Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Night Shelter

16 march 2009

First visit went quite well. I arrived at around half past five. The forecourt presented a good mix of relatively inebriated and sober individuals. The moment I got there, I was approached by a Xhosa speaking man named ‘Chris’. He seemed to be amused by me, constantly smiling and laughing, ogling me through his spectacles. I gave him a cigarette. I gave about 3 cigarettes away, like a madman. Probably not the best first move, but we still seemed to get on well after that. After some time a side door opened and everyone lined up. Each individual must take a breathalyser test to determine which shelter to enter. I took the test. A green light went on. I assumed that meant I was okay and entered on the sober side. The shelter was up to full capacity and quite a few men were not admitted.

I went inside, sat around talking to a few people about this and that, went to see Denise in her office. She explained that it was alright for me to work there, but whatever I say in my paper must undergo some kind of fact checking by the shelter counsel (I thought oh god). I’m also not allowed to give anything to anyone, like cigarettes, or material possessions. I’m also not allowed to do any kind of counselling. When I finished in the office, I went to the kitchen to see if I could offer any help. I stabbed frozen soup for a while, but at that time there wasn't much to do. Went outside to have another smoke. There I met a woman named Stephanie sitting by herself. She is very sweet and soft spoken. You have to listen carefully to catch everything she says. She told me about her car accident and how God has helped her with the recovery. She now works on cleaning the river and making caps with wool and old plastic cans.

I continued to sit with Stephanie for a while, feeling like a chain-smoker. At around 7pm, just as the 7de Laan end credits theme came blaring from the inside, everyone got up and set the tables and chairs in place. A line was formed. Denise made some announcements. She asked for two volunteers to work on the Shelter garden the following day. Two men volunteerd. There was a prayer and dinner was served. Tonight it was a meaty bean soup. There were also some hot dog buns on another table and small container of salt. A lot of people brought their own seasoning. A man turned on the Afrikaans news. After dinner I sat around, further speaking to Rashid, who I met earlier. We spoke about music (he is a drummer and has played in groups) . He also told me of his plans to set up a stall at the nearby market. He wants to sell kebabs, burgers and things like that. He is from Durban. I leant him my phone so he could make a call to one of his relatives. He believes he should have his stall up within a week, if everything goes according to plan.

At around half past eight most people had retired to the sleeping area. A few fellows were still playing a pool, and an african man with interesting facial hair sat in front of the television watching a locally produced movie on SABC1. He was unsure of where he would sleep, so he was waiting for the care-taker to help him out. Inside, everyone looked pooped and generally glad to get rest. There wasn’t room for me tonight so I took to the dark streets, keeping a sharp eye out as I walked back.

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