A mulungo living in the slums
I couldn’t believe the people I had met. The diversity, the creativity, the skills, the passion, the dreams, the networks, the community, the innovation, the resourcefulness, the pride and the family. I felt like I was walking in destiny, like this was the path I was supposed to be on. My mind was challenged and so engaged. My heart was breaking in a good way. My mind spinning trying to get my head around all that I was experiencing. How could this adventure yield so much so quick. How could people be so open and kind to a random white foreigner. I honestly felt as that this community is worth my future and if there is something I can do beyond this study I will do it. Or perhaps thinking about what this study might bring about. How can I link these amazing people to knowledge, opportunity and resources? What might my role be? But for that time I was more than satisfied with being a researcher open to the complex nature of a community of individuals.
It was one of the most fulfilling weeks of my existence and I couldn't wait to take the weekend to reflect, to blow away my colleagues and to tell all the doubters they were wrong.I packed my things. Locked my shack and headed out with my bike and backpack ready to head into Stellenbosch. Little did I know my delightful world of research was about to take its greatest reality check to date.
It was 1:30pm when began heading down the winding familiar path heading out of Enkanini. The bye byes and sobonanas (see you soon) were flying left and right. I was happy, I was fulfilled and I was at peace. I stopped to talk to some guys that I had met before that were just hanging around. I was about 50 yards from the main road, the road that is paved, the road that represents normality when I heard someone running behind me before I knew it he was right next to me. He put his arm around me as if we were friends but when I did a double take I realized I do not know this guy, I looked at his face and realized he was about to attack me. His grip with his right arm tightened around my neck and with his left hand he was trying to reach for my things. The next moments are still fuzzy in my mind but I shoved him with my left arm, my right arm was holding my bike, a backpack on my back, we had a small kind of scuffle and struggle, then he reached quickly into my pocket and grabbed my iphone and took off running. I threw my bike down and chased him yelling for help, I chased him back into the community where the guys were, I yelled stop him stop him stop him! It all happened so fast but no one did anything. I suppose they didn't really have time to assess the situation and beyond that they didn't know if he was carrying a weapon. He ran up the hill and off into the other section outside of Enkanini. I was so upset, on the brink of balling, losing it, I knew what this meant. For one, it was scary, I had also just lost my most valuable tool a camera, recording device and note pad, not to mention an incredibly expensive gadget. Beyond all of that I knew it meant that all the people who said I was crazy, stupid or naive might have just validated there skewed opinions about 'townships', Khayamandi, Enkanini, black people, these feelings transcended the material loss or physical pain. On another level immediately felt a bit betrayed by the people. I even yelled at a group of them, why didn't you stop him? WHY? Some others ran over and in xhosa yelled something which I knew meant (your bike! your bike!) I ran back to my bike only to see it is gone. But kids continued to point and it was behind a shack, apparently someone pulled it aside to keep it for me. I again yelled at the guy who did that, “don’t kick me while I am down". Whether he was going to steal it or was helping I am not sure. I waked back to talk to the community by now there were people everywhere crowding around and looking down from the sloping community, I had just become the latest news of the town. The guys said they didn't know exactly what was going on. I walked my bike back and got to the paved streets, three white guys came out from there business behind the large gates to see if everything was alright. I couldn't answer them, I didn't know how to explain it, other than to burst into tears. I completely lost it. They heard me out and had little to say, they were nice and helped me put my chain back on my bike. I road off, back to my room in Stellenbosch about a km or two away. The details following don't matter much, I went to the police, dropped my bike off in my room. Got in my car and drove back to Enkanini. I walked back into the community and again talked with the guys to ask them if they got a good look at the guy, they said..."not really". I then went to Mama Eunice to tell her what happened. I walked up the familiar path again but this time with less joy in my heart. I could feel the community members joining me in my sadness there were no "molo's", there were no teacher teacher from the kids. I hung my head low trying to make sense of what just happened. I got to Mama Eunice's house and told her what happened, she hugged me and said I am so sorry, as she embraced me I again begin to cry, I don't even know how to type the sentiments I felt. I said bye to her and told her I still love Enkanini and walked back to my car.
There is a lot more I can say about all of this but I will leave it for now. It is now 3:51am and I cannot sleep. I can't stop thinking through the events of this week and what happened. I was so close to walking away with nothing but positive incredible stories of the people of Enkanini and all it took was one guy from another community to taint it all. Just yesterday I was walking with some guys returning from work who had been attacked at night in the nearby Zone O. In my interviews many people said Enkanini is mostly safe but some people like to “take chances”, today someone took a chance on me.
Perhaps this crime was the first real time I made a connection with the people of Enkanini. Maybe it is this common vulnerability to crime that actually is a true expression of my ‘lived experience’ in Enkanini. The one thing that ties the people of Enkanini together is the quest for survival and the means of overcoming great challenges. Commonality is found in utilizing community services, overcoming shortcomings or the lack of services, and through taking care of each others needs. In spite of the challenges they face, the individuals of Enkanini are creatively resilient in there quest to live lives of meaning, value in whatever shape or form it takes.
On my way out of Enkanini I was devasted and angry. I went back to that group of guys and said if anyone gets my phone back I will give you R500 ($50). As I departed Enkanini for the weekend I broke down in tears when I reached the pavement. The pavement representing safety and familarity. A white man opened up the barbed wire gate seperating his workplace from the dangerous community. He came over and asked if everything was ok. I attempted to speak but self-combusted into sobing. What was I supposed to say? How could I explain the week I had just had? He consoled me, I eventually pulled it together and told him I had been doing research and was robbed.
I then hoped on my bike and got the hell out of Enkanini.
I spent a lot of the weekend reflecting the week I had, had and contemplated whether or not to return to Enkanini as if I had an option, I knew I needed to get back.
****There are a ton of details which go into the next section of this story which I am happy to write out or discuss**** but let's just say the next portion of the story includes the following:
-Drug Dealers in Enkanini whom think they know who the guilty party is
-A mob of community members threatening to go vigilate justice on the twin of a convicted murderer
-Confronting the suspects
-Meeting the thief face to face
-A sting operation
-Driving all over town with community members and police
-A wild goose chase or two
-Driving all over with the supposed owner of my phone
Ultimatley the story ends with me getting my phone back and going out for a beer with community members and later hanging out with the guy who bought my phone from the thief.
It's a wild story.