Well, even though i am sitting here in this Internet cafe, i am in fact “homeless”! I am using this prepaid account i set up last week. This morning i left my house for the streets. It was a surreal. I wasn’t expecting it to be emotional or anything, but it sure was a strange feeling to walk away from my flat, with absolutely no money, cell phone, and no changes of clothes, knowing that i would not return for 16 days. It was liberating in some ways, and strangely eerie in others. But i feel great about it. I have been in Cape Town long enough. Seen way too much! And talked until i was blue in the face about the injustice of allowing children to live on the streets. It was time to do something radical and ACT!
Funny enough, a friend of mine ate at a Chinese restaurant the night before last, and when i saw her yesterday she said, “I’ve got something for you!!!”. Then she pulled a little “fortune” out of her pocket. She had gotten it in a cookie the night before. She handed it to me and told me that it was MY fortune and was exactly what i was about to embark on. I took it from her and looked down at it, “Actions speak louder than words.” Perfect! And i hope that this “fortune” does ring true over the next 16 days! That people would HEAR and RECEIVE the message in my ACTIONS!
So today i rode the train to town. I hung out a bit with some of the people that will be documenting (filming) my street journey over the next 16 days, and showed them all of my “hang out” spots so they would be able to find me. After they left i just kind of settled in. I needed to drop some 365 Days of Activism shirts off at a friends house in an area near the top of town so i took a walk up. On my way i met Jerome, a “kid” that i haven’t hung out with in a while. I have known Jerome since he was tiny! He was one of the first kids i met in town. He is now twenty or so. He was actually the first kid i “took off the streets” way back in 2000. That didn’t last long and he ran away from the institution a few months later. Anyways, he is much bigger, and into more trouble now, but he has has an enormous amount of respect for me, and speaks to me as though he is still that young kid i once knew. He walked with me today to drop the shirts.
As we walked we talked and it was great catching up! He told me a funny story (which may not be all that “funny” to you). One night Jerome and a friend were hanging out in a certain area and saw a “white guy” approaching and decided to rob him. As they approached the guy Jerome said they could sense the fear in the guys eyes. When they got right up on the guy, before they could say or do anything, apparently, the guy said, “I know Ryan!”. Jerome said they took a step back and said, “Oh! OK.” and then they “left him”. They had a brief chat with him about how he knew me and then he went happily on his way. Now they see him all the time and greet him and he friendlily greets back. As we walked, Jerome continued to tell me stories, many of them involving crime. But he was not bragging, or showing off, he was just telling me about what was going on in his life. I noticed how calloused he is to the life he is living but at the same time i could see that respectful, sweet kid that i have always known. Unfortunately many people, especially walking around late at night, do not get to see that side of him!
It is because of “kids” like Jerome that i hope my ACTIONS echo in every corner of Cape Town and are HEARD by all. He was just an innocent kid, full of potential, with the capacity to respect and be respected, with a warm heart and a great sense of humor, but he was ALLOWED, as that small child, to go and live on the streets. Now that same child does exist somewhere deep down inside of him, but he really only makes occasional guest appearances, and the hardened “man” that the streets created will most probably rob you if he sees you. It could have been different. But we cannot change the past. That is why i hope my ACTIONS can make some difference, even if it is very small, on the “Jeromes” of the future!
It is almost time for my first night’s sleep on the streets. Talk to you tomorrow!