Friday, February 22, 2008

Nyaluza & Eluxolweni

Today was another amazing day thanks to Jason. Around noon Grace and I took a cab into the township to meet him at the Nathaniel Nyaluza High School. We were escorted to Jason's English classroom by a very nice young man named Kanya. Immediately upon entering the room we were faced with whistling, cat calls and laughter, but Jason quickly put an end to that.

"If Karen and Grace are going to be a problem, than you are going to be the ones that leave, not them," yelled Jason. Grace and I were alarmed, but the kids we quick to go back to work.

Jason was in the middle of en English lesson about there/their/they're, so we got to help these tenth grade students out with that. We both found it really difficult to explain the differences, even though this is something that comes naturally to us. These are Xhosa speakers learning to speak English from people with unusual accents. I think it would be hard for anyone.

In the middle of the practice problems the bell rang for the students to move onto their next class. Jason waited for a minute for the next class to come in before realizing that the whole school was attending a drama production for the last period. Lucky for us we got to sit in. It was really hard for us to understand what was going on because most of the skits were in Xhosa, but their costumes and their enthusiasm were so exciting. Two skits were mimed and they were hilarious. Another longer skit was entirely in Xhosa, so we didn't know what was going on, but the rest of the audience found it really funny. As I sat outside in this courtyard I found myself looking around at the other faces when I realized that we were the only three white people there. I asked Jason and he normally is the only one, so he was grateful for the company.

After school Jason had to meet with some students about a photography project that he is doing with them. He did a similar project at Amasango and it was very successful. He exhibited the photographs here at Rhodes and at home in Buffalo, and he's going to be doing the same with this new group of students. This is sort of like what I will be doing with the AIDS patients. While we waited for the students to come in Jason showed us some of the photos from Amasango where the kids are rougher and tougher. There were pictures of homes, family, the Eluxolweni Shelter and a few of these very young kids doing drugs. Unfortunately this is the reality of their lives. To lighten the mood Jason then showed us a video of the kids from Nyaluza dancing during recess. Jason sets up his laptop so that the kids can make videos of themselves dancing to popular music in front of the camera. It was so funny. These kids were having the greatest time!

Following the meeting Jason got us two body guards (2 older, tough boys) to walk us to Eluxolweni, since the walk isn't very safe, especially for two white girls and a white guy. On the way I got to see some of the township homes. I walked for awhile with two 14 year old girls who live in the township. They told me about their aspirations to become actresses and move to the States. They asked me questions along our walk.

"Do you have houses like that in America," one asked, pointing to a rusted, tin shack. I wasn't sure how to reply. Earlier Jason had made references to "the Projects" in NYC and LA, so I told them about our ghettos instead, not wanting them to realize that I've never seen a home like this.

They talked to me about their love of reading and how they want to come to Rhodes. We talked about animals as we passed a cow, goats and chickens roaming the streets.

"Do you have animals in America," the other girl asked.

"Yes," I replied, realizing that she meant these kinds of animals, "but at home they're on farms, not walking through the streets."

"Do you have donkeys in America," they asked after telling me about the donkeys people have at their homes.

"Yes," I said, "but people don't usually keep them at their house. Do you ride it?"

"No," they laughed.

A ninth grade boy named Sanele also walked with us. He talked to me about America and college. Asking me questions about phone numbers and "what I do for a living." He was very curious, extremely smart and incredibly polite. Just before we left Nyaluza to head to the shelter Jason sat Sanele down in front of his laptop to give the boy a chance to record a news briefing. Jason, having worked in news business, knew exactly what he was doing. He wrote a short script, turned on news music and Sanele did his best to become a news anchor. He told me all about wanting to be a journalist and as we walked down the train tracks toward town, he shared pieces of news about places we passed. He's well on his way.

Eventually we split up with the two girls and Sanele and our guards escorted Grace, Jason and me the rest of the way to Eluxolweni. Having visited here last week Grace and I knew what we were in for - hyper, excited, funny street kids.

As we waited for the gate to be opened boys stood waiting for us to come in. The boys were everywhere grabbing at Jason, asking our names, telling us theirs. We walked around talking to the boys, joking around, having a great time. We talked to a boy named named Bramwell who cracked us up. He told us about wanting to come to America to go to Las Vegas and gamble. Then he showed us the poker chips in his pocket and told us we could get in on a game for 10 rand. The boys vary in age from 7 to 18, so there's a lot of variety in what was around us. There was an eight year old boy in Superman pajama bottoms running around yelling about pignoses. There's another boy who fancies himself an American thug who had me in tears I was laughing so hard. We asked him to rap for us, but he was too shy, so we challenged him to a battle next time we're at Eluxolweni. He then did his best rapper imitation grabbing at his crotch and throwing his arms around talking about his "brothers," and I almost died. It was so funny. It amazes me that these kids who are living under such awful circumstances can still have such high spirits. It's an inspiration.

As we were getting ready to leave a boy who we've met before (I have no idea how to spell his Xhosa name) was talking to me at the door. He grabbed my un-flexed bicep and made it jiggle. With his hand still on my arm he gave me a disgusted look, so I flexed. His face changed. "Woah," he said, followed by something I couldn't understand. I looked up at Jason for a translation, "it means strong, in shape," he answered. I laughed as the boy had me flex my other arm. Now all the boys were interested in our muscles and they grabbed at the three of us as we all flexed. Then the boy that I was with started playing with Grace's watch. He took it off of her wrist and put it on mine. Then he took her hair-tie off of her wrist and put it on mine. He smiled as he gave me my two "gifts."

We walked outside and Jason had gathered a group of four boys to walk with us back into town so that they could help him gather things in order to sleep at the shelter tonight. As we all walked towards the gate Grace and I were bombarded by boys giving us hugs and saying their goodbyes. The seven of us walked into town, down High Street. Roger, the only white boy at Eluxolweni, kept singing an Eminem song that was rather inappropriate for his age. He kept asking Jason to "shake it." Next thing we know Roger starts "shaking it" as we walk down the street. Yet again I am brought to tears by the antics of these boys. They are so funny. Roger was being difficult and hard to control, but he cracked me up. It was hard to not notice the looks of passerbys as this group of four street children and three white Americans rolled down High Street.

We said goodbye to the boys and Jason for now. We'll be going back next week to see them again and I can't wait. I think spending time with these kids today was the highlight of my week. They are so full of energy and excitement despite their unfortunate circumstances. And although many of these boys fall to drugs or violence, they don't seem to let anything get them down.