Winter Will Show You How Poor You Are

6:37 am. 10 degrees Celsius. Rissik street.

It is a grey skied May day in Johannesburg. I am on my way to work. I have 5 blocks to walk to get to the train station. I have on a polka dot jersey that my aunt Sheila surprised me with yesterday, a black and white striped scarf and a black coat. I’ve paired it with chinos and knee length dark brown boots that don’t show my thick red socks keeping me warm deep inside. My hair is in a curly bun still dripping a bit from this morning’s warm bath.

I’m walking fast to make sure I’m on the train in time to get to work by 7am. I sift through other humans rushing to get to work too. I run across robots that haven’t opened for me yet, trying not to get hit by any taxis. You can’t wait on robots when you’ve got a train to catch or trying not to get mugged in Joburg.

‘I am freezing,’ I realise. My fingers are pale and ice cold. I want to put them in my pockets but with the size of my chino pockets and my bag, it doesn’t seem to be working out for me. Winter is here. Argh. The thought reminds me of a funny thing I had heard some 2 weeks back. I was waiting in a queue to get a taxi on Rivonia road and the taxis there took forever to come.  The 3 ladies behind me in the queue start to complain which leads to helplessness and eventually to laughter. The one lady says: “Winter will show you just how poor you are. You don’t have a car, you don’t have warm trench coats or boots and you don’t have a man at home!” We laughed so hard then that the thought had me laughing again as I was running across the streets. How insane I must look to an onlooker.

I reach the corner where my old friend resides – Mcdonalds. My tongue gets bitter at the thought of a double espresso. ‘I’m a new woman,’ I say to myself and I swiftly walk away from my once-upon-a-crazy-year captor. Just after the McD, I reach what I always referred to in my head as the “homeless corner” – A block where homeless people sleep through the night. I think it is one of the few streets where they are allowed to sleep and won’t get arrested or chased away by police officers.

People are sleeping on the pavement, clothed only in plastic and some in those sacks that are used for packaging rice, mielie meal or charcoal. Some sacks are small, you can tell there might be younger people under them. The plastics bags are strategically placed over the head so that your own breathing is able to keep your face as warm as it can throughout the night. It is the only way I understand, in my head, the reasoning behind why it would be so tightly wrapped around the head up till the neck.

2 blocks further, I’ve made it to the train. I’m sneezing and still shivering. I can feel my body already being defeated by winter this year. All this I deduced in the 10 minutes I spent walking to the train. ‘How more the people sleeping out there?’ I think to myself, remembering the sight I just came from ‘All with only tattered shoes, plastics and sacks to cover. How must it be to go through a night out in the cold?’ I can’t bear to imagine it, my body picks up the stress and my leg begins to do that nervous twitch.

Even if you wanted to help – I mean – Of course you want to help but you have no means to. You’re just one person. You can’t help anything right now. You can’t save everyone. Just let it go.

But I can’t let it go. My heart won’t let me. I feel horrible. It’s time to get off the train and get to work. It’s going to be a long day. So, as I got out and started walking to my workplace, I have a glimpse of hope. It’s wonderful what a cold fresh breeze will blow into you mood sometimes. I think, ‘Okay, I have at least 10 close friends I know for sure could buy one blanket that could keep 10 people warmer, right? I have at least 10 relatives that I know wouldn’t struggle to donate a blanket. Surely that’s something? Right? How much are the kind of blankets I have in mind anyway?’ I Google: Pep stores grey blankets. They are a good size and are affordable, R55. We can do R55, guys. I feel better instantly.

4pm – home time. Further up the road in Rissik street, as you enter Braamfontein, I notice a building I think I am familiar with. Well, I was only ever there during the night but I am sure it is the one – The Methodist Church. During varsity, I remember us coming to this church every once or twice a month with the Remember and Give Committee of my university and we would prepare and hand out soup to the homeless. The bus would start at the church where the ladies would have the soup cooked and the bread ready and once done, we would go out to all different dilapidated buildings throughout Joburg to go hand out some soup.

We’d then hang out for the 30/45 minutes after serving the soup to have one-on-one’s with the people we would meet in these places, just simple chats. If you went often, you’d find familiar faces and you’d begin to know the guys on a deeper level. They’d even call you by your name after a while. It was always smiles and had a no-pressure feel about it. The people did not feel the pressure to tell us deep things about their lives and we didn’t probe into getting more from them. The deep, horrific and heart-breaking stories just brought themselves out in between the laughs and light chats. If I could think of people who needed blankets during this time, it would definitely be those men we met on those soup kitchen days for sure.

I think of 2 other charities I know for sure need blankets – one is near Pretoria and it is a children’s home in the toughest informal settlements I’ve gotten to see through my life. Those little angels definitely need blankets this winter.

Okay, fine, you’ve identified the people you could give the blankets to, but how do you convince people to donate blankets, Anna Taska?

This part, I don’t know. All I know is that, every time I walk past Rissik street, I get extremely stressed and it almost ruins my day right at its start. This feeling can’t just be because I like being a little sad. I cannot be the only person who feels this way. Other people must feel some kind of helplessness too when it comes to the people they can’t save. They has to be someone who thinks that giving someone a blanket will make one less child sick, one night less painful than usual. Just one less problem than the ones they have to deal with. Surely, if we have one less problem to worry about then that must mean a change has taken place, right? If I feel like this, then other people wouldn’t even need me to convince them to donate a tin of fish, beans, old blanket, socks or even R50 for one person to have one less problem, right? Because there must be some feeling each of us go through when we come across these things – no matter how different in description – that will lead us to the same conclusion.

I’m just a poor girl trying to get my money right in this life. But I rate, buying one blanket for one person and eliminating one problem out of the billions of problems we face on a daily is going to get something right for me. Whichever one of our needs it will get right is up to whoever reads this to deduce.

Enjoy your day. Keep warm. Feel. Give if you can.

Maybe People Like You, After All

The journey to my dreams has been one of wonder and magic so far. Most of it has been filled with a lot of hard work and messy bits with relationships with people before you get to see the magic. Sometimes it’s so easy to forget all the little details that are left along the way to show you how much you’ve grown or how closer you are to your dreams.

I had a new client last month and had to deal with new environment. I was dreading the new job because it was going to be another case of meeting people who don’t want to be around me and are going to make my life a living hell. Oh boy, here comes the awkwardness again, I thought. I was getting stress pimples just at the thought of it.

I walked into my new client’s space and to my shock I found smiles, I found people wanted to speak to me. I found that I could relate to them and they could relate to me. I found that the more they discovered I could speak more than one language, it made their day which went on to make mine. I found that the entire cafeteria of ladies could relate to me, ladies who remind me of people in the neighbourhood I am from. There was something me and these ladies and men could talk about and be able to share knowledge on. It made my stay there so wonderful, and how much more wonderful is it when the people who like you are the people who make your food. From the interactions, I get to find new dreams to work on, I learn of a new group of people I can help and a new bunch of considerations I can add to my running projects and dreams with Jam Jar.

For the longest time, I’d lived believing I was not likeable or approachable. I always thought people only dealt with me when they felt they needed to. In a room full of people, I would not be the first person you would talk to – Reason being, I’m a wallflower, straight out introvert.

In relationships, I always believed that I was the terrible person because I couldn’t handle my introversion well. So when relationships with, family, friends and men would bum out, I would blame myself and swiftly walk away, believing I was the one ruining things.

It turns out, that is not how things are. It turns out, people want to be around me. Lately, people walk up to me and want to have conversations with me. People want to know my name, they want to hear my story. They want to laugh with me.

I met Telise at a train station, she was buying a ticket and I asked her help with regards to directions with where I was going. It was my first time buying a ticket there and I didn’t really know how it worked. She helped me out and we ended up in the same shuttle because she happened to work in the building right next to me. Her work involves environmental resources managing. She’s super stunning and super humble, the sweetest girl you’ll ever meet. We agree to have lunch some time. I struggle with follow through with people because ‘Introvert’ But I convince myself there’s something about this girl that makes me want to be her friend. So I invite her for lunch and it turns out she’s everything. Everything in the sense that she’s genuinely kind, and smart and a giver. She’s a big sister, and she has these dreams – I mean she’s pushed her life so far ahead for  someone as young as her and you can’t help but just sit there in the magic of it all and float in her light.

And I wonder about that day. If I had ignored her and went past to go buy my ticket by myself I wouldn’t have met this magic who wants to work with  me and checks up on me and whom I want to check up on. I would’ve figured out how to get the ticket myself, no doubt, but I would have missed out on such an important energy in my life.

 

 

I can walk into a room and brighten it. These are dreams I never thought I could make come true. My life is so much better now that I feel I finally have the cooperation of other people and that the energy can be good. I know the dream was that I could get better at my people skills, what I didn’t know was that it should have been to get better at knowing myself. That in knowing myself and understanding my introversion, not as a weakness, but as my most prized trait, I could actually have all the people I need in my life and I would never go a day believing people didn’t want to deal with me.

You’re a good person, just because you don’t know how to handle everything right now doesn’t mean you always won’t. Just because other people don’t like you, doesn’t make you any less talented and remarkable. Because let’s face it, not everyone can like you.

Maybe you’re not a bad person after all. Maybe people want to be your friend. Maybe it’s better to be open than to close up completely. Maybe you meet the best people your life has needed when you walk up to strangers and say, ‘Hello.’

People Don’t Have To Help You

I had recently bought a house, a development, some few months back. The house was finally ready last Saturday. The handover specialist (I don’t know if that’s what he’s called but we’ll go with it) called me a few days before to let me know what I would need and when I would need to get everything ready. Immediately after finding that out, I got home and told my younger brothers. My brothers are twenty and sixteen years old, pretty young, typical ‘likers of things’ in life. I told them they need to organise things for the house for me.

Firstly, the house is currently unoccupied and the area of the development is such that you would have to basically put in your own wall fence and gates and so on.

I told them they need to find a builder for the wall, go get quotations for building materials, put in burglar bars in at the doors and windows, organise curtains, find garage doors and lastly find out who is willing to stay in the house in the meantime before we are ready for what we want to do with it.

I couldn’t do anything during the week because my day job is just too hectic lately (or everyday) and my all-round PA/ secretary/ accountant AKA my mom wasn’t in the country to help me get anything done. I convinced myself that the boys would fail at the task at hand. Saturday came and the 20 year old slept at varsity, typical Friday varsity stunts. I was so upset at him for not taking my instructions to head when he knew everything needed to be done on that day.

I left for driving lessons early that morning. And as me and the driving instructor were leaving, I saw him take his little white car out as we drove off. I let out a sigh and gave up. Nothing would be done that Saturday, I thought.

2 hours later, I got back from my lessons to find just genuine running around with the two boys. They’d found a builder, gotten quotations for all things required and someone was already putting in burglar bars at the house. There was a van out and it was about to carry out their entire bedroom and a couch so that the two of them and their one best friend could go live in the house in the meantime (after consulting with my PA apparently.) They worked all the way to 10pm to get everything done.

I was so overwhelmed and soaking in all these fuzzy feelings for them. They pulled through for me and made everything happen.

I took a moment to think of how they sacrificed their weekend and worked on the house as though they had an obligation to, when they really didn’t have to. That is something that I’d been failing to see for the longest time. I always used to think that people had to do things for me because of whatever I was to them. That’s what one should remember about many of the wonderful things people do for us, they really don’t have to. They have no obligation whatsoever to help us. Just because my brothers are my brothers does not mean they has to sacrifice their weekends or time for my purpose. They have their own stresses as well, their own problems that bother them. They have school, their social lives, money and other related problems they have to deal with on a daily basis.

 

I take for granted that my siblings are young and have so many of their own issues to deal with. I don’t know whether it’s because I had convinced them that my problems are more important or that they had just been kind-hearted enough to focus on my stuff first. I had no right to be pissed at him the Friday he slept at university because that is his time with his friends. He really didn’t have to focus on my complaints and my house problems.

Once you’ve been living a life of selfishness or pure ignorance for the longest time or most of the time, just so blinded by your own problems, you forget to see how much it takes for other people to give up their time. Look at how much we complain when people use up our time, the same applies to others as well.

I think of the 16 year old. He should be worrying about the shoes he’s wearing and whine about where he wants to go and what he wants to do with his friends. On most days, he is strong and doesn’t really need any support but recently, he said to me, ‘I’m seeing fires in physics and I know you say you’re going through the most, but I’m also going through the most as well and I don’t know what to do.’ I had to break out and see that my always focusing on my problems doesn’t make any of his go away. I only had mine to deal with while he had both of ours. I had to remember to give him support a bit more often, because the truth of the matter is that, his problems are not any less important than my own. Problems are problems. Just because mine are that of buying a house doesn’t put them above those of him struggling with physics.

 

How to stop being ungrateful? Remember that no one has an obligation to do anything good for you. I promise you, it’s not because they don’t have their own challenges and tasks to deal with. It’s easy to forget that, being consumed by one’s own problems. Don’t disregard the bit we get from the people who give us even five minutes of their time to worry about our problems, share our stresses and give us advice or find some way to help solve our problems.

Be grateful. No one is obligated to be nice, kind and helpful towards you. Everyone has so much to deal with that that on its own would take up all their entire time. So when you find anyone who has time to check up on you and asks ‘how’s it going?’ or is willing to share some of theirs with you. Don’t take it for granted.

Street Talk

While waiting on a mini-bus to get full in a taxi rank, a raggy young boy walks up to the taxi, comes by the door, removes his black hat that looked brown from dirt and starts to beg the people in the taxi for some money. “sanibonani bantu-abadala, bengi cela i-two rand ye sinkwa.” “Hello adults, I am asking for a 2 rand to buy bread.”

The first row of people look the other way, so does the second. He continues to repeat the same line. He looks at an old lady, begins to repeat his line when someone from the back row screams, “Hey boy, why don’t you go home?” The boy, who looks twelve, ignores the man and carries on to ask from the other people in the mini-bus. The man screams again, “Why don’t you go home? Go home man!” The boy who is about to go into pleading mode with the lady who’s sitting next to me because she looks like she’s about to grab her purse gets distracted when the man says, “If you tell me why you left home, I will give you the money you want.” There we go. He finally got his attention. The boy quickly looks at the man and then the sky for some idea for 2 seconds then goes on to say, “You know, old timer, you know how these things go. I was disrespectful to my parents so they kicked me out.” He looks back at the man, mildly rubbing his hat in between his hands, waiting for his reward.

The man looks excited, glad to finally have finally gotten what he wanted from the boy, an opportunity to preach his wisdom. “Go home,“ he shouts, “they are looking for you at home. You can clean yourself up instead of wasting our time asking for ‘2 rands’ here. Just go back home.”

The older ladies who were looking away all of a sudden had energy to add their vocals to this song. “Yes! That’s right!” “What is he doing here?” “Let him go back to his family!” “Look at him.”  “We don’t have money for you, go trouble your family!” They shout. The man takes some coins from his pocket and tosses them to the boy, who quickly grabs them, swiftly walks away, faster in his movements, almost smiling.

I sat there in this scene, so perplexed and upset. Here was a man offering this oh-so-simple advice. That all the boy needed to do was to “just go home.” It was as simple as that. ‘Just’ – That is all that he needed to do in order to stop being in taxi ranks begging for money.

Well, man in the taxi with the simple advice, If I wasn’t so upset that day I would’ve told you in person, but it’s not as simple as that.

Young children don’t ‘just’ leave homes for the dingy streets risking being hurt, killed, arrested and attacked.

Young children don’t leave homes. They leave houses. They leave houses where they don’t have family, have lost a loved one or have no one. They leave because they are kicked out. They leave because they are being raped by someone close to them and no one believes them or has time to listen to them. They leave because they are on drugs and do not want to be helped or no one will help them. They leave because there is no food at home and they have to provide for their families and themselves. They leave houses where they are breadwinners and have to go to the big city to look for work only to find the city has no work for them and they have no means to go back home or are too ashamed to go back empty handed. They can’t go home because their entire family is with them on the streets.

They can’t go home because they have no home.

I’m very sure this boy would’ve appreciated your advice if he didn’t hear from 10 other people on the daily. He would’ve appreciated you giving him advice on a shelter he could go to or somewhere where he could go enquire about a job. He would’ve preferred to just get the coins from you without your song, on repeat that he’s so sick of. If he wasn’t so desperate, he would’ve preferred for you to just be quiet and look the other way.

 

Let’s build homes. Let’s understand the stories behind the street child before we can offer our advice. Let’s be kind first.

It Is Written

One Tuesday in February, I was waiting in a bus station, when a young man walked up to me. He said “Hi.” I was irritated almost immediately, because I was tired from my mountains of bags I was carrying and my time at the bus station is when I like to think about my life. It’s a serial thinker thing.

He says, “Can I take a selfie with you?” I say, “No.” Fully irritated now. The man, who looks younger than me, gets a bit nervous but goes on to ask me why I didn’t want to take a photo with him. I tell him I don’t like the idea of my photograph going God knows where.

He starts to almost withdraw then goes on to tell me that he is a shy person who generally does not walk up to strangers to say hi let alone ask them to take a selfie with him. I felt horrible. Being an introvert myself, I understand him instantly.

We begin to talk and laugh openly. Our conversation leads to books. He tells me he started reading recently and would like me to recommend some books. I think to myself, I don’t think I’m the best person to ask because I haven’t read anything lately due to my busy days. I sometimes forget to breathe. Just before I can answer, the bus arrives and I tell him we should get going. “That isn’t our bus.” He says. I insist that it was the bus I used the day before and it took me home. He says, “Okay.” And reluctantly follows me.

It was the wrong bus.

We sit at the back of the bus and jump back into the conversation of books. “I haven’t read anything in a while but if I had to recommend a book, it would be ‘The Alchemist’ by Paolo Coelho.” He tells me he is not familiar with the book, so I give him a summary. For those of you who haven’t read The Alchemist, it’s basically a book about following one’s dreams. It follows a young boy on a journey to finding his treasure or ‘destiny.’ The biggest lesson for him is listening to his gut, an inner voice or a “mysterious force,” as the book calls it. He is taught that, “In order to find your treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left you.”

I quote something from the book for him, “To realise one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one.” After saying this, the young man who was sitting next to us looks to us and says, “Sorry for interrupting, I hear you talking about The Alchemist and I’m reading that right now on my phone.”

Mind you, we are on a bus that takes us the long way home. Our trip would take 30 minutes longer but we’d completely forgotten about that debacle.

Our conversation’s newest member is a web designer, self-taught. The shy young man is a photographer, self-taught. We talk about our dreams, aspirations, our personal challenges, our community’s challenges, what we find interesting, what is bothering us and we share advice with one another. We all have projects in mind but we don’t know how to kick start them. What we found, during this entire conversation was one simple thing, one truth, that was common to us all. We wanted to create something that could help others to create something themselves. We all wanted to help the youth in our community in order to allow them to dream bigger, work a bit more and not give up.

I tell them, “it’s funny I should bump into a web designer and a photographer, because I’ve been wanting to set up a website for the longest time now.” They ask me what my website will be about.

At this point, I’m a bit stuck because I’d been thinking about a website for a while now but I never could come up with one concept to go with amongst the hundreds of ideas I have. I felt that I couldn’t really pinpoint what it is that I wanted to work on, but inside, I knew that this was where to start. People would say to me, “Go decide on that one topic and then come pitch the idea.” So I stopped talk about it because I was scared to sound like I didn’t know what I wanted.

Then I heard myself say, “It’s going to be a website where I write about dreams I want to make come true. I want other people’s cooperation in order to make them come true. I want us to make other people’s dreams come true and we should have projects to do in order to make this happen. This is how I serve the people.”

It felt so raw and so truthful. I could finally put my hundreds of ideas into one paragraph and be satisfied everything I wanted to do was covered.

The young men agreed to help me and join me on my projects. The web designer offered to make a site for me. I didn’t end up using his expertise. I went home and decided to educate myself on the basics and 2 weeks later, here it is, Jam Jar.

It’s so funny that The Alchemist brought us together and made us confirm that God leaves omens for you throughout the process, and if you’re patient enough, you’ll see what they mean. That once you opened yourself up a bit more and didn’t ignore that random stranger who disturbed your fatigued presence at the bus stop, you didn’t miss the signs and weren’t left alone experiencing the longest bus ride home

 

Welcome. We hope your dreams come true.