April 22, 2010


this is Samkele.  everyone calls him Sami.  he is 11 years old.  he is one of the first children i met in Delft.  

on my very first visit, he came to the home of Pamela Tobi -- the woman who first invited the Baha'is to come and begin children's classes.  he was very happy to show me some of his Xhosa dancing with his friend Yolanda.  two years later he has shown us he's the best boy dancer in the neighborhood.  watching him dance traditional Xhosa style is quite impressive and amazing.  i am always intrigued at how dance and song are passed down in more traditional or tribal communities.  the kids are born into and surrounded by song & dance which have layers and layers of meaning.  they tell stories, express praise to the Creator, demonstrate struggle and the beauty of life.  Sami goes into a different space when he is dancing.  he's very serious and focused, as well as radiant and energized.  this is one of the many aspects of Xhosa life that is full of richness and quality, holding the people together with joy and unity in a way i haven't experienced in European-based cultures.

Sami's life is very challenging.  his parents have been separated from before we met.  he was living in the neighborhood these past 2 years with his older sisters; his mom only visited once in a while.  i arrived one day and watched him peel a potato and fry it for his dinner.  he was 10 years old and so alone, so independent, so quiet and outwardly content with his life condition.  his home consisted of an old, small couch and arm chair in the living room/kitchen area; the kitchen had a 2 burner stove top but no oven or refrigerator.  the bathroom was really a toilet room; the window to the toilet room was broken and this small space was used to store the ironing board and few tools that the family owned.  a tv/bookshelf unit became a wall that separated the living room area from the bedroom, which consisted of a bed and some boxes..

no refrigerator; no oven.. no storing milk, veggies, or frozen foods... no baked potatoes, casseroles or cookies... Xhosa people do make a steam bread on the burner which is delicious, but their lives are accustomed to a hardship that is typical of most places in the world that live traditionally or in poverty.  now that i have close friendships with people who don't own an oven or refrigerator, i have grown to appreciate their way of life more than i appreciate having the modern convenience itself.  i really appreciate seeing how strong people are in how they survive and make do with the simplicities of life, like water, fire, blankets, basins for washing, cornmeal, etc.

a couple of months ago Sami's dad came and took everything out of the house, forcing he and his sisters to move in with their mom.  she lives in an area of shacks about 15 minutes away by car -- a world away in their eyes.  i went to visit them right after they moved.  they met me on a main road and then took me on the dirt and rocky roads (which were more like wide footpaths).  as i was driving, the rocks kept scraping underneath the car; i was full of fear -- not that anything would happen to me, but that something would damage my car and i'd be stuck where no tow truck could ever come and take it away.  it was a new experience for me to drive through an 'informal settlement' -- we were stared at like never before because white people just don't go off the beaten track, let alone into a township in general.  the moment i smile and spread love to all those who are curiously looking at us, it's as if the light just eliminated all the darkness of suspicion and mistrust, a light in which only souls are communicating.  this is how i like to live my life: soul to soul.  i do realize i am white, and am often called 'umlungu' in the townships, but i realize even more that i am a soul, and that most people are wanting to connect at that level of our shared humanity.  i don't live in fear but in awe of the human race, especially in terms of its perseverance against oppression and injustice.

Sami's outward living conditions are just one level of complexity that defines his life.  another is his family life which i don't know too much about.  the greatest contribution to the complexity of his life is his personality and unique expression of his soul.  he is a boy who loves dancing more than soccer, singing more than drumming, writing more than drawing.  he brings a radiance and energy to our gatherings in such a way that when he's not there we all miss him, we notice he isn't there.  whenever we come, though, we never can predict if Sami will be joyful or withdrawn.  If withdrawn, i will take him aside and give him a space that he seems to need -- a couple of those times he has given me a letter the following visit, expressing his gratitude for me being in his life yet it seemed like nothing significant occurred in that moment of space.  He reminds me of how precious children's lives are -- how utterly important it is for us to pay them attention, to listen, to offer guidance, or to purely and simply smile and show them love.

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