on being my sister’s keeper

Perhaps the most profound question asked in the Bible, is the one Cain poses to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As I’ve been thinking this week about the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa, this is the question I’ve kept returning to. Do we have a responsibility to watch out for and care for those around us? The answer for me is undoubtedly a resounding “Yes!” In the light of the many stories of violence against women this past week, I want to call us all to become – day-by-day – our sister’s keepers.

See that girl in the club, looking really uncomfortable as three guys come around her and hit on her? Move closer. Eavesdrop. And if need be, be ready to stand in and defend her.

The girl in the bathroom wiping mascara from her eyes? Ask her if she’s okay or if there’s someone you can call.

The little kid walking alone from school? Park your car discreetly up the road and watch over them til they reach a more populated area.

The girl bent over the toilet vomitting cos someone spiked her drink? Take her hand, sit with her, get her hydrated, walk her home, call a friend, hold her hair back while she’s sick in the bushes. Do whatever it takes. Keep her safe.

That single girl at the braai? She should never have to ask you to walk her to her car, and should never feel like she is being a burden. Take stock at the beginning of the night of who arrived alone and keep watch for when they leave and walk them to their door.

That group of 14 year old girls walking along Tokai main road at 10pm? Stop and offer them a lift. And if they decline tell them you’re going to follow them from a safe distance until they make it home safely.

The woman with the black eye and the cut lip? Ask her name and see if she needs medical attention. Open the door to conversation. Give her your phone number. Just in case.

These are all stories of times I’ve tried to “be my sister’s keeper” – in only one of these situations did I actually know the girl’s name beforehand. Sometimes people thought I was wierd, occassionally they may have been creeped out, often they were grateful. But maybe once or twice I even helped to save a life.

If I am not for them, I am against them. And woe that God’s reply comes to me, as it did to Cain: “What have you done?” [The echo in my head, “What have you not done?] “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

sister's keeper



on poverties..

“…the material, economistic perspective on poverty is only one way of framing the subject… there are many forms of poverty, economic poverty being only one of these. And the question arises as to how much other poverty we create when our goal is narrowly defined as the alleviation of economic poverty. When all values are subsumed to the economic, as they increasingly are, particularly within a conventional development paradigm, how much do we lose with respect to social values, to artistic values, to cultural and language diversity, to bio-diversity? We must surely recognize by now that the world we are creating with our fixation on the economic is becoming immeasurably poorer with respect to everything which lives outside of the economic

(Kaplan, A. (1998). Crossroads: A Development Reading. Extract from the Community Development Resource Association’s Annual Report 1997/1998. Cape Town: CDRA. pp. 11-12).

I am a trustee at a place of safety which myself and a group of friends started 3 years ago. The House takes in abandoned, abused, neglected, orphaned and vulnerable children. Currently we have two children in the House who have been living on the street for several months. The courts decided that it was in their best interests to be in a place of safety.

I live in Stellenbosch. There is a park opposite where I go to church and a group of people frequent it. They are dirty, some have dreadlocks, they wear old torn clothes (not enough). Sometimes, they come and beg outside the church – invariably they reek of alcohol. They often sit on cartons in the middle of the field until late at night, talking. Sometimes they have a little fire going in a tin. As far as I am aware they sleep out there. Except when it’s raining; then they bring their blankets and plastic bags and lie under the eaves of the building. There is a little girl who lives with them – about 7 years old. I have been grappling with whether to approach social services with an eye to getting her removed and placed in a warm, safe home. But I have hesitated because of exactly that which Kaplan writes. I have always, unconsciously, preferenced economic wellbeing. But removing this young girl would take away her family, would divorce her from a sense of community which clearly exists around that fireplace, would isolate her, would perhaps even annihilate the good values which maybe that group is inculcating in her. Who am I to say? See, this girl is clothed, and runs around happy, and looks well-fed – she is not emaciated and does not look sick. The group talk to her and laugh with her and look out for her. But she does not live with a roof over her head. And my developmental paradigm says this is wrong.

My developmental paradigm says she must be sheltered and in an economically stable environment – not merely a loving one where material goods take the back seat, although community is valued. In my paradigm, the ‘best interests of the child’ are often economically defined (although not solely for sure). I would risk losing all those other values, in fact introducing various other poverties into her life for the sake of alleviating this one poverty (and a relative one, at that).
Of course, I infer that the environment she is in is safe and loving and community-based and provides her with warmth and sustenance. For the sake of illustrating my point. She may in fact be hungry always, be sick, be cold, be abused – physically, sexually, emotionally. The affect of alcohol on that group and on her may be huge. And this is the dilemma. But my point is that in the past I would have run in with guns blazing. I would have recognized a situation of injustice – ill-defined though it is – and done everything in my power to right it. My point is that now right is not so clear. And I think that increasingly an awareness of the trade-off between economic poverty and other poverties will play a part in how I approach individuals and situations.

dear carlzen

Your eyes. Your eyes stay with me, years and years on (memories tag, snag, haunt, call). I look into your eyes, only child. Child only. The depths of your eyes – deeper than the depths of the sea;born from the depths of crashing waves – your eyes hold the secrets of the old, hold the sorrows of the world, hold in them the stories of every story come after. Every child only who tore my soul (tears my soul) lived and died and lived first in the stories of your eyes. Child only, my first child. I look back into your beautiful, beautiful eyes and I promise to speak.

Your silence – all the tears, all the sandcastles, all the soundless screaming, dying for hands that must not touch you – your silence screams at me. Your silence – which turned from me and felt its lonely way away, hugging close-tight the walls – your silence pleads with me. Around you go for hours and hours and endless hours. Hours which tear me to my core as I watch you, round and round.

You turn – turn from me and stand still – tense, frigid – you stand willing yourself away. Willing the walls to hold you. You stand – breath held til it hurts – lest they see you. Lest the world see you. Sees you. Silently standing.

The wave – monstrous wave. Monster. Raises itself, dwarfs you, pauses a moment to savour its own sadistic menace. Then crashes down on you. Crushes you. Grabs you and smashes you. Child. Only. Air – all the air that filled your tiny lungs, breathed your moment life – is sucked from you. Life is ripped slowly from your clenched child hands. Your body cries, sorrow wrought from timeless ages gone.

Silence descends. Silence which kept you alive before your soul’s death. You lie – tense, frigid, still. Willessly slipping away. Your eyes stare up through the depth of the sea which holds you still. You stare motionless up through the white foam, ageless, blown furiously aside. Your soul is old.

You lift your eyes to mine. Your scream pierces. I lose my soul within your pleading eyes. I lose my soul yet also find it.

Your eyes stay with me years and years on and drive me. I’ll scream. I’ll scream as loud as it takes. I’ll fight. I’ll fight with all of my soul for you.

I’ll take your tiny child only hand, again, in mine and sit with you. Teach you all the colours of the morning sky and more. I’ll hold your hand as waves and breakers (the roar of waterfalls) wash over you. Wash you. We’ll chase that ageless white, holding the colours in our hands as the sun shines down through the sea’s breath – breath that breathes into you. Breathes you. Your breath fills me – breathes life into life, passion, vision, devotion.

You become my life anthem; my voice sprung from your vow of silence. You are what drives me. Because I love you. I love you, beautiful child only. Carlzen.