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South Africa Update by Emily Claytor

June 20, 2012

Today we started working on building the houses. We drove about 30 to 40 minutes to get there. The shanti town we are working in is not as bad as some of the others but it is still a culture shock. The streets are strewn with trash. Shacks and debris litter the spaces between the few houses already built by our organization,and children wander in packs in the streets.

When we arrived we were given a warm welcome by our supervisors and given instructions and tools. We were then broken up into three teams and each team would work on their own houses.

Monkey in a zoo.  That is how I would describe how I felt walking along the streets to get to our house. All of us stood out so much because there were no other white people. I guess it must have been a pretty rare occurrence because most people we passed would stare at us, or point, and then start talking about “those white people”, in their native tongues. It was at first slightly uncomfortable but this died down after a while and started bothering me less. Working on the house felt great. The physical labor of building a house made me feel invigorated and alive. It made me feel as though I was helping to change someone’s world one shovel full of dirt at a time.

After we finished the base of our house the neighborhood kids came over to play with us. They were so adorable and we played around on the sand foundation doing cartwheels, summersaults, and roundoffs. Language does not doesn’t matter when your playing with kids because playing and having a good time is universal. I will always hold these seemingly insignificant moments in life close to my heart. I will forever be suspended upside down in the air, the heat of the sun beating down onto my face, the children’s laughs, and my hands planted firmly on the sand as I attempted to do a cartwheel.

We had lunch around 1. I was hungry and when we got back to our main site lunch was waiting for us in brown paper bags. Food, eating, being full, and all these things I have always taken for granted. Sure, there have been times when I have thought I was starving, but really this was always just an intense over exaggeration.  The people in this shanti town have all experienced real hunger and the real knawing pains of starvation. Here I was, eating a good hearty lunch while hundreds of people so close to me probably would not eat lunch or dinner. I am fortunate. Sometimes I worry about people, myself included. We are sometimes so sheltered, so oblivious and sometimes purposefully ignorant of other people’s worlds. I feel there are so many people out there who don’t understand the strange mix of modernization and poverty existing in Africa.

After lunch we went and were show around the town. As we walked, we handed out candy to passing kids and soon became very popular. Eventually we stopped in front of one of the shacks. This shack was to be torn down in November by our organization and a nice new house.  We met the woman who owned the shack. Her daughter had just been killed by her husband leaving her with three very young girls. The youngest was only two months old. The mother was 19 when her husband stabbed her to death. She had her first child when she was 14. This young motherhood is high in the shanti towns because they still have arranged marriages at early ages.  We got to go inside this woman’s shack. It was pretty interesting and reminded me of a fort. The shacks were built of old scrap metal and wood, with old sheets and cloth scraps stuffed between the cracks. Debris lined the inside of the house; it seemed anything collected, or found with any value was stored and stashed in piles against the walls. The shacks were dark and felt damp and musty. They leak water when it rains and I could feel a cool breeze drifting through the a hole in the wall where a wood plank had broken off.

Sitting at dinner tonight, dining at one of the fancy restaurants along the pier on the waterfront, I could not help but think, “wow just acouple of hours ago I was in a poverty stricken town and here I am eating steak”. Some how this feels wrong. Its just sad to think that the kids I was playing with earlier today may never experience this type of luxury. Sometimes it seems that life is just not fair. For now all we can do is take baby steps to helping these people. What we are doing is going to effect someone, and change their lives.

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