Uncomfortable questions

05 januari 2016

Uncomfortable questions.

She shines with the torch of her mobile behind her so I can see the steps from stone that go down the hill. She stops when the stones disappear under the rubbish. The shacks left and right are as close as possible to the steps creating a narrow and tight passage. Most of the shacks are build of waste material and carton. The air is heavy with the smell of garbage. I don’t know how many people are living in this valley, maybe 30.000. The area is 10 minutes from my home in one of the suburbs of Durban. From the main street you are not able to see this squatter camp.  I don’t feel safe walking here behind her at one o’clock in the night. The steps curve down steeper. I try to remember the way we go down, I probably have to get back myself.  The plan was to drop her on the main road so I could drive back home, but she insisted I should go with her, and I could not say no.

Only a few shacks have electricity, most of them are dark and people are a sleep. We pass a small shack in which I hear people laughing, we go further down, deeper in this dark squatter camp, stepping over a small open sewer, she lights everything out for me very carefully. Finally we reach the bottom of the valley and stop in frond of a small door, it is open, the light from inside falls brutally outside. She waits as if she doesn’t want to go in. Two other women arrive from behind the shack they talk with soft voices. One of them must be her sister. The sister asks me if I want to see. I am not sure. When I step in the shack I see a young girls laying on the ground, a blanket over her, her body is in an unnatural position. I can’t see her face.

An hour ago, our Nanny who lives with us, got a call telling her that she had to come to the house where her children and sisters are living, immediately. The police is waiting for her and the ambulance is on its way. One of her children is not well. She wakes us up, she cries and is scared. My wife explains and asks me to bring her to her house, it is not far, not more than 10 minutes. I can drop her where the camp starts, the police will be waiting on the main street. When we arrive the police is already gone and she asks me to come with her to her house, she puts on the torch of her cell phone to make some light, we take the stony steps and curve down between the shacks.

Her daughter is her youngest child, 9 years old. Our Nanny used the money she earned to pay her school fees and to build a bigger shack. The shack is also one of the few that has electricity. It is illegally and the way the wires are attached to the house is definitely not done by an electrician. The wires broke and fell on the ground, in a pool of water. When the little girl walked around the house she stepped in the water and was electrocuted, it must have been around seven in the evening only at eleven a clock they found her body, she was already dead. Her mother is still waiting out site. Afraid to be confronted with the horrible death of her little girl. When I step out the two sisters help her to go in. I hear her screaming, deep and laud. I would scream like that when I was confronted with the death of one of my own children. A boy of 16 stands next to me and tells me that he will bring me back to my car. He doesn’t have a torch or cell phone and walks quick uphill. He doesn’t talk. Half way I stop. In the dark distance I still hear her crying so loud, so much pain. The boy waits as well ” It was my sister” he say’s. I did not now that our Nanny had a son, I feel embarrassed left without words. When I arrive on the main street an ambulance arrives and two paramedics start the long stony stairs down. They boy says “Thanks for coming”, I want to say something back, but I find no words.  I step in my car and drive back to my house, in 10 minutes I am back in another world. It scares me how apart these worlds are and how close. I can’t agree. I realize I have to engage more with those other realities that South Africa is made of and answer some very uncomfortable questions.