Monthly Archives: August 2011

Hi! My Name’s Satan. Welcome to Your Flight Home.

Dear Merciful Father in Heaven. I knew the flight home was going to be bad; I just had no idea HOW bad it was going to be. Like I said, we rushed out of the house early Monday morning with towels still in the dryer and no time to really clean. (And were scolded for it via email – with an accompanying  cleaning bill.) As we ‘sped’ along the N2 in our microbus, which heaved and groaned with every tire rotation, panic overtook the adults in the car. We had cut our departure time way too close.

Are we going to make it? What time was check in? Are we there yet?!?

Our fears were only compounded when a large Black woman in a reflective green vest with the word ‘POLICE’ emblazoned across the front stepped in front of our speeding vehicle. She hailed our car and 3 others in front of us.

“Any medical reason why you are not wearing your seat belt?” she asked harshly in Afrikaans before switching to English when we stared blankly at her without reply.

“Uh…no?”

She motioned for us to see another pack of officers on the left side of the road, who told us eagerly that they were going to bill us R200 for the seatbelt violation. What a rip off! That was thirty bucks! My seatbelt on cost me $15 in the States…

This pack of jackals had the audacity to turn indignant when Marshall remarked that they ‘had to get that money for the municipality, huh?’

“Sir! We are merely carrying out our duties!” the brown one said in a voice that was a cross between imploring and a sneer.

After the darker officer took his sweet time filling out our fine form, Marshall and I buckled up and cautiously sped off. We arrived at the George airport with 10 minutes to boarding time. Whew!

With little time to lament our leaving to Michael –who was returning our rental for us – the six Grants hopped onto the plane to Jo’burg and settled in for a one and a half hour flight. It should have been as simple as that.

“It’s going to be a good morning,” Marshall chanted, trying to draw positive vibes to his brood. I, of course, knew better. Nothing positive can come with this many kids on a plane.

The moment we were seated, Liya began to wail and screech. As soon as she would quiet down, Stone would take up the mantle and yell at the passengers closest to him, kicking their chairs or pulling their hair. It was pure hell. The other passengers refrained from looking at us, but their silent vitriol was so palatable I could translate their very thoughts. When the plane finally landed, they rushed away from us, as if we were a pack of lepers.

We landed in Jo’burg a little after noon. Our flight to Atlanta did not leave until 8 pm. I had been advocating for us to get a hotel room for a few hours so the kids could sleep, but poverty and fully booked facilities worked against us.

“It’s gonna be a great flight!” said Marshall, again trying to speak things ‘that were not as though they were/should be.’

Shut up, I wanted to blurt. I opted to glare at him with steely silence instead.

He walked ahead of me with one of the big girls when he sensed I was in no mood for hopeless positive affirmations and useless platitudes. Suddenly, he turned around, muttering about having seen something ‘long’.

“Huh? What’s long?” I asked.

“No, no! Eddie Long! Over there in the Springbok t-shirt!” he grinned.

Well I’ll be; so it was! ‘Bishop’ Long, sitting right across the KFC with a pack of people (mostly men) in South Africa! He was wearing (as usual) a t-shirt that was 4 sizes too small. It clung to his bulky chest, the seams straining with every breath he took. What the heck was Eddie Long doing in South Africa? Was he here to rape little boys? I hadn’t heard of a major conference going on. Daggum shame…coming to Africa to pack his nasty New Birth fudge. Ugh.

We milled around O.R. Tumbo airport for 6 hours, watching people and pausing to get lunch and change diapers. I reeked of gloom, sweat and despondency. There was a little bit of baby snot on my pink blouse as well, courtesy of Liya’s freshly caught cold. As I looked over the filth that covered my breast and belly, a stunning young woman in a white halter dress walked towards us as we were about to enter the security check point. Wait – I knew her. Surely that couldn’t be…

“Malaka!” Sefa gushed in surprise.

“Oh wow!” I returned in equal surprise. “What are you doing in South Africa?”

She proceeded to tell me that she was in transit back to Accra after visiting some other exotic nation which escapes me now.  I stared at her, drinking in her beauty. Why couldn’t I look like that?? She looked and smelled amazing, like a freshly cut long stem rose. I would have told her as much, but I was afraid that I would reveal my thoughts so earnestly that they would come out sounding totally gay. I settled on something noncommittal like ‘you haven’t changed a bit’ or something equally lame/cliché. Sefa and I went to school together at GIS and had always carried out her successes with quiet dignity. We weren’t friends ourselves, but we shared friends.

She greeted the kids and Marshall, bending elegantly to address each of them. They were impressed when they found out she owned the café where we used to eat in Accra.

“We like the café!” they squealed.

Eventually, she apologized, saying she had to leave and get onto her flight which was departing in less than an hour.

“No, no! Go. I totally understand.”

She blew us kisses  and floated off. I would have blown her kisses too, but my chapped lips were ashy and I was afraid I would cover her in dust. Now that, I did tell her. Her tinkling laugh was the last thing I heard. Was that was single and successful at 30 looked like? Forget the fortune, I just want to walk into public adorned in clean clothes and smelling like a spring rain – or anything other than this morning’s meal.

Finally, 7:30 pm rolled around and they called our flight. As we were about to board, Delta separated us, males from females, and began a pat down search. Eddie Long disappeared at that moment. I saw him retreat to the other end of the airport. Huh. It’s not so hot when another adult male in power is doing the touching, is it Eddie?

I should have spoken less condemning thoughts, for surely I was rewarded for my judgmental words by the Devil himself. After the flight attendants seated ‘people with children and cripples’ first and we were airborne, Stone and Liya went at it again. For almost 16 hours they kicked, writhed and howled in the coffin like coach. My only reprieve came when they were sleeping, and they did not sleep long at all. Ironically, as I was battling the storms of tears and potato salad that were being hurled at me by my two youngest, there was another tempest raging beneath us. Hurricane Irene was making its way to the East Coast at the same time that we were. The turbulence was nothing like I’d ever felt.

“Ladies and gentlemen, at this point we are experiencing turbulence and advise you to take your seats,” the stewardess said professionally over the intercom.  Suddenly, there was the sound of her headset dropping as the plane dipped and bucked. She picked up the piece and growled into it.

“Everybody get back into your seats NOW!”

All the passengers waiting to use the toilet at that moment either pissed themselves or mustered the bladder control to hold on their bowels for the next 10 minutes while our plane yo-yoed 14000 feet in the air.

“Oh Jesus,” I thought, “we’re going to die.”

I looked at my slumbering children, wondering what it would feel like when we all hit the ocean. At least we were all together. I wanted to tell my husband that I loved him. If we all died in a fiery inferno, that should be the last thing he should hear. I wanted to tell him – but he snored throughout the entire episode.

Thankfully, it all ended. There were only 4 more hours left in the flight, and in those mere 4 hours, Stone wandered up to business class (twice) and came back with spoils of his adventure: a Kitkat and a bag of Lays potato chips. The stewardess who brought him back to my seat said he fished them out of a bowl she had sitting out for the ‘elite fliers’. ‘Atta boy, Stone!  Liya did some more screaming and the two of them mashed bananas, muffins and napkins into the floor around us. Yes folks: we WERE that family on the flight. The one everybody hopes will not be flying with them. I felt nothing but shame and contempt for my condition.

Once we landed, I quickly changed shirts, hoping that that would erase the evidence and emotion of the 22 hour hell I had endured.  It didn’t. Liya was holding onto a bit of food in a tightly balled fist and smeared it into my shoulder, looking me in the eye as she did so.

Take that, you persnickety pretentious whore.

I was aghast.

And then it was over. We went through security, my friend Algi greeted us at the arrival hall, and we were back in Atlanta. I stared around the familiar skyline. It was as if the whole 3 months had just been a dream and had never happened. I threw my purse into the front left side of the car and went to help Algi pack the remaining bags into her trunk.

“What are you doing?” she asked expectantly.

“Waiting for you so we can go…” I countered.

“Yeah, but your purse is in the driver’s seat honey.”  She looked at me with amusement.

Oh dag. So it was!

I moved it over to the right side seat and said a last goodbye to any habits I had picked up in South Africa.

Farewell BLOWS

As a rule, I usually don’t have a problem with “goodbye” if I’m the one doing the leaving. My departure often places me in a position of power – one in which I have pity on the person(s) being left, because they are going to miss me after all, and not necessarily vice versa. This time was different. I spent the last few days in South Africa in a veritable funk. We were flying out the following Sunday, and I was mentally exhausted from gobbling up the last sunsets and sunrises, the smell of the ocean and gulping my last breaths of the smog-free air. And then there was my new extended family.

Ugh.

Mainee left on Thursday with glistening eyes and a wry smile. I said my goodbyes, squeezing the word through a tight throat. As she fussed over the final details of her cleaning, pausing to make sure Stone and Liya were fed and changed at all times, I wondered how I was going to survive my return to Atlanta where wahala was waiting for me.

Recession wahala. Church wahala. Traffic wahala. Douche Bag wahala. Wahala, wahala, wahala!

The ASP kids had put on a special show for us as the next day. I managed to sit through the performance without bursting into tears. Their songs seemed more in harmony and they had added some flair to their standard performances. My kids had learned the moves and were singing along with their new friends from the seats. Stone managed to sneak on “stage” so that he could acheche along with the first and second grade girls. I was doing well until Fezi asked us to come up and say some words to the kids. I was surprised that words had failed me so abysmally, and I only managed to tell them that I would miss them and to remember to add their numbers in the appropriate numbers and to carry their ones.

On Saturday we took our last trip to Sedgefield market and had a pleasant drama-free breakfast for once. Well, apart from the guy who dropped his scrambled eggs ALL OVER NADJAH. I have never seen a White man apologize so profusely.

“It’s okay!” I laughed. “I’m sure you didn’t intend to share your breakfast with her.”

He muttered something at his wife, who replied with “Uh, uh! Don’t you DARE try to blame me for that!”

We lazily browsed the market, picked up some fudge and cookies and left for George one last time. Brittany appeared like a jack-in-a-box and took us along on one of her White adventures. By happenstance, she stopped at a bridge so we could take in the view. Looking into the clear blue ocean, we saw something floating along the surface. A pod of whales – and only 200 yards from shore! With nowhere to be and nothing else to do, we watched them for a full hour, delighted by flipper after flipper that broke the surface as they exfoliated themselves on the sandy bottom.

South Africa did its best to soften the blow for me. The municipality turned our water off from Friday to Sunday, and I to take a bath with a wet wipe for 2 days. Any water we had was used to ‘bathe’ the kids. Despite the inconvenience, it was still hard to say goodbye to my summer love. The whole experience was like meeting a smoking hot dude who spent 3 months showing me things I’d never seen and doing things I have never done. It was truly a love affair.

And like all summer romances, my heart finally broke and I was degraded to a blubbering heap come Sunday morning.

This Sunday was the only one that feature rain when we showed up. We were asked to give a few parting words.

I’m an iceberg, I’m an iceberg… I chanted silently.

The iceberg cracked and shattered. Oh I snotted and snorted my way through how much I was going to miss the kids and my new friends, who had in truth, become more like family. In true African fashion, many of the women had asked me a few days before what I was going to leave for them, and had done me the honor of wearing some of the items I’d relinquished to church that day. It was cute seeing some women squeeze into my shirts and others swim in them.

Monday morning, the water finally came on and I was grateful to have a proper shower before my hellish flight. Give me a minute and I’ll tell you about THAT.

Mzansi Fo’ Sho!

‘Mzansi’ means ‘south’, but refers specifically to South Africa. South Africa, for all its development and westernization is still Africa, and has some of the most amusing quirks I’ve ever encountered. Most have to do with policy, language barriers and culture.

No, you can’t have it your way

The first time we went out for lunch at a fast food chain, we were pretty excited. The kids were going to be able to eat something familiar, and neither of us was going to have to cook that evening. We walked up to the counter of KFC in Plett and got ready to order. Every drink on the menu came with a Coke, a brand I’m loyal to, so my meal was easy to order. Marshall, on the other hand, prefers non-carbonated drinks, and opted to get an orange beverage.

“You can’t have this with an orange drink,” the cashier told him. “It comes with Coke.”

“But I don’t want Coke,” he objected.

“If you want Coke, you have to pay extra,” she informed him, “and it will be a smaller size.”

(This particular meal came with a jumbo can of Coke – there are no drink/soda fountains here.)

“Okay then,” said Marshall. “I’ll pay the extra for the drink.”

Look, I just want to make a phone call!

It took us almost 2 weeks to get a cell phone after we first arrived here and unlike the US, none of the service providers sends you a monthly bill for your minutes. Each plan is pay as you go, and you pay for every minute you use. Largely unaccustomed to this communication method, Marshall set off in search of more air time.

“I need to charge my phone,” he told me, grabbing the keys to the car. “I’m just going up to Kwik Spar. I’ll be back soon.”

I looked at the plug in the wall. He had taken the cell phone with him without plugging it in. I thought he wanted to charge it? Ah well.

45 minutes, he came back home, rubbing his temples.

“What took you so long?” I asked. Kwik Spar is a 3 minute drive away, literally.

“I kept telling them that I wanted to charge my phone, and they kept thinking I needed to plug it in!” he said with frustration. “I just wanted some stinkin’ air time!”

“Ohhh,” I laughed. “You should have said you wanted to ‘top up your minutes’. Charging your phone means something different. You’re in Africa now.”

He said something about getting used to phrases and lingo and finally made his call.

Please dear God, all I want is some chai…

Poor Marshall.

Since he’s been here he’s been on a search for a good cup of chai. He’s come close several times, and failed astoundingly. One of the most memorable failures happened at Seattle’s Best in Cape Town. Brittany was ecstatic, because they carry the same brand of coffee as Starbucks, and Starbucks is impossible to come by in this part of South Africa.

I ordered something cold with whip, and Marshall, as part of his undying search for chai, implored for the liquid sustenance.

“Is this real chai?” he asked.

Yes, it is chai,” the woman answered tersely.

“Is it soy?” he continued hopefully.

“What? What is soy?” she spat.

“Never mind. What is this chai made with?”

She was aggravated by his line of questioning.

“Some chai is powder and some is liquid,” she snarled. “Ours is powder!”

By this point, I was looking down at the counter trying to contain my laughter. Customer service is SO lacking in Cape Town. It’s like being in New York. I advised him just to take the cup and ask no further questions. The cashier rolled her huge eyes at him and prepared to make his drink.

Mzansi!

Ma’am… just make the car stop doing what it’s doing.

The VW microbus (aka ‘kombi’) we’ve rented has all kinds of issues. The driver’s seat is broken in half. You have to put a stick somewhere close to the door to make it start – and you have to make sure it stays in while the vehicle is in motion. The fuel gauge fuel gauge doesn’t work and you have to refill it every 600 KM…that’s when it’s estimated that the tank is empty.

Oh!  And the alarm is touchy.

While we were in Cape Town for the weekend, the 90’s style alarm on the bus went off in the middle of the night. The guy from the front desk called our room.

“Ma’am, it seems there is a problem with your car,” he said in his Colored accent.

“Oh? What’s the problem?”

“The alarm is on on your car.”

“The alarm? Oh! The alarm has gone off.”

“No,” I could hear him shaking his head. “The alarm is not off, it’s on.”

“Yeah,” I confirmed. “It’s gone off. I’ll send my husband down.”

The man paused on the other end before he spoke again. Clearly, I didn’t understand what he was saying.

No ma’am! You’re alarm is not OFF, it is ringing NOW!”

“Okay…okay. I’m sending my husband down now – to turn it OFF.”

“Aha. Thank you.” Click.

 

Waka waka – All you can do is laugh.

You’ve got a Demon in you. How ‘bout some cake?

Friday, August 12th. The weather forecast called for rain, and a slight drivel brought mist and mud to Qolweni. It was late afternoon, and the cows had already come in from the pasture. Two boys sat in the dimly lit room of the man from Port Elizabeth’s house.

Are you tired of being bullied? Are you tired of being pushed around?

Yes! Yes! We are tired.

The man from Port Elizabeth grabbed the first boy by the left arm and sliced the circumference of his bicep with a blade. Then he put three more vertical cuts on top. He lifted a bag containing muti and prepared to rub into the open wound. Frightened by the sight of his own blood, the boy flinched and scrambled to his feet.

No, no. I can’t do this!

He ran off home into, disappearing with the setting sun.

One boy ran, but Muntonabi stayed.

The man from Port Elizabeth told him to take of his shirt. Muntonabi winced as the man sliced 30 vertical cuts into his bony back, muttering a curse and rubbing muti ashes into them.

Drink this blood. This is amakosi. Amakosi will make you strong. No one will defeat you.

Dutifully Muntonabi drank the crimson liquid.

Now go.

All day Saturday, Muntonabi felt nothing. He played in the street as boys do and roamed the area before going home and falling into a fitful sleep. When he woke Sunday morning, the amakosi had taken over him.

The spirit led him to the kitchen where his grandmother was standing preparing breakfast. The spirit took two knives from the drawer and growled at her. The spirit spoke through Muntonabi, grunting in an ancient demonic tongue. The spirit held the two knives in fighting stance and began to attack Muntonabi’s grandmother with them.

*******

On Monday morning, I baked three cakes to celebrate August birthdays for our ASP kids. When I got to the building, Micheal had a solemn look on his face and there was a heavy spirit over all the kids and volunteers. He briefed Marshall and I about what had happened to Muntonabi, a light-skinned boy with quiet brown eyes. I knew him because I had scolded him 3 weeks before about fighting at school.

Thandiswa, Mavis and Nobiswa were loudly admonishing the children in Xhosa. They sat there captivated, listening to what the women were saying. Suddenly, they commanded all the girls to go into the storage room and all the boys to remain in the main hall. Nobiswa beckoned me to join them the dark room. It smelled of dog food, earth and pre-pubescent sweat. The bare light bulb swung from the ceiling above, revealing crammed bodies of dark brown flesh and 20 pairs of little girl eyes, all staring back at me. She told all the girls to take off their shirts. She was going to check them for marks.

Charlotte (the gangster who threw fish grease on her husband), told me what had happened to Muntonabi (who was not allowed to come to ASP for the safety of the other children). She was furious.

“You know that man, neh? He is a witch doctor. He travels from P.E. to Knysna, to Qolweni. Every time he comes here, he doesn’t work, but he always has groceries. How?” she began in haste.

“It’s because he’s stealing from the people!” shouted Nobiswa.

“Then when he comes here, he will always call our children to his house, giving them muti. Sometimes, he cuts them. Sometimes, he gives them a belt or bracelet to wear. Always putting demons in our children!”

“Yes!” cried Nobiswa.

“He lives just opposite me,” Charlotte continued. “Today, when we found out what he did to this boy, we chased him from his house to N2 (the highway)! We told him if he comes back here, we will burn him AND his house!”

She struck her hand against an imaginary match box.

“Even me, I will burn him myself!” she vowed with glowering eyes.

“But what happened to the boy?” I asked. “Is the demon still in him?”

“His grandmother was able to escape and called the police to this witches house. When they went, they said the man must remove the amakosi from him. He gave the grandmother something for the boy to drink at ten to 11:00 pm.”

The Ghana in me kicked in.

“Ei. What if he gives him something to drink and the amakosi comes more?” I queried.

“Yes! That is what I am saying!” confirmed Charlotte. “So I said no. When it’s ten to 11:00, the boy must go to the witch’s house for him to drink it THERE, so that whatever comes out will come out on that man!”

The girls were released from the room one by one after being checked for cuts and amulets. Thankfully, there were all muti-free.

When all the children were seated, there was more talk in Xhosa. Michael interjected that they mustn’t let anyone cut them unless they are a medical doctor. We all pressed that no one has the right to hurt them under any circumstances.

“Your body is the temple of God,” I said. “You mustn’t put anything in there that doesn’t belong there.”

As Mavis rattled off a list of don’ts including drungs, alchohol and tic (meth), one of the boys told on another one.

“This one smokes petrol!”

What the heck?!?

As the boy denied it, Michele told them all it doesn’t matter. From that day forward, no one was to abuse their body.

The ‘come to Jesus’ meeting ended with a hymn and a song of praise. In the middle of it, a boy clad in grey sweat pants and a long sleeve shirt broke into tears and began weeping uncontrollably. He was so sorry, so very sorry. Nobiswa grabbed him from his seat, holding and rocking him like a big baby.

It was the boy who had run away from the witch doctor just 3 days before.

The Road to Cape Town

The road to Cape Town is littered with beauty. It is as though God reached into His sack or art and inspiration, gathered a fistful of its contents and cast it wantonly upon this singular corner of the Earth. It is adorned with shimmering lakes and onyx black rivers; as well as cattle, sheep and horses that lazily graze upon a hundred hill.

The mountains that surround the highway pass seemed to enclose the road and shield it from the rest of the country, and their peaks were so high and imposing that the clouds themselves appeared to seek passage through their territory – only to be refused. At dusk, the light of the setting sun danced off the slopes of the majestic megaliths, transforming them from emerald and forest green to dusty rose.

 The rolling natural landscape is intermittedly interrupted by the presence of human industry, which manifested itself as a mix of the ancient and modern. There were looming petrol refineries that loomed over 19th century granaries and Dutch-style edifices.

Lulled by the sight and smell of serene buttery fields of ripening canola, I conceded to have my attention drawn away by their beauty in order to catch a glimpse of graceful egrets, inquisitive ostriches and heron in flight.

This is the Garden Route and wine country. On either side of the road, vineyards had been plucked bare for the winter season – which was good news, because it meant the cellars would be full of new wine.

It’s hard for me to describe it all. For a few days, I’ve felt myself at a loss for words…so I have finally surrendered and have opted to let the pictures speak of the splendor for themselves – but even they can do it justice.

Can These Dry Bones Really Live?

Sometimes going into the townships is like going into a war zone, and watching the dead remains of the troops that live there miraculously get up day after day to trudge through life. I look at the carnage all around me and ask myself how it’s possible. How do people go on like this day after day?

Last week was a particularly hard week for me, which is I didn’t blog as much. There were so many dreadful reports coming at me in unabated waves of drama that I could hardly endure it.

Here’s my problem: Essentially, I have a bleeding heart, and I want to fix everything – particularly if that problem is in close proximity. So for instance, I feel really bad about the famine in Somalia; but I also feel like their government (or interim government) should have seen this one coming and prepared. Eventually, the UN will sort them out. I’m sending them my positive thoughts, but I’m not sending any money. Juxtapose that sentiment to clear and present suffering. I have never been proficient at ignoring misfortune when it’s staring me in the face, particularly if that face belongs to a child. I’ve handed out countless coins, t-shirts and trinkets over the years that have done little or nothing to lift the recipient out of poverty or affect real change, but done more than enough to soothe my conscience.

But last week, the calamities were too much for me to handle. I just had to get away. I stepped back momentarily from my duties to reflect on all that had happened and pondered my part in turning these things around.

Death

Remember my aspiring 6th grade hunchback Top Model? She came to afterschool looking slightly more forlorn than usual, but with a lopsided Cheshire grin on her face. A few kids had crowded around her. I discovered shortly afterward that her father had just died the day before; yet there she stood, laughing and dancing like she’d just lost a pair of socks. Her mother is dead as well. She passed away a few years before, so she’s pretty much alone. When I asked where she was going to live, no one could say for sure. Thandiswa pointed to a shack where a local ‘mama’ who takes in children when they are orphaned and said she might go and stay there. I looked back at the girl, shyly dancing to praise and worship dances with the rest of the students wondering what was truly going to become of her.

Abuse

Bianca is a beautiful colored girl whose face is always masked with a hard frown and has been ‘going through it’ with her uncle. She had already been abandoned by her mother a little under a year ago, who left her daughter in the care of an elderly uncle so that she could pursue her passion (meaning men) in George, the next largest city to Plett. She had been promising to return to care for Bianca, who is all of 12 years old for months, only to fail. Her uncle in the meantime staggers home drunk almost every night, bringing all manner of women into his shack and having sex in the bed right next to Bianca! Sometimes he’d lock the door and make her wait outside in the cold and dark, where she could be attacked by anything from a rabid dog to a surly man.

Neglect

Last week, a new little boy showed up at ASP with a burn on his face and eyes that had no life. He couldn’t have been more than 5. Thandiswa had noticed him around the township for a few weeks. He never went to school, and he always had the same tattered clothes on, day after day. Finally, she beckoned him over and asked him what his name was. Eventually, she got him to lead her to his house so that he could meet with his mother. On arrival, she discovered that he had a 2 year old brother who was in the house, and only slightly better cared for. Moved with compassion, Thandiswa told the mother that she’d come and pick the boy up every day at 2 pm so that he could have a meal at the church.

“Yes, it’s good,” said the woman. “I don’t want him here anyway!”

Why wouldn’t she want her own son in the house? Because her BOYFRIEND didn’t want him there. She has allowed her current boyfriend’s disdain for a child that he didn’t father overshadow her motherly instincts and duties and had given her son over to neglect. The shoes he was wearing the day Thandiswa took him to church were so worn down they had no soles. And he was filthy… So filthy that he had to be bathed at the church that day.

Loss

I was having tea last Thursday with Fezi, the pastor’s secretary when Thandiswa called. She was in the hospital.

“Thandiswa had a miscarriage,” Fezi announced.

Wow.

“You know, she didn’t really want this baby anyway,” I mulled. “Just 2 days ago, she told me she didn’t want it.”

“Yes, I know,” confirmed Fezi. “I said to her ‘Maybe you are happy the baby is now dead.’ But she said she thought she would be happy, but a part of her is not.”

We quietly sipped our tea.

Dry bones come to life

But do you know what the crazy thing is? All these strangers lives are now inextricably interwoven. Bianca gathered the courage to go to the social worker’s office to tell them she had to move. Unbeknownst to her, Thandiswa had a conversation with her husband, convincing him that they must take her in that very day. In that same week, Thandiswa and her husband took in the 5 year old boy who had been neglected by his mother as well. And get this: part of the reason Thandiswa did not want to have this baby was because neither she nor her husband was working. This weekend, he’s on his final round of interviews and is one of two candidates being considered for a job, and she has been offered a job to be a translator for a small NGO.

And even though her baby died in the womb, she has brought new life into her home with her 2 foster children and given them a fresh injection of life and spirit too. Bianca smiles a lot more and the little boy is slowly coming out of his shell.

Maybe it’s possible. Maybe by faith, dry bones can actually come to life. And maybe that part of the miracle has little to do with me in that end.

Does A Man’s Feelings Matter When His Child is Facing Extermination?

Abortion. Termination. Right to Choose. No matter how you dress it to suit your sentiments, they’re all synonyms for the same thing: a baby is about to die in the womb.

As the abortion debate rages on across the globe, advocates for and against the procedure have largely left one crucial party out of the conversation: the men who are partners in, and equally responsible for the pregnancy.

The business of child birth and child rearing has long been the primary domain of women, but it does not belong to women alone.  Men always have and always will play a crucial role in the reproduction process – and that’s by providing sperm. Even though his role is limited after the incidence of fertilization, it is that act that sparks the genesis of human life.

Why then wouldn’t his thoughts be consulted or feelings considered in the event of a planned abortion in the midst of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy? There are a myriad of reasons, but they all stem from one factor: a bias against men.

Because a man is anatomically unable to carry and birth a baby, there is an emergent doctrine that he does not have the right to choose whether or not his child has the right to draw its first breath or see the light of day. That ‘right’ presumably belongs only to a woman, simply because Nature has blessed her with the equipment to carry out this task. This is dismissive of men on various levels, the least of those being as a potential father and as a human being whose opinions on the procreation process he actively participated in should matter.

So how do people end up with unplanned/unwanted pregnancies?

a)      Condoms fail

b)      People stop taking pills

c)       You’re (both) drunk

d)      Neither party likes the feel of rubber and engages in unprotected sex

e)      1000 other reasons you could think of

And what do you do when one person wants to keep the baby and the other doesn’t?

Here again is the bias against men. If a woman gets pregnant and chooses to have an abortion, there is not much a guy can do about it, other than holding her hostage until the 9th month is up. If she chooses to go ahead and keep the baby against his wishes, he can be hauled into court and made to do whatever the state wishes to serve ‘the best interest of the child.’ From anyone’s perch, a man looks a lot like a pawn in the reproductive game. There are of course exceptions to every rule, and there are men who engage in unsafe sex, littering whole neighborhoods with their seed and spawning legions of half siblings. The focus of this post is not those guys, but rather decent men who find themselves in this quandary for the reasons stated above and actually WANT a responsible role in their child’s life.

In reading up for this topic, I was surprised to find that many men go through the same gambit of emotions leading up to and following an abortion that some women do. In her book Peace after Abortion, author Ava Torre-Bueno devotes a chapter to the effects of abortion on men. She cites the lack of control men feel – their anger at their own legal disenfranchisement from the decision, their guilt about contraceptive failure, and their empathy with their partner. In some cases, “men are confused when their partners are OK with having had an abortion, but they themselves are depressed, guilty, grieving or shame-filled.”

 

Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist, writes in his article Men Should Be Allowed to Veto Abortions (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/07/22/men-should-be-allowed-to-veto-abortions/)  that  “giving would-be fathers a lack of veto power over abortions is connected psychologically to the epidemic of absentee fathers in this country. We can’t, on the one hand, be credible in bemoaning the number of single mothers raising their children, while, on the other hand, giving men the clear message that bringing new lives to the planet is the exclusive domain, and under the exclusive control, of women.”

I asked my husband his opinion on the topic, and he agreed it was a sticky one. On the one hand, it would be “nice” if a man could veto an abortion, but on the other it’s the woman who has to endure and/or enjoy (imagine that!) the pregnancy. Add to that, everything concerning child birth is geared towards women. He cited the birth of our last daughter as an example.

“Even though I knew all about your symptoms and had been to every doctor’s visit, I still felt…excluded – like I was a spectator watching an event instead of a participant. When the nurses had a question, they asked you. When they had a form to fill, they brought it to you. I just felt like everything was about you…as it should have been, because it was YOUR medical condition in question.”

This saddened me a little bit. The birth of our daughter was not my “medical condition” – it was the birth of “our baby”.

Ablow writes further that “men haven’t been taught that they should consider the lives they help create as their responsibility from conception (other than providing financially for the child if born), but I believe those lives are their responsibility. And I believe that with that responsibility ought come certain rights.”

To explore this notion further, I tweeted to specifically seek out male responses on the subject of a man’s role in abortion, if he has one at all. The silence was overwhelming, save for one user who said that “it’s a girl and her girlfriends who decide what should be done…not us.” This silence confirms that the lesson that when it comes to abortion, men need to clam up has been well taught and well learned.

Ablow also says that he understands “that adopting social policy that gives fathers the right to veto abortions would lead to presently unknown psychological consequences for women forced to carry babies to term. But I don’t know that those consequences are greater than those suffered by men forced to end the lives of their unborn children.”

I couldn’t agree more. I am of the belief and opinion that all life is valuable, whether it’s in utero, a day old or 100 years old gasping for its last breath on the death bed. Life is life, whatever its stage of development. That’s science.

 

I’m a huge Common fan, so I was pleased to find that he has an opinion on this topic and shared his male perspective through a song called Retrospect for life:

Knowin you the best part of life do I have the right to take yours
Cause I created you irresponsibly
Subconsciously  knowin the act I was a part of
The start of somethin, I’m not ready to bring into the world
Had myself believin I was sterile
I look into mother’s stomach, wonder if you are a boy or a girl
Turnin this woman’s womb into a tomb
But she and I agree, a seed we don’t need
You would’ve been much more than a mouth to feed
But someone, I woulda fed this information I read
to someone, my life for you I woulda had to leave
Instead I lead you to death
I’m sorry for takin your first breath, first step, and first cry
But I wasn’t prepared mentally nor financially
Havin a child shouldn’t have to bring out the man in me
Plus I wanted you to be raised within a family
I don’t wanna, go through the drama of havin a baby’s momma
Weekend visits and buyin J’s ain’t gon’ make me a father
For a while bearing a child is somethin I never wanted to do
For me to live forever I can only do that through you
Nerve I got to talk about them niggaz with a gun
Must have really thought I was God to take the life of my son
I could have sacrificed goin out
To think my homies who did it I used to joke about, from now on
I’ma use self-control instead of birth control
Cause $315 ain’t worth your soul
$315 ain’t worth your soul
$315 ain’t worth it

 

It’s a huge debacle. Perhaps the answer for those who men who want to save and keep their babies is to compensate the unwilling pregnant mother fiscally, as they would for a surrogate, even at the risk of reinforcing ‘gold digger’ stereotypes.  Maybe the answer is a little more civility, which is also very much lacking in our society.

Spousal Stimulation does not Always Equal Arousal

Have you ever been in the middle of doing something strange, bizarre and flat out WRONG with your spouse and paused to ask yourself “Is another couple somewhere in the world doing this exact same thing??”  You have? Me too!

Remember when you were standing at the altar, and the pastor sold you both on “his body belongs to you and vice versa?” I took that to heart. HOWEVER, when I consider the things that my husband and I do to and for each other, I often harken back to the days of my single/dating life and am reminded that these are things that I would NEVER do with someone whom I was merely dating. Let’s face it: there are things married folks do that people in casual relationships would never even permit, even as a passing thought.  The bonds of matrimony are (supposed to be) that strong.

For fits and giggles, I’ve compiled a list of these that I may, or may not, be guilty of – I’m not saying.

  1. Kissing your spouse in the mouth first thing in the morning without brushing your teeth.
  2. Taking a dump in the same room while your spouse brushes his/her teeth.
  3. Picking your spouse’s pimples and blackheads. (I admit, I happily did this when any guy I was dating would allow me to. Nothing makes my day like hearing a pimple go *squish!*)
  4. Shaving each other’s pubic hairs
  5. Cleaning up your spouse’s poo if he/she was too sick to get to the toilet immediately.
  6. Cleaning up your spouse’s puke if he/she got carsick after a long trip.
  7. Calling from the checkout line to ask if the “absorbency on these sanitary towels are the right level”.
  8. Asking if the other party has gum, and being responded to with a partially chewed piece from the other person’s mouth.
  9. Lying in bed playing the “make a new sentence with the last word of my sentence” game. (This is actually really fun!)
  10. Farting in the middle of a heated conversation and carrying on like it never happened while the other person stares in disbelief before eventually fleeing the scene of the stink.
  11. Scratching your butt, waving your fingers in your husband’s face and asking him if it smells like chocolate and/or roses.
  12. Fighting over who gets to hide from the children in the attic.

Similarly, there are things that dating couples do that I would never consent to in my marriage. If presented with the proposal to pursue any of these, my personal response generally defaults to “I/it/we don’t belong there.”

Married people, did I miss anything on the list? What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve found and your husband/wife doing recently? Have you had to stop and ask yourself how you ever came to this point in your human experience? Go ahead and tell. Here’s a pre-emptive *ha ha ha!!* so that you know you’re being laughed at already.

Been in the Closet too long: I’m Coming out Geek

I knew something was terribly off when Charter Communications began to pare down services and channel options for its ‘valued customers’ while charging them the same rates 2 years ago. They started with channels I hardly watched – CSPAN and the like – but when they took away G4 my disappointment gave way to full blown fury. G4 would play a mini Star Trek marathon every night from 8 – 11 pm, and I would feel my day’s worries melt away and disappear as I intently watched Captain Picard fight to restore order to the galaxy many light years away. (And to answer your question: Yes, I think Wharf if hot. *Sizzle!!*)

Suddenly, my bliss was ripped from me…like a virgin’s precious pearl is ripped from her unwilling thighs.

But why was so morose, so sullen, so suddenly lost? Could I be *gasp* a nerd? Nah, I couldn’t be. I wasn’t socially gauche enough to be considered a nerd. I had to be something other than your “average” Black chick, though. A denied desire to watch quality programming was not enough to explain my despondency at having it taken away from me. This behavior was clearly a-typical of my sex and breed.

Then 5 nights ago, something snapped within me. I was lying in my bed staring blankly at the sterile white ceiling when I felt a stirring in my soul:

Thunder – Thunder – Thunder Cats…HOOOOO!!!

 I casually went to my handy rebuttal tool, i.e. the internet, to see what Lion-O and the gang were up to and what they Eye of Thundera had to show us mortals these days. To my surprise and pleasure, I discovered that Cartoon Network would be airing a revamped version of the Thunder Cats in modern anime style, focusing on Lion-O’s early life as a teenager on Thundera.

Oh sweet mercy. Could it be??

I could scarcely believe it…. and nearly creamed my pants.

Foolishly, I had mistaken the rousing in my spirit for simple nostalgia, when in fact it was a clarion call from my beloved Cats. Then it dawned on me: here was the answer! This call was evidence enough that I was connected to the Great Geek Spirit. I was not a nerd – I was…I AM a geek.

Declaring and discovering one’s social orientation is not always as cut and dry and one would prefer or assume. It’s not always black and white. Sometimes there are shades of gray. I have nerd tendencies, but I’m not 100% nerd. Sometimes I straddle the fence. When I relayed the enlightenment tale to my husband, he said that he had known it all along, and that I have long been in denial.

“You just need to come out as a nerd,” he encouraged with a haughty laugh.

“Yes, declare my nerduality,” I murmured. “Or geekiality, rather.”

For the next two nights, we basked in a new Geek Glow, discovering fresh elements in The Lord of The Rings that we had previously overlooked, and reading high fantasy to one another. It was an awakening; an enchanting experience. This morning however, he thrust a small pin into my enchanted bubble:

“You must now begin to post content and comment on fantasy blogs to be a real geek,” he cautioned. “If you don’t tweet about it, Facebook about or falter in anyway concerning all things manga and anime, you’re not a true geek – You’re just a poser.”

He spat the last word as if even speaking it placed a foul taste in his mouth.

I have taken his warning to heart, and begin my geek re-orientation by attending Dragon Con this year when I get back to Atlanta. No one will ever accuse me of posing!

I know there are others out there just like me, hiding in the shadows and gallows of the Twitterverse and their own shame. Come out! Join me! Let our collective voices be loud and unsilenceable!  GeekPride Day anyone? No? Too soon? Ok…I can wait.

Live long and prosper, Reader. Live long and prosper.