Accompaniment is the backbone of the YAGM program. The Bread and Butter if you will. In South Africa maybe the Magwenyas and Special. Naturally it's time for me to reflect on this concept.
The scene: I get back home around 10pm after dinner with my neighbor, Philip, and his fellow German missionary Nicole. She's visiting Soweto for the weekend as she's volunteering in Joburg this year. My roommate's cousins are spending the night and a little girl is wide awake in our flat while her mother sleeps and the guys are at the park. I'm tired, but she wants to play so I start trying to talk with her in English. Success minimal. I show her the kitchen and living room while she bounces around listening to me and saying things that almost make sense. She's fascinated by an empty salt shaker, annoyed that I turn the TV off. We go into my room, I show her my electric toothbrush. She sees my pajamas on my bed and folds them. Then she makes my bed while talking to herself (probably admonishing me). How old are you? Three fingers go up, she looks confused then adds two to make five, subtracts one, so maybe she's four. I show her how to count in English. A glance to the toothbrush. She turns it on and starts singing into it. I sit down on the newly made bed as she puts on a dance show. Now it's my turn to sing into the brush, okay now we're brushing our teeth. Back to the kitchen, she pours herself a bowl of Kellogg's and a glass of milk while I simply watch, amazed. She's nearly self sufficient. I pull back the covers on my bed well after midnight as she sits down with her cereal and turns on the TV. Okay, children need accompaniment, and it doesn't always make sense.
Next scene: I stand over a patch of carrots, lamenting that all the leaves are dead after transplanting them two weeks ago. My supervisor comes up and I show him the situation. "You must have faith Kyle, the old shoots die while the roots adjust to the new soil. Soon this whole patch will be green and I'll tell the kids you helped plant their food." A week later new growth. I look out my window now and see a green garden. I need accompaniment when my faith is low.
Third scene: The other German missionary, Julius, leaves his basket in the middle of the store while we go down an aisle for milk. We come back and his basket is gone. We search, but cannot find it. We were almost done. He's tired after visiting another missionary in Pretoria over the weekend. Earlier, we couldn't find a place at the mall to get his hair cut. It takes an extra hour to gather his groceries again. One of his bar codes isn't working at the checkout counter, so they call someone to fix it. Then the checkout machine crashes as he tries to pay. People behind him are restless. We've been here for three hours. My jokes are running low as I've been working to keep the mood light. Finally we're outside. I reach into my bag and open the garlic rolls I just bought, offering one to Julius. We take a bite and his face lights up. They're amazing. "Kyle, this roll just saved the whole trip, thanks." Hm, missionaries need accompaniment? All I have to do is share a roll?
Final scene: Julius and I are on a 30 minute walk home after taking the wrong taxi and overshooting our destination. A man comes up to me and asks for 2 Rand, as many people do here. I ask him where he's headed. He says home, along the same street as me, so we walk together. I find out he's 27 and lives with his grandmother, sister, and niece. He's walking home from his job as a car-park where today he made R5 during 9 hours of work. It was a slow day. Not even enough to afford the R7 taxi home. He'll get home at 9:30pm (2 hours from now) if he keeps walking and takes a dangerous shortcut. Tomorrow his day starts at 7am. He's saving to become an electrician. It costs R9,000 to take the classes. He hopes to save R3,000 by the end of the year. He's making R600/month. I encourage him to keep working hard, saving, and stay off drugs and cigarettes. He says yes sir. He's thin, spending only R200 a month on food so he can save. I give him the money, wishing I could do more but knowing that I too must eat. There are many empty hands here. He walks off into the night. I pray he holds his job. I pray he holds his dream of a better life. I pray he finds safe passage and food at the end of his journey. Tired men need accompaniment, and sometimes it's not easy.
I came here to accompany, to give of myself, and more specifically to work on the issue of AIDS. My understanding of accompaniment is evolving, and so my definition of giving of myself is changing while my attachment to saving the world from HIV is fading. There's 'AIDS fatigue' here. The messages have become a broken record and there's less fear as people can live on ARVs. There's still plenty of room for education, but I'm sensing that AIDS talk is not what the community wants right now. So I'm shifting gears.
I say thank you for protecting me to the night watch guard who wishes to be with his family at home. I say keep working hard to the car-park who didn't earn enough money to get home. I say okay to an impromptu electric toothbrush concert in my home. I say have a garlic roll to the tired missionary far from home. And I have faith that the carrots will grow.
In the end, we all need somebody to lean on. Because everyone needs accompaniment.