Six years ago, I made the decision to visit my mum and sister in Cape Town at least once, if not twice a year because of mum’s inability to travel. I headed south and bought a little apartment in the community of Hout Bay, twenty minutes outside of Cape Town. The beach in Hout Bay is surrounded by mountains and has been a source of major revelations for me, as has the unique community the mountains enfold.
About three years ago, on a beautiful Sunday morning, I headed to the beach and greeted the car guard who had been a constant presence every time I visited. In South Africa, car guards keep watch over vehicles to help avoid break-ins. I normally walked for about an hour, but on this particular day, I was gone for three hours – there were dolphins playing and I saw a sea otter. When I got back to the car, the guard said, “Madam, I was worried about you, you have been gone so long.” I really got that he cared about me. Subsequently, we greeted each other enthusiastically when I returned but didn’t interact on a deeper level.
In November last year, I arrived at the beach and said, “Hello, my friend, it is good to see you again.” He looked at me and said, “Madam, my name is Junior.” I was at a loss for words. I had known this man for six years, he had looked out for me and looked after my vehicle and I had never once thought to ask him his name. Shame on me!
Just before Christmas, when I arrived at the beach Junior didn’t greet me with the same upbeat energy. I said, “Junior, what’s up today?” He said, “My daddy died yesterday. I have to go home to DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) for his funeral – I have to be there to bury him.” To get there he had to hitch a ride to Johannesburg (equivalent Toronto to Nova Scotia), take a bus north and finally a small aircraft to his village. In all, he thought it would probably cost R2,000.00 – he earns about R100.00 per day. He did not ask me for money – just told me the facts.
I met a friend on the beach and told her his story. She said, “Why don’t you go on Hout Bay Organized and see if there is anyone willing to donate money towards his trip?” I had not heard about the site, but joined that afternoon and posted a request for help. The response was overwhelming and the following day, between my contribution and that of other Hout Bay residents Junior had about R1,500.00 towards his trip.
It was through this site that I heard about the 50c Hangberg Feeding Project. Four times a week local restaurants, residents and grocery stores feed the children of Hangberg (a depressed area adjacent to the harbour) at the Angels of Mercy Orphanage. The children pay 50c if they can afford it and if they can’t they are given food anyway. Then there is DAWG, a local non-profit animal care facility helping animals of IY (the local township where people live in abject poverty).
One day I drove over the mountain and saw huge flames licking up into the sky above IY. A granny had fallen asleep with a pot over the fire in her shack. Many people lost all their possessions, but what struck me was the outpouring of support from the community. Food, clothing, bedding and furnishings were donated, temporary accommodation and building materials provided. One woman donated wood siding to her maid to replace her shack. She learned that her maid had sold the wood and was incensed. Someone else commented, saying, “You gave the wood to your maid, it became hers. She chose to sell the wood, rather than build a new home. That is her prerogative. How do you know what she considers to be important – maybe she needed food more than shelter? Once a gift is given, control over the gift is relinquished.
I also recently got to interact with three other car guards – Rob, Richard and Mel. They are all alcoholics who live ‘rough’ but each have two dogs and worked around the restaurant area guarding cars. One evening I said to Rob, “Your dogs are well cared for.” He said, “They are my priority – they eat before I do.” Richard and Mel were both admitted to hospital recently and Rob is looking after all the dogs, finding it very difficult in the wet, cold Cape winter (he lives on the mountain in a tent). The community donated food – someone even donated coats for the dogs to keep them dry. It is heart-warming to know that countless Hout Bayans are helping to take care of those less fortunate than themselves.
If Junior had not reached out to me, and I had not used the social media available to me, I would not have learned about the amazing work that is being done in The Bay. If I had not shared how good it was to see him and to explore being ‘his neighbour’, I would not have been privileged to know him on a deeper level. I would not have heard the many stories involving people who give to those in need in this little community. If only every community, in every town or city, in every province or country could contribute as generously to their neighbour, the world would truly be a better and more peaceful place. I experienced compassion from Junior and I learned to be his neighbour in a heart-full, non-judgemental way.
Who are the neighbours you need to know by name? What actions of compassion and non-judgement just might open the door to an unexpected gift of community and peaceful relationship? Share with me the joy of this discovery and practice of creating peaceful relationships in simply knowing my neighbour’s name.
Janice Naisby, Editor at Homes and Cottages Magazine.
Written for Feathers, Rainbows & Roses