And Then There’s Love

July 29, 2009 – Day 37!

Dearest Friends,

I write this day, Wednesday morning at 9:30, which is unusual but my weekend was full of work and no time to write.  Today, I am at the house for various reasons.  I’m happy to have the peace and quiet and the sound of birds outside my window, with the sun shining onto the bench where I sit.  It makes me feel connected to you, my friends in the United States, because we are sharing the same sun, even though I am seeing it at least 8 hours ahead of you.

We have had another week full of tragedies and triumphs, laughter and tears.  I feel deeply connected with the Zulu women I work with and they have taught me so much about strength, faith, gratitude, perseverance and what it means to stand by your “sisters”.  They are dynamic women that have dedicated their lives to saving children and educating their communities about HIV, rape, abuse and hope.  The effects of apartheid still linger and I’m told it has only been recently that they quit kneeling before the white staff, and that we are allowed to eat from the same utensils and plates, at the same table.  Shades of their slavery and apartheid are still evident.  They are very poor.  Most of them are financially responsible for 7-12 extended family members in their little huts.  They rely on donated clothing and whatever food they can afford.  One day I came into the center and saw them eating tablespoons of imitation butter to satiate themselves until their next meal, whenever that would be.  Inside I was deeply saddened at what I saw but I didn’t react to spare them any embarrassment or disrespect.  From now on, I take food to them daily.  Today, I am making a big pot of soup on my hot plate to share with them.  It is “ubuntu,” the Zulu word for sharing love and respect, becoming community.  They will be overjoyed.  If I could, I would bring them all home and care for them for the rest of my days.  They have hearts of gold and they all have stories that make me wonder why the human spirit is put to such tests.  Even in light of it all, they always respond with, “God is good! We have air to breathe!” and they are sincere.

Part of my richest experiences here have been with these women and learning about their lives.  A woman named Lady Fair found her way to my heart within the first day of meeting her.

She was named by her Papa and when she hugs me, she lifts me off the ground and I am lost somewhere in her embrace.  She tells me I am so little and skinny that I’m not worth a chicken and when she laughs, Mother Earth, God and the angels laugh with her.  She has shared her story with me, which is viciously painful and cruel and she still cries when she recounts it.  She has survived attempted murder and numerous rapes, and blossomed into a strong woman of power and self-esteem.  She cares for 11 orphan children, 2 biological children and 2 grandchildren.  Children in need find their way to her within the township, as “Lady Fair” is known far and wide for helping others.  She will never send them away.   She told me, “If I only had 2 potatoes, and someone was hungry, God would want me to give away 1 potato to help others.”  And she does!  Some of the children in her home sleep in front of the basin on the kitchen floor, the others in her bed.  She must start moving them at 4:00 AM in order to feed them and heat the water she gathers from up the hill, to bathe them all before she travels to the center for work.  I have NEVER heard her complain.  She loves fully, with her heart and soul – and that is a lot of love!

Lesipho is Lady Fair’s granddaughter.  I don’t know what lies ahead for Lesipho but she is wise beyond her years.  She has the strength and spirit of her Granny and when I look into her eyes, I know that she is meant for important work on this earth.  Unlike her predecessors, she is taught about the nobility, pride and self-respect of being a woman.  I will know her in 20 years.  I can already say I am honored to take part in her life.  She has a running start and a chance at being part of the formula to revolutionize this country.  She is going to play an important role in South Africa.  This I believe.  I can sense it.

Other news of the week:

We rescued a 9-month-old baby girl who had been raped.  Her Gogo (grandmother) called us and we snuck in while the father was at work, took the baby, and brought her to safety.  The good news: she is healthy and Gogo took good care of her.  The abuse was caught immediately.  Certainly these scars cannot be erased, for the baby or Gogo.  This woman, the maternal grandmother of the baby, is still grieving the death of her own daughter.  It is the same horror story, repeated over and over again.

There were successes:
We went to court to protest the bail application of a 65-year-old man who had raped a 14-year-old mentally disabled girl.  Five of us, clad in black t-shirts reading, “CAUTION! Woman Warrior,” walked into a cold courtroom with cement floors, one small window, and wooden planks set up as benches.  In front was the wooden bench for the magistrate.  We sat for hours, waiting, each of us holding a bear on our laps.  They brought the man in through the side door where he stood directly in front of us.  I have never felt so powerful and strong to stare that man in the eyes and to silently communicate to him that he would NEVER hurt another child.  Our presence in that courtroom clearly represented the message of “NO! This man mustn’t be released on bond, where he will return to his home next door to the victim.”  It worked and our presence had an impact.  The judge stated it would be dangerous for the man to be let out on bail as the community clearly had serious views on this.  We are awaiting the paternity test, which takes 6 months to a year in South Africa.  The child’s testimony is considered noncredible due to her disability.  She never told anyone about the rape because the old man threatened to kill her.  No one knew of it until she was very clearly pregnant.  In the meantime, the child is safe from this man, at least.

I am sitting on the board of Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness, which is gearing up for the World Cup coming to Durban in 2010, where they foresee major problems.  Even though I am only here for 6 months, they still wanted me to participate on the board.  I will be assisting the lead Senior Prosecutor who has asked me to go to various organizations and give presentations on the human trafficking problem, in addition to how people can and must get involved.  I will do all that I can in this short amount of time.

Between rapes, court cases, poverty, and one of our Zulu staff members losing their house to a tragic fire this week, it is still a beautiful world; these women show me daily that life is worth living.  I know I made the right decision to come here and volunteer.  I am honored to give of my time, heart and energy.  There is dire need.

They need our love and compassion.  They need our understanding, even though the lives they live are incomprehensible.  I am fortunate to bear witness to the empowerment in their lives.  I am healed when I’m lost in Lady Fair’s hugs and when we ride in the car.  I am healed when these women laugh with joy when I attempt to speak Zulu, or when they smile with tears because I bring them food.

Signing off mid-week with love, adoration, and gratitude for all your prayers and messages of love and support.
I am alive and well in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa.

Please be kind to one another.
Love, Patty