Today was an exhausting day. I originally thought the day would not be as hard as it was, but that thought immediately changed as soon as we arrived at our first stop, Melkbossplaas, where we encountered our first obstacle.
We got off the bus, people were already working on the farm, and the wood beams and cement were waiting to be unloaded from the truck. We took off all the heavy beams and cement off the truck when a man walked over to Tamarin telling her we couldn’t plant the garden. We learned that the land was owned by the church and they didn’t want us to be there. I was angry at this because the man was from a church; shouldn’t a church be giving to people, not taking away?
We briefly spoke to another man who said he had lived in the community for about 40 years. He explained that they have no electricity, no running water, and no say on the farm because they don’t own the land. I was taken aback by this situation because I figured that because of what South Africans have gone through in the past, they would stick together in the future.
After we learned we would not be planting in Melkbos, eight of us went to Varkplaas, while the other four worked at the Vaatjie School. At the Varkplaas gardens, I was surprised at how neglected it was from just a year ago. There were weeds everywhere and fencing no longer surrounded the garden. We started out right away by pulling up weeds and disposing of broken glass and bricks that were in the garden. There were originally two gardens, but we decided to make it one big garden. Alison and I took pick axes and worked relentlessly to remove the dense grass in between the two gardens. I was amazed at how much we had gotten done today and very proud of the work we put into this garden.
I looked around the community when I took breaks, and noticed several things about it. Only one woman helped us and her name was Cookie. There was
another woman that sat and watched us, but she was far away and didn’t interact with us. Other than those two women and about seven children, there seemed to not be many people around in a community that has around 200 inhabitants. This surprised me and I wondered if it was because the community didn’t trust us because they didn’t know us or because of the color of our skin. Then I thought how I would feel if foreign people came into my community and started to “mess around” with things.
I also noticed that the children didn’t trust us in the beginning either. They seemed very shy, the very opposite from the children in Soweto who ran up to us for high fives. The Varkplaas children have even less contact with the rest of South Africa, so maybe they are not used to people coming in and were scared. Only after I gave them oranges did they start to trust us and even gave me a small smile when I handed it to them.
After we finished working on the garden for the day, Cookie gave us a tour of her home. I could tell she was very proud of it as she showed us. I was not expecting her home to look like it did inside. I thought it would look like it did outside with mismatched metal.
However, it was very clean. It had painted walls and everything had a place. What the shacks didn’t have was heat. Peter told us about how a fire started in one of the shacks because a family had tried to keep warm during the winter. All of the family died except for a nine year old boy.
When Super Storm Sandy hit, my home was left with no electricity for 14 days and no heat for about a month. I remember being freezing, especially at night and covered in layers of blankets and sweatshirts. The community of Varkplaas has no heat every day and night. I couldn’t imagine having to live with no heat for any longer than I had to, but that is all these people know. Knowing this, the members of the community still get up every day and work to improve their lives and to even stay alive.
I am excited to go back and finish what we started. I hope we have the chance to interact with more people and gain their trust as well. I know they have stories and I’m interested to hear more about their personal lives and their own thoughts on their situation. I also hope they can sustain this garden and use it to benefit the community as a source of food and income.