I hate foreigners

I hate foreigners

He arrived in the mountains; his first words were “I hate foreigners.” A young man, quiet, withdrawn, an absence of happiness wrapped as a cloak around shoulders carrying a large burden. His name was Lulama*.

Lulama was a participant on an Educo Africa Rites of Passage programme. A programme developed to mark a period of significant change in the life of the young person. This is his story – testimony to his courage and the wisdom inherent in the ancient rock and wild winds of deep mountain.

Ten days before,Lulama’stwin brother had been knifed to death by some foreigners in a shabeen in his home township.

“The last time I saw him alive, he waved to me as I passed by the shabeen – ‘hey bro’ he said, ‘ buy me a beer’. ‘Later’I said,‘when I come back.’ ”

A few hours later Lulama was called from his friend’s home by a young boy to come quickly as his brother had been attacked.

“My brother was lying in his own blood – holes in his body – dead.”

A group of foreigners had accused Lulama’s twin brother of stealing their possessions in the previous week. An accusation that held no truth as both he and Lulama were in the Eastern Cape at that time.

Lulama had gathered his friends, armed themselves with axes, spades,- any weapon to bring revenge on the foreigners who had killed his brother. The mother of Lulama had heard of their plans, the police were called, further violence prevented.

The next day Lulama’s friend had convinced him to join the Educo Africa Rites of Passage.

“He wanted me to go with. He said he I had to go to be safe, maybe this Educo thing would be good for me. I knew he wanted me away from the temptation to kill.”

On the fourth night of the programme, Lulama along with eleven other participants walked away from their tents and into the mountains to spend a night on their own, in reflection; alone with the Earth and their God. Time alone thinking onmemories of days past and dreaming of days to come.

The group returned the next morning, walked back into the camp with the rising sun. After breakfast the group gathered in a circle and were invited to share their stories from the night’s solo.

When it came to Lulama’s turn, he sat silently for a while, as if to gather his strength. It was in this circle that Lulama brought the story of his brother’s death, of the planned revenge attack, of pain and hatred.

“I spent the night praying to learn to forgive the people who did this to my brother, this time in the mountains, as we have hiked. I have thought more of forgiveness and less of revenge. I cried a lot in the night, if only I knew that my brother was alright. I watched the stars and the moon as it moved across the sky. Eventually I fell asleep. In my sleep I dreamt of my brother, he was standing in this place. He greeted me saying that it was all okay, that he would wait for me until I got there. We even joked; he said that I still owe him a beer. When I woke I knew that the anger had been taken from my heart, I knew that I could return home and forgive the murderers. I knew that my brother was well.”

When the last story was told, the group sat quietly for a while. When the stillness was complete young people stood up and moved back towards their tents, to pack backpacks and close the camp prior to the long hike back to the Educo Africa base-camp.

Lulama sat for a short while, a lone figure amongst a memory of stories. Eventually he leant forward and gathered the four stones that symbolised the four shields of human nature as used in rites of passage work. He held the stones and turned to Sphesh, the Educo Africa facilitator: “Sphesh I want to take these stones back to my community, I want to sit with my friends in a circle around these stones and tell them my brother is well, that there is no need for revenge, I want to ask them to forgive as I have learnt to do.”

When we go into the mountains as a facilitator for Educo Africa, we walk with humility. It is not us that bring the teaching or the healing. It is rather the deep stillness of the Earth that provides a gateway to a knowing that resides in us all – sacred, whole and complete. It is the knowing of relatedness to all. It is the re-awakening of this knowledge that catalyses profound change in the young people who journey with us.

Educo Africa met with Lulama to ensure his permission was granted in publishing this story. Lulama requested that the following be added as he wanted to acknowledge the role of his friend in supporting him during this time. “When days are dark friends are few, fortunately I had homeboys that we supportive. Firstly we had a prayer in our youth club. My one friend Bulelani did everything for me whilst I was in the Eastern Cape (during the funeral). He organised my clothes, my equipment and what was needed for the camp. He even carried my bag to the pick up spot, and I am very grateful for that. I know no words can express my gratitude, big thank-you BujaMfethu.

Lulama is now wanting to work in the field of child and youth care or youth development. Educo Africa is currently trying to secure him a position within our partner network.

.* Lulama has given permission to use his real name and for this incredible story to be published.

sisonke

I will become the father

It is a Tsiba course. There is a man hiking alongside of me. Late evening, we are not yet an hour from Base-camp. He is wearing a superb hat. Old leather, crazy angles, absolute style.

We have thirty one Tsiba Foundation Year students with us for a week. Tamzu is one of these. A tall lean man, he walks with ease along a mountain trail.

“I like your hat,” my words to Tamzu.

“It was a gift from my father.” His response.

As we walked along that trail, I remember thinking to myself that Tamzu was indeed lucky to know his father and indeed have a relationship with him. These thoughts fuelled by the continued absence of father in the lives of so many young people who come on our programmes.

The week unfolds, Tamzu is a quiet man. He speaks oftentimes with laugher in his voice, quietly and gently. He is also not afraid to speak truth. Bringing words into group dynamics of conflict. Speaking words of support when fellow participants are struggling.

Tumzu shared with the group the impact of his time in the mountain towards the end of the course.

Tumzu spoke of a life in the Eastern Cape.

An experience of poverty that I could best grasp when he described going to school for an entire year wearing his blazer so as to prevent people knowing that he had no back to his school shirt.

Of finding his father as a teenager. And then of having to deal with the fact that his father was able to pay college fees for the children of his current wife, but would not or could not do the same for Tumzu.

Of his drive to break out of poverty, leading him to a life that for awhile walked dangerously close to crime.

Of a decision at 25 to start again, build a life and a career.

“I like your hat,” my words to Tamzu.

“It was a gift from my father.” His response.

And still now as I write this, when I think back to Tamzu sharing this stuff of his father not paying for fees and of the poverty, I hear the tone of his voice; no judgement, and no bitterness. Only determination and hope.

Hence Tsiba, and now the mountains.

In Tamzu’s words, “This time in the mountains, I have realised the many things I can do. When we rock climbed I chose the difficult route. I failed the first time, but on the second I made it to the top. I am thinking of my responsibility. My mother and my sister do not have a good time in Cape Town. My mother’s boyfriend is not a good man. He locks them out of the house, leaves them without food, to sleep in the rain. So I was thinking last night, thinking about going back to Cape Town. I am going back and I will say to my mother and sister, that I am the father. I will take this role. I will provide for them.”

I saw Tumzu at the Tsiba campus a few weeks after our course. I asked him how he was doing.

His response was that he had applied for several part-time positions to bring in money to support his family. In so doing he had claimed the role of “father” in his household.

Tumzu also wants to volunteer for Educo Africa. He is thinking about a career in guiding young people in the mountains. My personal hope is that he will. Educo Africa needs people like him on our team. Come to think of it, South Africa needs people like him…

backpacking

Backpack

There I was sitting on a bluegum stump outside of a building on De Hoop Nature Reserve. My boss approached me, “this is for you.” He said, passing me an indiscriminate package.

The package turned out to be a 70lt backpack. The year was 1990. I was 22 years old, in my first year as a nature conservator for Cape Nature Conservation. This was my first backpack, actually it has been my only backpack.

April 2012, I am hiking in the Grootwinterhoek mountain range with a group of students from Tsiba Education. The guy hiking behind me asks; “Mark how old is your backpack?” I give my answer, he laughs; “Yo!” he exclaims, “that thing is older than me – why don’t you get a new one?”

Memories my friend, precious memories of hiking and camping in deep and wild spaces.

1991, I am solo hiking along the De Hoop coastline, what is now the Whale Trail. At rest leaning against my backpack watching a Southern Right Whale breach.

1997, in a cave in the Drakensberg, a youth has just pulled a knife on a Social Worker, the social worker having called the kid a stupid liar. I move between the two, ask the young man to come with me. We sit at the edge of the cave watching the stormy sky. I take an onion from my pack and ask him to cut it into pieces for the evening meal.

2000, day three of the Amatola trail, The hike is led by two young men, Buzile and Graeme, both graduates of a programme that has trained young economically disadvantaged South African’s to use hiking as a tool to grow other young people. These two are now my friends, found in our mutual love for wild places. We share this love with a group of young people from King William’s Town Child and Youth Care Centre. I reach for my camera – a memory of Buzile supporting a young person in crossing a river.

2004, February. My four year old daughter joins me for her first wilderness hike. She is on my shoulders, her bum perched on my backpack, feet ensconced in pink trainers bounce against me chest. I am in heaven.

2010, Grootwinterhoek. I am hiking with my 6-year old son. As the sun sets he snuggles into my arms, we talk of our dream to rebuild an old Mini. I remain in heaven.

2012, My backpack on my back, jingles with the sound of two bottles of beer knocking together. All about a surprise, it is my wife’s birthday – Emma, James and I lead her to a magic and secret place in the mountains. Tomorrow morning she will watch the sunrise, greeting her into a new decade. She is in heaven.

I have an old backpack, my knees ache more now than they did 22 years ago. I have the best God-given memories found through shared time in wild places with people I care for, people I love.22 years from now, an old man, gnarled legs and knobbly knees, an exceptionally old backpack – a dream maybe realised, maybe not, who knows? But if tomorrow we meet in the mountains – let’s drink coffee, good coffee, next to a river in the cool of the morning. Maybe we can share some memories of times past, wild places, hiking and shared time with people we care for.