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I have been back in Olievenhoutbosch, South Africa, for two weeks now and finally have a quiet day where I can sit and write. On September 8th, I was picked up at the airport by Sonny (part of my family here) and a vanload of 15 kids from our OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) program, and what a joyful way to get into my African life again. I hear they had to turn away kids in tears for lack of room in the van. I have been spending a lot of time with these precious kids – and others who are not in the photo – in an effort to get them parts and pieces of school uniform as I did last April. You know the sure signal for children to grow is to buy them shoes and pants. In the five months since I last bought them stuff, that’s what happened. The other thing is that one pair of pants or a skirt, one shirt, one nice pair of school socks, etc., when worn every day in this poor, dusty environment, is going to look trashed in no time. It’s not like the kids have much of a wardrobe to choose from. If you see what I see (check out the photos), you can’t not do something – and with the help of many of you who bought baskets and mats or contributed to the general efforts here, 22 kids can now go to school with intact shoes that fit and uniforms that they can be proud to wear. The other part of this is the excitement of going to the mall. The first trip was with 10 kids and the second trip was with 14, ages 7 to 16. These kids are so well behaved, sweet, and fun. Whining is not in their repertoire, probably because at this level of poverty, whining hasn’t gotten them anything.
Another fun thing that has been happening with the kids is if any of them find out I’m going to the grocery store, they want to come. It’s like a field trip. I won’t take any of them in the car unless they have permission from someone at home, and about a week and a half ago, my two favorite little 7 year old boys were sobbing because they didn’t remember their mothers’ phone numbers so they couldn’t ask if they could go with me. Their 11 year old uncle ran home to get permission and the sobbing stopped. Meanwhile two girls just a year older than them were patting their cheeks and comforting them. I ended up squeezing six kids in my little car and everyone was happy. All this for a trip to the grocery store! American kids would probably be complaining about having to go. Since I only needed a few things and this was such a production number, I decided to take them to the Chinese restaurant a few doors down for supper, and we shared chow mein and fried rice. Being just before the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday–Chinese food connection would have been lost on them, so I kept that part to myself, but going to a restaurant, or going anywhere, is such a novelty and a treat for these kids.
In this same theme, three of the teenage boys (14, 15, and 16) came to visit me out of the blue last week and said, “You took the girls to KFC last time. When are you going to take us somewhere?” In anticipation, they already had gotten permission. I said I could take them that day, and they all ran home to wash up and put on clean clothes. You’d think they won the lottery. Fortunately, eating out is cheap here. We went to a fast food place (a step up from McD’s) and for less than $4 a piece for a burger, fries, coke, and ice cream, there were three very happy campers, as you can see in the pictures. I included one of the aforementioned girls and three of them are wearing their new school uniforms.
I mentioned baskets and mats… The neighbor ladies have been very busy with them in my absence and I will have many to bring back in November. Meanwhile, I get to create an art gallery with these beautiful craft items hanging in my room.
Our driver, Abraham, had a weird and unfortunate experience after he brought me home from the airport two weeks ago. He was driving next to a bus whose driver was having a fit of road rage. I don’t know what exactly happened, but when they were both stopped, Abraham foolishly got out of his vehicle and asked the bus driver what he was doing. It provoked the bus driver enough that he got out of the bus and attacked Abraham, knocked him to the ground and got on top of him. To defend himself, Abraham reached for a brick on the ground and hit the guy in the head. Guess who got arrested and put in jail for the weekend. This is a strange place.
Workwise, a couple of my cohorts and I from the Olievenhoutbosch Health and Social Services Forum have resurrected the efforts to get affordable dental services to the community without it being a government project. The Department of Health maintains that it can’t fund a dental clinic. We met with a local dentist who is very interested in helping us with this, so I’ll keep you posted.
Life in good old Olievenhoutbosch has had its practical challenges. Last night there was a big thunderstorm and today our place has no electricity. This is a long weekend with Monday being a national holiday (Heritage Day), and no one ever fixes anything on the day they come out because they never have the needed parts, so we may not have power until Wednesday. I’m using the free wi-fi at the community center right now. Also, of the two weeks here so far, we had no water for one of them. No electricity also means no water pump, so I still have to haul buckets of water upstairs to the bathroom, but at least there is water to haul, unlike last week. Next time you take a hot shower or hear your toilet tank filling up without you having to pour water into it, be grateful.
Marilyn Traugott retired in 2007 as manager of Mercy Hospice in Redding after a career that began with the program’s inception in 1978. Marilyn has an Ed.M. in counseling from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Prior to working in hospice, other professional experience included teaching special education, developing medical education materials and counseling at-risk youth.