Some of the challenges we are facing are the anticipated ones like the difficulty with language. I am struggling to do therapy and translate English to Afrikaans and then Afrikaans to English, especially when the Afrikaans is spoken rapidly through tears, sniffing and blowing noses. I have not spoken Afrikaans for 30 years and the Cape dialect and colloquialisms is also harder for my ears to hear. However, it is coming back quickly and more fluently after a week. Most of the women we are seeing are Cape Coloreds who speak Afrikaans. One older woman had no English at all.
The second thing that is difficult for us is “Africa time,” which is very fluid and flexible
depending on what crisis or demand is arriving in the complex, chaotic lives of trying to survive at levels of which we westerners know nothing. We are finding ourselves being an informal taxi service up and down the hill. People have no transport, unreliable old cell phones, no internet – communication is informal through word of mouth.They have little information or education about things we take for granted, for instance they do not know to identify the trauma of their lives as abuse. They call it having “a good, strict Christian upbringing," so that they learned to “fear the Lord” and live “good” lives. Then they go on to describe beatings, rape, violence,punishment of being locked up, slapped until they lost their hearing and it goes on and on. They are proud that they have learned to be “strong and good and serve the Lord,” as a result. There is no recognition that they have learned to be obedient to abusive authority and that this has nothing to do with “The Lord.” They have learned to serve the “Lord of Hatred.” I've never stuck up for God so much in my life!
Speaking into the religious stage of development of elevating the victim status and minimizing the perpetration, is surprisingly easy. It is not that different to what I experience in Minnesota all the time in a more nuanced and sophisticated way. We talk a lot about it not being God who has brought suffering and this terrible life to them, only people. One woman told us she has not had a happy day since the day she was born. I actually believed her fully after her first session.
Suspicion – people do not know what “therapy” is and although they are curious, they are
inviting their friends to try it rather than themselves. The tear stained faces of their friends that are brave enough to do this, is enough to make them sure they do not want to do this, no matter how their friends tell them they feel “much better.” They tell us they want to forget about the past and be happy, that it is better not to remember because there is nothing you can do about what has happened. Luckily, those that have done therapy are explaining to the others why it helps and how it helps. We have our first group at noontoday and clearly a lot of psycho-education is required to supplement what we are doing in terms of therapy.
Fear is pervasive and invasive and blankets their lives. They are terrified of anyone knowing they have “problems,” terrified people will speak about their problems to others, shame them, shun them, talk about them, break confidences, gossip. Not different again to Minnesota, but deeper and stronger. We are going to be doing group every day next week at noon, so that people can come and get to know us without having to speak, but just get information and food.
They are used to getting handouts of “stuff,” that makes their lives easier, fosters dependency and dis-empowers them. The missionaries arriving with “aid,”at the moment are at the same time secretly disrespected and also on the outside gratefully used for what they give. They get obsequiues compliance, but they do not help empower the people at all. The idea of self- empowerment is tantalizing, but so much harder for them because it requires a shift to self responsibility from dependency. We have to resist the temptation to “provide,” stuff as an incentive to “do therapy,” This creates a co-dependency that does not help them understand the focus and locus of attention needs to be internal, not external. At the same time there is such genuine need and we are so grateful that when we leave we can give each person that has attended therapy a really nice graduation gift from what so many of you gave.
We are in the backroom of a foster care home and we have 14 little orphans running around outside all day long. They are adorable - Charisse will send pictures of them. It breaks your heart to see the lack of any kind of stimulation in terms of crayons, paper, or any kind of toy. We watched some little boys hammer sticks into the ground with rocks to make a goal post and then take turns hitting a plastic ball with old bits of plank as bats.
The place is surrounded by garbage and filth, cow pies, stench of rotting old cow heads, etc. but today, one of our clients told us she can understand now that the outside is because of the inside - because she felt like she had "unpacked her suitcase," she felt so much lighter that she cleaned her house and did not yell at her son and had a wonderful trip to town with him to buy new school clothes without feeling worried and angry about spending money. Another man told us, he is sleeping for the first time in years. They are very vocal about the changes they are experiencing - so every single thing is worth it. We are feeling so full and so honored, grateful and awe struck, every night when we wearily take ourselves home to our luxury town house!