Mama Nosintho and I walked from the mini bus stop to her house. Along the way she stopped and talked to everyone we met along the way. I soon became lost trying to distinguish who was a cousin, who was a neighbor, or who was a kid she used to babysit. We passed several braais and each time the people standing next to the grill would wave and say “Molo unjani, Mama Nosintho- how are you?” And Mama would reply “Siyaphila – I am alive, I am well.”
We reached her house, a small grey stone house that was soundly built with a red sedan parked under a small palm tree. The tree had been a housewarming gift from some relatives after Mama and her husband moved there.
Mama brought me inside and introduced me to her family. Her husband was away working and one of her children was old enough to have her own flat so it was the four youngest children living there at the moment. I was led to my room, which was about the third of the size of the average dorm room. Just a bed, a few feet of floor space and a shelf for some clothes. The other rooms in the house were equally as small and with tiny windows latticed with bars to prevent break-ins.
As soon as I put my clothes away, Sipho and Sango —the two boys—dragged me outside to play football. The ball they used was made of compressed newspaper held together by saran wrap. It wasn’t the prettiest ball, but it worked all the same.
Sipho reminded me of a kid I used to babysit in New Hampshire. He acted shy when he first met me but when I left to go home he almost refused to stop hugging me. Sango tried to act more mature than his ten years of age. He wore a neon pink shirt, a baseball cap, and cutoff jeans —the typical hip/hop dress of the region.
“So what subjects do you like in school?”
“I like recess!” giggled Sipho.
“What about you Sango?” I asked the reserved ten year old.
“I like science and math but I’m not the best at those,” said Sango.
“Do you want to go into engineering after you graduate High School?”
“No, I want to be a doctor” Sango said sternly.
Sipho and Sango’s grandfather had recently suffered a stroke and had been in the hospital for the past month. He wasn’t making much progress. Despite the free medical aid South Africans receive, there was not enough staff or infrastructure at the township hospital for therapy and rehabilitation. If their grandfather stabilizes, passes all of his blood work and is able to stand, he will leave the hospital. He still isn’t able to hold a cup or eat his own food, but that form of therapy will come at home with the aid of his family.
The children aren’t allowed to visit their grandfather, so it is a raw subject. Like any child they realize that their grandfather is sick, but how do you tell a five year old or even a ten year old that a stroke means permanent brain damage? Or that if he is able to leave the hospital, it won’t be the same man that they have known their whole lives?
To be continued…