Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Save a Life

9 weeks down, 15 to go!

I finished getting all the weights of the kids at the day cares in the township and put them in Excel. Then I spent a few weeks volunteering at the day care center, basically just playing with the kids. The kids were great, but I was just thinking the whole time about how unproductive I was being. Even if they had a good time, they were going home at the end of the day the same as they came that morning. I had a really hard time that first week at the center while I was coming to my epiphany of how useless I am. The kids are playing with Legos, sucking on them, passing them around, and no one’s telling them not to do this. Like I said before, we don’t even speak the same language, but even if we did what is one person telling them one time that you shouldn’t do that going to do? Nothing. And they’re always making guns out of paper or Legos and sticking them in the waistband of their pants or pretending to shoot someone. I even saw one shoot a baby doll in the head that a little girl was carrying on her back. Kids in America do this too (maybe not this young or frequently though), but because they saw it on TV; these kids do it because they see it in real life. Can I change that? No. So I’ve come to realize there’s not much I can do to change these kids’ lives. I must have known this before but I never wanted to come to this realization. There are a lot more people in better positions than I am in that can help, like the government for example. I guess I need to leave it to them.

There are things I can do though…Things we can all do. I keep reminding myself that if I just help one person, make one person happy, they could in turn help someone else. What if I was kind to a black man one day and it made him realize that the segregation and racism in this country is disgusting so he changes himself and starts being kind to others. What if I hadn’t met him, he later killed a white man for his cell phone (a daily event here). So I saved a life! Who knows, I could start something huge without even knowing it. That man I changed could become the next president; the one who changes everything for the good. It’s idyllic, unlikely, maybe even silly, but it’s possible…at least something less extreme but along the same lines. Remember those State Farm commercials where a stranger did something nice for someone and someone else saw it so they did something nice for a stranger? I think it really works like that and if everyone in the world acted that way, we'd have a pretty spectacular place. It would change lives, even save some.

But I wanted to do more, something tangible with actual visible results. The organization I volunteer for has more components than the day care and I’ve been working on anything I can do from home. My second term started last week and I have new classes at times that have made it too hard to go to the center. Originally, I wanted to be hands-on with the kids and nothing else, but I really feel that I wasn’t benefiting anyone. My new projects, however, could do great things if they’re executed how they should be. But that part’s not in my hands so I just have to hope. So I developed a basic cooking and baking class for women in the township. It mainly focuses on health and safety: keeping your hands and kitchen clean, food-borne illnesses and how raw meat can’t touch other things, etc. Also, just basic cooking lessons like how to cook meats, vegetables, pasta. I also worked on the quarterly newsletter and now I’m researching a musician that grew up in this township but later made it big in jazz in Europe. They have a little museum to show positive things about the township and that’s what the jazz musician is for. I have to come up with some kind of exhibit on him. And the women in the cooking class will work in the coffee shop they’re going to build for the museum. If the organization actually goes through with these things, I would have been a help to the community, and that’s all I wanted to do coming here.

My two new classes (added on to another term of Afrikaans) would actually meet UMass/American standards! I even had to buy a book for one. Now I have Women in Africa and Resistance and Transformation in Contemporary South Africa (politics in SA from 1994-present). I have good professors and will have to work hard on assignments and studying for tests. One and a half semesters left of college…Weird!

Last weekend, me and 3 other international students went to a farm in the mountains. It was a trip set up by the international office that I was automatically signed up and paid for through my study abroad program. I tried getting out of it and getting the money for it but they wouldn’t let me. I wasn’t looking forward to it but it turned out to be great and it was so nice to get out of Port Elizabeth. It was beautiful out there; in the middle of nowhere. The stars were so clear I could see the Milky Way! What a life they live out there. I was woken up with the sight from my bed of the sun rising over the mountains…and an eland (the size of a horse) laying in the yard. It was great! The downfall of living like that is that it takes them an hour to get to town. I might need to drive that far to get to some things from my home too, but I still have a grocery store, post office, library, everything I need right down the street. Their main product is goats for angora but they also have sheep, cows, chickens, ducks, turkeys, fellow deer, horses, as well as other animals around kind of kept as pets, including kudu, daikers, and the eland. We saw sheep being sheared and cows being milked. I milked one. It was terrible. And I’m really embarrassed to say I milked it into my mouth. I refused but then everyone else did it! I had to! We rode in the back of a pick up around the mountains and went to the top of one. We also took a night game drive and saw kudu, a jackel, rabbits, and daikers. Maybe my favorite part of the trip was just being in a home… with furniture! And a TV! And having nice meals cooked for us. We watched a lot of rugby and some tennis. I was very comfortable snuggled on the couch under a blanket and a dog in front of the TV in good company.

So classes end around the end of November and I planned my flight to leave December 21st so I could go someplace else or travel around. But for the last couple weeks I was thinking I didn’t know what I was going to do with all that time. I don’t have the money to really do anything I wanted, like travel, and I didn’t want to just sit around here, so I was going to come home after finals. But for some idiotic reason, I didn’t realize I couldn’t change my flight after the first departure date so I’m here until December 21st! I got excited to come home but I also wanted to stay here. I feel like I’m not getting as much as I can out of this trip. I don’t want to come home with regrets or think I wasted this in any way. I would love to spend those last few weeks in Tofo, Mozambique. It’s a small beach town with backpackers (where I would stay) right on the beach. I could snorkel and surf and lie on hammocks and read and maybe even do something productive. I’m nervous I may go through some seasonal depression leaving hot, humid, beautiful beaches of Mozambique and flying into New England winter! But I’m really excited for it…if it works out.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Now I’m going to go back to daydreaming of those hot, humid, beautiful beaches.


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