The intention for today was to visit a school for refugees established by Sacred Hearts College and check out a police station that we were told had turned into a squatter camp for refugees. The college said we couldn’t come until Monday (maybe). We went to two police stations and found no squatters. Instead, we ended up in a men’s displacement camp. Rembrant Park in Gauteng is settled in the middle of a rural area of middle class homes and condos. The rows of tents are fenced in by a chain-linked and barb wire fence, more fore the protection of the refugees than the people in surrounding neighborhoods. Mom requested more photos to show these places, so while this photo it’s exactly a beauty, it is an honest image. Ugly and unfriendly.
We didn’t quite know what we were going to do there since there weren’t any children, but we found a named Maxwell who has been separated from his children and girlfriend since the attacks a month ago. Initially, he didn’t want to talk to us. I guess a lot of people don’t want to talk to the press anymore. I’m not sure why. Maxwell gave the impression that it would bring him trouble. We told him to think about it and that we would be around if he changed his mind and then we slowly walked away. I had a feeling he would give-in and sure enough, we had only walked a little ways away when he came back to us. He recounted the night of the attacks and the difficulties he’s faced ever since. Living in the camp, he says there is nothing to do but play games like soccer or cards, wash clothes, and talk. Some men have jobs, but Maxwell lost his South African ID when his home was raided, so he cannot work now. He’s also a craftsman and lost all of his tools when people looted his home, so he has no means of taking up work.
Maxwell’s girlfriend (a Zulu) and daughter visit him often. They were coming today, but unfortunately we did not catch them, which is really a shame. I asked him if he thought they would get married some day. He said yes, he hoped so.
Tiffany and I just sat on the grass and listened. We asked a few questions here and there, but mostly we just let him talk and let the silence hang easily. I think he was a bit relieved to tell his story. He mentioned that people come to the camps to talk to people, that talking is a good thing. I know his story won’t be much on our website and probably few will pay attention to it, but we did. For an hour we sat and let him walk throug his thoughts and feel, I hope, like someone in the world did care what happened to him.
He showed me the inside of his tents, which I guess we’re not supposed to take pictures of but no one warned me. He shares it with two other gents. They seemed pretty comfortable in there on cots and blankets. All of their posessions are donations. Maxwell, I noticed, was wearing a shirt under his jacket that I surmised was meant for a woman, juding by the little beading on the collar.
We met another man who is a metal worker and occupies his day making tin money boxes. His hands are rough and worn from working with his tools all day. I told him my father was a carpenter and also had rough hands. He said he got used to it from working day after day. For R30 per box, it is a way to earn a small income, and a way to fill the days.
After the interview and photos, I don’t know why, but I wanted one of his money tins. I guess I felt like it would be something unique to take home to remember these people by. A money box, where money is the daily mission and the scarcity. I wanted him to sign it, but no one had a marker. So I got a photo instead.
Although we met interesting people, the frustration of not getting deep into our stories is growing. The hardest thing about trying to do stories here is reporting with an entourage. There’s Tiffany, and Carol, and today a Wits student, and a driver. And someone is always pointing at the watch, ushering us along. I didn’t mind talking with Maxwell for an hour. His story was difficult to tell and he was hesitant to talk to us in the first place. No way would I ever just prod for the golden soundbite and peace out. These people already feel used by the media after parades of television crews and reporters have come to observe their condition. I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything by hurrying through. They won’t trust us, and therefor won’t tell us the bits and pieces of their lives that are truly worth knowing and sharing. And we haven’t gotten enough material yet to make even a single conclusive story package. I’m about ready to have a Wits student drive around in the parking lot with me so I can refresh my skills driving manual and then we go wherever and whenever we please. There’s just too much to do to be wasting time sitting around waiting on transportation. Tomorrow there is a trip planned to go to Constitution Hill, then Sunday another excursion to the Cradle of Humanity, then Tuesday night is a concernt, and before you know it, we’re leaving Friday to Pillanesburg. Tiffany and I are skipping the trip tomorrow and are heading out early to the Methodist Church. Everyone seems to agree that is the safest time for us to go. There’s also talk about taking a trip to the Mozambique border to report on the traders, a trip that I would really like do, I just wish we had a whole nother week to be here to fit it all in.
So, a bit frustrated, I guess tomorrow is another opportunity to get out there and get something accomplished. I just hope there isn’t another obstacle or person holding us back. I don’t mean to be obnoxious, complainy, or ungrateful, but I’m ambitious and I feel like our little duo is being held back because we are the only ones without a Wits student on our team or a driver at our beck and call who can drive us around and actually work with us. My biggest fear is that we will get home and discover that every other group has stories gallore to contribute and I will have a grain of salt.