Sunday, June 19, 2011

Enter the Silence

Empty air hugs my frame
No tears left to cry
Empty arms
No skin to touch
Silence, you wait next to me in the moist darkness.

Empty thoughts, no reason or logic left to explain.
Only pain.
Pain from loss and death.
Fear melts into hope
as light trickles through my prison walls.

Breathe in,
Breathe out,
Eat, drink, shit, pee.
Lift your head
Open your eyes
Face the dawn.
Our backs against the cold rock wall.

Just you and me Lord.

(for Elaine - June 2011)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Africa Calling Three

This piece tells the story of our trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda in 2008. It was written during the planning stages by Kirsty who is now married and living in the UK. Herman has since become a husband and a father. What an amazing adventure the three of us had then!

It is 19:00 on a Thursday evening around a kitchen table in Constantia Park. Maps are studied, flight times checked and budgets calculated around an open Graham Beck 2004 Merlot bottle and four empty pizza boxes.

What do a tall, chemical engineer who owns his own investment company, a young Cape Town born business consultant with a passion for training and development and an energetic servant leader who has devoted her life to serving the Kingdom of God, do in their spare time?

They organise a humanitarian trip into Africa!

On Monday morning of 22 September 2008, three ordinary people who met each other at the previous Alpha Course will board a plane to Nairobi, Kenya and experience the first day of a life-changing adventure.

Herman Lombard, Kirsty Screen and Leani Wessels in partnership with ALARM (African leadership and Reconciliation Ministries— will embark on a 12 day journey to Kigali, Rwanda and Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo via Kenya. We plan to facilitate both leadership and micro-business workshops for church and community leaders.

The areas where we will serve have been devastated by colonialism and civil war for decades. Rwanda and the DRC are both in a vulnerable peace-accord. Communities in these areas need support as they try to rebuild their society and regain some of their own identity and self-morale. ALARM has been taking the lead for the past nine year in resolving conflict in eight African countries, equipping and encouraging communities in this major reconstruction of their known world.

Leani studied with the founding member and president of ALARM in the USA and met more of the resident ALARM staff in Uganda at the historical Amahoro Gathering ( during in May 2007.

Two weeks later, Leani and her father, Louis returned to Central Africa to help a church community in Rwanda with their building project. They drove four hours west to the DRC and saw first-hand how desperate civil-war survivors were for help and education in this massive refugee population ‘living’ between these two countries on the north shore of Lake Kivu.

That experience became the inspiration for this journey. It has been a dream of Leani to conduct leadership skills training in African realities like these. Her vision for Africa can only come from God. She is a true woman of Africa and this has built a curiosity for our continent in both me and Herman.

I have never been to another African country. I do not know what Africa looks like. Our beautiful country is the opposite to 99% of Africa. Herman has travelled a bit in Lesotho and some of our other neighbouring countries, but he too has never experienced a journey like this.

God has truly blessed us so far in our preparation for this expedition. We thank you—our Oosterlig family—who has given us both financial assistance through the donation of Bibles and soccer balls for the workshop participants as well as prayer and fellowship. We appreciate all the support and encourage you to pray for these communities, ALARM and us.

So, with our Yellow Fever injections completed we will be leaving on a jet plane with our backpacks, 80 Bibles, 80 bound manuals and a bunch of soccer balls. Pray for our trip and that by God's grace we will be able to teach a few people in two countries about Jesus' love, leadership and servant hood.

All three of us will depart knowing that “The LORD your God is with you; His power gives you victory. The LORD will take delight in you, and in his love he will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you, as joyful as people at a festival.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

Written by Kirsty Screen, photos taken by Leani Wessels
Join the conversation at

Pretty Dirty Feet

This project in 2005 is another beautiful story from my Vision Africa site which I don't want to loose in the revamp.

Networking : getting our hands dirty together while serving each other.

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to walk through the valley of shadow again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires.”
–Nelson Mandela, September 1953 –

March 19, 2005…introducing everyday Americans to everyday Africa
Saturday afternoon. Sunset. The DTS campus lies lazily quiet before the last six strenuous weeks start. Several students approached me about the possibility of going to Africa with me this summer. I dedicate this short story and first international initiative to you. May this encourage you to take the risk and broaden your horizons at the cost of being disillusioned, but also blessed and a chance to direct your personal calling to ministry.

Breath-taking sights and raw beauty will blow your 1st world mind and I pray that you will return with an addiction to finding humble content in simple things and spending time in community with one another. However, do not allow the exciting adventures you will encounter on African soil to still the ancient cry for relief, rescue and resurrection of mankind. Nobody except Nkhulunkhulu* can bring the liberation from intimidation and corrupt powers to Africa. Only God’s children can show the compassionate kindness and love to human souls tortured by centuries of abuse and neglect.

Countless of my African brothers and sisters have relinquished any sense of dignity and purpose as unattainable. Their hearts are so hardened in fear and revenge that building new relationships appear impossible. Despite the resistance, verbal abuse and emotional manipulation you might experience during your visit, remember that ultimately nobody can resist the power of God’s love. Prepare your spirit for the difficult process of remaining humble and teachable at all times, especially when working with government officials.
This visits to Mozambique and Namibia should not be viewed as an outreach from educated theologians in the West to an illiterate community of uneducated people living in the dirt.

Rather see this as an opportunity for us as absorbent sponges, dry from over-exposure to propagandist media coverage and false stereotypes. Let the majestic Zambezi river saturate us by submitting to her violent waters as we glide along toward several rapids, fresh pools and the Victoria Falls! I promise you that this will be wilder than your most vivid imagination.

My dream is that you will come to understand the pictorial language in which Africans communicate. May you return with a default vocabulary of existential images, sounds, smells and movements. My goal with introducing you to this initial contact is to translate African needs and joys into American, in order for our fellow students and church members to hear the truth from reliable sources. My hope is to serve as a catalyst between African and American Christians. Connecting congregations and individuals with each other, sharing our stories of the unimaginable miracles God is doing here and there.

This is your opportunity to become part of His wave of intervention in a spiritually dark continent before it is too late. To do this, I can join your hands with existing groups and initiatives in Africa but I need your words and experience there to connect with a people here.
*the Greatest of the Greatest – Zulu for YHWH

Introduction to 2005 Mozambique-trip:
The explanation of how God had brought all the parties together to join this trip demands a long evening, good food and a big camp fire. Trust me when I say that it has been an unbelievable story…

In order for you to understand the table below, you need to know the following:
• I work from the standpoint of serving under a local church congregation wherever I live in this world and requiring my local church’s blessing on any spiritual initiative I lead as a condition for me to proceed.

• Having lived in three different countries, I submit to three different leadership teams: in South Africa, it is Pretoria-Oosterlig (means Light in the East), in Namibia it is Emmanuel and in the US, it is Skillman Bible Church.

• The church we will be visiting in Mozambique is located in the province of Manica, near the village town, Chimoio just east of the Zimbabwean border in line with the harbour town of Beira – you should be able to find it on the map now. The local pastor there is Thsupi.

• Pretoria-Oosterlig has been working with the church in Manica for several years and has established a strong relationship with the local missionaries and pastor. Church members from Oosterlig have been making annual visits to Thsupi’s church over the years and often goes more than once a year. Since our initial church-plant, the congregation has grown from 50 to 500 and they need a permanent church building to house all the believers.

• The greater vision of our work with Tsupi’s church relates to wonderful relationships forged with several American churches (outside my involvement) and another team of Americans will be traveling the same route as we will with the same team from Pretoria-Oosterlig in the end of August 2005 (part of the camp fire story).

• The purpose for our (relatively small and short) trip would be to confirm needs, expectations and final preparations before orchestrating the more challenging plan for bringing in the manual labor and building materials for the new church next Summer (2006).

So, these are very exciting times and our journey there will be full of unforeseen variations, surprises pleasant and less nice. All of it giving you a real taste of how things work in Africa.

What serves as main motivation for me to feel comfortable to take you guys and girls along on this trip, lies in the very experienced team leader and long-time friend of mine, Fredrick, who has done this a zillion times and is such a pleasure to be around with. He is also the youth pastor at Pretoria-Oosterlig , where his wife, Antoinette, also serves as an ordained minister working primarily with the kids and young mothers.

As you will notice below, the dates of the actual trip is from 1-10 July. I will be meeting you personally at the Johannesburg International Airport (ORT) whenever you arrive. If you are traveling from the US, you need to plan to arrive in South Africa by Monday the 27th of June at the latest. You will need at least two days to recover from jet-lag and we must budget Wednesday and Thursday for the laborious process of getting your visas, for which we need your passports.

We are planning to travel very safely and have ample time allocated either side of the time we need in Chimoio to deal with any surprises. We plan to have a short feedback opportunity in the Sunday church service on the 10th.

Thereafter, you can decide individually what you would like to do. These are my suggestions:

• spend a few days in South Africa (very cheap for US$) and I will have a great excuse to take you too some of the most beautiful part around my province – we could get some game watching in and maybe visit my Godfather’s trout farm a few hours away from Pretoria

• you can fly back whenever you want to

• accommodation will be free, depending on where you want to go traveling in SA, your budget will change

• the costs for the actual trip is US$20/day including everything – thus the total cost (excluding the flight) will be less than US$300 if you want have a few days of fun afterwards

• I have two contacts for cheap flights directly to Johannesburg from Dallas – STA Travel in Dallas, near SMU if you are a student ( Raptim International Travel in New York if you are a missionary (

Skillman Bible Church Motivation:
• introduce teammembers to African mission opportunities
• plant friendships with African ministry teams
• generate interest into future mission initiatives

DTS Motivation:
• introduce African mission opportunities to students
• inform about future plans (

Oosterlig Motivation:
• short prep-trip to confirm needs assessment
• inform Tsupi and get permission for American initiative
• introduce Deon to Chimoio congregation

Manica Motivation:
• receive annual encouragement from our visit
• confirm official progress of building plans

Vision Africa Motivation:
• enable Americans to discover the need inAfrica
• reveal mutual biases - foster unity and friendships
• traveling though Zimbabwe (dictator in 4th term) good experience
• white farms reposed and famine 5 years later
• Zimbabwe after 17 years of civil war against Marxism
• have Oosterlig discover American brothers & sisters
• see South Eastern Africa and South Africa

Leani kicked off the 1st of her many semesters at Dallas Theological Seminary in August 2004....responding to the need of more knowledge and understanding of the Triune God's revealed Word brought her to committing the next four years to formal training under Christian giants in the realm of Bible exposition and leadership development.

Due to the very demanding load of required reading and writing to be completed by the end of the local Thanksgiving holiday...this webpage will have to wait until Leani is on her Christmas break, lounging around with her parents back in South Africa, to further develop the potential of Givengain's new zooty web-engine!!
Please feel free to contact Leani at the above-mentioned email...she needs your prayers for diligent studies, divine illumination to do everything in English (her second language) and physical endurance of all sorts! She also needs prayer for funds to pay for the next semester which works out at roughly $10 000 including the air-tickets to go home for Christmas.

She is having fun through all the tribulations! Looking forward to hearing from you!
Update: Leani successfully completed her degree and graduated in May 2007 at the Amahoro Gathering ( in an original 'gramadoelas gradution ceremony' hosted by one of her DTS prof Dr. Bob Pyne ( in Mukono, Uganda.

Thanks for all your prayers, encouragement and financial support that made this happen...

Why do Zebras bark?!

Leani grew up in the world of solving problems and the powerful influence of the written word of her parents; Louis, an engineer and Leilani a bookworm. Raised in suburban Pretoria, she discovered the harsh realities of injustice and racism at an early age. During her teenage years, she saw the power of individuals changing the destinies of millions in the turmoil of a young country at the imminent verge of giving birth to what would become known as “The New South Africa.”

Leani’s conviction that one must first live life before attempting to write anything worthwhile lead her to explore diverse world views. After completing her bachelor in Architecture (1998), she was privileged to work with a wide variety of communities in more than 7 countries and islands in and around Southern Africa. Since 1991, she has travelled through 15 countries abroad and is now studying a Masters in Theology and Media Communications in Dallas, Texas.

Through her writing and consequent influence, Leani aims at turning your hearts toward her continent and together get our hands dirty in affecting Christ-driven change across the whole sphere from education, medical, infrastructure, social to business by equipping leaders in appropriate groups strategically located in Africa.
The voice of Vision Africa has been heard in The Glimpse, a quarterly magazine published in the USA with the purpose of creating an awareness of the cultural diversity in that country and abroad.

Interact with her stories at by adding your own thoughts as a comment. Discover more of her published writing and photography at A number of Leani's short stories and poems have also been published on the EIKON website : and she regularly contributes articles and photos to the DTS community newspaper called: The Jot and Tittle.

Since December 2005 her first official writers group named The Pages has been born out of a group of fellow writers at DTS. Our purpose is to encourage more people to share their lives with others through the written word.

Leani's launched her most recent initiative in January 2006 in the form of an original screenplay called (working title) A virus called love - about how one individual with a passion can make a difference in a seemingly hopeless world. She hopes to submit at least one novella, collection of vignettes or her memoir by the end of 2006.

Writing takes dedication and time. Nothing comes out perfect the first time and time is money. Screenplays are not published in the same way that books are. For one's screenplay to reach the forum where the industry can consider it for public distribution one enters it into screenwriting competitions and every entry generally costs between US$30 and $75. Like most things in life - the greatest need of any person is the encouragement of somebody who believes in his or her. Thus Leani needs your moral support and prayers more than anything else to persist in this ministry of worshiping God by sharing the stories of His faithfulness and grace to all mankind. Here follows a piece that captures the essence of Africa's success stories...

12 African women
This African story tells about five bloodthirsty harlots, one faithful wife, two sets of twins, one cripple, and one victorious. Hemmed in between them, a stubborn old queen resists her inevitable future while losing her radiance to Syphilis. It’s not once upon a time in a land far, far away, but on our doorstep. Today, in a year, three days old.

2005 begins with promise of peace in Sudan , ending the longest war on this continent. The frightening remnants remain after Tsunamis crashed against the eastern coasts of Ethiopia, where exhausted missionaries and UN food distributors try to tend gaping wounds left by decades of tribal monopolies. East of them, genocide and the West’s greed for blood diamonds and Colton for their cellphones, have raped Rwanda, Uganda and Congo’s future generations. Despite the violent neighbourhood, Kenya’s managed to remain stable with one of her children becoming the first black African women to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Unfold this map some more and draw your finger south. Move toward other peaceful prospects, each bordered by an ocean. Angola next to the Atlantic on the east and Mozambique west of the Indian. Once Portuguese colonies and both enslaved to Communist regimes until recently have finally begun rebuilding their war-torn democracies. Tragically, their peaceful countrysides continue to lethally harvest limbs and income-earning abilities from unsuspecting pedestrians who are forced to cross over active minefields.

More inland, Botswana sports the strongest currency in Africa, namely the Pula. Sadly, also the highest statistic for HIV/Aids infection in the world. Despite this booming epidemic, the country fuels a strong economy simply by their legal diamonds, extensive cattle industry and gorgeous tourism attractions. The beautiful environs extend beyond man-made borders into the once most frequented world of untamed rivers, game parks and lush farmlands, famous for tobacco. Zimbabwe finished singing her swan-song long ago. Today, reversed racism has annihilated her soil’s fertility, murdered any opposition to the present powers-that-be and silenced any public voice pleading for justice. Without any fuel available to transport goods or food anywhere, her people starve as they prey on each other, blinded by a dictator’s promises for more than four decades.

Several factors contribute to Southern African children left behind to fend for themselves. Their main objective is trying to stay alive, let alone enjoying the luxury of literacy or a hope for any change in the future. With harden hearts and suspicion suppressed by empty stomachs, they beg from every white face for sweets and pens. Well-intending tourists respond out of guilt, thinking it a blessing to sustain this humiliating habit while only worsening their dependence on Western charity.

Continuing south, we meet the two lands of milk and honey. The republics of Namibia and South Africa . Both democracies are barely ten years old. Both are fiercely defending their right to independence from European rule in the last two centuries. Both surviving terrible atrocities and sacrifices for the belief in a new integrated future between black and white. Both have defied the international world’s sceptic expectations of civil wars before their re-births. Both have been hurt in the past, abused by self-serving men and her body caries the scars of drastic measures of self-defence against treats, both internal and outside her borders.

Focusing on my homeland, the rainbow nation of the New South Africa: through endurance and forgiveness we have grown into a stunning woman of the globe. Dressed in an indigenous style, making decisions with business savvy and honed survival sense, she has become the popular hostess to many international leaders visiting her estate.

We still have a very far way to go, poverty, HIV/Aids, lack of educational and basic medical services limit the progress of many individuals. Despite our horrific past, the future is shining bright under the final authority of our Lord. While wars rage in other desert countries, this semi-arid world is a testimony to how God’s love still overcomes man’s wickedness by preserving this tip of Africa. Christ’s strange message of loving one’s enemies, leading through servant hood and humility as the chief characteristic of a King has been proven true once again!

“Africa is the place where we will confront our own humanity, our morality, our purposes as individuals and as a country.”
– Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, American Economist

Getting out of the Monastery: memoirs of an escapee.

I am reforming my website ( accomodate 'Global Community Advancement' - our new ministry. So I need to delete some of my older projects, but I want to save the precious history of all the stories and people tied up in them. Chavvah is one of them. MISSING YOU LADIES!!

August 2005:
A year into my studies here at DTS and I felt useless. I had managed to remedy the catastrophic consequences on my GPA taking Greek Honors somewhere in my past. I had committed to a lovely local church and served in the youth ministry for twelve months. Some of the American members even joined me on two of the four different mission outreaches I went on in Africa during the summer. But I still had the distinct impression that I had only been going through the motions.
Something was missing.

I attended (and still do) a weekly SF group which began with a bit of a disturbance. Although we had sorted ourselves out since then I still went because I had to, not because I felt like I belonged there.

Worst of all, I felt like I was beginning another year in the Dallas Monastery…yes, the monastery and not a convent and was missing the excitement of having non-Christian friends and colleagues.

This thought hit me one afternoon when I was buying a cheese burger at Jack-in-the-Box across the street and a local man noticed my accent. He asked me where I came from and what I was doing here. When I told him, he had no idea what or where Dallas Theological Seminary was.

September 2005:
Unless I took drastic action, the fields of my spiritual reproduction would lie barren until I got out of this place and connected to reality in another zip code. DTS training and leadership opportunities aim at a specific demographic into which I did not quite fit. I came to DTS from twelve years in an ungracious corporate world, dominated by bisexuals, rich geniuses and New Age humanitarians but plan to go back there and still affect a relevant impact on their realities.

What could I do? Where could I practice all the good stuff I’ve been getting in since I arrived? Who could possible need my contribution while they were also struggling to find time between classes, reading and assignments due? Taking Creativity with Prof. Hendricks generated several options in my over-caffeinated imagination.

Two easy questions came to mind: who am I and what are my top five needs?
I wanted to feel like;
1. I belong here in Swiss Tower as an individual,
2. I had a family-nucleus to love on and cry with,
3. I could add value into like-minded hearts to reach beyond DTS,
4. Have an excuse to throw a party every week, and
5. Have physical contact with other human beings without breaking any codes of conduct.

Setting off on a localized surveillance-operation, I became determined to flush out other prisoners of our introverted environment of spiritual consumerism. They needed to match the following profile: un-male, un-married, non-ThM and non-locals.

Thus a few Swiss Single Females went underground and founded Chavvah* - the sexy sisterhood after the matron saint of Bridget Jones. Don’t tell anybody but we meet on weekly and give each other pedicures while discussing sneaky ways of infiltrating scary places like Starbucks and other organizations.

In addition to our principle of celebrating cellulite we exist to affirm others and practice contentment in where God has us in life. Our most powerful strategy remains getting together with our designated prayer-partner at a secret location each to pray and encourage one another for the week ahead.

December 2005:
I loved going to school this semester! Especially one class where we numbered no more than seventeen. It freaked me out a bit in the beginning when I had to bare my insecure soul to a room full of married men and the three other ladies. We read our work out loud to each other and receive honest critique and encouragement every time we got together.

Looking back, that will probably be the DTS class that lives on in my heart forever no matter where I go after I graduate. One of our classmates almost died in hospital during last month and our professor needed to get rides from us after class every day because she had also been in a serious accident.

February 2006:
After thorough investigation, I have found that authentic community can exist in the land of the lonely. May God help me finish strong in cultivating hope here in my own home of the needy…

*Hebrew for chique chicks

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tree of Life

In my new garden
there’s a yellow wall,
it’s high enough to keep the dogs out
yet low enough to share the lemon tree.
Sweet scents
Bright fruit
Mediterranean dreams

In my new home
there’s a bright blue door,
it’s thick enough to keep in the music
yet open enough to share the morning sun.
Yellow rays
Warm breaths
Welcoming friends

In my new year
there’s a green young tree,
it’s strong enough to endure winter’s frost
yet supple enough to take life’s knocks.
Unknown neighbours
New memories
Risking our loves

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mama Mia

when your time here
becomes a moment in
my fragile melody and poem
you always whisper a promise
of grace forever in thought
my answer a teary breath
imagining your pure being
free of death
whole by his Journey
dancing to reflect his Light

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


always moving
at peace with uncertainty
welcoming change
at a moment’s notice

incessant searching
selfish about freedom
possessing choice
at the highest price

unplanned company
delighted in surprise
being alone

in this landscape of loneliness
neutrality disappears
with the lush green distance
between us

dust settles
under summer rain
showers the gift

as you offer me
gin and tonic
your presence


before you came
I stood frozen in the black
hands stretched out ahead
feeling nothing
blue eyes staring
sensing darkness
surrounding me

an unplanned spark
or what was that?
courage growing into regular heart rates
pulsing yellow heat upward
shining stronger
honeyed comfort
delight covers everything I see, hear, think

your calming presence floods
our rooms
my body
your careful affections warm me towards your soul
we melt
ending as one


ash grey magic
cattle hooves thunder
mountains smoke
orange sunset journeys
you sang me to you
I listened

cold water
bucket shower sighs
sweet pink lips
beer foam smiles
I sang you to me
you joined in our song

sun burnt skins shine
ancient melodies lull
you told me your stories
I gave you my heart
to love you
is to let you go

will you sing me to you again?

angry tears

my mind’s eye dreams elegance
my mouth stumbles through adjectives:
columns weave together beams
careful design
details proportioned
textured scale
diffused shade
shapes beauty

your eyes drink in my solutions
your brain chokes my early flaws
supreme intelligence:
must eliminate my mistakes
must avoid chaos
disordering my ideas
distills into rigidity
one right answer must exist
not mine

I am process
you are facts

I am rough
you are accurate

I am stupid
while you feel insulted

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


is the name of a girl
in the words of a boy

when feeling content
at the moment of loss

knowing all play was fair
believes all things are possible

it makes me cry in the morning
gives me peace at goodbye

holding you with an open hand
receiving your love without conditions

asking for more on my side of the altar
embracing my solitude just being with you

singing Hannah’s song after giving you up
glimpsing Job’s patience soaked in your hospitality

not getting what I want
yet wanting what I have

still believes the power of hope
and sees the colours after the rain

is still the name of a girl
after the words of a boy

Ode to Willie Nelson

a concert of choices
composed of desires
scattered across the Canadian prairie

at the end of a season
touring detours of faith
tremors through body, soul and mind

backstage pass leading
to answered questions
new melodies call from the future

six, seven, eight years
along heaven’s score
returning the music to me


moving into life
crossing the dimension of eternity into flesh
your tiny body known to me
before your first breath outside water

watching you grow and play and laugh
hearing your mother sob next to your hospital bed
loosing her future dreams for her boy
seeing you overcome pain, restraint and fear

struggling to find your balance again

moving into life
crossing the dimension of normal into special
your broken body known to me
before your first step on earth

listening to your music and jokes and cries
absorbing thoughtless words, pitiful stares
growing new visions inside your head of far away places, solutions and life
watching you fly and dive and glide into hearts and mountains and dreams

needing to find space for your courageous chest with its powerful heart

moving into life
crossing the dimension of boy to man
your mature body known to me
before your first kiss on her hand

tasting your lonely tears in the snow
storing your faithful prayers on my timeline for your life
opening your mind’s eye to needs and hurts of those yet unseen
preparing your mind with words and works and wars

creating a hunger in your soul that I will satisfy

the session

two and a half hours at six units each
two for eyes
two for ears

pixels flash and blur and glow
thoughts of heart and mind and soul

cautious truths and shameless sins
mixed with jest, concern and grace

two and a half hours at six units each
two for cherries
two for lilies

midges bug, dead bears concur
dad pops by to grunt ‘hallo’

questions drift upon the tide
heaving pillows waves ebb and high

two and a half hours at six units each
two for fear
two for faith

spring time sun, falling night
southern light, a northern moon

dawning dreams with passport stamps
searching clues along life’s map

two and a half hours at six units each
two for hope
two for joy

conflicts fly, battles end
blood and love will comprehend

mother moose, Father God
hunter grows from sand and snow

two and a half hours at six units each
one for me
one for you
becoming friends

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

xeno refugee watch 1

Three o’clock on a warm winter afternoon. My Woolworths suede boots struggle across the rocks and rubbish along the side of the tarred road. I smell urine and dust. Foreign dialects and babies crying tug at my attention.

To my right, groups of East African men huddle together in front of a brand new razor fence that has been pushed over and now lies flat on the yellow African wild grass. Weary heads nod at us in friendly acknowledgment. Some older men gather their bones and walking sticks to shuffle towards us.
“Mama,” they say to Sister Ané with much respect.
Hands shake, smiles shared.
“How are you doing today?” she asks in her strong Belfast accent.
“OK, today.”
Brows bow in despair.
“Are you really ok?” she asks again.
“No, I am not well.”

On my left, the neglected refugee camp stretches beyond my own horizon. Tired mothers with sick children on their hips queue outside a brand new MSF mobile clinic. As we walk towards the open gate, a bright red van is about to pull out with MSF 8 written on the front door. Doctors Without Borders volunteers greet us friendly yet with well-earned caution. Short introductions follow, with official mandates and concerns shared through the driver’s window.

Inside the car, Nicole, a Canadian psychiatrist expresses her worries and struggles to contain her anger with the situation. On the outside, we know exactly what she is upset about and silently send up prayers of thanks for an international individual joining our forces to get the world’s attention about what is going on and what is not happening.
“This government want the 2010 World Cup to come here, but look at this!” she says in disgust.
“It is almost like China and the Olympics,” I reply.
“We will be here until tonight if you get me started on that one,” she responds.

Inside the larger camp, I meet James, a Rwandan with film-making experience and the local leader for his countrymen. He tells me about how he acted as one of the soldiers in Hotel Rwanda when it was shot here in South Africa some years ago. I share my short stories about the two times I went to visit and work in his home country. I show him a few dance moves of one of Rwanda’s folk songs which I learnt there. He laughs at me.
“I can see you know how to do it,” he says and stares into the distance for a few seconds, “that is a beautiful song’s dance that you are doing.”

James asks me about what I saw last year when I went to his country. I tell him about how peaceful it seemed and he assures me that it will always look like that to visitors because that is part of their culture. Rwandans will always appear very polite and welcoming to each other in the presence of visitors. He tells me the same story I’ve heard from many of my Rwandan friends; how the genocide had nothing to do with genetics but with power and politics.

“I don’t trust the current Rwandan government,” he says with heavy suspicion flashing in his eyes.
“I have a Congolese friend who is married to a South African and he tells me the same,” I respond.
“Did you know that it was a Tutsi leader who started the massacre of Tutsi’s in 1994?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say.
We talk some more about how superficial transformation can be when a country gets lots of press attention and foreign aid after a tragedy or regime has come to an official end. I try to steer the conversation to a more hopeful direction.
“I have a Rwandan name that was given to me the moment I crossed into your country from Uganda by a Rwandan friend Neshimwe¬¬,”
“Do you know what it means?” he asks me with one broken front tooth spoiling his perfect smile.
“God be praised,” I answer.
“Yes, we must pray. This country is killing me and has taken my future.”
“Yes, I am sorry that you have to feel like this. I am so ashamed at how my fellow South Africans are treating you.”
“Did you know that Colorado Film School asked me to come and study with them? But the man at Home Affairs just told me that I should get into America like I got into South Africa and that he will not give me any papers to go to America.”

He asks me for my phone number before our little group starts to move further south towards the Muslim camp.
“I am very careful to give my phone number to strange men,” I say and move closer to my colleague who visits with the refugees on a daily basis, “I will be back and then we can talk about contact information.”
“I am not a cheater,” he says with a laugh and points to his wedding ring, “I will see you at another time, then. Thank you for coming to visit us.”

We progress slowly. So many people in need that want two minutes of our time and eye contact, a word of hope or promise, a gentle human touch of their cold hands or arms or sad faces. On our way past the treeless field where the UN had promised to put up a tent which still lies in a store room to date, I see an empty cartridge case lie in front of my feet. I pick it up and put it in my pocket. When we reach the tar road we have to stop three times to visit with small gatherings of men before we can turn left again into the Muslim camp.

A young man walks up to us and greet my friends by their names. With their sleeves pulled over their hands preventing them from touching the skin of infidels, he reaches out to us fighting back tears.
He shows the left side of his face to Sister Ané where the fresh burn wounds are healing. He caught alight while he was asleep when a candle fell on him. He did not loose anything valuable to the fire, only his mattress.
“Luckily, only me got burnt,” he said to me.
“Does it still hurt?” I ask.

I am wearing a corduroy pants with high heel boots¬¬ not the ideal Islam dress code for a blonde woman walking into Somaliland. There are no women to be seen behind the row of plastic portable toilets. The men seem not to upset about three white women walking into their afternoon.
“What is your name?” I finally ask the young man.
“Where are you from?”
I listen to his precious story of how he started a business in Port Elizabeth and was forced to leave his family behind after similar violence occurred from local South Africans and he had to flee to Johannesburg. Pointing to his bare left foot I see the scar of an old bullet wound.

One of the older men along the road who caught Sister Ané’s attention with his asthmatic chest joined in my conversation with Farrah. I admit that I had not yet been to their country but that I did taste traditional samoosas prepared by an Ethiopian friend of mine who runs a coffee shop in Dallas, Texas.
“Oh, but have you tasted a Somali meal in one of these mansions?” he asks with a shimmer in his ancient eyes. Pointing to the tiny shacks made of blankets and wooden planks behind him.
“No, I must admit, sir. I haven’t,” I say smiling.
“You should try it someday. With all the nice chilies and spices.”
“Hmmm…,” I answer, “I have been meaning to ask you about some decorating tips, though. I have never seen anything so breath-taking before.”

We joke together some more and after Farrah discovered that I am older than him, he stretches out a bare fist to touch my knuckles this time in camaraderie, Rasta-style. I assure them that they are not alone in this struggle and that we will be back to visit with them soon.
“Next time I will wear something different,” I promise.
“Yes,” the short, grey, gourmet cook replies, ”you must not wear those shoes again.” Pointing to my heels he elaborated with more fashion advice, “with your length they are too high and next time you must wear a loose dress with slits on the sides.”
At that moment a women and presumably her husband walks in from the street. She is covered from head to toe with not even her eyes showing.
“I apologise if I offended anybody,” I say as we start moving towards the gate again. They all shake their heads and smile.
“You should pray that we have much wisdom tomorrow when we work on the proposal for government about your situation,” I ask.
“Yes, five times a day, we will,” the unofficial clan leader replies.
“You are very reliable in that aspect, aren’t you? We will also pray.” I say.
“Yes, God will listen to you, even when you are women.”

With that we said goodbye and was delayed for another thirty minutes between our car and them less than a hundred meters away. We spoke a few words to a Congolese woman in a wheelchair who was injured in Angola on her way to South Africa. Probably by an old, Russian landmine.

As I reached my home, in a posh suburban neighbourhood on the Eastern side of town, I couldn’t wait to get into the shower. I walked through my own bedroom that would fit six of the Somali mansions I saw earlier. With bare feet on clean cool tiles I turned into a corridor which leads to my personal bathroom. Simple; only a shower, basin and toilet squeezed into the minimum space. Actually quite dated compared to what the magazines would proclaim as stylish, yet I had running warm water at the turn of a tap.

Just after I stroked the first few shaves off my wintry white calves, I noticed that my nail polish on my big toes had chaffed away from my new boots. How beautiful were those ‘scarred’ feet to me now.

As I type, I remember that I left that cartridge case in my pants pocket on the floor where it still lies right now. I think of Farrah’s healed left foot and James’ chipped left front tooth sitting with them around a small fire in that camp tonight. Hoping to survive the darkness and unknown morning that awaits them after I shut down my laptop.

I wonder who cares about these 1300 people sleeping on the ground a few blocks away from the Roslyn rubbish heap. I wonder why it took me three months before going there myself. I wonder what I would say to the lady in the wheelchair when she asks me the same question again when next I see her; why is God letting this happen?

And I think of a quote that I heard from a South African farmer somewhere on 50/50 last night saying; the way that we human beings live, demands that we have to experience a crisis before we will change.