I just wanted to write a short one to say that i had a good time last night. Gregory and I hung out on Long Street for a LONG time and we sat at Lola’s at one of the outdoor tables (it was slow at first because of the rain) and he made beats on the table and i rapped. He said it was because of our mic that Long Street filled up so quickly! Everyone seemed to be in a festive mood. Everyone of course including the rats!! When i was trying to go to sleep i got bombarded by them. At one point three at one time. One of them managed to make its way into my pant leg before i was able to stand up ad kick him out! I will write more later. I have a lot of things on my mind i want to write about but really need something in my stomach! Talk to you later!
I had a great day today! I hung out mostly with the group of younger kids from Long Street. They were excited to hang out because most of the time, over the past few days, when i have seen them it has been at night during their “working hours”. So today we had a chance just to hang out. We went to the Company Gardens and just laid in the grass. They actually asked me to come with them and talk to them until they fell asleep (they had stayed up all night and had not yet slept). So we met up with a couple of the other guys that hang out in the Gardens and just hung out, laid on a blanket and chatted. I was again reminded of the blog i wrote the other day about the discrimination that street people receive from police and security compared to “average members of the public”.
In a few hours of sitting there we were approached by two different sets of police officers and two different sets of security guards. The kids had eventually fallen asleep and Gregory and i just sat there and chatted. Later my wife came for a visit as well. But in that time, every visit we had from the authorities brought the message that “people” are not allowed to sleep in the Company Gardens. Please picture with me for one second, a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon (that was before it started raining), families sitting all in the grass (many of those people sleeping), all sorts of activities and fun. The kids were not harming anybody. Just sleeping. So were other people, that did not get told FOUR SEPARATE TIMES that they are not allowed to sleep there. I explained that the sign (which is a picture) explains that people, ALL people, are not allowed to sleep there in the night, because it is a picture (crossed out) of man sleeping under the moon. That makes it pretty clear for literate and illiterate alike.
I understand rules. I think many rules are good and allow us to live in peace and harmony with one another. BUT rules have to apply to everyone and not just a certain “class” or grouping of people. I used to walk through the Gardens regularly and there has not been one single time that i have NOT seen people sleeping: business men, construction workers, homeless people, white people, black people, fat people, skinny people, lots and lots of people…sleeping. But the only people i have ever seen be harassed about sleeping in the Gardens are homeless people. So…
- Make a rule that NO ONE is allowed to sleep there and enforce it fairly, and equally to the entire public.
- Lay off and let everyone enjoy the little bit of “nature” in the middle of this concrete jungle.
BUT WHATEVER YOU DO JUST BE FAIR AND TREAT PEOPLE EQUALLY!!!!!
My current smell + Rain = something TERRIBLY smelly!!!!
I was given taxi fair to go to the 100 hour Music Marathon at the Waterfront. I walked through a lot of rain before that. Then i had to sit next to people, making very close contact, on public transport. I felt sorry for them but also felt pretty ashamed. I mean, i know why i am doing this, so it didn’t get to my “core being” or anything, but i just imagined how it would be for someone in my position, yet this “position” being their constant reality. I got to the marathon only to find out it was rained out but it wasn’t all loss because they had left over KFC that i was able to bring back to town for the guys, which also worked out good because i promised the kids on Long Street i would “sort something out for them later” because they gave me an apple and some chips this morning. So, on the bus on the way back to town, i had my big plastic sack of obviously donated food, and there was some guy that actually made fun of me! On the way in and the way out of the bus. People are truly amazing! I treasure these experiences because they allow an understanding that cannot be obtained by mere observation, reading, hearsay, or even a story straight from the horse’s mouth; to really feel and understand it, you have to experience it! It was not cool to be me in that moment, but this “me” only lasts for 16 days; whilst others live under this kind of treatment on a daily basis.
Last night i had an interesting experience. Maanie came by the flower stand before we went to sleep. I have known Maanie the entire time i have lived here. I think he was around 10 or 11 when i first met him back in 2000. I really have a soft spot for him and have seen him go through many ups and downs. Right now it seems that he is very “up”, which is great for me to see! I don’t think he would mind me saying that he just got out of jail the day before yesterday. He had a couple of old cases that stood up against him so he had to spend a couple of months in jail. He said while he was in there he thought a lot about his life, his child (who is one of the cutest babies in the world), and his future.
Maanie said all these years living on and off the streets, in and out of jail, he had always looked at other people to blame for his predicaments he continued to find himself in; his parents, the government, the NGO sector, Cape Town, this guy, that guy…everybody but himself. Now he says, though he sees the role that they all played in the things he has been through, he is currently in a place where he is “old enough” to take responsibility, stop looking for others to blame for his situation, and also look at himself, along with the choices and decisions he has made over all the years that have brought him to this place (even if he was not mature enough to make them at that time). He now takes responsibility for the “place” he is in, but more importantly, he is taking responsibility for his future.
Anyway, as i said, i have always had a soft spot for Maanie; i love him to death. It was really good to see him last night and see how good he looked, and i think he was glad to see me. At the same time, i think it was a little bit strange for him. He said he heard about what i am “doing” (here on the streets) while he was in jail. He kept looking at me with disbelief last night and i could see a mixture of emotion in his eyes: pride, concern, pity…to name a few. He looked at me with concern and said, “You look tired!”. I said i was a bit tired because it had been a long day. He said, “Do you have a cold? Here, take this!” and he handed me the cap from his head. I thanked him. He said, “Do you have enough clothes?” and i told him that i only had the clothes i was wearing but i planned on washing them soon. I could literally see the pain in his eyes. I think he finally realised how i felt (and still feel) all those years coming and visiting all the kids on a daily basis.
I told him i stink. He leaned forward and put his nose to my chest and took a big whiff and said, “No you don’t. You smell like I always did!”. And that was the moment that was so surreal. I was standing there like a stinky little “street kid” and Maanie was standing there nicely dressed, looking and smelling great. I think it was a moving experience for both of us! He told me he wants to do whatever he can to support me in this and that he believes in what i am doing! I appreciated his words and told him that the best way he can “support me” is to continue in the positive way that he is and look after himself. To see him looking so good is the best support i could ever have. That is why i am doing this!
Once a kid has been allowed to grow up on the streets it is not easy for him to come away from the street life (especially after many years on the streets). Maanie is very aware of the challenges and open about the temptations that are out there for him. Like i have said many times before, we have to catch these kids before they even go to the streets. Before the streets suck them in and steal prime years of their lives. I am so proud of Maanie! I know he will make mistakes again, but i also know that we have to take it one day at a time and today…Maanie gave me hope!
Today was a really nice day…after i got over the whole diarrhea thing! I went to Crippie (the soup kitchen) and hung out there for most of the morning. One thing i have noticed is how much the other street youth, and adults for that matter, enjoy having me around. Though I have felt close to them for the past eight years, this experience is bringing me closer than words can explain. Each and every day i am reminded of the fact that they truly are my family; whether it is through a smile, a gift of some sort (usually coffee or coke), encouraging words telling me they believe in what i am doing, or just quality conversations. Before i would have these types of experiences but then return to my home. Now, i am here…all the time!
I don’t really have all that much to say tonight. But i am doing good, and feel absolutely privileged to be in the place that i am! Crippie is closed for the weekend so we will see what tomorrow and Sunday bring!
Alright, i don’t want to be too gross on here, but i guess part of this experience is to learn, and share, all the different aspects of street life (especially in context with why the streets are not appropriate for children to live on), as “real” as they might be. This one is pretty gritty! I woke up this morning and my stomach was not happy. I realised something i had eaten yesterday made my stomach runny. Unfortunately, it was 6:00 AM. The public toilets on the Parade don’t open until 7:00 AM! Fortunately, i wanted to come to the Internet cafe to write this blog and i knew i could use this toilet (an option that the kids would not actually have). That also meant i had to walk a bit further.
As i walked i could feel my unhappy stomach trying to relieve itself as quickly as possible. I pinched like i never have before. I made it to the toilet, BUT someone had urinated ALL over the seat. “Oh man!!!! I don’t think i can hold it long enough to clean it off!”. I got it cleaned off just in time for the explosion that followed! HA! I know, i am sorry! Too much information!! But i guess that is one of the many realities of street life that has just become very real to me! What if i had not have made it? I only have this one pair of pants!!! What if i would have had to wait until 7:00 AM? I don’t think i could have held off! Anyways, that’s not even what i wanted to write about this morning, but i did want to share that with you.
One thing that i have always seen as a positive and negative of street life is the “live by the day” mentality that comes with it. I mean, it is good because some people spend their entire lives collecting “things” that they think will make them happy, and they don’t, but they horde and they horde until they die, and then the stuff stays, and they move on. On the other side however, it has always been difficult for me in the past, working with the kids that come off the streets, trying to teach them values of saving money, thinking ahead and not acting so spontaneously. Street life is very spontaneous. Life just “happens”. Many of the kids act impulsively, not thinking of the consequences, maybe because that action could be their very last. Why save money from today when someone is going to steal it in the night? Last night i got a taste of why it does not always pay off to “save” things on the streets.
For those of you that don’t know, yesterday was Thanksgiving in the States. And i have some American friends here that like to celebrate it. One of those friends had told me that back in the States her and her mother always take food to homeless people on Thanksgiving, and she said she would bring me something when i am here on the streets. So she came last night and brought Wise and I too lovely bags of goodies!! I am talking a whole chicken, a loaf of bread, some candy, peanut butter, apples, soap, pain tablets and more! It was like Christmas! She found us at our sleeping place and we were already asleep, so she said it would keep until the morning. Wise and i looked forward to a nice breakfast, AND lunch!
We knew the rats were on the prowl so i put the bags under a crate. We then returned to la la land. This morning when we woke up, we wanted to take a look at the goodies in the morning light and we noticed little pieces of plastic bag laying all around the bags. And each bag had its own hole. The rats has figured a way into our “refrigerator” crate!! (i thought i felt something crawling over me in the night) They has eaten about half the whole chicken and nibbled on every single piece of bread! Wise said we shouldn’t eat the other half of the chicken because the rats carry diseases and he has seen people get very sick from eating food that rats have nibbled on. So we salvaged what we could and fed the rest to the birds. I am pretty excited to use the soap!
Anyways, all of that to say, though i always understood the “live by the day” mentality, i have never really been in a position where i have really and truly had to live by that philosophy. I think there are lessons to learn on both sides. Again, if our children grow up on the streets with the “live by the day” mentality, it makes it harder for them to later reintegrate into society if or when they come off the streets; they act spontaneously and often cannot grasp the concept of “saving”. But on the other side, those people that have an abundance of “stuff”, and they continue just to collect more, and are looking to that for happiness…i am here to tell you, the rats are real, and your stuff will just end up getting eaten one day or another! I guess we can all learn from this!