Rural Life in the Durban Area: First Impressions

Our first visit to the rural area of Inanda was a shock, to say the least.

We had all seen the photos and heard Michael Pan Shr-Bo’s stories, but nothing could really prepare us for what we were about to witness. This was our fifth day in South Africa, but really our first day out in the field. Many on our team were eager to start working after days of traveling, orientation, and preparations. However, we were quick to discover that there are limits to what many of us are willing and able to do. This realization is a testament to how amazing, how genuinely full of selfless compassion, the local Tzu Chi volunteers here in South Africa are.

One of the homes we visited was that of a woman who had a stroke that left her immobile. Local Tzu Chi volunteers have been visiting her regularly, and they told us her story. After her stroke, her family abandoned her, and she was left completely helpless and alone in her own home.

Upon our arrival, we noticed that there were tires, bricks, and other miscellaneous objects weighing down the corrugated sheet metal “roof” to keep it from being carried off by the wind. As we approached the entrance, we were hit with the overwhelming reek of urine and rotting food. We found the woman lying on the ground on top of 2 couch cushions saturated with at least 3 days worth of her own bodily fluids and feces. She had scars all over her thighs from where her own daughter had beaten her. Her clothes and blankets were all completely soaked with who-knows-what. There were mugs with dead spiders in them, bowls with over an inch of something green and moldy growing in them, and plates covered with a substance that looked and smelled like vomit. There were flies everywhere, and the room had no ventilation. I could barely stand to be in that room for more than a few minutes at a time. Can you imagine living under those conditions, unable to move for days at a time?

I don’t think any of us from the US had imagined anything like this before, even in our worst nightmares. We were all taken aback, unsure of what to feel or how to act. While I was still reeling from the stench of the room, the local Pu-Sa (Tzu Chi version of angels) immediately began to bathe the woman and gather all the soiled dishes, cushions, blankets, and clothes. There was a tap with running water outside the house, and I watched one of the local volunteers reach into a hole about a foot deep in the ground that was filled with muddy water to turn it on. At this point, I started to regain control of my wits and decided that I had to do something. Anything. I had no idea how to even begin caring for the poor woman, so I settled on helping with the dishes. You have to do the little things in order to achieve the bigger goals, right? But by the time we were finished, I couldn’t fend off the sense of utter frustration and helplessness. I felt like there was nothing short of death that would bring this woman out of the hell she lives in.

At that very moment, the local Pu-Sa started singing as they marched up the hill past me. Their smiles and their cheerful song sent a wave of reassurance over me. It reminded me that helping others doesn’t stop at tangible gifts or acts of kindness. Compassion has the ability to transcend physical boundaries and the power to inspire.

The indomitable spirit of the local Pu-Sa is truly incredible. It can be seen in their faces, heard in their voices, and felt from every fiber of their being. It is so humbling and such a pleasure to know them.

-Tiffany Pan

Posted by The Power of 5 - South Africa · Aug 12, 2011