Friday, December 9, 2011

10/17-28: I translated for One Sight these past two weeks which is the philanthropic arm of Lens Optica which owns Lens Crafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut. It sends eye doctors to developing countries to run eye health exams and give away glasses. They also found a South African doctor that would do any surgeries they found needed to be done for free. We saw a thousand people a day. I was translating in the eye health room and we saw patient after patient with horrible stories of untreated infections, corneal damage from five decades worth of work outside, many, many burns and glazed over blue, rheumy eyes from untreated cataracts. Sadly, many of those patients were beyond treatment but it was so wonderful to see so many people who before were unable to read the big ‘E’ on the eye charts now seeing 20/20. I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out lately and it was exactly what I needed to have that instant gratification and to feel truly needed every minute of the day. Amazing. 11/8: Today in girls club we talked about a woman’s body: menstruation, puberty, that kind of thing. The girls seemed really engaged though they wouldn’t dare ask questions let alone make eye contact with me. I know they were listening though. We then made necklaces and they were a huge hit. 11/9: I was shocked to see so many women I didn’t recognize at my org today seeing as though I’m usually sitting with just two or three other women. When I asked around I discovered that all 21 of these women were here for the support group for women living with AIDS. Now to back up, last year around this time I taught a series of workshops to the caregivers the last of which was an all-day session on how to form a support group. It was the last workshop in the series and I didn’t think too much of the seemingly apathetic stares I was receiving. I tried in vain to encourage interest in forming a support group especially because they were lying about having four functional support groups on their monthly reports. Nobody cared about all the untruths as most if not all of their reports are fabricated and everyone dismissed the idea of a support group claiming it would be impossible to find interested people as the stigma here is so high. But against all odds, they had been coordinating a group slowly but surely all this time and today was their first meeting. They’re even planning on coming back tomorrow to start a community garden! It is part of life here in Africa that your emotions are always on a rollercoaster ride. After the realization that some of my words might have actually resonated with someone I went back home with a bounce in my step to shoot the breeze with Thobi on my front stoop. As the hours passed with UNO and cloud watching, she went into the hut where her brother and cousin were hanging out. Her cousin ran her out and took off his belt and beat her bloody. With no explanation. I was screaming at him to stop which he eventually did and I used all of my White power in the hierarchy to make sure he didn’t come around for a while. My exact words were: “Does this make you feel powerful?! Beating up little girls until they’re crying hysterically in a pool of blood?! Do you feel like a man?! You need to leave and don’t come back for a very long time. I will never forget you did this.” Before that horrible incident, Thobi and I were listening to Beyonce’s new album, her favorite artist, and she was still sobbing when the last track played a girls empowerment anthem. She didn’t want to talk about what happened insisting she was fine probably assuming they’d just blend in with all her previous scars from men taking out their anger at the world on someone less powerful. As the CD played several versions of the last song the lyrics stayed the same, “Who will run the world? Girls. Girls.” I closed my door and cried. 11/10: I came early for girls club and I tried to talk to one of the teachers about a possible World AIDS Day event at his school. Though interested in the concept, he said he just found out that his brother and best friend just died ‘after being sick’ which is often code for living with AIDS. He must have been looking for a listening ear because he went on to say that both of his parents and now all four of his brothers have passed away. He was an orphan at 30. More difficult than that he says was this brother was the only one who called him, his best friend, not to mention his only friend. “I am so alone. Lost, I feel a bit lost.” He said he’s going to go home to raise his brother’s kids with his kids. “Why does everyone keep having kids when so many people are dying? Everyone’s dead. I have no one. What’s the point? My brother, my brother…is dead….and I’ll never talk to him again. Everyone is dying in this place. Everyone. My whole family is dead Lindelwa!!” “I don’t know what to say,” I said, “but maybe his kids will give you hope for a better tomorrow.” Silently I was wondering if that were true. After talking about alcohol abuse today in girls club, instead of doing the craft one of the girls made me a card that said, “You are the woman I admire.” My heart melted. 11/11: It has been two weeks since we’ve served food with our daily hot meal program. The staff explained that the company selling cooking gas was on strike. This seemed more than plausible as there was always someone on strike. But when I vented to my PCV friends in the area they had never heard about it. I then asked around and people just looked at me quizzically. After several days worth of investigation, I bluffed my way through a tense discussion with Tshengie. But it wasn’t enough. Time for drastic measures. I read her and the Management Committee the Riot Act, eliciting graphic if not a bit exaggerated images of our food program’s saddest clients and how their greed is leaving these children with empty stomachs. But in the end it wasn’t their guilt or empathy that broke them down but the fact that I rocked the boat and they wanted to steady it again. They knew I meant business. There was a tank full of cooking gas the very next day. 11/12: Today I put up the four foot tall Christmas tree complete with lights and garland that I got in the mail from my family in March. I love everything Christmas and I don’t care that its weeks before Thanksgiving, I’ve already listened to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album three times through. Thobi peeked her head in looking for some sweets but when she saw this bizarre thing in my room she was a bit unconcern. She knew it was a Christmas tree but had never seen one up close and didn’t know what to make of it. She gathered the half dozen kids milling about our compound and I turned the lights on. Everyone screamed then started jumping up and down and hugging each other. Thobi said she’d never seen something so beautiful. I told her she could touch it but she was scared. She hadn’t stopped smiling. After everyone took their spots under the tree to stare in a more comfortable position with their necks craned and their eyes like saucers Thobi got up the courage to ask as casually as she could if I was planning on bringing the tree back with me to America. I said no. Everyone started hugging again. A little girl I’d never met was crying. The Christmas season never ceases to amaze me.

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