Tales from the Township – The Most Touching Moments of My Life

Sometimes something happens that touches you to the core – something so undeniably beautiful and maybe also painful that you can’t help but stop short in your tracks. It’s like a knife cutting through whatever layers of defense, numbness and protection you have put up. It cuts right through and pierces your heart so that you feel, truly feel the moment. And suddenly you see all the beauty, feel all the pain and love…the power of life is flowing through you and rushing to your head like a high, only it isn’t a high. It’s just life. It’s life when you are finally living.

It’s moments like these that make us feel more alive than we thought possible. Steinbeck spoke of them in East of Eden:

“Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite…. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then—the glory—so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories.”

Often these moments happen when we are in love, or we had that first cup of coffee of the day – it’s when hormones rush round our body shouting “See, see the beauty of this moment? Really feel it. Taste it. Make love to it. And realize you are alive for moments like these. Moments when you see life through the eyes of a lover; one in love with life.” Although I’m a strong proponent of coffee and falling in love (when I’m not heartbroken), I believe there are many other things you need to fall in love with in life to really, fully, live.

Yesterday was a big day for me. I have been mentoring/semi-fostering a few kids since moving to Cape Town two years ago and yesterday it was agreed that the twins, whom I’ve spent the most time with, will be living with me whilst I am here and with their family in the township when I travel. Yesterday I became a single mom of sorts. My almost life long dream of raising kids that need a family beside their own became a reality.

During the talk to the twins’ family Liezl, the owner of Little Angels, mentioned that other families have asked her if I can raise their children. It warmed my heart as much as it pained me – I wish I was richer, I wish I could do more, I wish Little Angels had more resources and a safe house, I wish… I am also deeply touched people feel that way about me. I know that kids at crèche sometimes want to pretend I am their mother, kids who come from broken homes filled with abuse and substance misuse, but I didn’t know these two sets of grandparents had asked Liezl if I could raise their grandchildren.

When we asked the twins to come inside after the meeting (we were at Little Angels having the meeting – i.e. we were inside one of the sheds that make up our make-do facilities) and asked them if they wanted to live with me the looks on their faces were indescribable – rarely have I seen such radiant joy.

Afterwards Little Miss T was showing her happiness by hugging me, holding onto me and generally wanting to climb all over me. She came with me to my car as I was getting some first aid tools to deal with a wound on Little Mr T’s foot. As we crossed the street a teenage girl started waving at us and then ran across to talk to us. She’s one of the youth in the Youth Program I lead at Little Angels. She was so excited – the day before we had done Poetry & Storytelling Class and it was her first class of the kind. We talked about Maya Angelou’s life – about her being raped and going mute, only to emerge as one of the world’s most famous poets. We discussed why stories are important – how they can help us see beyond out own life, connect us with others, inspire us and learn new paths to follow. We also read Still I Rise, Phenomenal Woman, Invictus and a speech by Marianne Williamson. We learnt to be ridiculous. To have fun. To laugh at ourselves. To make a fool out of ourselves. To go beyond our own fears. So the girl ran up to tell me she had written a poem about a video she had seen where Rihanna had written a poem.

To see kids, whose childhoods are filled with tales you wouldn’t believe if I told them to you, light up like that…to see them shine. To see them learn that’s it’s OK to be themselves. To express themselves. To be their own judge of what they think of themselves..it fills me with so much joy. I’m living my dream teaching youth and every smile they give me, every lesson they tell me they have learned about acting, poetry or life (we do many different classes, but we only kicked off recently) is the most beautiful thing. It makes my heart sing and it makes me stop and see life like an explosion of colors, feelings, emotions… It takes my breath away.

Myself and Little Miss T then reached the car, only to hear someone call us. A woman was coming down some steps, a woman Little Miss T knew. She said something along the lines of: “You are Maria, are you not? The Maria? And I know you love the kids here. You are so good with them. And I want to ask your help. Please help me. My husband was supposed to hand back my kids on Sunday, but he didn’t. He’s stolen my kids. I’m seeing the clerk tomorrow. What shall I do? Can you tell me what to do?”

It’s happened many times kids and youth I don’t know come up to me to say hello, or hug me – they know me by way of reputation. This was different though. This was desperation, plain and simple. This woman looked nice. She was not one who was worn down by drugs and alcohol. She seemed kind. She was sincere. And my heart broke in that moment and filled with humility and pride all at the same time. People here believe in me. They think I’m someone God sent to help them. I can’t always do anything to help though. I told her I don’t know laws here. I don’t know what to do, apart from go to the police. Then, of course, I did what any sane woman would do – I marched back to Little Angels, asked Liezl if the woman was a good mom and set her and her husband, Jacobus, on the case to help her.

The events yesterday reminded me of an evening in early fall here this year (that’s like March, which I still don’t understand because I’m an LA kind of girl as far as weather and seasons are concerned) when I drove down to pick up Liezl to have a meeting about the Youth Program. As I pulled up where she lived in the township this little five year old girl, one of the ones I kinda mentor/buy food for/take to the doctors from time to time, was dancing in the street. Queen Muzzaine as I call her, because she has the most demanding, yet hilarious, and sweet personality. She didn’t see me at first, just kept dancing in the headlights of my car. It’s one of the most beautiful moments of my life. This little girl in a township dancing wildly in the headlights of my car. At that moment she represented my dream come to life; my work in the township with children; my joy of dancing; my dance film in the making. She was my life come to life; the moment being an expression of who I really am; what my heart is.

Yesterday was another such day. It was a day when I learnt I truly matter. I hope everyone will get to learn that and see life through the eyes of someone who feels they matter, who feels they live, with every heartbeat of their life.

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By Maria MontgomeryMaria is a freelance writer, director and social entrepreneur. She’s also the spokesperson for The Little Angels Community Center. You can find her somewhere between Cape Town, London and L.A., where you will most likely find her in the hills, looking out over the city she loves. @OhMyMontgomery

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