The Beggar


The Beggar is God’s friend

And when the beggar knocks
Beware:
The one who scoffs
at those in great despair
Will find God’s wrath
Descend upon their path
Wreaking great havoc
Where they once lay
In sleep
As if
In Peace.

For Peace is love and harmony
Kindness and generosity
Not merely in the things we see
But in our hearts
Our minds and
Our humanity.

Can sleep bring Peace
When rights are wronged?
Can Peace be real
When vice is strong?
Can good men sleep
When harm is done –
By their own acts or
Inaction?

Not all beggars appear in rags
Not all are destitute, filling bags
Wives too can beg
For love that’s lost,

For some sign that

They’re not just ghosts
Of past selves
Sold to servitude
Or trapped in timeless platitudes.
They beg for love that they have spent
With passion and servility.
They beg for compassion and dignity
For reinstatement
Of their humanity.

How God must rage at
The audacity
Of men who sleep
Through their calamity.

And still…
Wives pray for God’s Mercy
To reign over their Family.

Revealing the Mask:
I wrote this poem a while ago after visiting the Saartjie Baartman Center for Abused Women in Cape Town, South Africa. I had taken my students on a visit there after discussions on Saartjie Baartman’s story. Aside from gaining an insight into how women in general (and African women in particular) have been viewed historically, they were also keen to get a sense of the havens available to women in abusive relationships today.

It was a somber and moving visit. I went away pondering what the social worker had shared: The women sheltered at the center often had no other options for safety. Despite some coming from comfortable middle class families, most of the women’s  relatives were often detached from the reality of the abuse they faced. Perhaps this is connected to the stigma and perceived humiliation that women fear exposing themselves to by sharing fully the extent of their abuse. Perhaps it is symptomatic of the desensitized society we live in. It was also tragic to note how great a percentage of women sought the sanctuary of the center secretly when their husbands had fallen asleep or gone off to work, how very few would press charges and how many would call those same husbands to fetch them and briskly take them home.

I realise that this behaviour is tied up in the complex psychology of abuse victims, but can’t help believing that despite their own miserable circumstance, women’s inherent protective instinct over those they love is unshakable. I returned home frustrated and saddened  not only by the unchanging history, but by the present reality for far too many women begging to be safe and loved, and the complacency of our society on the matter.

 

Written for prompts from Three Word Wednesday and We Write Poems

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Promised Poverty


“Corruption is a slow evil,”

I read tonight.

Leaders- indeed politicians- in their double speak

will say We have won,

we no longer live in the darkness of oppression:

we are a leading African nation,

a Democracy of prized freedoms

our economy stable, growing…

evidenced by their armored cars,

their private jets and multi-million mansions

on lush Pretoria hillsides.

 

Mere minions would dispute their claims

ripe with untruth,

stinking of exaggeration and greed

empty in the township daylight

What victory is this

outside my tin shack

with my hands outstreched

or reaching into rubbish heaps

to still my hunger,

find a treasure,

feed?

What dignity?

Lies lacerate my future

but line their swelling pockets

like malnourished bellies

bursting with disease

and rotten promises

In response to Three Word Wednesday’s prompts:

ripe, lacerate, dignity

 

 

Red Tape and other sticky matters


Reluctantly I wake to

another day

the same as yesterday.

Gray and expectant.

No anticipated e-mail

or message…snail mail?

 

Can snails hurry?

I wonder…

They have just two paces

sluggish

or still.

They don’t move in straight lines either.

And the more you prod them

the deeper they retreat.

Then nothing happens.

Anticipation and expectation

breed such sweet slow brewed anger.

Inboxed

apologies,  delays

another postponement,

red tape

and other sticky matters…

Smouldering,

I race to strike the keys

that cypher my frustration.

Blast. Send. Extinguish.

There.

Back to the tedium, of waiting

I yawn

and rub  my eyes

Dulled by my own disillusionment.

 

Feigning relaxation

I put up my feet

seeking sleep…

an escape

from the exhaustion of more waiting.

 

 

Inspired by the prompts of Three Word Wednesday (dull, yawn, race), the tardiness of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the poor services of Gulf Visa.

Happy Birthday Madiba!


Happy Birthday Mandela

Tatamkhulu Afrika

Warrior and Peacemaker.

Freedom Fighter and Prisoner.

President and Great Grand father.

You showed no indecision

in fighting injustice.

Young, Proud and Bold

you struck out Defiantly

giving yourself no option

But the Quest of Freedom

the Journey of Struggle

the Destiny of  Heroism

the Epitome of Ubuntu.

No slave to Fate

No stranger to courage

No risk not ventured

on the long road you tread.

The path you leave

is clear and wide and light,

though steep for those who seek

an easy way to reach the heights

where you have climbed.

How to give thanks?

How to honour the Legacy

of  Dignity, Sensibility and Justice?

of Sacrifice, Service and Contribution?

Only through our pledge:

To walk our own long road

Using your footholds,

Heartened by the trial

of giving ourselves fully

to the building of  Tomorrow

with Hope, Dignity, Justice

with what is Good, Right and New.

A tomorrow worthy of more

Like you.

Peace, Dearest Trouble Maker,

Peace, Rolihlahla Mandela….

In Honour of Mandela Day, 18 July 2011.

In response to Three Word Wednesday’s prompts:

Option, Indecision, Fate.

 

Murmurs from the Cape Flats express


 

This week marked a new chapter in my teaching adventures. While others in my profession move cities and countries, I’ve enjoyed the great adventure of moving my classroom from the suburbs to the city center! With the drop in foreign students over the wet Cape Town winter, a reshuffling of staff was in order and I took on doing what I had doggedly dodged for 8 years: working in the city. The idea of navigating the tedium of morning traffic around the mountain, into the heart of Cape Town, wipers swishing and demister puffing, has never inspired any degree of enthusiasm in me. And I had successfully avoided it by teaching in the leafy suburbs…until this week.

 

The truth is that I have been open to  new chapters this year: this blog is evidence of that. So I approached teaching in the city, with adventure in mind – a Metro Rail Adventure, at that! Rather than brave the carbon crawl in my car, I’ve opted for a real life, man-in-the-street experience. Which means (not the dreaded mini bus, thank goodness!) a morning train with my fellow South Africans! And it’s been a learning I continue to look forward to each day.

Now I’ve  traveled by train during various phases of my life before: as a high school and university student, and later as a young working mother. And what I’m getting is how differently we perceive life at the various stages of our journey through it. I accept that the world itself has changed: after all, I am no longer checked for the audacity of entering a first class carriage, signs are now displayed in three official languages inside the train and hawkers are allowed aboard to sell their wares. But what has changed most is my own awareness of life around me, of human behaviour, of the barriers that remain in place despite the apparent freedom we enjoy. As a teenager commuting only two stations, I looked forward to meeting my friends on the station then chatting all the way through the train ride and all through the walk up Kendal Road until the bell went for assembly. Barring a conductor throwing a passenger off for “jumping train”, I was oblivious to the people around me.

But I’m fully present now. And it’s been a wonderful discovery…

Embarking on any adventure requires a spirit of cheer and excited anticipation. So, despite the biting cold of Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, I rose early and eager. This was great! I was out in the fresh air, energised and ready for a real workday start. There was a spring in my step as I briskly trotted down the steps into the subway. Immediately, the whiff of government issue sanitizer hit my nostrils, barely covering the stench of stale urine that lingered beneath it. I found myself smiling and shallowly breathing through my mouth, intent not to gag. Horribly familiar, true, but the memory had faded better than the stench.

Up on the other side, I marched on to the platform and chirped a “Good Morning” to three women sitting on the sheltered bench. One raised a sharp eyebrow, another looked away and the third smiled her bemusement in reply. Determined to maintain my cheerful demeanor, I scanned the platform.  How could there be so many people and so little sound, I wondered. Of course! Coated up against the chill of the morning, almost everyone was wired up to an iPod or their cell. A few others had a book and even fewer sat in pairs talking softly. Here and there were some dejected souls looking like the day’s work ahead was a fate worse than I could imagine. And near the fencing, like me twenty years ago, a group of self expressed teens were freely sharing their opinions on life with their buddies and whoever else would listen.

As the train pulled in to collect us, I realised how sheltered we are in a car –  my usual mode of transport. Without the protection of our vehicles’ hulking metal, we are all afraid, too timid to say hello to a stranger, too self-conscious to even smile warmly. In our cars, we easily show another driver our emotion – a wave to say “go ahead, cut in” or a fed up arched brow saying “Do you think your big car makes your rudeness okay?” We even show fists or a finger when we’re justifiably fed up and we don’t hesitate to blow our horns. But take away the shelter of the windscreen, the roof and the bonnet, put us face to face in a carriage with other human beings and – as in a fully packed elevator – there’s a fearful shut down: eyes drop or stare unseeing, bodies compact and stiffen and bags are clutched tightly.  Nobody wants to engage. There is no acknowledging the other. Even for those teens yakking away loudly, their full-blown expressiveness operates only to keep others at bay.  And packed as the train is, we remain disconnected.

So with these insights, I observe the other passengers. I’m enjoying the world that this adventure has opened…I’m learning about myself. And I’m learning about everyone else. What have you been noticing lately?

I almost omitted mentioning  Three Word Wednesday and this week’s prompts: ‘gag’, ‘maintain’ and ‘omit’. Follow the link in my Blogroll and read some more of the responses.

Reflecting on Youth Day


It’s Youth Day in South Africa tomorrow 16 June. It’s the day on which we commemorate the youth who stood up to the Apartheid government in 1976, raised their collective voice demanding “Equal Education” over their parents’ preferred chant: “Half a loaf is better than no bread.” It was the day they loosened the oppressive grip that Bantu Education aimed to have over young minds.  The first youth to die that day was merely 13 years old. I don’t think Hector Peterson imagined that 35 years later he would be written about as a martyr Armed only with their determination, placards and freedom songs, hundreds more youth were gunned down in the days that followed. And hundreds more in the years preceding the dismantling of Apartheid.

To remember them still hurts. They risked their lives for a future they would never see. The South Africa we are proud of today, where we experience the joy and freedom to be so very diverse – and are happy to celebrate and engage with that diversity – is the future that they died for.

Are our youth fully conscious of the enormity of that gift?

Are we, their parents?

We live in the heritage of those and other martyrs. But what is our legacy?

STEVE BIKO AND IMAM HARUN

In my work with youth, I am often disturbed by the greedy current of individualism sweeping our youth along. They are urged to study harder, to get great jobs, to attain all the trimmings and trappings of success.  When I ask them about their future, they inevitably gush about the degrees they will have, the cars they will drive one day, the designer threads they will wear, the fat salaries they will earn, the green suburbs they will live in, and the respect, status and influence that they will have through these accomplishments. This is what their teachers and parents are cheering them on to achieve, they say.

In their speaking, there is a numbness to their fellow South Africans, a deafness to the pleas of the poor, a blind faith in the fiction about what breeds satisfaction. And it saddens me…for they only echo us.

In our free and beautiful country, our communities – indeed our youth- are plagued by ills we can no longer blame our government for. Nor can we expect that the actions that erradicate these social ills must come from elsewhere. They are not ills that money and status can cure. Our youth simultaneously face the mediocrity of the rat race, low pass rates, the scourge of HIV and AIDS, unprecedented rates of teenage pregnancy and drug addiction on a community level.

In honouring the memory of Sowetan youth tomorrow, many public programs are focusing on empowering and uplifting youth from all communities to grab opportunities and reach for success. And rightly so. Our youth must succeed. But at what?

Are we empowering our youth not only to deal with the challenges they face, but to interrupt the spiral of decline? Are we getting across to them that this is their Legacy? Are we effectively communicating that with the freedom and power they have been born into, comes the unshirkable responsibility to serve, grow and lead communities that are healthy, sustainable, empowered and dignified.

youth building food tents- courtesy betterplace.org

My concern is that we are promoting education as a way to achieve a standard of living, rather than as an access to powerfully developing a way of life that will make a difference to the quality of life for all.

So as you celebrate Youth Day, I challenge you to engage with a young person about the actions WE can take to make the kind of difference we’ll be celebrating 35 years from now…

Who will be the ones we’ll be blogging about then?

Response to http://www.threewordwednesday.com using “grip”, “prefer”, “thread”

Haiku


Have you ever tried Haiku?

No,no-  it’s not a type of Sushi!

Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese word art originating in Zen philosophy. As I’ve been surfing other poetry blogs, I’ve been inspired to return to this form of word art.

Japanese Haiku poets follow strict rules in constructing their Haiku. In English there is greater flexibility in the approach and the rules alter slightly. I’ve never been one for formula – I usually get mind-numbing flashbacks to high school trigonometry at the mention of the word! But there’s something appealingly challenging about expressing a concept or observation succinctly- in a maximum of 17 syllables…

In Haiku, the idea is to write a poem of 3 lines, with the first, second and third line containing 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. The poem is whole, independent and complete in its communication. Another feature is to create a “cut” in the words through punctuation or meaning. Traditionally, Haiku was written about Nature or contained a seasonal concept. The effect is often tranquil but powerful. Even today, the season of the piece is alluded to subtly.

It is simplicity in poetry.

It is minimalist.

It is beautiful.

“cozy winter evening:

fond family feeding

on news, warmth and love”

That’s my Haiku for tonight, with my sister over for supper, and a hearty catching up around our crackling  fire.