Saturday, April 08, 2006

Township Life on the Weekend

Hello to everyone! I feel like I'm sending more updates these days, but it's because my time here with the kids at MadAboutArt has been so full and thought-provoking that I can't help but put thoughts down on "paper." Plus, it's my last week here so I want to capture my feelings before I leave, and head back to the less intense life of Cape Town (less intense not because of the location but because I don't go into a township everyday).

Before I go into the past weekend, I wanted to share some things I've thought about being here with a camera. At some points, it feels like taking out a camera is the exact opposite of my instinct as a compassionate human being. When we went to take out dying Beatty's sister from the hospital, I thought it would be a good time to film. But how do you ask someone to film such personal and private moments. Excuse me, can I film you dying? There are other moments, like when we were sitting around at night talking, and Beattie's cousin (whose mother is the one dying), with an odd smile in her face said as she punched her chest and said, I want someone to kill me, but I don't want to kill myself because people will think I did it over a boyfriend. Some of the most powerful conversations, including positive ones, have been too much to put on film...

And yet, yesterday was one of my favorite days of filming. Mostly because the MadAboutArt kids are really getting into their filming process and ask wonderful questions and have great vision. I think sometime we poo-poo kids and forget how incredibly talented and mature they can be, if we know how to make it fun and interesting. But also, Beatty opened up to me on film, talking about incredibly personal information from her past and how she came to be empowered today. She spoke of the desire for death when she found out her positive HIV status, but then realizing that it also could be a new life for her, where she can teach others. She spoke of breastfeeding her newborn child but also discovering she was HIV negative, and how her adorable child is her hope in life, what keeps her strong. Finally, though she is one of the leaders of the center, she has not fully disclosed her status to her family. As we spoke about her ARV's, her cousin came to sit beside her. Beatty turned to her and asked if she knew what we were speaking of and then turned to me to say that she had not disclosed to her cousin yet. There, before my eyes, I saw her tell her cousin and then had tears in my eyes as her cousin said she and her family loved her and just wanted to support her. It was an incredibly powerful moment, and one that I think could only have happened after building trust with Beatty and the kids at MadAboutArt.

In any case, let me talk about this past weekend which Melanie and I spent in Nekkies with my friend Beatty. Despite the fact that her mother went to the hospital twice that week because of insulin shock and that her sister is dying of AIDS and cancer (which by the way she only learned of and got sick from one month ago), they still wanted to host us so that we could REALLY experience township life. And in many ways, we did, but in many ways we always had the car to escape into the town...and besides, it is not our reality...Though even after two days we were totally drained- though I can go into work there everyday (at least for three weeks) I couldn't stay there for more than a couple of nights...

So on Friday we sat at Beatty's house, which from the outside looks like a wooden shack, just like the other wooden shacks that characterize most townships. Beatty's mother, still weak from the previous week, spoke with us about the community, how many things have gotten worse since the end of apartheid (crime for example) while others have gotten better..she spoke of how she started a community soup kitchen that continues today because kids were eating out of the garbage dump...and finally ended with a story about the many kids that we see everyday and who hang around the center and at their house...this one, Pinky she's called, was only a small child, probably two, when her father murdered her mother, while her mother was still holding her, blood dripping on little Pinky who didn't know what was going on. Such is the start of our intense weekend.

After eating dinner (they had sausage and white bread while Melanie had hummus and cheese on bread we got from the grocery store in town earlier) they showed us when the township truly comes alive- weekend nights after people have been paid and go have a few drinks at the taverns here. This is not something advisable usually for white people to do, but because we had a group of them who were with us and because Nekkies is a smaller, somewhat safer township, we decided to go for it. Anyways, this is where they live and what they do, and despite the confused looks from everyone in the tavern (I think they could tell we weren't from there, couldn't imagine how), we had a nice time, listened to the same five songs on the jukebox, and had a few good dances. We got home at about 130, hung out for a bit, and went to bed...I say went to bed rather than sleep because between the mildew-urine smell of the sheets and the dogs barking outside I didn't really sleep much.

The next morning we got ready for the main event of the day- the bar-be-que! This was after, though, we learned that Beatty's cousin and friends were attacked by people at night by bricks and Melanie patching up one of their eyes (still they swear it is a safe place, as long as you don't make enemies). At the bar-be-que,i t was great just to hang out with our friends, be relaxed together, eat good food, sit next to a fire, and share some laughs and dancing (I contributed the only thing I know how to cook...s'mores). One of the best parts was that I got to film, with permission, a traditional ceremony that was happening in a neighbor's house, which was a lot of dancing and chanting- really a priviliege to see. That night we went out to the tavern again, danced more, and went to bed...It's hard to remember what we did the next day, it dragged and we left at about 5.

All I could do when I got home, after seeing how they live, was take a shower and fall asleep under my down comforter.


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