Thursday, May 29, 2014

30 May 2014

“I want to sew. I want to sew clothes, to have my own business to make things to sell,” she said in her broken English as we had her and other members of the Self-Employment Workshop introduce themselves. Her speech was broken up with chronic coughing which does not sound good, as if she may have pneumonia.
We also had Cikizwa in a previous class where we were trying to help her develop better communication skills. When she came to that class, she was very timid, reserved and quiet. Her voice is naturally low and raspy, making it hard to understand. She always dressed in jeans, shirt and a jacket even though it was summer time, making one wonder why she was cold. But because of her cough, it was supposed that she did not feel well due to a cold.
She is a short, small framed lady who wears her years of poverty and despair. She is an unwed mother with a 2 year-old son who lives with her, unlike most in her circumstance who give their child to a grandparent to raise.
“Have you had any experience in sewing?” “What have you made sewing?” I asked.
“I have sewed pillow cases and made quilts with other ladies at the church,” she responded.
“Do you have a sewing machine?”
“Yes, but I don’t have any electricity in my flat.”
“Why don’t you have any electricity?”
“They shut it off last December because I could not pay my bill because I don’t have any income”.
“Don’t you have prepaid electricity like everyone else? How can anyone shut off your electricity; just go buy some more and put it into your meter.”
“Yes, but the people who lived there before never paid their water bill so now the municipality can block my electricity meter so that I cannot put any more in it until the water bill is paid.”
“So, how much is your water bill?” She produces a utility bill that shows she owes R17,600 which is about half what a person makes in a year in South Africa with a moderately good job.
“R17,600, how can you possibly pay that much off? What can be done?” I asked. "That bill is not your fault.”
She replied, “I called a man last week who said he could maybe help me. He told me to meet him in Uitenhage and so I went to meet him, but he never came.”
“I was supposed to meet him at 3:00 but he was not there so I called and he said he was coming. I waited until 4:00 and he did not come so I called him again and he said to wait, that he was driving and would be there soon. But, I waited until 5:00 and had to leave so I could get home before dark.”
The distance from her house to where she was to meet the man is about 5 miles and because she has no money for a taxi fare, she must walk. It is dangerous to walk in the townships and surrounding areas after dark. Muggings, rape, and robbery is expected by those on the streets during darkness. Women are especially vulnerable. So, she must hurry to walk the 5 miles back to her house, with no source of light, before it gets dark outside.
“What do you intend to do now? “You have to get electricity if you are going to start your sewing business. What can we do to help you?”
“I will have to go see him again sometime, but I have no airtime to call to see when he will be there.”
“Use our phone and call him now. Let’s see if we can go talk to him today.”
She makes the call and is connected to the man who claims to be able to help her. He is available if we came right away, so we get into the car and drive from the township into town to see him. She asked if I would go with her to speak to him because she feels intimidated by him.
On the way into town, I asked her if she had gone to the doctor about her cough. She then proceeded to tell us what her real problem is – she is HIV Positive and has had the cough for a long time. She learned in her late teens that she was raised by an older couple who was not her natural parents (they both died in her current home last year). She located her natural parents, only to find out that her mother is an alcoholic and her only response to Cikizwa finding her was to  beg money from her to support her habit. Her siblings don’t want to help nor associate with her because she’s only a “half-sister”. And her father doesn’t want anything to do with her because it will upset his current family. Her child’s father claims the child isn’t his son. So she lives alone with her son. The nights are especially long since she has no electricity for lights. Food is sparse and sometimes lacking but somehow she gets by and does not utter a word of complaint. She tells the story in a low, monotone, matter-of-fact voice with no animosity, directed blame towards anyone for her circumstance nor any indication of “woe is me.”
It turns out that the gentleman we went to see is simply an individual who has no authority with the municipality but knows the system and volunteered to go talk to the municipality council to see if they would consider eradicating the past water bill so that Cikizwa can purchase electricity for her meter. There were no promises made, but at least something is being attempted to help this lady receive light in her world of darkness – darkness beyond that which can be solved by flipping the light switch.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

20 May 2014

eHHH  hhhhh He was already in the building that morning when we arrived - ready for his class to begin. After we set up tables and chairs, he went and sat at the end of the row of tables - stoic, fixed and unmoving. He was not antisocial, he was just naturally quiet and reserved. His eyes look straight ahead, not staring or attempting to comprehend anything in particular but rather as if whatever was there did not exist. He sat erect in his chair. His demeanor was one that emphasized discipline. His face appeared unemotional, exhibiting self-confidence and firmness. The numerous lines incising his face told a story of harshness and a comfortless life leading one to believe he was far older than in reality he was.
Charles was a member of one of our Career Workshop held in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He is a white man trying to survive in an anti-apartheid environment where he was recently released from his employment due to the color of his skin. He was rejected each time he applied for a job because he was “too old”, or “over qualified”.  In reality, he was 58 with qualifications any employer should have been elated to employ. He was a man proud of his heritage, but broken in spirit.
One of the tasks of the workshop is to itemize three accomplishments you have had in your life. As I roamed the room observing the class members and their responses to the task, I noticed Charles had not written anything in the box marked “accomplishments”. I paused and asked if he was having trouble with the assignment. With a shrug and in a low voice, he said, “I don’t have any accomplishments.”
“Surely you have accomplished something in your life,” I responded.
“I haven’t,” he retorted matter-of-factly.
Unwilling to accept his response, I asked “What did you do for work in your life?”
“I was in the uniform for 32 years,” he said.
“What rank did you reach?” I asked.
“Corporal,” he responded.
“Then you have accomplished something. To have achieved the rank of corporal is something to be proud of; it means you are a leader of men. It means others respected your judgment, your integrity and your reliability. You are a good man and have nothing to be ashamed of,” I told him.
He looked at me as if it was the first time anything that kind had ever been spoken to him and then he turned his head to hide the emotion evident on his face and the tears welling up in his eyes.  I left him alone to compose himself.
A few minutes later he caught my attention and motioned for me to come over where he was. Upon my arrival, he pointed to something he had written and asked, “Is that better?” He had written under accomplishments: “I was a Corporal in the military - a leader and motivator of men.”
“That is a good, honest response,” I said. “Now write me two more.”
Another part of the workshop requires the class participants to write a short paragraph that tells about a skill they have, an experience of how they have used the skill and what the result was. Charles again struggled with the assignment, but with some coaching and encouragement he managed to write some broken and disjointed sentences pertaining to the assignment.
I pulled up a chair next to him and asked if I could give him a hand? He nodded his approval and I went to work on his paragraph. When I got done it read, “I am considered to be a honest and reliable leader of men. For example, while I was in the military, my commanders always relied on me to train and motivate men in the company. As a result, I was promoted to be a Corporal.”
“Is that accurate?”, I asked.
Upon reading it over, he nodded again.
“Now,” I said, “you write one of your own.” Below is what he wrote.

Once the individuals have written their statements, they are asked to go practice saying them in preparation to giving them to the whole class. When the time came for them to give their statements orally, I purposely chose others besides Charles to give their statements so that he had a chance to observe what was expected. When his time came, he arose and stood in front of the class, ridged but not at attention. His demeanor demanded your attention and left little room for doubt of his ability to take charge. His voice was one of confidence - cool with resolution and his eyes were fixed. His presentation was electrifying and when completed the class spontaneously erupted with applause. Emotion washed over his countenance and tears welled up and trickled down his cheeks as he turned to hide his feelings in this moment of acceptance and acknowledgement.
Following the completion of the class, Charles seemed to have more spring in his steps and carried himself as if a burden had been lifted from him. I shook his hand and said, “Take care of yourself.” He looked at me and nodded as he gave an extra squeeze to my hand.
What will ultimately happen in his search to become self-reliant again, I don’t know. But this much I do know. He wants to start his own business and with the proper encouragement and a pat on the back by those around him, he will once more be able to hold his head high.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

1 May 2014

Today, April 27, 2014, is my bride, of almost 50 years, 69th birthday. Her life began in a small rural community located 20 miles north of Nashua, Montana. Her father began farming not far from where his father farmed in the early 1920s. It was a good life but not one that appealed to Angie. For some reason, her chemistry was/is not compatible with rural life. It was/is more adaptable to the big city life, shopping malls (the bigger the better), an abundance of people and the cultural festivities that are thus associated. There was a time, when her father decided that a constant diet of southern living was better than farming, when I suggested that we inquire about buying his farming operation. My roots were established in farming and ranching and that was my desire to go back to that mode of life. I can remember only once in our married life that Angie was emphatically unmovable and this was it. Her whole countenance was as a rock, cold and unmistakably decisive. This was not going to happen and it did not. Fortunately, however, our son did end up buying the farm.
Today, her birthday, is Sunday. And as all Sundays go for us, we arose early and went to church which began at 8:00 AM and lasted until 1:30 PM; that equates to 5 ½ hours for those of you without a calculator. For some folks, 1 or 2 hours of church is adequate but for us it takes a little longer to soak in and therefore, more time is required to get our mental computer to assimilate the instruction received.
No special birthday festivities were planned for today as I had conjured up in my mind, some time ago, what I wanted to do to celebrate her birthday. It was to be a surprise. But she has the ability to investigate, to dig, to leave no stone unturned until my simple mind caves in and spews forth details reserved only for myself. I can now understand how professional interrogators get their victims to confess their unsavory deeds.  I could no longer duck and dodge effectively without telling an outright lie which I was never very good at. Thus, my secretive plan became a blatantly revealed plan.
In anticipation of getting a few friends together for an acknowledgement of the birthday occasion (my secretive plan), I had bought the ingredients to make a cheesecake. One of her favorite cheesecakes is chocolate maraschino-cherry. However, since I had not yet made one here in South Africa and our stove is less than desirable (and reliable), I decided I should make a trial run to see if it would turn out in a decent manner. To our delight, it turned out superb and therefore, to control excess drooling, we devoured it in a speedy manner. Then, a few days later,  in an attempt to be casual and yet benevolent, I asked what she would like me to make for her birthday to which she, without hesitation replied, a chocolate maraschino-cherry cheesecake. Dutifully, I bought the ingredients again with the idea in mind that I would make it for the evening of the surprise get together. However, the day before her birthday she inquired when I was going to make the cheesecake? As mentioned above, I ducked and dodged as long as I could and then finally had to tell her of my secret plan which, of course, was no longer a secret.
It is to this lady that I owe many thanks for the success I have had in life; my education; my family; and my desire to serve God. To some it may appear that my progress has been retarded and I would agree that I have a long way to go. However, as I look back on our time together, I cannot help but feel gratitude for her patience and endurance with me. If there are gold stars issued in the records above for patience, hers must be about maxed out. I cannot remember a time when she has rebuked in anger even when there was ample excuse to do so. Rather, in an attempt to knock off my rough edges, she has corrected, encouraged and counseled me. Resistance to change is a natural commodity most of us have ownership in. In order to overcome our inherent resistance to change, we have to be persuaded that change is in our best interest – that takes patience and the ability to see what the other person can become. Thus, I thank her for her kindness and charity in my life.