It's NOT All About You....

We are learning so much every day. We are trying to read the cues in a completely different culture, with different languages, stages of development, social problems, and all the nuances of communication that are just a little different. 

I have noticed in myself the tendency, when I do not know how to read someone’s silence, or frowning, or distance, to assume that I did something, or said something inappropriate and worry about what it might be. I am sure you can all relate to this very human tendency.

Over and over again, I have had to remind myself that there are differences, but that we are essentially all the same. When I remember that, and go back to the principles by which I live my life, then, instead of the knee jerk instinctual reactions of either withdrawing or getting irritable, I pay attention to myself. What is being triggered? Why? To what does this go back? What might be going on with the other person that I do not know about? Why not ask and show an interest in them and find out by communicating! Radical idea!! The process is so simple and so hard to remember when we are emotionally hi-jacked!

Yesterday morning, I had noticed a young woman barely greeting me, absorbed in her cell phone. This was not the normal smiling welcome that we had received over the last week. Panic! “Did I say something to offend her?” “Did I do something inadvertently?” “Have they decided the work we are doing is worthless for some reason?” And so the worry started building….

Once I could get over myself by doing my inner work, I approached her and asked her how she was feeling because I could see she looked “tired.” This is a safe feeling word here. Instantly she started opening up about what had happened for her over the weekend. The tears flowed, the story rushed out resulting in an hour of processing her pain and struggle.

On the other side of the coin, I have had the experience here in Knysna of being with people who I would have expected to show an interest, not show the slightest interest in who I am or why I am here, or what I am doing. Again, I want to take this personally, until I remember that I myself nearly missed the opportunity to show interest in someone else's life because of my inner assumptions that there might be something wrong with me. I can be gracious about other people’s self absorption - they are surely as caught up in their own self doubt, inner pain and insecurities as I was the other morning until I remembered to do my practice. 

Grace happens with self awareness, through introspection and bringing compassion to our own fears. Only then can we extend ourselves to others. If we do not know what is going on, we can ask, instead of assuming through the distorted lens of our own past.

Change from the inside out

So often the stories of the women in Khayalethu have been completely unheard. We have been told over and over in our sessions, that not one word has ever been spoken of the trauma they have suffered. They have held the secrets within themselves for their entire life, suffering completely alone with the truth of what they have experienced. The freedom and relief they are experiencing in being able to tell the story embraced in love has been transformative. Sometimes a woman will look years younger just through the process of one session. Lyndall and I have seen nothing like it. Below is a dramatic example of this. 

The first is a picture of Ouma (grandma in Afrikaans) prior to our first session. The second picture is from the following day when she came to attend one of our groups. Ouma speaks very little English. Lyndall had not spoken Afrikaans fluently in over 30 years. She had to quickly dust off her rusty memory of the language and translate my words to Ouma, Ouma’s words to me, AND be the therapist.....she was amazing. During that session, Ouma told her story of suffering that she had held inside of her for over 50 years. She had never once spoken those words. 

The next day, Ouma arrived for a group chat. She told about her night. She had awoken with tears of joy streaming down her face and was telling herself that God had sent two women from very far away to heal the the pain of the women here. She then said that a childhood hymn that she had not thought about in many years came to her lips and she started singing. She sang it for our group. I keep saying this......but I felt I had never been so touched as she sang this beautiful Afrikaans hymn in her sweet, very shy voice that was demanding to be heard ......I did not understand one word of the hymn she was singing, but understood the its beautiful meaning entirely.

Not one thing is easy!!

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!