South Africa: A Soup Kitchen, a Skull, and a Dance Party

Read Mark’s first update here.

It is Sunday evening and we just left Tiger Kloof’s weekly church service. It was another amazing window into life here. The singing was powerful and transcendent, with all the students swaying to the music. Many of the Tiger Kloof students brought their Bibles with them. When the reading was announced, they opened their books to read along. The head of the school gives the weekly sermon and his theme this term has been Jesus’ parables. I wonder if Eric would want to have “religious leader” added to his list of duties?

On Friday morning we headed into Vryburg for our first day of service. We worked at the Adrian Losper Soup Kitchen. As we drove there, the Tiger Kloof teacher told us that it was “in a coloured neighborhood.” The soup kitchen is run out of the home of Maggie Losper and seemed to have overtaken the building. It was difficult to imagine quite how her life fit amidst all the pots and food serving tables. A few doors from Maggie’s house there were rows of tiny aluminum-sided buildings. These are the homes of South Africa’s poor. Claire says that the South African government has promised to provide housing for people and that these structures also serve as a visible sign and protest for the government to do more. Interestingly, at the historic town next to the Big Hole is a structure that looks identical to these, the 1880s shack of a worker in the diamond mines.

We spent the morning making fry bread from scratch. Several other Round Square schools have worked at the soup kitchen and their names are painted on its wall. In the early afternoon we gathered up the warm bread and some bean stew and drove to the town dump. Amidst the mounds of trash and refuse, as trucks drove in dropping off fresh loads, we set up a table with food. About 50 men, women, and children who live and scavenge in the dump came over for a meal. It was a profound experience. There were young children and elderly women and all ages in between. The spirit of the people was striking. Tears came to many of our eyes as we thought about societies where people live in these conditions.

When we got back to the soup kitchen, the yard was filled with 50 young children huddled together on the ground and a dozen elders sitting around the perimeter of the yard in chairs. We served them food, sat and laughed with them, and took many pictures all around. This is a long weekend in South Africa and over the course of the afternoon, Maggie’s four children arrived from different corners of the country. Maggie said that we were part of her family now and so we welcomed our brothers and sisters.

On Saturday, we went to a preschool and painted one of the rooms. It was an all-day project because we not only put a fresh color of paint on the walls, but murals as well. The drawings ranged from the practical (how to wash your hands) to the inspirational (the South African flag with a rainbow and quote). Some of our group served as creative forces while others showed great diligence cleaning up the many paint spills. In the evening there was a braai (Bar-B-Q) for us and the Tiger Kloof students involved in Round Square. Then the students headed up to the bash (a student dance). It was different from an Athenian dance, as it was structured as a friendly dance competition. The Athenian students reported that they did two dances, one of which received good marks.

Today we traveled south from Tiger Kloof to the site where the Taung skull was found in 1924. As the first hominid found in Africa, this discovery had enormous scientific importance. The skull was found in an old limestone quarry and we also hiked the area. We were shown a sacred cave where local people hold religious events and we saw our first baboons off in the distance. After our tour of the quarry, we drove into Taung for a late lunch at the KFC. The Colonel is big in South Africa and there we were in a restaurant crowded with black South Africans getting the first KFC meal I’ve eaten in 40 years.

After this, we headed to meet the chief of one wing of the Batlhaping tribe. We were running late and so the chief was not available; however, his son gave us a tour of the kraal (where women are not usually allowed) and the graveyard where the chiefs are buried. It was fascinating learning about this aspect of South African life and talking about how the tribal system interacts with the modern government.

We have been five days in South Africa and spent the entire time in black South African communities. It has been an amazing introduction to the country. After a final breakfast with the Tigers tomorrow, we head off for two days in Pilanesberg National Park. Everyone is healthy and we are having great experiences. The warmth of the people and the visits to the archeological sites have me feeling like a prodigal son who has returned to an ancestral home.

–Mark Friedman, Director of Round Square and Community Service