by Bailey Robbins | June 3, 2017
"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." At 5 years old I could never quite get this expression right. When something went wrong, instead I would say "When life gives you lemons, squeeze a lemon out of it!" Close enough. It caught on, and my mom and I have been saying it ever since.
I've been squeezing a lot of lemons this week. Week 2 of living without heat (it's winter in South Africa!), an oven, stove, or washing machine, which were all promised to me by my landlord, has felt like life giving me lemons. Adjusting to life in a new country without the comforts and people from home can be hard. But every day at Khulumani, I'm reminded to squeeze a lemon out of it. With each new day I am inspired by the bravery and perseverance of the people I meet.
On Sunday I had the opportunity to travel to a township called Bekkersdal with the director of Khulumani, Dr. Jobson. Khulumani has smaller branches throughout South Africa that meet monthly, and when Dr. Jobson invited me to attend Bekkersdal's meeting I was excited to see a new part of the country. I was welcomed with lots of smiles and handshakes as I found my place in a circle of over twenty people huddled together in a small garage. After Dr. Jobson provided a report on Khulumani, members of the group began to speak up. I listened to former political detainees describe the horrible methods of torture they were subjected to when they were imprisoned for their political activism during the Apartheid regime. I listened to tired men and women expressing their frustration over empty promises. Although the stories were difficult to hear, one thing stood out above all else: these people have spent twenty three years fighting for justice post-Apartheid, and they are not about to give up.
This week I also launched a blog for Khulumani to highlight the stories of victims of enforced involuntary disappearance, and encourage the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. My first post revolved around the story of a kidnapping and torture survivor who I mentioned in Week 1, Mr. Zitha. I heard a shorter version of his story last week, but when he told me his story again, I was astounded by all that Mr. Zitha endured and overcame. Much to my surprise, after being up and running for one day, the blog started to receive attention. The national broadcaster caught wind of the blog and scheduled an interview with Khulumani to discuss the issues I raised. You can see the blog here: thedisappearedsite.wordpress.com
The lack of housing in South Africa is another issue I encountered this week. On Monday I attended the Military Veterans Civil Society Forum Meeting, and on Friday I participated in the Social Movement National Assembly. I had noticed the poverty gap since arriving in South Africa, but I was given a new perspective on the issue when I had the chance to listen to the people it affects. At both meetings people expressed concerns about housing and the poverty gap between the rich and the poor. At the National Assembly, one woman described the poverty gap as a "war on the poor." At the Military Veterans Meeting, I listened to one veteran explain in frustration, "Housing is a form of dignity. Even if I sleep on the floor. Even if it's empty inside." The photos below were taken only 10 minutes from each other. One is a cluster of tin shacks that people live in, generally without running water or electricity. The other is a big casino and hotel, just a ways down the road.
There is a lot of work to be done. The Apartheid regime may have ended twenty three years ago, but many people of South Africa are still suffering. I know I won't be able to tackle all of these issues in one summer. But I am looking forward to making what small amount of difference I can, and continuing to squeeze lemons out of each situation life throws at me while I'm here.
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