Wednesday, 30 November 2011

This is sunshine

Area of the temporary housings.
The zone which burned to the ground in the big fire of 2005.
The area that was rebuilt with the promise that it was only going to be "temporary", new houses were on the way...
It's been nearly 8 years now.
One of our Play on Wheels-girls is a shy and rather precautious person.
At least so it seemed.
The first time we visited her she would not let us come near her. She drew back.
Nothing new usually ever happens to her.

We have been to her place quite a few times now.
The lattest can only be defined as sunshine.
She started cheering already when she saw us in the doorway.
One of us sat down beside her and she took his hand.
Just like that!
The feel of contact and the light thrill of a visitor.
Variation from laying on the bed all day.

Pure sunshine.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Choke from laughing

This week we went out to Langa to see one of our Play on Wheels-kids to gather further information to our participants' charts.
A very hot and sunny day.
A girl. She is 18 years old and has mental disabilities as well as physical ones.
She does not talk nor walk, but she is alert.
We were 5 visitors coming to see her.

As we opened the door to the shack, the reek of mold, expired food and ingrained trash hit us like a wall.
The air inside had become an even thicker sludge due to the weather outside.
Shacks in the townships are constructions built up by four walls made of either metal plate or boards (with huge cracks between each plank) mounted together with whatever nail-alike material the carpenter can get his hands on.
One problem with these buildings, made in this way, is the temperature inside.
Very hot in summer and very cold in winter.

The home-shack of our girl is made out of metal plate.
Hence, there is no ventilation whatsoever.
Dirt everywhere. Walls. Floor. Ceiling. Furniture. Sheets. Kitchen-tools.

Her grand-mom, who takes care of her, told us about the big burn covering her chest.
A really nasty scar.
Years back she attended a care centre.
Someone accidentally poured a bowl of boiling porridge over her.

Our girl was laying on the bed farthest from the door.
She veiled behind a curtain to hide her blush as she heard us enter.
We approached her.
We sat down on the bed next to her.
We chatted with her.
We gave her a teddy-bear.
Eventually she was brave enough to hold my hand a bit.
Summa summarum; we gave her attention.

She could not stop laughing.
Actually she laughed so much she started choking from it.
The excitement of a bunch of people coming over, just for her, was more overwhelming than she could handle.
Interaction. Stimulation.  Fun. Curiosity. A little gift. Just for me.
She never wanted us to leave.

We'll be back.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

This is the story of the hyperactive sandwich-monster

This story is about a boy.
One of our trolls.
He is 7 years old and lives in Langa with his mother.

Chapter I: The accident
A few years back this kid was in a car.
The car was in an accident. He lost his eye sight in one of his eyes. Ever since, his non-functional eye is half-closed and he squints with the other one.

Chapter II: The abuse
The mother.
Alcohol. Floods of it.
She is a slave under it. Under the influence she tends to neglect and even totally forget about the existence of her son.
The neighbor.
He is an old man, 81 to be precise. He walks by to check things up.
Lingering. Observing.
Report to the police.
Nothing happens. Noone reacts. Noone bothers.
Still around the corner. Watching the little child play.
Still there. Just waiting...

Chapter III: The hunger
During our last excursion we noticed something odd in the cafeteria.
Something terrifying really.
All the kids arrived (soaked from the heavy rain outside) to have breakfast in the morning. They each got a sandwich and a mug of juice. Everyone was talking, cheering, laughing and eating.
Everyone except one.
He did not speak. He did not have time to grin. He did not see the people around him. He did not eat.
He devoured. He could not get the sandwich down fast enough. The way you only throw yourself over food if you have not had any. In a long time.
He grabbed all the leftovers from the kids around him and inhaled them without breathing.
He was starving.

Chapter IV: The hyperactiveness
This kid cannot stand still. He constantly runs around, hitting his playmates, yelling for no reason.
He is a real mess.
Out of control.
One can perceive he is broken. A complete wreck on the inside, doing anything not to let the memories catch up with him. The things he has seen, heard and felt.
Panic. Forget. Suppress. Destroy. Eradicate. Run. Panic.

Chapter V: The calm 
A movie was playing in our "cinema room". Everyone was quiet, enchanted.
He did not watch the movie. Instead, he was turned the other way, glancing at me in silence.
I sat on the floor in the corner, with two trolls in my lap.
After a while he closed in on me. Slowly.
Suddenly he sat next to me and without a word he took my hand.
He put his little head against my arm and held me so hard.
In that instant he calmed down. Almost like a collapse of pure peace.
He did not move an inch, all he did was breathe in the dark.
A moment of serenity.
Just hold me.

His story. A piece of it.

He always smiles when he arrives.
Every single time.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


All gone.
The ancient white and orange wall color in the big hall where we have Project Playground gatherings is just a mere memory now.
Light-blue all over.
A continuation of the sky (which is almost visible through the dirty windows).
A South African construction company of 17 people did the job. Instead of having a classical Christmas closure with a big fancy dinner, they volunteered to buy paint, bring all the necessary equipment and come out to Langa themselves to improve the feel-good for the kids.
Simply amazing.
Some of our musicians had a session with the painters and taught them a bit of drums and how to dance.
Constructors in the spotlight.
Pure fun for everyone. Wonderful, really.

The stage

Quite a few small spectators came to visit during the day to see what all the fuzz was about and to make sure that the workers in white overalls actually did their job!
...And clearly, they were thrilled to see them perform...

During the lunch-break the overallers threw a bbq (braai, as they call it here) in our sunny "square".
Hot dogs & sodas for everyone!
By everyone I mean; the kids at place, their own people and all the Project Playground staff.
Instant coffee with bagged milk in paper cups for the big ones.
Lollipops for the little ones.
...And soccer for the ones with some run in their legs.

Leave a trace.
Handprints of all the utilisers of the hall in black on the (now skyish) pelars.
Almost immortality.

For your time, your effort, your open minds & those huge hearts of yours. 
Thank you.


Tuesday, 15 November 2011


Quiet now. Listen.
It's the ocean. It's wild today. Unstoppable out there.
The breeze is cool and the sun is shining.
23 degrees, no humidity whatsoever and the sky is clear.

I spoke to a black guy just now. A most thoughtful young man.
Amongst other things, the discussion about blacks and whites and race came up.

In the end he raised his eyebrows at me and said "I do not want to be below you".
And without thinking, I replied "and I do not want to be above you".
Simultaneously we asked out loud: "Why can't we just be the same?"
Raising smiles.

The deepblue color of the ocean kind of hurts you with its beauty.
The waves have gone completely crazy now.

Sometimes this world is just so....

Thursday, 10 November 2011

This is the story of the blind singer

We took the car to a centre for disabled children today.
The place was lovely. The staff was energetic and  passionate and the kids were all cheery. Therapy rooms and toys everywhere.
We were shown around and got quite a few chances to meet some charming little creatures!
Such an inspiration!

This centre runs a concert every December, where the kids are the stars. 
We were invited to see the show this year.
In one of the therapy rooms there was a huge wall covered with photos of the children, taken during events from the past.
The staff started grinning, telling stories about this one remarkable girl...  

This is how the story begins.
Her story. The blind singer.
A young girl. Due to her disability, she was literally thrown away by her parents when she was very small.
All alone and left to die, the animals fed on her.
They ate her eyes.
She lost her sight, but was lucky enough to be spotted and saved.

This child could sing like a Goddess. She was the star of the December-concert.
Sing to us.
Apparently the combination of her smile and her voice had the capacity to knock out an entire crowd! She would just glow.
One moment of perfection. Nothing had existed before and nothing will exist ever after. Only now. Right now.

She passed away.
The pneumonia she got due to her living conditions took her.


This is in memory of a chanter who still makes people smile.
Sing to us.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Black eyed troll

One of those perfect skies without a cloud in sight.
Project Playground mansion.
We could see at a distance she was playing solitary.
Something clearly subdued her. She was troubled and withdrawn, as if caught in slow-motion.
Someone had taken a punch to her tiny face. A really nasty one, her left eye was black.
One of us picked her up, held her and just hugged her for a while.
She was still and did not speak.
As we asked "Who did this to you? You can tell us. It's OK" she lowered her little head, looked away and merely whispered:
"I am not ready to tell. But I know I can..."

The world of this little troll had stopped turning.
One ugly weekend in the township.

The rest of the world just kept turning.

Monday, 7 November 2011


We had a staff-day last week. A really good one, I might add!
You know, with team building exercises, various discussions about how to improve the workplace, bonding and in the end a well-deserved coffee break.

During one of the "team exercises" one guy said to all the others:
We should be more grateful. 
I have worked in other places and I can tell you it's so different.
Here they listen. We can suggest what we want to do on our staff-day, we can tell our ideas about how to work and they will listen to us. What we say matters.
....Guys, we should be more grateful.

Because at work your opinion matters.
Because your boss values your ideas.
Because someone actually listens to you.

I mean, gratitude is always a good thing...

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Teach me. About love...

One afternoon in Langa I ended up having a (very!) long conversation with a middle-aged, black man.
We spoke about injustice, living conditions, dreams, hate, hope. About life, really.

There was one piece in particular in what he said that I cannot forget.
He spoke of the "black culture in townships".
I do not remember the exact words, but they went something like this:
People are hard and brutal to each other. To be tough you should be cold, powerful and unreachable.
We compete and we put each other down.
And the young ones.... They do not matter! We do not see them, talk to them nor do we listen to them. They should just be quiet and obey. We don't know them!
The young ones....
And then they grow up to be exactly like us! Frustrated, sad and cold on the inside.
This is just the way it is. This is the way it has always been done.
We do not know anything else. This is the circle.
Then you guys come here.
You show that things can be different.
You show us another way. The other way.
And we want to learn!

If you want to teach us.
Teach us. About love...

As it darkled we drove home through the streets of the township.
I watched the people wandering by out there. I wondered what their stories were. Each and every one of them with a different story.
I could not get the man's words out of my head.
They had gone straight to my heart.
His sincerity, his frustration, his humbleness, his concern & open arms.
I smiled and whispered to myself quietly:
"You have no idea, do you? You got no clue how much YOU just taught ME.
About love..."

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

This is her story

I will tell you a story now.

It's about a girl.
A girl I met when we were out in Langa visiting the contemplated kids of Play on Wheels.

We opened the door to a shack where a young girl lives with her family. She is 7 years old and was severely burned due to a fire in Langa when she was just an infant. The fire burned her head so badly she almost lost all ability to move her legs and to speak. Nowadays she's just laying on her bed all day. But this little child, cheez, does she have the twinkle in the eye & a passion for drawing!
Anyway, her mother was not home when we got there, so we started chatting with her quick older sister. She was very polite, carried a laundry basket and wore a torn whitish shirt.

This story is actually not about the 7-year old child, it's about this go-ahead sister of hers.
This girl knew everything about her little sister. Her birth date, her health condition, her past, her passions, her allergies, EVERYTHING.
We took notes and in the end we closed our notepads and asked "So... What about you?".
She replied that after school she looks after her siblings, cooks, cleans the house, buys groceries and does the laundry while her mom is working.
"I'd love to help children with disabilities as well. Is there some way I could be involved...?".
Money. Get food for the family.
We asked her if instead of working for us, she might like to join Project Playground and just simply play.
Caught by surprise. Eyes wide open. Bling! Huge smile. F-U-N!
She put down the laundry basket, got caught by a moment of lightness and started puzzling about how to make it fit with her duties.

As we left the shack she stood in the doorway. Silence.
After walking a few meters I turned around and I saw her still standing there, glancing at afar with a soft grin.
It seemed she was dreaming a bit. Imagining herself just having a blast.

I will not tell you her name.
But I will tell you she's 14 years old.