Tradgedy Part 1

My good friend Roze has graciously loaned me her computer for a week, so I'm going to take full advantage and post several blogs entries that I have written over the last few months. Below is the first post in a three part series...

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Tragedy Part 1
15 August 2009

It was a day as any other day. My host mother came home from school. I heard her open her door, and I waited and listened to the sounds of her settling in after the day's work before going to greet her.

I continued reading my book, half-listening to the sounds when I heard a new sound. It was the faint sound of uncontrollable sobbing. I have heard this sound before since coming to the village, but it was usually at night and now seemed out of place in the daylight hours. I know that there is much hidden sadness in this place, but I question how I can help this mourner in this moment. Can I help them? Should I? And the final, incessant and irritating question--What is culturally appropriate?

Before I can make a decision, I hear the familiar sounds that signal my host mother's readiness for our daily greeting.

I put down my book. The wailing has stopped. I stand and walk to the door. I can hear my host mother making moves to the same door.

"Dumela Rakgadi" (Greetings aunt)

"Aghe, Le kae sissy?" (Hello, how are you sissy?)

"Ke teng. O kae?" (I'm fine. How are you?)...but as I ask, I can see. Rakgadi's eyes are swollen with tears. She is the wailing woman. She falters and asks me how my flu is before I can ask her what is wrong. I tell her I am better but don't have the words to speak further. Tears in this strong woman's eyes are not something I have seen.

She finds the words that I do not have.

"It is very bad," she says as she swallows back more tears. "Do you remember that girl who came to ask you about the computer?" I remembered her. She had come to ask Rakgadi--her rakgadi and my rakgadi--about places to use the Internet. Rakgadi asked what she needed the Internet for--"to search for scholarships." I told her of an Internet Cafe I knew of in a village not far from here--a R10 taxi ride. She was shy and quiet in front of the American and thanked me before leaving. After she left, Rakgadi remarked, "she's very clever, that girl."

Yes. I remembered her. Seventeen years old. Just completed metric--the equivalent to senior year in schools in the States. I remembered her.

"That girl has been killed."

"What?" I stammered. "That's awful."

I was again at a lost for words, but I didn't need them as Rakgadi continued, "Did you see the police come past last night? I saw them and told Papis I had a pain. I knew, I knew then. They found her body in the bush. Killed by her boyfriend's friend."

It was still too awful for words. I wanted to reach out and hold Rakgadi. I wanted to hug her and let her cry. I wanted to offer some comfort, but all I could offer was my shock and stunned silence.

I asked if Papis, my host brother, knew.  She said it was he who had called her. She was leaving to go to the family--to sit with them, to mourn with them, and as one of the elders in the family to begin making arrangements for the funeral.

The story would later be told to me. That this friend of the girl's boyfriend had called her late at night and told her that her boyfriend was cheating on her. He lured her out of the safety of her home under the guise of taking her to see the boyfriend's infidelity. Once he had lured her out he raped and killed her, leaving her body in the bush.

This clever girl. This young, clever girl who had found, applied for and won a scholarship to the University of Pretoria. This girl with the bright future--the chance to pull herself out of poverty and her family along with her. This girl stolen and now mourned by a grief-stricken community. Yes, I remembered this girl...

As Rakgadi prepared to leave, I told her to let me know if I could do anything to help. It is what we say in our culture. An offer, to show our condolences and our sorrow. But it lost its meaning as it crossed from my lips to her ears. I saw the question in her face. "Anything," I said, "I want to be of use. I want to help. You, you are my family now. This is my family." With these last words, I saw understanding pass into her eyes.

Family. This was her family. I was asking in this moment of grief to be a part of the family and offering to give what I had.We both found a shared understanding in this word. and in the coming days it would come to have a deeper meaning for our relationship. Family. It would come to be the word that would carry us through.