Today was our first day into the community of Joe Slovo. We left our cameras behind today at the request of our hosts. They wanted us to experience the full effect of the communities without cameras distracting us. Elyse was sick today so it was just Keri, Rachel, me and Elizabeth.
We met up at Refilwe and then began our walk to Joe Slovo (we were the only group within walking distance). We started out walking along a path next to the fields where the schoolkids have recess. We were definitely the novelty item of the day with the kids watching us walk by and a few bravely waved hello. We also dodged a few cows and cow patties. :-) Our first homes were about a five-minute walk from Refilwe. We went around a bend, came through some tall grass and emerged just outside a long concrete looking building divided into four homes. Our first "patient" of the day lived here. Christina is a 79 year-old go-go (grandmother). She was less than thrilled to see us - if we weren't doctors, we weren't useful in her opinion. She suffers from arthritis and the after-effects of an auto accident that left a rod in her leg. Her son rarely visits and her home has no electricity, no stove and very little food. Elizabeth says she has her "moods." We cleaned out her home, swept, mopped and beat the dust out of her piece of carpet. Rachel then volunteered to help her clean herself a little bit. Christina allowed Rachel to wipe her legs down with wet-wipes and then apply lotion to her legs and feet. We also gave her part of one of our sandwiches we had for lunch and an orange. Probably the first food she'd had in a day. After we finished, we got a tiny smile out of Christina.
Another sweet lady who lived in this little area was Esther. She was a sweetheart who seemed to be the community busy-body. She knew EVERYONE'S business and alerted us to a problem with one of the little guys who lived next door. Seems he had a sore on his lower abdomen (near the groin) and she wanted us to look at it. Well, of course, I had to. Didn't know what I could do but I wanted to try. It was one of the worst infections I had seen in a while. There was a small sore that was oozing pus and the whole area was red and inflammed. I felt awful but all I could do was put antibiotic cream on it and encourage the mom to take the little one to the clinic. She was less than committed to the idea.
After we moved on from this little area, we came to the "nice" part of Joe Slovo. These houses are basically the size and shape of American tool-sheds. In fact, the one in my dad's backyard might be a little bigger. They had electricity but no running water. Seems these were built by Gary Player (PGA golfer). I don't remember the whole story but it was a nice gesture on his part. Here we met Francina and Baby Erin. Francina was one of the happiest people I've met in a long time. She was so happy to see us, visit with us and show off her precious Erin. Of course, the three of us passed Erin around and loved on her. Those who know me well know I could do that all day. After Francina, we met Wilma and baby Beyonce. Yes, Beyonce. American influence anyone? Wilma is a teenage mom who seems a bit overwhelmed. We prayed with her and the baby and kept moving. We met Andres and his son Junior next. Andres claimed he was falsely imprisoned for two years and just let out in April. (Steve told me later this story probably isn't 100% true.) Junior was a precious little guy and Andres was very willing to share his story and concerns with us.
We broke for lunch, sharing our lunches with Elizabeth and listening to American music blaring from the stereo next door. After lunch, we headed out of the nicer area of Joe Slovo and into the true community of Joe Slovo. As we crested the hill, we could see the streets of shacks laid out before us. We started down the hill and I felt like I was in a "World Vision" or "Compassion" commercial. There was very little activity, the kids we saw had very flat affects to them. There was very little response, very few smiles and a general questioning of who we were and what we were doing. Keri, Rachel and I did the only thing we knew to do, we prayed over this community. We did meet Susan and her family and Susan was a character. I'm not sure if she is a believer but she was the first person who was openly friendly with us. We were able to coo over her grandkids and admire her garden and then prayed over her family before moving on. The three of us Americans kept commenting on how "dark" the area felt and how we could feel the oppression. We continued to pray as we walked, praying for God's work to be seen in the area, God's power to be displayed, and people to see His love.
We finished our visits for the day and headed back to Refilwe so Elizabeth could complete paperwork with her supervisor. Claire (the head of the home-based program)saw us as we got back and asked about what we had taught that day. What?! I didn't know we were supposed to be teaching people anything. Oh well, miscommunication. We'll do better tomorrow. Claire wanted us to talk about keeping water clean, breast-feeding, safe foods for baby, food gardens and anything else we could think of. She also opened the Refilwe library so we could take books out into the communities the rest of the week and read to kids, model good behavior for parents and our healthcare workers. Sounds like we have our work cut out for us tomorrow.
As the groups started trickling back in, we excitedly told stories about our day and the people we'd met and interacted with. I think the vans probably had constant chatter all the way back to Alabanza. After dinner, we sat around the warm fire and shared about our day. Everyone was so thrilled to share about the day and how we had seen God move. We were also able to share our frustrations that we couldn't "fix" the problems we'd seen. Our American mindsets were still see the problem, find a solution, fix the problem. Issue was, that mindset doesn't work in these communities. We had to settle with making notes of problems, sharing it with Refilwe and letting Refilwe fill the need as they could. That was a tough issue for most of us to face.
The day drew to a close with us praying over our communities and our work the next day. We all went to bed excited to see how God was going to move.