Thursday, February 19, 2009

Meet Rijanah Isaacs, from Asla Park in Mossel Bay, South Africa

Are you as curious about new places as I am? Do you long for the unknown? What comes to mind when you think of South Africa?

Although we've had the pleasure of living in S.A., the two things that struck me about the country were its beauty and its poverty. Not surprisingly, the townships are one area where we weren't able to spend a lot of time. As an experiment of sorts, I asked my friend Rijanah, who lives in one of these low-income neighborhoods along South Africa's Garden Route, to record what she sees, hears, tastes, smells, and feels for one day. Her answer is an awakening, even for me (despite me having driven her home many times and eating at her place on her birthday). Please read on to get a (distant) sense of what it's like to walk in Rijanah's shoes for a day...

Tuesday, 17 February 2009
I am Rijanah, my address is Matayoyo Street [house number deleted] in Asla Park - an Low-class community in Mossel Bay, South Africa. We were forced to move here from a Middle-class community when my farther (the only bread-winner in our home of that time) passed away in 2005 due to Lung cancer. Me, my Mom and my younger sister, Maya, had to find ourselves an house where the bills are not very high. The houses in this community is only 5 by 4 square metres, we came from a 5 room house into an, say like a bachelors apartment.

I attended the best school in Mossel Bay, an Model C school, Point High that only provides the best education in town. I even managed to complete an College degree in Bussiness Studies in 2004 after my Matric [the equivalent of a high school diploma].

Well, now I ended up working in my community which is called Voters’ Education – educating inhabitants and residents of the importance to be able to vote for the best person to become presedent of our country.

When I woke up this morning I thought about telling the whole world of what life is like to stay in such a community (township) where coloureds and blacks Is forced to be neighbours...

[When I asked her about this she said, "It's just easier to live together with your people, you know?" Perhaps this is a result of apartheid or remnant of a tribal mentality?] a community where you cannot even let your laundry dry on the washing-lines without watching over it, where we have to have security gates and burgular bars in front of our windows.

I woke up to the smell of Beef Tripe, my mom pre-cooked it for this evening. It’s an very nice meal prepared in a curry sauce with carrots and potatoes on rice. Dogs barking and fighting next door. I’ll be getting ready for a long day walking around in Asla Park, door to door. After I’ve eaten some porridge (maize meal) my sister just left for school, an 9 kilometers walk everyday to and back from school. My mom waiting for me, we are walking together, she is working at the local casino in the house-keeping department. I got to my friends house, we are working together for today.

We are starting to work from the lower part of the area to the top side, (Mzola street to Adriaans Ave) me on the left side and she on the right side of the street. I come at houses where the mother and the farther is both drunk and the kids have to look after themselves and the younger siblings, or sometimes I’ll find an blind grandmother looking after an 18 month old toddler. Today we have to, at least, visit 40 houses each. It’s a beautifull day, but with sandlles on a gravel road and a hat on your head, I can only imagine going to take a swim, or having a glass of cold water.

At my 18th house I get an middle-aged lady looking after 63 kids, almost like a daycare centre, but only at her small home. The kids are playing and some are fighting over toys. I’m taking a break. Sitting and trying to have a conversation, but the kids are taking all of her time. They are between the ages of -1 and 6 years, and the price …… R100 to R150 per month, Cheap!! We are talking about their meals and sanitary since some of them are still on diapper and bottle. They are playing with old paint containers sitting in the sun and girls are playing with dolls, some of them without heads and some dolls without dresses. Their meals are porridge (maize meal) in the morning, potatoes and rice ant lunch time and after lunch taking a nap at 10 o’clock till 3 o’clock and before heading home after their nap, 1 slice of brown bread with peanut butter. Most of them are happy, because at some of their homes there are not even a slice of bread on the table.

I’m heading to the next house. House 19………. There is one lady, she cannot even speak English or Afrikaans and I’m thankfull to God to be able to communicate to people from other races in English. I dropped some Xhosa-pamphlets, greet and move on. I get to a house where the husband is Xhosa and his wife is coloured. We are having a conversation from A-Z: what we are doing, why it is important to register as a voter. They understand and are interested in registering, but neither of them have a job, but that’s not why I visited them. I greet and move on to meet my friend at the end of the street.

We are taking taxi back home to have something to eat and getting reports ready of what we’ve done for the day. The music in the taxi is so loud, we cannot even hear each other till we arrive at our stop. Shjoe!!! Hungry and hot we get home. Working through what we’ve done for today, telling each other about the people we’ve met along the way, finishing our reports. We are having coffee and bread with Jam.

Now, I will put the laundry on the washing-line where I can have an eye on it, while I’m waiting for Maya to get home from school. Here is lots of people walking up and down in the street and children playing in the street, cars passing. Music, so loud come from the street at the back at a tavern (local shibeen). The most popular place to be – I guess. While I think the best place to be is church for the rejoycing and worshipping, thanking God for His Grace and blessings each day.

Maya arrives home … exhausted and hot, she’s heading straight to the fridge for cold water. I’ll help with her homework, I miss school so much. If I knew then what I know now, I would have taken the opportunities at school to get much further in sports etc., but I was not interested in any, I was more concerned about passing each level, just not to stay behind, now I can incourage her to do better in her ability and to rise in her circumstances.

I took my laundry from the washing-line just now, locking the security gate when I get inside our house. I will begin with cooking before my mother gets home after a hard day at work, she is always exhausted after she came home, she have to walk for 3 kilometers to get a taxi home.

I’m getting potatoes and carrots ready for dinner, cooking the rice. I’m cooking the pre-cooked Beef tripe with the carrots then I put in the potatoes 10 minutes after the carrots. Then I let it cook for 25 more minutes stirring in the curry mixture, vinegar, sugar and turmeric. How nice. I’m thinking of making pumpkin with the meal, but let’s keep it for tomorrow…..

My mom arrives home, exhausted (as usual). We are talking about the day’s work and where I will be working the next day. Ceasar, my boyfriend will join us for dinner and then head back home to Great Brak River, a small community 25 kilometres from Mossel Bay.

I’m dishing up dinner. My mom and Maya is watching television while I’m dishing up. We have finishes eaten by the time Ceasar arrives, I will clean the dishes while he enjoy his dinner.

We spend a bit time together, until his nephew arrives to pick him up at 18:30, watching the beginning of the most popular local soupie, 7de Laan on SABC 2. Not very long, it’s time for us to say good-bye till tomorrow morning when we will meet at the mall to check e-mails and applying for jobs to better our circumstances.

After the news at 7 I cook water on the stove in a big pot – to take a bath and get to bed, I have to e fresh in the morning, we are having a presentation at the local clinic, educating people about the importance of registering for voting

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