McDonalds Redemption

February 27, 2010

Mohammad had the day off work on Thursday because of a doctor’s appointment so when he was finished he just ran around with me on some errands I had to do. One stop was in Claremont, which happens to be an area where Mohammad lived on the streets for a portion of his childhood. He explained to me the glue was cheaper in Claremont and there were less kids there than in the Central Business District of town and that is why he and his friends made the exodus from Cape Town to Claremont. I parked my project’s old beat-up truck in an open space and we hopped out, immediately met by a parking attendant.

She wanted payment straight away, telling me it was 3 Rand for thirty minutes and 6 Rand for an hour. I told her I didn’t know how long I would be and she said I could pay a little now and the rest later. I didn’t like the idea of having to pay twice and after a little bit of bargaining I convinced her that I would pay on return. As we walked away Mohammad complained about these new “formalized” parking attendants, “I don’t like them. What do they know about parking cars, huh? You have to pay them and they don’t even help guide you into your spot! When we used to park cars at least we treated the customers better.” My sentiments exactly.

It was lunchtime so Mohammad and I popped in to McDonalds for some food. Waiting in line Mohammad spoke nostalgically, “Yho! This was the spot back in the day! How many times did I eat people’s leftovers or get good stuff out of those bins,” he said pointing to a rubbish bin just outside the McDonalds windows. “I would collect a bunch of leftover chips from all the containers I found and put them all in one and sit at the table and eat them like I was a customer!” He shook his head and laughed at the homeless child version of himself, almost as if he was watching a mental movie of himself and could even taste the stale fries with that wonderful rubbish bin aftertaste.  We ordered, sat and ate.

At the end of the meal I gathered the empty burger containers, cups, wadded up napkins and other scraps and put them on the tray. Just as I stood and began to pick up the tray Mohammad stopped me, putting his hand on it, “Wait!” he said with a strange sort of excitement. “I want to do this!” It didn’t hit me at that moment why he was so adamant about disposing of our rubbish, but I could tell by his tone it was something he really, really wanted to do. I let him. He lifted the tray, and as he did his shoulders lifted as well. He walked proudly over to the rubbish bin, pushed back the swinging trap door, and let the contents of the tray slide slowly into the bin. He held the empty tray up and spun around with the biggest smile. I had never seen someone throw something away with such joy, and I had no idea why he was so elated but I couldn’t help but feel extremely happy, if not very confused.

As we walked out of McDonalds he strutted as though he had morphed into the Shaft himself! “I used to dig other people’s rubbish out of these bins! Now I am putting my own rubbish in there!” He gave me a side hug as he spoke, “Things are different! Things are changing!”

I returned his side hug, “Yeah buddy they are! And you are! That’s what you call redemption.”

He raised one eyebrow, “Redemption? What’s that?”

“It’s like…when something bad turns into something good. Like if someone throws away a used Coke can, but then someone else comes, takes it and turns it into a piece of art, like that stuff at Green Market.”

His eyes lit up, “Ok! Or like, I used to walk down this very same street, with no shoes, no home and using drugs, and now I am walking down it with these nice clothes, a place to stay, a job, and I am not on drugs?”

I patted him on the back, “Exactly like that!”

He nodded in agreement with a flood of thoughts running through his head, “I am redemptioned!”

I chuckled, “Indeed you are! Now,” I handed him 6 Rand, “you can pay the parking attendant to make it all complete. It will be the full redemption package.”

He took the 6 Rand but protested, “But these people don’t even do their work properly.”

I agreed with him, “Yeah, but this isn’t really about them. It’s about us…you.”

He looked at me, and strongly approved, “Redemption!”

I laughed. We got in the truck and a different parking attendant to the first finally appeared. Mohammad held out the money as she said, “That will be 9 Rand.”

“But we weren’t even here for an hour,” I said.

The lady then began shouting, cursing me in the name of God, and telling me I am “jeopardizing” her job. It was a scene out of a crazy movie. I refused to be overcharged. She refused to be nice. I tried to just agree to disagree with the lady but she disagreed to disagree so I just drove away with her holding my 6 Rand, cursing me in the name of God. I guess the “full redemption package” doesn’t always come easy. I couldn’t believe the nerve of that lady. My adrenaline was pumping and I felt aggressive. I wanted to go back and rip my 6 Rand out of her hand and shout at her…But then I had to remind myself of my own words…it’s not really about them. It’s about us. It’s about me.


Just Call Me Dude

February 26, 2010

So just after my “dude experience” experience yesterday, “Mohammad” came to the project to travel home with me.

Dude walked up. Mohammad stretched out his hand, “Hi. I’m Mohammad.”

Dude took his hand, glanced over at me out of the corner of his eyes, smiled and said, “Just call me Dude.”

He laughed, shook Mohammad’s hand and walked off into the distance.

We Are What We’ve Seen. We Are Not What We Have Not Seen: From No Father to Know Father – Part 3

February 26, 2010

The Father Theme has come up yet again. I guess it’s no real surprise living in a country where most fathers are nowhere to be found, and those who stick around are not always the best role models; those facts mixed with the genetically ingrained desire (most especially in young boys) to be like our fathers, please and impress them, receive their praise, and to live lives which are equally as great or better than the lives our fathers have lived. I guess it is a theme that is sure to come up regularly. My recent reminder has come through a young man I will call Mohammad.

Mohammad was one of the first kids I met on the streets of Cape Town when I came here in 1999. He was only nine-years-old at the time and was in a constant state of intoxication, under the influence of one drug or the other, but usually huffing paint thinners as his drug of choice. Mohammad was always so goofed – drooling, slurring his speech, and singing crazy remixes of gospel songs – for the first few months I knew him I actually thought he was retarded. I say that in all seriousness, though we joke about it now. It was only one day, a few months into living here, I saw him sober for the first time; on a Sunday, a day he says the hardware stores are closed making it impossible to buy his thinners. He walked up to me, completely clear-headed and in his right mind. He greeted me with no drool, his words not slurred in the least bit. I was shocked. Knowing Mohammad was not as messed up as he became when under the influence of thinners made it even more difficult to see him in that state from then on out.

Over the years I have seen Mohammad live on and off the streets, in and out of prison, in this organization and that, and with this do-gooder and that. And though he mostly only revealed his best qualities to me, over the years I saw him often allow his worst qualities to trump the better ones in his day-to-day hustle, leading to many bad decisions, followed by many negative consequences. I couldn’t help but realize Mohammad was merely a product of his environment. His parents wanted little to do with him from an early age, and his biggest role model was his grandfather, a renowned gangster and drug dealer who ruled one of the areas of the Cape Flats. Mohammad began using drugs from the age of seven, around the same age saw his own brother shoot his own cousin in a gang related dispute, and learned to shoot people himself around that same tender age.

It was around that time he began running to the streets of downtown Cape Town. Mohammad was the epitome of a grown man in a ten-year-old’s body; seeing, experiencing and doing things way beyond his years. Though it was easy for me and others to forget sometimes, Mohammad was still just a kid. My heart broke for him time and time again. But he has recently made decisions to change his life; something that looks similar to paddling up stream with no paddle, in a canoe with a bunch of holes in it, with the undesirable bag of behaviors and past hurts weighing heavy like an anchor, constantly tugging on him and holding him back. But the reason he made the resolution to change was not so much for him, but for his new born (at the time) son, birthed by his girlfriend of many years.

Mohammad’s son was born right before his last, fairly long, visit to jail. It was within those prison walls he decided he had to be a father to his son, and instead of etching a gang tattoo on his body he tattooed his son’s name, as a forever reminder and inspiration of the life he wanted to live and the person he wanted to be. Since his release in December 2008 he has tried, as hard as he knows how to, to be a respectable man, a supportive partner, and a good father. This year of trial and error has led to great victories and massive failures, but, at least, early this month as his son turned two, a week before Mohammad turned twenty, he had stable employment and had still not seen the inside of a prison cell again.

A few weeks back I received a call from a lady who runs an NGO Mohammad and his girlfriend are involved with. The lady was worried that Mohammad was “spiraling out of control”, after a drunken “performance” at a benefit event, where he embarrassed himself and the project in front of the board of directors and other guests. She asked me to speak with him, and though I spoke to him on the phone I did not get a chance to see him, or sit and chat face-to-face. About three weeks ago the lady called again to say on that Tuesday night Mohammad had gone out and gotten drunk, and when he returned home he got into a fight with his girlfriend; a fight which led to violence. The lady was forced to kick him out of the project and his girlfriend said she did not want to see him again, also making threats that he would not get to see his child again. He came to stay with me on that Wednesday night.

When he first arrived at my house he was broken, remorseful, angry and confused; at him self, others and pretty much the hand life had dealt him. I spoke to him about, or rather listened mostly to, his situation and as he spoke I was struck with the realization that trying to be a good father and a loving partner, for someone who has not seen or experienced a father in his own life nor a healthy relationship, can be about as difficult, if not seemingly impossible, as me trying to pick up a novel written in brail and begin reading away; I would run my fingers over the tiny little bumps, becoming frustrated I was not picking up any information from them. It would not take long before I gave up that undertaking. Though I could see Mohammad felt greatly overwhelmed by everything, I also saw a resolve in him to make things “right” and be the person, father and partner he dreams of being.

The lady from the organization and Mohammad decided he needed a month of what they called his “rehabilitation”, and they decided it was best for him to serve his time at my house. This was all right with me. If he made serious changes the lady would allow him back into the organization. Over the last few weeks Mohammad has stayed with me I have seen how dedicated he is to change; some days it seems he is the tiny David up against the enormous, ugly Goliath, whilst other days he seems like the victorious, passionate William Wallace as he takes on this battle. But over these few weeks, and through many conversations, I noticed that Mohammad is not fighting a battle, but rather a collective of battles, both past and present, with his unhealed battle wounds from the past severely affecting his ability to gain victory in the raging war at large. But each and every day, with each and every positive choice he makes, and with each and every positive word spoken over him washing over him like refreshing waters, Mohammad is strengthened and his resolve becomes greater.

Mohammad and his girlfriend have made amends and he visits them every afternoon after work, before he takes the train commute to my house. Things are good and getting better, but still not perfect, and they never will be. As positive as Mohammad feels now, the realization of the amount of work it takes to be the person he wants to be is again and again sobering for him. But that very sobriety is what he needs to work out all the things he has seen, experienced and done. His environment has shaped him and his undesirable behavior is merely a reflection of the men and fathers, or lack there of, he grew up around. He simply became what he saw, but now wishes to be something totally different. So now he has to continue to fight, figuring out how to be something he has never seen, with only the example of what he does not want to be to guide him on his journey. I pat him on the back for the strides he has taken so far!


February 25, 2010

A new young man (from Zimbabwe) at the project I work at came up to me today and asked for help on his homework. He is the sweetest, nicest most genuine guy I have met in a while. Unfortunately, the help he needed required printing and the printer is not working for some unknown reason. I said, “The printer’s not working. Sorry dude.”

He looked at me confused, “What did you just call me?”


“What’s that?!”

“You don’t know what dude is?”


“It means like friend, or cool guy, or something like that. You know, like hey dude…cool guy.”

“Oh. No one has ever called me that before.”

“What?! Are you saying I am the first person to ever call you dude?!”

“Yeah, you’re the first person to call me dude.”

“That’s awesome dude!”

“I know!”

“History has been made today! I feel honored!”

We gave each other five to mark the historic event. It was awesome!

Fellowship – UNMOVED Episode 3

February 23, 2010

Buy MOVED (UK & Europe):…

Buy MOVED (U.S.):…

This video in no way represents God, Christians, or Christianity as a whole, but is merely a satire of undesirable behavior of certain groups and individuals. For more information visit:

Random Thought #31

February 21, 2010

My friend finally gave birth to her overdue baby the other day. He is beautiful. As I held him I was just thinking how amazing it is that that little guy had been inside her for more than nine months. How did he survive in there? My mind was getting blown away with the miracle of life and how a foetus grows inside a human stomach; similar to when I look into a fire and my mind goes to deep places where I think so deeply about what fire actually is I start to even think it is impossible it even exists. I had to pull myself out of my deep thoughts, and just tried to enjoy holding my new little precious god-son. But a part of me still sat in wonder…dwelling on the intricacies of our design and how carefully and wonderfully we were created to function, even when we are not old enough to know how.

MOVED Available on other online shops…

February 20, 2010

Hey there. Just letting you know MOVED is available on Amazon:

And for South Africans it is available on Kalahari: