31 August 2009

the taxi and the clinic

Lesson number one:
I need to bring my camera around with my everywhere...

So there are no pictures today... just a story. Not even a story really, more of a scattering of thoughts.

Today Johannesburg woke up to a taxi strike.

Now, a bit of visual information here... taxi's in Johannesburg are not the NYC yellow cab variety. Think more like a white church van - driver bulleting up the shoulder of the road - honking at everyone- wagging his fingers with one of several "code hand signals" to let people know where he is heading. People cram in, as tightly as possible until they make it to their destination (which is often another taxi rank - or a drop off spot blocks and blocks from their final destination). The roads are full of taxis here in Johannesburg. At first, to a new driver (both new to manual transmission and driving on the left), they are downright intimidating... they follow their own road rules, and they honk incessantly. Coming from Michigan where the only time you hear a horn is when someone is saying hello... the first few months of driving in South Africa, I was so busy being worried about all the honking. I guess it is beautiful that I've learned to share the road successfully with them...

Today, my friend Maria called me early. Well, her daughter actually. Maria was in a taxi on Friday morning that was in an accident. By Saturday afternoon, she was racked with back pain... and today can barely sit or walk or stand. Maria works as a domestic. She earns about $15 a day. She provides the only income for her family... two adult daughters, their children, and one son Harrison's age. (she also has two adult sons that live in their "homeland"). I have known Maria to go to work with a raging fever because she was afraid to loose the day's pay...on Friday, after the taxi accident, she went ahead and went to work at my friend's house. When I called my friend today to ask what had happened, she knew nothing about the accident. So when Maria's daughter called and told me she wasn't going to work today... I knew it was a big deal. I also knew it must be a big deal for her to consent to going to the hospital today.

Billy took our friend, Mama Joyce, to the hospital a couple weeks back. She is old, and was so weak with pneumonia that she was passing out in their home. Billy waited for three hours in the waiting room before Jane and Sabata sent him home. They had arrived at near 10 in the morning and ended up waiting till after midnight before Mama Joyce was registered and seen by someone who decided if she needed to be seen by a doctor and then admitted. Government run hospitals fill an important need... but they are understaffed and overwhelmed. This was where Maria was headed today. To sit on a chair in a crowded waiting room for endless hours before being seen by someone who decides if she eneds to be seen by someone. But what else do you do? So they bundled her up and headed out to make their way to the hospital.

Today was the day the taxis all went on strike.

So Maria's daughter called to ask if I could pick them up in Zandspruit and drive them to the hospital. Driving on the eerily empty roads, I realized again how much of a presence taxis are. They are the only transportation many people have. Transportation to get to work, to school, to appointments and the clinics or government offices. For thousands of people, there is no other option. Most are run by managers who own several taxis... the drivers often being barely licenced. They drive poorly, often dangerously, and in Maria's accident on Friday, there are no responsibilities if there is an accident. Before heading to the clinic, we stopped at the police station, they wanted to file a report, hoping to pressure the driver into accepting some responsibilities in her injuries. The truth is, nothing will be done.

I decided that instead of driving them the 30 minutes to the government hospital and having them wait all day to see a harried doctor.... I would take them to our good friend, a doctor in private practice. This is where I am so thankful that we live on the support of good friends and people who believe in what we are doing here. Our income fluctuates so much, but somehow, we always know that no matter what we decide to do on behalf of others, God always seems to provide the extra boost in our bank account. And the beautiful people God has surrounded us with here in Johannesburg... we are softhearted with gratitude.

As we were driving, I noticed a few taxis were still taking passengers. I wonder about that - when people in America cross a strikers picket line, often they are bullied and harassed. In June, I heard the story of a taxi owner being shot at his taxi rank ... the rumor is that someone from a rival taxi company was behind the shooting. What would happen if a driver (or owner) refused to give up their income for the day/week/month and join the strike?

Later, after getting my friend, Maria, some sound medical advice and pain tablets, I dropped her off at home to rest. On my way out of Zandspruit I stopped at the red robot (light) on the corner. To my left, just around the corner, was a taxi filled with passengers stopped and waiting. As I sat, another taxi zoomed around the corner and stopped right next to the waiting van. A man with a long wooden walking stick hung himself out of the open back window... he raised the stick high and let it come crashing down on the roof of the taxi right above the driver's head... and again it swung and crashed... and a third time. The passengers scrambled out and scurried away from the van. My light turned green and someone behind me honked to bring my attention away from the moment to my left. And I drove away... not fully understanding what I had seen.

Random moments from my day...
Sometimes I simply do not to know what to write here. Theoretically this is a space for you to peek in on our days. A space for friends and family to be connected and not quite so far apart from our dailyness. But I like things to look good... I like them to sound good. I like to have stories that tie up prettily or photos that mean something.... when often the experiences of our days are more like this. Scattered. I feel like sometimes the majority of my life is lived in broken flashes of awareness - instead of having the time, or information to process it all and turn it into a meaningful story. Today I decided to share with you the raw version of my day... as opposed to not sharing anything. We'll see how it goes.

1 comment:

  1. I like today's post. I like the real life, random moments, wondering what-in-the-world-just-happened moments, the ones where you get a phone call and you jump into action. I like those stories. You always have very colorful stories. Beautiful picture stories even when there aren't any photos to go along with it. It's nice to know your days look a lot like mine inside your head even if it's very different through your eyes into the world of South Africa.


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