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The Eyes of God

This is me, the artist-child part of me, looking through my notebook and remembering pictures in my mind and heart. Now I know what I saw in the Zulu Indana (assistant-chief) Jonathan’s eyes. A hunted look—like a shepherd with a flock of thousands, who knows the wolves steal in the night more than millions.

And yet again I wonder who has listened to the voices of frontline fighters like Gugu and Jonathan—the adopters of orphans, the buriers of the dead, the parents of a dying generation? To those of you want to help, Jonathan’s address is: Jonathan Ngcoya, 19 Uplands Road, Blackridge, Pietermaritzburg, 3201 South Africa.

Which reminds me, if you wish to contact Gail Trollip in order to volunteer, or to send money or food or clothes for her toddler orphans, her address is: Suite 192, Postnet X6, Cascades 3202, South Africa. For further details, consult the website

South Africa 3 November 2006 (continued) Leaving Jonathan’s home I see a stack of flyers advertising a youth boxing club. I pick one up, “This is a great idea.” Jonathan agrees, “Yes, anything to keep the boys off the street.” As I shake his hand I realize he has a boxer’s posture and walk. So the muscles are not from wrestling, but from fighting.

Gugu is bringing me to Pietermaritzburg. I need to buy materials (everything times 5) for the school information kits that will be sent to classrooms in The Netherlands once this aids survival book is published. I ask for the largest textbook store; she agrees to drop me off there. She has called Aubrey and he is nearly finished with his meeting and will pick me up at the bookstore. Sounds like a plan. On the way into town, we pass more of the blooming purple jacaranda trees. What a sight! There are only two weeks of the year when they’re in full bloom, and I’m here during that time. The trees line highways and grow wild between eucalyptus, so sometimes an entire road is coated with the violet leaves, and other times a hillside is dotted with purple. This is what I wrote in my notebook: Jacaranda violent purple fluorescent in its intensity.

In town, it is crowded because schools have let out for the afternoon. Teenagers in uniforms everywhere. Mobile phones, girls watching boys watching girls. A tall, dark and handsome young man meets Gugu. Her son! So I must have written down her family stats incorrectly. She has 12 children?

(Which reminds me, a blanket apology to all of you I’m writing about if I remember things wrong. This is actually only supposed to be a record of my own reactions, emotions and experiences, but it’s turned into the world’s longest blog birth, a documentary of my impressions. It’s not meant to be factual, though I am trying my hardest to remember the truth.)

Gugu walks me to the bookstore and we say our goodbye. She has agreed to check the book, once I have it written, for cultural accuracy, since the publisher and I already know it will be about a Zulu boy in South Africa. Oh sister! I think, watching her disappear in the crowd of new-hope South African teens, surging over the sidewalks.

The bookstore is quiet and cool. I LOVE bookstores. I wrote a short story about my addiction to books last summer, and it’s true that whenever I enter a bookstore, it calms me like a drug. I head for the bargain bin, read what they’ve got in Afrikaans, look at the fiction, peruse the non-fiction, linger in the Biography department, choose a book about reconciliation in Rwanda, open the covers of books with photos of South Africa and slowly make my way to the back of the store where the textbooks lie in little piles according to grade. My choices for the children of The Netherlands? A play for 10-year olds written in Afrikaans (the language is so similar to Dutch, they’ll get a kick out of reading it), and my own personal favorite—Simply Zulu—Workbook 1 by Bongiwe Gumede and Hilary Cawood.

This book is yellow and has a picture of three black children and one white boy, all with their mouths open, as if they are conversing in simply Zulu. The first page describes this as a “methodical introduction to learners of isiZulu.” Ah, I think, isiZulu is to Zulu as kiSwahili is to Swahili. I have this love of linguistics and learning what makes languages tick. In isiZulu’s case, clicks are what make it tick. Simply Zulu states, “There are three basic ‘clicks’ in isiZulu. Only one appears in this workbook. ‘C’ as in incwadi: a clicking sound made by dropping the tongue from behind the front teeth.” Now, wasn’t that useful to know?

So I am buying five copies of my play in Afrikaans and Simply Zulu, enjoying the certain justice involved in spending the publisher’s money on books, when Aubrey finds me. His meeting went fine. I told him my morning has also gone fine, and he reminds me the day is almost over. He had mentioned a market where toys made out of rubbish were sold and I am interested, but now we won’t make it back in time. Besides, there are more books I want to buy from ACAT, and their office will close soon, as well. We decide there’s only enough time to buy the South African Springbok rugby caps I’m after. We find a street vendor who says he can get five for me. He takes off at a run through the busy streets after we promise to wait for him. When he returns I notice he has aids lesions on his face, and that the one on his lip is bleeding. We barter over the price, which was already far below what the caps sell for in the airport, and I make my purchase. Afterwards, Aubrey tells me whites don’t barter in South Africa. This one does, I think, remembering all the “best friends” I have made in other African countries among countless vendors. “My best friend,” they told me before trying to sell me something, “today is your lucky day.”

Walking back to Aubrey’s car, he points out some of the older buildings and we talk colonial architecture. I can recognize many lines similar to what I’ve seen in Amsterdam. In the car back to ACAT I ask for success stories and Aubrey tells me about how learning to grow a garden (such as taught through Gugu’s department) can make the difference among the poor between nothing and something. He tells about: • one woman trading her crop of wild spinach for second-hand clothes • a group of concerned people in the community who started a soup kitchen • sharing skills to save for pigs • one woman who owned property employing others to work it.

Back at ACAT, the fence covered in climbing roses and the scent of sweet grass now feel like home. I regret that I must leave the following morning, and feel a little resentful since I’m only now starting to get my bearings. But this trip, indeed, these books I’ve been writing about children in developing countries, are all about trust, so I trust that my trip has been planned to provide me with the richest mix of experiences. Still, I will miss the friends I’ve made, the South African cadence in English, and the courage of this brave new South Africa that the rest of us said would end in bloodbaths once Mandela stepped down.

We get to the ACAT office just in time for me to buy the workbooks. These are their titles: Bereavement Counselling of Children—Module 4 Hope is Vital—A Wellness Course—Living Positively with HIV and AIDS Health and Healing—Module 1 These three are all books from “The HIV and AIDS Series” Then there is the ever-popular Basic Life Skills from ACAT’s “Development Programme Series.” Lastly, Aubrey gave me his copy of ACAT Entrepreneurial Development Programme Success Stories April to December 2004. I am delighted with these books, and still think some smart publisher should publish and distribute them in other countries. Great, practical, hands-on advice. I know books from “The HIV and AIDS Series” doesn’t sound like light reading, but the wisdom and practical tips in these workbooks could serve to teach and train so many people in other countries groaning under the curse of aids. (So to all you many publishers who are reading my blog—here’s a tip for you, as well as Aubrey’s suggestion that children’s Bibles be published in Zulu. Remember—I want 10 percent!)

While at the ACAT offices, I literally run into Gerald, the head of ACAT. It’s nice I got to meet him. Cynthia and her husband Geoff Morgan are taking me out to dinner tonight. I have heard of Geoff, as the head of the Entrepreneurial Development Programme, and Cynthia picked me up at the airport, but I haven’t met Geoff yet. It turns out they live on the other side of the compound. And the rottweilers I saw chasing a springbok my first night here, are theirs. We eat outside at a German sausage restaurant. Lucky for vegetarian me they serve a nice trout. The best part about that night is being able to debrief with Cynthia and Geoff. The second-best part about that night is sitting outside beneath a South African turned-around moon that shines onto water and cattle on a thousand hills.

Geoff tells me he is fourth-generation South African. I ask him about the possibility that white South Africans didn’t know what apartheid was doing in their country. He agrees, “We didn’t know it was so bad. We were cut off from the rest of the world. Information and media were totally controlled by the government.”

Later that evening, in the quiet grace of their home, he and Cynthia tell me the greatest story about a group they took to Capetown. I can’t remember exactly, but I think these were rural Zulus who won a prize, or maybe there was some sort of make-a-dream-come-true initiative. In any case, there was this group that had never flown and never been to Capetown before. The elder said once the plane took off, “This is what God sees. Now I have the eyes of God.” There was a great deal of laughter throughout the trip. They were not impressed with the view from Table Mountain.

Geoff says to me, “Most white South Africans don’t know what’s off the highways. You’ve barely been here three days and you’ve seen more than they do in a lifetime. They just see their homes, the shopping malls, their office buildings and the main roads in between.”

When I ask what the biggest difference is since apartheid, he says travel. “People travel now—they used to need passbooks. Mini-van taxis changed the fabric of South African society. It used to be there was one bus or train going and coming a day. I’m constantly amazed, even in the rural parts, how often people aren’t home. Villages rent a mini-van and off they go. Between Boxing Day and New Year’s the beaches are black with bodies bobbing in the surf. Also, the little things mean so much. We used to have separate mugs. We have groups of thirty here for workshops and I hear them saying to each other in Zulu how amazed they are, ‘They eat the same “black” food as us. They eat with us and out of the same mugs and plates.’ For most of them, it’s the first time ever that they’ve shared a meal with a white person.”

At some point that night, I say something about the rural poor. They both correct me. “Where you’ve been, Anne? That’s not rural. Rural is when it takes at least half a day to drive there. Rural is when there is hardly any road left. Rural poverty is another level altogether than what you’ve seen here.”

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