Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Everyone is trying to save someone

Last night’s yoga brought back my day that changed it all. There in the last five minutes of relaxation, where one is meant to breathe your energy-freed body into the subconscious, the day just suddenly popped into memory.

It’s not like I don’t think of it often. I think rather that last night is when I finally got clarity on why it was such a pivotal moment. By the end of it, when I was on the phone to a lost ex love in Paris, was when I subconsciously accepted I could not be strong 99% of the time.

And for months afterwards, I became 99% useless.

I was unhappy and unsupported in my job. I was trying to set up HIV Awareness trainings, completely on my ace, in various Orange Farm schools. Having never trained before. But they were desperate for any information, and I was desperate to be achieving anything for the salary I was receiving & the admiration I was getting from everyone.

Every day in that peri-urban township, where government does not even know the population let alone the HIV stats, I was coming across the usual characters – from the charmers, to the chancers. The gangsters to the helpers. The people that looked at me sceptically to those who had to hug me & tell me they loved me.

I had become like a counsellor to each teacher at each school I visited. They were burdened with saving that school, and they happily passed the burden onto me. While I happily accepted it. Or so it felt.

That day I was told at least two stories of the rape or abuse of young girls. How the clinic had ignored the one girl for hours as she sat traumatised with her teachers. How the school realised the abuse of the other girl because of her behaviour with her eight year old boy peers. How a mother didn’t believe the child, and so the child had gone to live with her grandmother.

Irrationally I believed I could change this. With my single naïve hands, I could make a difference. And I needed to believe this, because these people were so desperate that they needed to believe it.

During one meeting, staff in the next door room anxiously helped out a girl having an asthma attack. They’d called her grandmother to bring the asthma pump. But nothing was working and we were all at a loss. After much persuading, I was able to pile the kid and grandmother into my company car and finally visit the local clinic. Where the doctor did not say a single word to us, but just shoved air bags at & around her, and became irritated with this white girl’s relentless questioning of what he was doing, and why, and what the young girl should expect. I was an inconvenience to his day.

If I hadn’t been there, the girl would have sat in that room, alone with two older men also receiving mild oxygen, while her grandmother dealt with the admin elsewhere. And I realised how simple solutions were, if someone just gave the time, concern and trouble.

I forgot to eat lunch that day.

I had to rush out of the clinic to meet up with a teacher who had begged me to go to visit her neighbour. The neighbour had HIV, never left the house, and was always crying. What had forgotten to be mentioned though, was that this house was in Sharpeville. Three quarters of an hour’s drive, the wrong way.

So on my little white ace, we went to Sharpeville. So I could “fix” the depressed life of a stranger. And my small visit, where I had little to offer but hold the hands of this woman, gave her the confidence. That me, a complete stranger, gave a fuck about her - a woman who had her child taken away from her by her family because she was positive, who had lost at least 20 kilos, who was coughing from the TB she did not understand she had, and was suffering from severe depression and HIV-ignorance.

This white privileged girl gave a fuck about this poor black girl.

I told her I could only visit her that one time, that here was a gift of a journal, that she must find a support group in her area, and how, that she needed to get to a hospital and demand treatment (HA! So much easier said than done in this country). And that I could not save her, that that could not be my role in this.

She told me she loved me. She cried. The teacher who had brought me there was so grateful, as she was so lost in how to help (save) her neighbour.

Eventually the teacher’s husband arrived home and guided me out of that infamous township, because unlike Orange Farm, it was not a place for a whitey to get lost.

And I started the two hour trek back to north of north Jo’burg.

I reached the last petrol station just as the clamped-out company car, which I had been saying for months would break down soon, completely overheated & stopped. And while I waited for the car to cool down so I could make the last few kilometres to the office, the petrol attendant sat in the car with me and we chatted. To keep my spirits up.

During the drive, my prestige-grabbing boss had called all excited and congratulatory to tell me the US government loved me and had awarded me my proposal. It was a big moment, career-wise. And all it did was make me feel defeated.

It was an abstinence-only programme that I had hated every minute of creating.

And what of all the women only a few hours ago I had promised training to in Orange Farm? If now I had a millions-of-dollars international project to create from thin fucking air. Never having lived a day of my life in rural Mozambique. I was intimidated enough by realising I had to train a handful of teachers by school in Gauteng. How I was I meant to tell tens of thousands of Mozambicans not to fuck.

My boss found it all amusing.

I left the car. I left the office. And I went with my only true friend at that company to down the day away with double GnTs. Still food-less. But hey, how can I complain, considering all the people I had interacted with that day were living tougher lives than I.

It was by 9.30pm that I finally headed the 1hr drive home. Back down into the Jo’burg ring. Back to the safety of the Northern Suburbs.

It was while I was sitting at a darkened Greenside robot, lost in my iPod, when I saw his face appear fast at my window. Hey? Who wants money at this hour? No! Wait! FUCK!


Attempted Grab at what was actually my windscreen visor sitting on the passenger side.

And a hurl of abuse released from my mouth. About what the fuck did he think he was doing. The fucking bastard. Did he know where I had just been all day. Did he know what kind of day I had just had. Shock was taken out in anger. The invasion. The audacity. Here I was shattering myself to “save” in anyway, and this is what I get.

As realisation kicked in that maybe I should get the fuck out of the situation before he leapt through the window again. Cause what did he care of me & my bleeding-heart liberal ways. When there was a phone and an iPod to be had.

I drove. Through the red robot. Straight past Kung Fu Kitchen (sooo hungry!). Straight to the folks’ house to leave the exposed car. And within minutes of driving in, my dad had a bottle of port attached to my lips to calm a raging me.

I calmed down. I relaxed over cold leftover dinner finally, when the phone rang with a PRIVATE NUMBER. And a man I had not spoken to in two years was on the other line. Out of the complete blue. Telling me how incredible the view was from the apartment. Life was incredible fun in that gorgeous city. Why don’t I come to Paris. Like we had always spoken about those years ago.

So less than a month later, I went to Paris.


Revolving Credit said...

Champs, serious comment 4 a change, gr8 post.

Champagne Heathen said...

Thanks Rev. You know that from you, it means a great deal.

Revolving Credit said...

If you're up for it, maybe repost this story here

Anonymous said...

Wow. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Loves it!!
But seriously now, need any help with the HIV 'crusade' thing?

Champagne Heathen said...

Rev - checked out the site, and thanks for the vote of confidence! I think I might just! :)

Martin - Thank you so much!

Champagne Heathen said...

Hot Mess - Hi and welcome and thanks for the comment!

Many people are in desperate need of help with the HIV chaos, but 'how' is the greatest problem. There is so much to do, but let alone how to learn to just take on a bit, that does make an actual difference rather than being token, is how to get into it.

I have left that job. And for me, salary is a concern. The biggest joke - the more decent your salary is, the more likely you'll be sitting behind a computer crunching numbers & talking in acronyms, rather than making a serious visible difference.

Hmm. Cynical moment here.

How are you wanting to help? And maybe I can direct you somewhere from there?

Anonymous said...

I read this all the way through. Then scrolled to the top and read it again.

The emotion is resonent.

What a fukken cool post, Champers.

Insane Insomniac said...

Great post... you're not alone in yoru crusade to fight the evils of Africa...nearly every second student here in the UK wants to spend thier gap year volunteering in Africa.
Shall I send them your way?

Champagne Heathen said...

Dolce, thank you so much :) You made me smile. I can't believe you read it twice! I thought I would've gotten flak for its length, but it's not like it could be decently shortened.

Insanity, you can send them my way, though I am not great on that angle of things, but I can always try. Or follow the links on the right of my page, under HELPING OUT, to "MaAfrika Tikkun" & "Ikamva" in particular. Or just any of those and see where they take the people

RB said...

Nobody can fight for the rights of the victims like you do.

Nobody can write about the plight of the victims like you do.

There are places, very small places where you are so well cared about. Those places are in the hearts of the people you help.

Thanks for being there for them and for enlightening us. You must keep the world of the AIDS/HIV sufferers in the public arena.

If you do not, the shadows will creep and nobody will care anymore because they will not know about it.

Please keep doing what you do.