life cannot be changed by apathy, and I will continue to hope, and do whatever I can to try and see positive change come in his life. He deserves a break!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Day 74: 6 February - Unfair Truths

My heart hurts. That sounds pretty dramatic but it is the best way to describe how I feel today after spending time with a twelve year old boy who I will call Lee (not his real name). For those of you that don’t know, apart from the work I do with the children living on the streets, I also teach Life Orientation in a grade six class of a small school in Woodstock (an immediate suburb of Cape Town CBD). Over the few years that I have been involved in the school I have also done individual counseling and work with specific students that are highlighted by the teachers as “problematic” or “troubled”. That is how I met Lee.

Last year the school was having a number of problems with Lee. He absconded quite often and when he was at school he was unruly and acted out the majority of the time. He had a short temper and would explode at the slightest provocation of a teacher or another student. He would frequently become aggressive and vulgar with other students, yet seemed to have leadership qualities that would cause other students to follow him, mostly in defiant behavior. The school asked me to meet with Lee and try and “get to him”. Unfortunately, I only got to meet with him, formally, one or two times because I go in on Mondays and that seemed to be his “day off”. But I did study up on his case and would occasionally get to casually speak to him out on the playground.

Lee was born to a single mother. His dad is currently in jail, and I believe is involved in gangster activities. When Lee was about three years old his mother decided she wanted “nothing to do with him”, a convenient form of post-contraception that is all too common in the world today. His grandmother grudgingly took him in, but it was apparently clear from the beginning that she resented having to do so because he was merely a “distraction” to her partying way of life. She has a boyfriend that is mean to Lee, and she blames Lee for any argument that her boyfriend starts with him. They both drink heavily and are abusive to Lee. So last year seeing that little eleven year old boy, so full of anger, hurt and pain, feeling like nobody “wants” him, it was no wonder to me as to why he acted out in the way he did.

This year the school decided that they could not afford to take him because of his negative influence on other students. This Monday the principal spoke with me about Lee and said that he is losing sleep thinking about him. He has had many people approach him who have seen Lee in Woodstock and they report back all sorts of negative stories and situations they have seen Lee in. The principal does not have any contact details for Lee but has heard that he is not living with his grandmother anymore. He asked me to see if I saw him and try and speak to him and find out “where he is at”. So when I saw Lee sitting on main road Woodstock today I nearly slammed on my breaks, did a u-turn and went to speak to him.

Lee seemed excited to see me as I walked up to him. I sat and chatted with him for a while and he explained that he is having trouble getting transferred to a new school because the old school has not given his release papers to him. I asked him about where he is staying now and he told me he was staying with his auntie. I asked if I could go with him to visit her and he seemed eager to the possibility and so we began walking to her house. On the way there he told me, “She is not my real auntie. She is just looking after me and lets me stay with her. She will tell you about it.” We walked down into the “rougher” part of Woodstock, near Gympie Street (for those of you that are familiar with Woodstock) and approached a dilapidated house. He told me he would call her and entered into the house. A few minutes later out came a lady who warmly invited me in.

At first glance, she looked like a character out of a movie. I know it is not good to judge a book by its cover, but if I were casting for a movie and needed someone to play a “tough gangster prostitute”, she would have the part. She is as thin as a skeleton, full of tattoos, has a complete set of gold teeth, and was wielding a knife as she walked to the door. She even had some word tattooed on her knuckles, which you don’t see all that often on females. She immediately noticed and admired my body art and I realized that my tattoos in those situations have stronger credibility than my social work degree from U.C.T. After asking me about my tattoo artist she began by saying, “I will just be honest, I used to deal drugs but I am not involved with that anymore.”

She told me that her daughter, who was sitting on the other side of the room, had met Lee in Woodstock and noticed that he was sleeping in a broken down car, because his grandmother couldn’t “handle him anymore”. She felt pity for him and took him in. She told me about how she treats him as one of her own and about her efforts of trying to get him in another school and even how she had already bought him school clothes. I could see that though this might not be the most ideal of living situations for Lee, at least someone showed interest in him and care for him, and he seemed to be eating it up. Besides, it is definitely a step up from living alone in a broken down car, at the age of twelve. I informed the auntie that I would speak to the principal and would help them get Lee back in school. She was thrilled. After our chat with “his auntie” Lee walked me back to my car.

On the way he told me about a case that he now has against him for stabbing another youngster. As he spoke I could see the fear, hurt, pain, and heart ache in his eyes; not just about the court case, but about everything: his entire life. Before I left, I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him deep in the eyes and said, “I know it is not easy! But you have to understand, whatever your mother and grandmother have done or are doing, really and truly has nothing to do with you! No matter what they say! You are just a kid and you should not have to live through the things that you have and they are supposed to look after and care for you no matter what! It is not your fault, and I understand why you act out in school the way you do, but it also doesn’t excuse it. You have the choice to use these things that you have been through as an excuse to go on in the way you are now, or you can decide to walk a different path, and prove everybody wrong! I believe in you and I think you are a great kid, and I want to try and support you in whatever way I can. Do you understand?”

He looked at me with tears welling up in his eyes and nodded his head yes. He was trying hard not to show emotion because it is not beneficial to do so in that part of main road Woodstock. But I could see that he heard me and my words were sinking into his heart. It is so sad to see a kid that literally has no one in the world that is on his side. His own family does not want anything to do with him, and that is no secret to him or anyone else. When I look at him I just see a little hurting kid that just wants to be loved and merely have a place where he belongs. Unfortunately, in that part of Woodstock there are plenty of places to find belonging but majority of them are unsuitable places for a kid to "belong". In that particular part of Woodstock, for every one person there is that is willing to take in a kid like Lee for all the “right” reasons, there are at least fifty more that are willing to take him in for all the wrong reasons. Lee is just another example to me of a kid that is in a situation, out of his control and yet totally unfair!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Day 70: 2 February - Snap Shot

People are probably sick and tired of hearing my "reasons" as to why it is inappropriate for children to be allowed to live on the streets! Well, i actually don't care!! I am sick and tired of children being allowed to live on the streets. Today i just had a simple yet eerie reminder of how vulnerable children living on the streets are to all types of things; especially when it comes to tourists. These children are in the public eye. They are always there. They are easily accessible. Adults use them for all types of things, and because these children need money most of the time, they have become accustomed to doing these "all types of things". They are probably the most accessible yet vulnerable members of society. This is commonly known by tourists, and members of the public, and they use it for their advantage.

So what happened today was really all that big of a deal. It was just more of a reminder of what i just spoke about; that these children are vulnerable and easily accessible to all types of people that "make use" of them for all types of things. I was online and i was googling information about "street children". On a bit of a side note, i visited India in early 2000 for three months, and made friends with many children living on the streets of different cities I visited. One place where i made many little friends was Calcutta, and specifically with the children living on Sudder Street (a very touristy area). So today when i was googling information about "street children", i decided to narrow my search to "street children sudder street". I did a google image search. There were a few pictures of Sudder Street but no kids that i recognized and so i decided to try narrowing it a bit more and adding in a child's name that i remembered. I went with Israel, one of the kids i became closer with, and mostly because it was easy to spell.

"street children Sudder Street Israel". To my surprise, the first two pictures that came up were actual pictures of the kid that i had hung out with over nine years ago! One picture he was by himself, smiling, and leaning up against a taxi. In the other picture he was with a group of other kids i remembered. They were just pictures in someones flicker photo bucket. Probably someone like me who made friends with the kid and took their pictures. It is really not all that big of a deal i guess, but it left me with kind of an eerie feeling. I mean, the pictures were not inappropriate in any way, and the children looked happy. But looking at it from another angle, if you were just a suburban parent, and you went to google image and you googled your child's name, and pictures actually came up that you were not aware of, wouldn't it sit a little funny with you? Ok, i think i might be blowing this a little out of proportion because Israel is not my kid, and i don't even know that he doesn't know that his picture is online. Maybe he does. But whether i am overreacting or not it was a reminder for me as to how accessible and vulnerable these children are and just how many people have access to them!

I specifically remember having a long conversation one day with that very kid about how many of the young boys on Sudder Street have sex with foreigners for money. I remember being gutted as i was sitting there listening to that 12 year old (approximately at the time) tell me about these things, and not shying away from including himself. So seeing that picture of him online, looking about the same age as when i met him, just made me sit and think about where he might be now, nine years later. How old he must be, how hardened he might be, how much he has been subjected to, and how many people he has had contact with that have used him, exploited him and abused him for their own pleasure or purposes. This is just one example of one kid. I just thought i would share my experience with you.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

There's more to education than 1-2-3

I'm a teacher. I get paid to teach. My children must pass their "tests" or I'm not doing my job. They must reach their benchmarks or I've failed. I must make sure they know their math facts or I've caused them to miss a major building block for future grades. Their education rests on my shoulders along with their future success.

But....I stop in the middle of a lesson so the class can make "get well" cards for someone's grandmother who is having surgery; I take my lunch time to sit with a small boy in my lap who needs to cry because his mom died 2 weeks ago, and later I "beg" my colleagues for any extra money so that I can get a headstone for the same little boy to put on his Mama's grave; I skip math facts drill so that Joe can show the class the pictures of his new little brother; I use 5 minutes of silent reading time so that Ali, the shyest child in the class, can recite a poem she wrote; I go to the store duirng planning time to get some new clothes for Autumn who never has nice things and who doesn't smell too fresh because she's still wearing winter clothes and it's 90 degrees; I find a dentist who will donate his time to put top teeth in for one of my parents because her little girl says she can't find a job while she's "toothless"; I try my best to help a single dad who has been living in his car with his 3 children, and I try not to be discouraged when they disappear again in the middle of the night; I tell the kicking, screaming, cussing, hissing, ball of child in my arms how much I love him as I carry him to the office for the 3rd time this week; I look parents in the eye and tell them what they need to hear instead of what they always want to hear; I skip Social Studies so that my whole class can sneak with me into the cafeteria to hide surprises for the "cafeteria ladies"and I spend a good deal of time teaching my students how to be good people. Is this in the standards? Nope. Am I an activist? You Bet!!

I'm a human. I don't get paid to be human, but it's the best part of my job!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day 66: 29 January - CHANGE

Ok, i want to start off by saying i do not intend for this blog to have any political affiliations or ties. However there is a unavoidable relationship between politics, governments and activism. That means sometimes it is difficult to avoid a "political" conversation. So let me just say that any political views, opinions, or statements are my own and are not necessarily those of the other authors of 365 Days of Activism. Now that that is out of the way...

I have been thinking a great deal lately about change. I must say that i am thrilled that Obama is now the president of the United States. I think Obama being elected president is one of those milestones that my generation will be know for. Over the election campaigns the word "change" was cleverly linked with Obama. He is in fact "change" in many ways, shapes and forms and I do feel that he represents the "change we need". I really believe in him as a leader and i have alot of faith in him! What i do not believe is that he is some magical being that will take away our problems, make everything "ok", and bring happiness to America and the rest of the world. Though he may be a representative of change, and even a powerful catalyst, he himself will not solely be or bring the change we need. I watched a documentary called "Barack Obama: People's President" on Tuesday night and as much as i enjoyed it there was one specific part that stood out to me. Several young voters were being asked about Obama, and one of his young female supporters said something along the lines of, "We cannot sit around and wait for Obama or the government to bring the change we need. We are responsible to bring that change ourselves." This statement hit the nail on the head for me! As much as Obama is a representative of change WE as the people are responsible to bring mass change, and push for him and the government to stand by the change that they have promised. I think that true change comes when average people make small intentional decisions to bring change in their day to day life; this could be smiling at a stranger, donating to a charity, helping someone who is broke down on the side of the road, adopting a child, or as simple as switching off the lights when you are not using them.

I have noticed that certain people are already putting enormous amounts of pressure on Obama. He has been president for a little over a week and i hear people say things like, "Obama has been president for a week and gas prices are still going up." I find this hilarious and frustrating. Whether a person is an Obama supporter or totally against him, we cannot afford to put too much responsibility on him. We have to trust him as a leader to have the best intentions of his country in mind, and trust him to do the things he says, but we also cannot be unrealistic (whether we are for or against him) and expect things to just magically change. We have to be agents of that change.

So since i am already writing a political post i just want to speak briefly about the South African political climate. They are labelling this up coming election as "the most important election since 1994", and i believe it very well could be. I want to challenge all South Africans, and especially the young voters, to get out and register if you are not, and vote! Your last chance to register is the 7th & 8th of February. American just saw a record number of young voters, and groups of people that have never traditionally voted, come to the polls and vote. South Africans can follow this example, educate themselves about the candidates, and make an informed vote. Because whether we like it or not, the government lays the structure of the system in which we are fighting for change. But no matter the outcome of the South African election, and no matter what happens with Obama in America, you can count on the fact that i will do everything in my power to see much needed change brought to the lives and communities of people around me. I hope you will commit to do the same!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 65: 28 January - Did Freud Mention the Defense Mechanism of “RUN”?

Suppression, Repression, Narcissism, Humor, Regression, Denial, Projection, Distortion, Passive Aggression, Acting Out, Displacement, Dissociation, Intellectualization, Isolation…to name a few. We all adapt to our environments by developing these wonderful defenses! I say wonderful sarcastically because though these tools are subconsciously (usually) created to protect us from unwanted feelings or emotions, they often end up hurting us further.. Defense mechanisms are not all bad. When used healthily, and to the proper degree, they can be quite helpful. I know Humor, Suppression, and Intellectualization helped me through many tough years! Then again everything cannot be joked or laughed off, suppressed (or repressed if one is acting in an immature defense) emotions and feelings make their way up to the surface at some point or another, and some things just plain don’t make sense no matter how you look at it!

There is one Defense Mechanism that I commonly see with the children living on the streets that Freud failed to mention: RUNNING! Sure, there are certain Defense Mechanisms that come into play when a child, or adult for that matter, decides to run from a situation, but Freud did not specifically define the act of literally running from a problem (or at least, not that I know of). Running, however, is a well polished Defense Mechanism that these children know so well. I have seen it over and over again. It usually starts at home with a problem, series of problems, or an environment of continuous, ongoing pain and hurt. The child cannot cope and eventually runs from that reality to escape it. Insert a little Suppression of the previous hurt experienced, and the pain of leaving certain loved ones behind, a bit of Projection not wanting to take credit for certain aspects that may be his or her fault, and maybe even a sprinkle of Acting Out.

The child will find his or her way to the streets, or an organization, or maybe other family members in another community, but unfortunately the “system” is built around this Defense Mechanism that the child has now discovered. Most organizations (apart from Places of Safety and Juvenile Reformatories) have an “open door policy”, meaning the child can run away any time they feel. This is obviously not encouraged, but one could argue as long as the child knows it’s an option, we are basically giving him or her permission to do so. This makes it easy for the child to run whenever a problem occurs. For instance, little Johnny might run away from home because he got in trouble at school. He then finds his way to town and joins a group of kids that come from similar backgrounds. Johnny lives with them until one day he steals from one of the kids in the group. Instead of confronting the problem he may run back home, or not seeing that as an option may run to another group in another part of town.

Unfortunately, the problems never disappear. They are still there waiting for Johnny, or whoever, but it is Johnny that is in a different place where those problems do not exist. Today I bumped into Julian, who is a perfect example of this. I met up with him about two years ago on the streets when he had run from the shelter he had been staying in. I worked with him for a while and got him back home staying with his family. Eventually he was not coping in that environment and ended up running away again. Back to the shelter he had run from before I met with him at that time. I saw him at the shelter a couple of weeks back and he seemed happy. So today I bumped into him and he told me he had run away from the shelter on Sunday because he had gotten in a fight with another boy. He is back on the streets. That is, he is back on the streets until something happens that will cause him to run to the next place.

Julian is still young, but he is getting older. The most unfortunate thing about a lifestyle “on the run” is that, as I said earlier, problems do not disappear and they only end up piling up all over the place. The older the child gets in this “life on the run”, the more bridges he or she burns, and the more unresolved problems he or she faces in the world, and the more difficult it is for them to ever settle down and realize that life is full of problems and the only way to get rid of them is to face them head on. I do not think it is a mere coincidence that in our society where we have so many children running from their problems, and a system that supports that decision, that we would also have such a high rate of “fatherless” children. Because these children that learn to run from their problems grow up, get girls pregnant, and act in the defense they know best: RUN!

give oprah to the dogs.

yesterday while cooking dinner, our tv was on the station that plays the oprah show. for some time now i have had very adverse reactions to oprah. examples include swear words uncontrollably flying out of my mouth, my eyes shooting out laser beams at the tv screen, my fists clenching and palms starting to sweat. i remember one time she had this homeless dude on there and she was such a you-know-what to him. i actually wrote about it on my blog (www.reflectioninwater.blogspot.com).

anyways. so oprah was on (because, as much as i loathe her, i get sucked in. it's a nasty cycle) and the entire episode was dedicated to people with dogs who can do weird things like hop on two legs, nurse lion cubs, add basic numbers and count out the sum with their paws, and so forth. it was really entertaining, i'm not gonna lie. minus the freaky dog with two legs that looked like a malnurished kangaroo. that was traumatic to watch. towards the end of the show, lynette from desperate housewives came on. i love her on that show. but on oprah, she was going on about this large number of dogs who were "orphans", abused and neglected. she even said "these dogs have never had their own bed to sleep on". ok, now let me insert a few sentences about my love for dogs. i love them. i have one. they are sweet and cuddly and make me happy. but at that moment i wanted to punch lynette.

i live in a world where kids live on the streets, smoke crack from the single-digit ages, are neglected and abandoned, have no bed to sleep in, kinda like oprah's homeless dogs. i live with a man (my husband) who has made it his life's work to fight for the rights of such kids. it's a huge passion in my heart, and my heart breaks when i see certain situations these kids face. but what doesn't break me heart is when i see passionate people with really famous tv shows and huge public platforms who some people follow religiously NOT giving kids in need the same attention and support and awareness as they give animals.

is it because dogs are cute and cuddly and easy to control? are kids on the street too scary, confusing, guilt-producing, dirty?

i hope a day comes when oprah lets dogs be dogs and brings attention and passion to people's lives about these children. and not as a trendy topic to throw around for money and glory, but a heart-cry that bring people to a place of brokenness for the reality that children live, work, cry on the streets of the world's cities.

don't hate me cause i bash oprah and her dog-loving self. she's just giving the people what they want. and what they want is animal rescue and dogs with cute little tricks. it's clear that society doesn't yet want children invited to the show to express their pain and abandonment. so i guess it's not really oprah's problem, but society as a whole. our hearts aren't yet longing for the equality and justice so many of us preach.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day 61: 24 January - Tattooed in Our Minds and Hearts

I have been fairly “quiet” for a while. My “online silence” does not, however, reflect the business I have found myself in over the past two weeks or so; I have been very busy with follow up meetings and plans from my 16 days on the streets, because my 16 days were followed by the time of the year where everything on this side of the world kind of slows down, and even stops, for the holidays. Things are moving again. The conversation as to “what to do with the hardened kids” in town needs to continue, and action needs to follow, but as that dialogue continues I am aware of how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the “problem”.

I started this conversation on here for several reasons. I felt it was important to highlight the complexity of the situation. As the conversation continues it becomes more and more obvious that most avenues have been attempted for these specific children at one time or another, that something drastic needs to happen, but that we also are not quite sure what exactly that “something” is. I can see a true concern for these children along with a frustration in not knowing what to do in many comments people have made in this discussion. I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the size of the problem when we focus on it, and especially when “solutions” seem to be far and wide. Yesterday I was reminded again of a powerful tool for change.

I went to the Southern Ink Exposure Tattoo Convention last night. Wildfire Tattoo , where I get my work done, is hosting the event and it is the first Tattoo Convention of this caliber to be held on African soil. There are artists from all over the world. It is truly an amazing experience and I would recommend anybody, whether you like tattoos or not, to try and make it out to the convention! Anyways, I had a couple of conversations at the convention that were very important reminders for me. The first conversation was with Tyler Murphy. Tyler used to work at Wildfire but has recently gone out on his own and opened his own studio, Sins of Style . He excitedly greeted me last night when I saw him.

The last time I saw Tyler was smack dab in the middle of my 16 days on the streets. I was walking around one early morning, waiting for Crippie to open. I remember that morning because I did not have enough money to buy a cup of coffee, vital for my “wakeup routine”, AND soup so I was just walking around like a zombie and hoping for a caffeine intervention. Just when I thought my cause to get coffee was impossible I bumped into Tyler sitting outside a little cafĂ© on Long Street. I stopped and chatted. He told me about his new tattoo studio he had just opened, and because of the “state” I was in (unkept, dirty, smelly, hairy face, etc.) the topic of my time on the streets arose naturally. Without me having to ask, or express my desperation for coffee, he offered to buy me some. Sigh of relief. We then sat and chatted over coffee and talked in great depths about my time on the streets, the reason I was doing it, and the current situation of children on the streets. He was a great audience!

So last night when I bumped into him he excitedly asked me how the rest of my time on the streets went and how I had adjusted back to “normal” life. Then he said, “You don’t know how much that conversation that we had impacted me that day! I couldn’t get it out of my mind! I have continued our conversation with so many people. You would not believe how many people I have talked to about it! You really achieved what you were trying by starting conversations!”. Tyler simply reminded me of one really important “solution”: awareness. People cannot make a difference in something they don’t know, or don’t care, about but by simply starting conversations, and feeding important information to people, we are educating them of the problem, and laying down a foundation of awareness to build real and lasting change. For Tyler, our conversation seemed to be tattooed on his mind and heart and he will not soon forget it.

I also had a conversation with a group of artists from Kansas City. We had the normal back and forth about where we are from in the States, and then they were asking what I was doing here and for how long. When they heard I work with the kids in town the one girl brokenheartedly spoke about one of the younger kids that they bumped into on Long Street. I knew who he was based on her description. I expected to hear the typical “foreigner response” about the “cute little kid” that she gave a bunch of money to, but it was nothing like that. She said she could see he was hyped up on drugs and her heart broke for him. She said she felt like “picking him up, taking him away from that reality and taking care of him”; her sentiments coming very close to some of the “solutions” that we have come to in the discussion about these kids. She felt it was wrong to allow a child to be in that place, and that a child addict should not be treated as an adult and something had to happen before he literally kills himself in his cycle of self destruction. I could see that the image of his face was tattooed on her mind and heart!

These conversations were refreshing for me! They did not bear fruit of amazing solutions to the problem we face, but they were a reminder of one simple thing: we cannot be overwhelmed by the “problem” and have to focus on simple, achievable “solutions” for these kids. And as we continue to seek long term, sustainable and permanent solutions for them, I am reminded that one very simple, doable solution is to merely continue with conversations. Because these informed conversations lead to an awareness. Information is power. And based on this informed awareness of the general public, we are able to build true and lasting change in the greater structure and in the lives of these children. We have to come to a point where a vast majority of society feels strongly that it is wrong to allow children to live on the streets. Once this simple belief is tattooed in the minds and hearts of many, I believe that we will begin to see real and lasting change come!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Moving the discussion along - Hardened Street Children

Instead of following on with Ryans blog, I thought to carry the conversation along a little in a freash post. Just finished another meeting in my discussions of what to do with the drug addicted street kids and some ideas flowed, so I have some ideas and questions to run past you guys. So here we go, the question is what if we get creative and out of our comfort zone?

First some points to understand:
1. These kids are addicted to drugs, their mission is to get drugs, nothing else.
2. They make a lot of money from begging, working in the taxis, working for the restaurants, asking for shoes/cornflakes which they then sell and so on.
3. I cannot find an appropriate service for them, ie no detention drug rehab for children (if any of you do know of one please let me know).
4. We cannot just let them carry on regardless, but at the same time we cannot seem to do anything for them.

So what about this:
1. We target all their money streams, drug dealers, child labour and so on as never before.
2. We empower the security gaurds, firstly so that they understand the position of the kids, what we can do for them (not much at the moment) and so they understand that these kids are addicted to drugs, how they go about getting the money, their behavour, etc.
3. We then set up a wet-shelter (they can come in high or drunk) where they can sleep during the day, have a shower, start to get medical and psyhcological/drug rehab treatment and then they are allowed out at night if they want.
4. We assign a security gaurd to each kid to follow them around, educate and stop people giving them money, basically make sure that to get drugs is very difficult because they are being followed all the time.
5. We slowly change their behaviour and move them into the normal system.


So what do you think, I will expand on this or any point if anyone is interested. The main point is that the kids have a safe place to go and sleep, the street environment is made difficult for them to continue begging and using drugs and boundaries are put in place. Yes there are problems, like the kids will just move to the waterfront who refuses to look at anything programme to reduce begging. I however think it is worth starting to serioiusly discuss this idea.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Not us?

I have just watched Barack Obama get inaugurated. He makes people excited to help.  Why don't we all just find something else to do good instead of thinking about the bad?  You don't have to be a big famous person or even a adult to do something great. People are mistreated on the streets like Ryan helps. We can all help them.  People have diseases like diabetes like I help. We can all help them.  Children could give toys to an orphanage. We can all help them. You can even just do kind good deeds for your neighbors. We can ALL help them. What are we all using our bodies for? Why aren't we using it for the good? President Obama sees what I am talking about! Now let's all join together throughout the world to help the ones that need us the most and to be the person that we want to . Now let's be the people that know what to do !

purveyors of fine... hope and humility

for any of you that have been in the "business" of transformation for some time you, i am sure, will remember a day... maybe a moment... or an incident that took the wind out of your sails and left you feeling a bit hopeless. a kid that keeps making the same stupid mistake over and over. an addict that just can't let go. women who don't walk away when they should. the list could go on and on. (at least for me it could :)... life at beth uriel- visit www.bethuriel.co.za for more information- has presented me with quite a "list")

all of these incidences are evidence that the human will is indeed quite strong and unable to be controlled by anyone other than the body in which it dwells. this may be common sense to some-- but is a wall that i bang my head on over and over and over again. needless to say, i wake up with headaches often.

this past december i was reminded that if i dwell on these disappointments too long that my hope takes a hit-- which is the greatest gift i think i have to give people. hope that change is possible. that our past does not dictate our future. that the gifts buried in the rubbish of this city's difficulty can be dug up and displayed with pride. many of the beth uriel family members are examples of such treasure. young men with matric certificates-- the first in their family to graduate. others with jobs and safe places of their own to stay. still others who are early on in their journey but show the desire and discipline required to grow out of brokenness.

in the midst of one of my most recent "hopeless" spells a light went on. very small. again, maybe common sense to some. but enough to shine in the dark corners of my hopeless mind. it occurred to me that if i chose to look at things a bit differently that instead of being without hope (which is of no benefit to anyone) that i would find better company in humility. the difference being that the focus is off myself. i alone am not capable of being responsible for the transformation of individuals or society. i alone can not climb over the walls i keep banging my head on. i alone will drown in the difficult circumstances that lie ahead. however, in the company of other people and in the knowledge that the here and know is only a shadow of eternity, transformation is possible. walls crumble. lives change.

so... leaving hopelessness behind and grabbing on to humility... i say thank you. for those that share in this journey. that speak truth in dark places. that walk with individuals that have been discarded by many. that see lilies and flowers (gerald) where others see mud. thank you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Holy Cows ,Hard Work and Turning the Tables.

The family and I went to Darling yesterday to have lunch at Evita se Perron and grab a show "Evita Praat Kaktus", and while we had a great day with lots of laughter, great food and the country life I was astounded at how Pieter Dirk Uys can still make one think, can still teach you a think or two and especially show you what true activism is all about.

It was Pieter who in about 1988 taught me that there are no holy cows when it comes to fighting for what is right, who through his show "The SA Bothatanic" lifted the veil of apartheid propaganda and confusion and set me on my small little activist road. It was his waving finger PW Botha, his drunk Pik and his big-eared Piet Koornhof who showed me the ridiculousness and selfishness of the politician, and who taught me that we need to hold our politicians to account.

Yesterday the message was all up to date, using the Sunday papers, Barrack Obama, quick wit, stand-up comedy and what I call a "re-history" lesson, he pushed us to question everything, to use our vote and that every little bit, even one vote can and does make a difference. This of course got me to thinking about the elections ahead, the ridiculousness of our current crop of politicians, whose agendas remain selfish and narrow minded, and the importance of us not wasting our vote and voting with an activist mindset.

Activism, in the form of Pieter Dirk Uys of course does not end with a vote or even a laugh or two, it goes along with hard work. Pieter is one of those people who always astounds me at how hard he works, he never stops, is always fighting for what he believes is right. He has shows all around the world, has a trust to help the people of Darling and surrounds, runs a museum, art and craft workshops, is a prolific writer, has TV shows, voter education, HIV education roadshows, and so on. Stay in any city for a while and you are bound to bump into him or his message in one way or another. His message is only so clear, to so many, because he works so hard to put it out there, to stand up for what he believes and to challenge, through satire and direct confrontation that which he knows is wrong.

Pieter's activism however has a very clear methodology: "Turn the Tables". He does not accept boundaries or limitations set by others, especially those in charge. Instead he uses these boundaries and limitations against those who set them, he strips the power from the high and might by refusing to be intimidated by it and even using their speeches and actions as his script. He has a special knack of using the very tools of a bad programme against itself. For instance I never forget his piece on the banana and the Condom. The government was using a banana to teach kids how to use a condom, he went right to the failure of the governments HIV programme by telling a story of how the kids were now putting a condom on a banana by the side of the bed before having unprotected sex.

So what does Pieter teach us activists for children's rights. Well we can all make a difference even if it is just a well considered vote. Also it is not enough to just think something, we need to act, we need hard work if we want to see a change in the life of the kids on the street. We must not limit ourselves by the agendas set by others and we must use the failure of the system as a point of departure. Thanks Pieter for a great show, for teaching us activists how it is done and for showing us all that anyone, even a small white ageing gay from Darling can make a huge difference and be a symbol of strength to so many.

Friday, January 16, 2009

We look with our Eyes yet to SEE is to UNDERSTAND.

Ok I’m no great writer but I am a Christian :) so here I go.

I’ve realised that although we look at the world through our eyes, yet to SEE, is to UNDERSTAND. "Oh now I see" Many times we are influenced by what we looking at, and less by ‘understanding’ or truth. Yesterday Ryan made the example of giving a child a R10 on Long Street as the equivalent to kneeling down with a lighter to light his or her rock pipe. But because what we look at a small child in need of food we react according to what we looking at out of pity, or just to get them away, we give them the R10 which is the same as saying ok just go and smoke your pipe and leave me alone. The truth is that you are lighting a pipe but people will look at you giving him a R10 and not lighting a pipe for him. So there is a difference between what we look at and the truth of the situation.

Relating to one of the boys at the shelter the other day (for those who don’t know me I work at and organisation called Homestead…hello) I took him in our imagination to the scene of a swamp and asked him to tell me what his eyes behold. He plainly said… Mud. I then said that just because his eyes declare mud didn’t mean that it was the reality of the situation, there is a deeper understanding. There is always a greater truth or understanding to what our eyes behold. Although there was mud the reality is that this is where you find lilies, and lilies need mud. Beneath all the mud there was a seed that was not going to be hindered by mud or the darkness of its bed but was going to push through and stand out in all the darkness surrounding it and shine as one of the most beautiful flowers of creation. I believe that the unseen is more real than the seen. Although we need the material things to survive its things like love,courage and perserverance that are unseen, that really matter in life.

Many times we are to focussed on what we looking at (which can be subject to so many different interpretations) and fail to really understand or see. We walk with mud on our faces blinded by circumstances. As long as we continue to look and make decisions upon that we will continue to make decisions that are not in the best interest of children, we will always be fighting, blaming and cursing yet if we seek to understand we will start seeing our responsibility as citizens in society and find our place and position in this world. We can judge kids who sniff glue which many of them use as an escape from reality, and we could be doing the very same thing in a different form, but because our methods of escape are more acceptable by society doesn’t make us any better or better off the difference is that we look at the one doing it but fail to SEE the other one doing it. And this is what we should strive to SEE.

My message is to urge a search for understanding and truth which lie beyond the surface of what we "look" at. It is when we find understanding we begin to see our role and then start taking responsibility not only outside ourselves but also inside ourselves. We are not isolated from the issues in our society and are very much a part of it whether we choose to LOOK or SEE is our responsibility.

Is that Ok?

Day 52: 15 January - How Far is Far Enough?

Ok, with this post i would like to get some real conversation going. I want feedback and input from anybody and everybody, but most especially from parents! I sat in, what i felt was, a very productive meeting today with a couple of the key role players in the "street children" sector. To be exact, we sat and talked for almost five hours. Majority of our conversation, and the reason for our meeting was to talk about a small hand full of kids in town that are considered "hardened street kids". These are children that have pretty much been in and out of every facility, addicted to heavy drugs, totally sucked into street life, and extremely out of control of their lives (because of their drug addiction). Their families know their children need help but don't know how and feel disempowered. If you caught one of the kids in a rational moment even they themselves would admit they need help, but the addiction has a stronger hold on their lives than ration, reason, programs, family or any other outside force.

So one of the big questions today was "what do we do with these kids?". It is a small, workable group. But we know that whatever is done will have to be extreme, holistic, and most probably not optional. You see, these children have been allowed to make the choice to go and live on the streets, use heavy drugs, and partake in this destructive behaviour. They were not mature enough to make that decision in the first place, so we can equally not expect them to be mature enough to make the decision to leave this destructive cycle while they are still alive, especially considering the power an addiction can have (specifically crack cocaine) over a grown adult, much less a child! At what point do we as adults intervene, whether the child likes it or not, whether he or she is happy with us or not, for his or her own good. I know my mom would have gone to drastic measures to insure my safety and health, and though i may have been irritated with certain punishments or consequences from my actions, i know that she acted in love and looking back i appreciate it.

So now let's just put the case of these children aside for a second. i want you to get really personal with this. I want you to imagine that YOUR kids (let's just say ages anywhere from 12-17) are in this position (if you don't have kids you will have to take it a step further and imagine you have kids); they are addicted to crack cocaine, their drug addiction has taken them to the streets, grown adults give them money to feed their habits, grown adults sell them the drugs, sometimes grown adults smoke the drugs with them, your child often sells his or her body to get money for the drugs to wrinkly, old men, your child is totally spiralling out of control in a self destructive manner and you are literally watching him or her come closer to death with every day that passes by. Ok, got the mental picture? Now here is where i want your input...

1) Would you care?

2) If so, what extent would you go to to see your child get help?

3) If your child resisted all forms of "help", knowing that he or she is a minor, would you go to the extent of forcing him or her to go to a treatment facility/healing program against his or her will?

4) How would you feel about the "grown adults" in your child's life that are enabling his or her addiction? and

5) what would you suggest doing with them?


I would really appreciate your feedback!!