Sharing the cake

Why do their houses look different?
Why are people standing outside?
Why are children not at school, or the men at work?
Why are there no gardens?

Can you see the Park in this area?
Yes
Does it look like a nice place to play?

No, not really.

The above were some of the questions and conversations had en route from Rondebosch, a suburb with lovely leafy open spaces and parks, en route to Delft.

Notorious Delft – Delft that makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Delft that is also full of families and people trying to get things to work for all the right reasons.

The conversation was with an ‘almost 4’ year old who was accompanying his mom and myself to drop things off with a friend of mine whose house burnt down 2 months ago. His mom was preparing him for the fact that things would be a little different to what was used to seeing in his day to day life.

We also spoke about the SONA events that had occurred the previous night and how his mom and I felt re: the different political parties responses.

His mom mentioned that Julius keeping issues re: poverty on the table was so important but also it felt scary to think of him being in charge, even though things definitely needed to change.

‘ Why is it scary mom’ piped up the voice from the back seat.

A-hem… mom looked across at me.

I waited to hear what his mom was going to say;  After another um, ahem moment offered to share what I had voiced to my almost 2 year old son already, not because he understands yet, but because I want to figure out how to explain our unjust, unequal past to my son. Something that I realised I was going to need to do at some stage when he was strapped to my back on voting day last year.

But, back to my inquiring little friend.

Me: So, let’s say that everyone likes cake.
Yes.
Me: And we handed out cake to people, but we had a set of rules that said that only some people could have cake and not other people – how would that sound to you?
Would you be okay with being told that you had to watch other people eating cake?
NO – that’s not fair.

Okay, how about if you had the cake and we said that we all needed to share our cake with people. Do you think that this would be an easy or tricky thing? What would happen if someone came and grabbed your cake, or you were scared someone would come and grab your cake?
I would grab my cake and make sure that no one could grab it.
So actually sharing your cake, even though it would mean that everyone got cake can feel hard? Yes!

That’s a bit like what is going on in our country.
DO we believe that everyone should be treated the same? That God made everyone the same?
Yes.
Well, as crazy as it might sound, not everyone thought like this and some people made really mean, or bad rules saying that some people could have things but not everyone.In our country, the people who could have the cake were the white people, and other people weren’t allowed to share the cake with them.
Now we have new rules but still not everyone has cake.

Does that make sense?
Yes.

Okay, well what if instead of cake, we said nice houses, or nice schools or comfortable things.
At the moment, different people are trying to figure out how to help make sure everyone can get these things and for some people it feels kind of scary to share, some people don’t want to share and other people want to share but aren’t sure what that looks like.

Okay.

And then another why followed….

Don’t ever stop asking these questions little man, your why questions might very well hold answers, compassion and solutions for some of the consequences of bad rules.  

In the meantime we need to figure out how to share the cake better, both in attitude and practical action.

GENUINELY WITH: Nyanga, cows, traffic lights and the working part of me

Today I got to climb back into my ‘professional’ skin again after a 4 month break from working in my field – the field where I am comfortable and things seem familiar.  I know I can run groups.  I know I am competent as a therapist.  I know I am able to work cross culturally –in fact I love working in teams and communities that are diverse. 

Today started with a drive to Nyanga, down Wetton Road.   Wetton Road which becomes Govan Mbeki Road is filled with of reminders of my first social work job ever.  I drove over the bridge where I did my first community research as a newly qualified social worker (Assessing a feeding project so that it could be grown into a new season).  I still smell peanut butter sandwiches on chunky brown bread when passing that piece of road.

Signage along Govan Mbeki Road indicates Brown’s Farm, Philippi, Gugulethu, Hanover Park and Mannenberg:  All communities that make up a part of the Cape Flats.  Mannenberg is the site of Ross Kemp’s documentary exploring gangs.  It’s also perhaps one of the most notorious communities in the Western Cape due to the high level of gangsterism.   Nyanga, my destination community, is just past Mannenberg.  In the background to all of these communities are beautiful mountains – in any given direction – not close by, but as a part of the horizon.

This morning I watched 3 HUGE cows enjoying the sights and sounds of the morning traffic from the traffic island.  Who knows how long they had been sitting on that traffic island next to the traffic lights? I saw packs of dogs scavenging, couples pushing shopping trolleys across a road, many micro-enterprises, refuse piled up against “informal” housing and mini-bus taxi’s everywhere.

The group of healthcare workers that I work with (or more specifically consult to twice a month) are part of an amazing healthcare center, in Nyanga. Our meeting room is on the 2nd floor.  From my seat this morning I could see the clouds rolling in over the mountain, groups of unemployed men (or gangs I asked myself?) chatting and others going about their daily activities – this all happening to the background sounds of taxi’s hooting and dogs barking.  My own internal process was assimilating all these things, whilst my professional person was listening, facilitating, summarising, reflecting and planning.  The group I have been tasked to work with has much to teach me, as much as I hope to be able to support and assist in containing & growing them.

Cape Town is often said to be a place on its own – not quiet Africa really.  This morning I could have been on any part of the continent.  Cape Town is only a place on its own when you not able or don’t see the fact that 20 minutes from the beautiful suburb where I live a stark contrast exists.  I know this because I have never had the traffic stopped on my side of the bridges, by a cow with an engorged udder and bloated stomach.  I know this because this morning the harsh face of inequality in Cape Town struck me again. 

It’s amazing knowing that I get to be a part of people living in, and doing amazing work in challenging circumstances.  It was good being back in a place that felt familiar and yet I know that I have much to learn about.  It was hard knowing that I get to climb into my own car, and drive away from the realities that the team I work with face daily and are still called to speak hope, life and resilience into others.  Nyanga was cited as the most dangerous township in South Africa in stats released in 2012 – see more here: (http://yazkam.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/nyanga-township-is-cape-towns-murder-hotspot/)

This past week I have had 2 conversations with women working in different communities and the question repeatedly asked wasHow did I get the life I did and some of my colleagues and friends theirs?

The places I missed while not living in Cape Town were these communities. The children and families whose realities I want to be a part of seeing shift live in these communities.  If we want our rape stats to change, we need focused intervention WITH these communities.  Not for them.  Not against them.  WITH THEM.  That means that while I look at professionally developing my work space in Cape Town, personally I need to work out what it means to be “with”Genuinely “with”.  If I don’t work that out, then the working part of me really won’t matter much in the bigger picture.