June 12, 2011

radiant acquiescence: a jr. youth story

this is Sami Naki, in the blue.  i've written about him before but he's worth mentioning again.  he is one of the gems in our life.  i think about him everyday.  his birthday was yesterday; he turned 13.  Sami is a charismatic soul, full of energy to sing, dance, draw, write & serve.  whenever he knew a celebration was coming up, he'd prepare traditional Xhosa dances to perform; if he was touched by something at children's classes, he would write me a letter expressing his feelings; during free time after classes he loved to draw and paint pictures of love; and he was one of the lead singers of the Baha'i school choir -- what a voice God has given him!  what i vividly remember the most is how he will instantly arise to be of service:  cutting food into small portions so all can share..fetching wood for the bon fire..planting seeds or seedlings for the community garden..being the leader of a group project..helping adults with anything they needed..and being a loving brother to all of the children.
traditional dancing after devotions at the Somni's home
when i met Sami he was 9 years old.  he lived in one of the small, concrete homes in the neighborhood of Delft, not unlike the other children.  inside his home there was no refrigerator, no oven, a shared kitchen/living area with a shelving unit that separated the back of the home where 2 beds lay close to each other.  the two burners on a transportable stove were where he'd fry a shredded potato for his meal without any assistance.  this was his basic meal.  most of the time he came to class hungry.  
it's hard to know if someone is hungry unless you are with them all day and realize they have not eaten and have no food at home.  one time sami was crying because he and his little sister were home and were so hungry.  i thought of Abdu'l-Baha.  my heart was aching.  aside from bringing refreshments for 20-50 children and youth each time, our visits were limited in terms of how we could help the neighborhood in material ways.  but this was a moment where i knew it was essential to provide sustenance to my little brother and sister.  we walked to the tuck shop and bought a few eggs, a loaf of bread and a few potatoes.  we returned to his home and it was time for me to leave.  sami couldn't express his feelings in words at that moment; instead he hugged me tightly as if it was our last time together. 

Sami's parents divorced in the first year of us knowing him.  he was 11 years old and without any parental support for most of the days of his life.  his dad had moved out; his mom almost never came home.  his 2 older sisters supported him and his little sister the best they could and with very little means, but with a lot of love and unity.  early in 2010 his dad decided to sell the house that Sami's mom and sisters were living in.  it was heartbreaking.  none of them wanted to leave the neighborhood they had grown up in.  they were forced to leave without preparation.  Sami and his sisters were crying.  i was crying.  they had to go live with their mother's brother in a shack in Nyanga.  sami began walking from Nyanga all the way to Delft (about 2 miles) to go to school.  and since he didn't want to miss Baha'i school on saturdays, he usually slept at someone's house on friday nights.  after some time passed, he started living with one of the family's in Delft until December school break.  he now goes to school in Gugulethu which is closer to where he lives and he no longer walks to Delft for Saturday activities.
sami being silly with joy while eating refreshments
sami's home in Nyanga is smaller than the house in Delft.  it is a typical shack made of scrap wood with a tin roof.  somehow there is electricity hooked up so an electrical stove and kettle can cook food and heat water.  there is no refrigerator or tv.  there is very little space inside the 2 rooms.  it manages to sleep 6 of them (now 7 since his older sister had a baby).  my one visit there over the sandy, rocky narrow pathway was full of prayer because the tires often spun without control in the sandy spots.  this was the only time i drove in an area of cape town that was full of shacks -- very few cars make their way off the main roads to enter in those areas, and no one there had ever seen an 'umlungu' (non Xhosa person) come to visit.  i was greeted by warm smiles full of surprise and apprecation all wrapped up into a friendly greeting.  i didn't see where sami goes to wash or use a toilet, but it was a discussion that i had with my children whenever they began to complain about any inconvenience or material difficulty in their lives -- i reminded them how sami must walk somewhere in the middle of the night if he needs to empty his bladder...  our visit together was full of Xhosa hospitality; it was one of those moments in my life that leaves an eternal imprint on my soul.
sami leading the study group in preparation for the Baha'i contest

sami with his close friend, yolanda -- the first time i went to delft they showed me their traditional xhosa dances
i can no longer visit sami.  i sometimes open my prayer book and read one of the letters he wrote expressing his love and gratitude for the children's classes.  although i have tried to call his sister's cell phones, i have only once been able to reach them (yesterday on his birthday) but he was not home.  sami's life in the township isn't one of staying inside at home most of the time.  it is out wandering around and about, hanging out with friends, playing soccer, dancing and celebrating culture, and attending church activities.. i know sami's life was touched by Baha'i school and the teachings of Baha'u'llah, helping him to 'have the confidence to do the right thing' (in his own words), but i wonder how his soul is managing to handle the pressures of a materialistic, morally decaying society around him.  he is one of the millions of jr. youth in the world who have immeasurable capacity to make this world a better place....

the photos below are taken during our first bon fire.  all of the children and jr. youth gathered sticks, crates to sit on & parafin to light the fire.  it is one of our favorite memories in delft.  we worked together as a group, sang a lot of songs and enjoyed each other's company as long as we could, being warmed by the fire, as the sun sank and the air became too cool to bear.  while the sun was setting, the kids started jumping over the fire with great enthusiasm and excitement. 


  1. Thank you for sharing that story, Pamela. I appreciate the stories you share about this amazing children and youth in Africa. They are so full of courage and grace and power. They are a clear example of the youth of the new civilization of human beings that are emerging -- so much more spiritually advanced than former generations.

    1. i just re-read this post after a very long time. yesterday i happened to pull out one of sami's letters, also after a very long time. i wonder if he is going through something. i am drawn to pray for him this morning. the fast is like that, enabling us to tap into the spiritual interconnectedness of souls in this physical world. oh how i miss sami..