3am, under a sparkly starry sky, can’t sleep and even the birds seem to have South African accents. There are loads of them; saw a vibrant navy blue bird today in town but nobody seems to know what it was- maybe sleep deprived hallucination?
Arrived in Joburg at around 9am having had little sleep on the 11 hour journey, but all ran smoothly through customs. One of the volunteers Lungisani Hlongwa was waiting in the Children of Fire car, to drive us on to the house and a party of kids and volunteers waiting for us; two burns survivors Nkosinathi Nxumalo (16) who was new to the family and Senzo (18) whose traumatic battle has been championed by the charity for a couple of years. They came to meet me and for advice from Bronwen; they shared their stories.
Taigh quickly had to put his inhibitions aside and record their stories, setting up his camera in the sister charity Joburg school for the blind, across the road where the younger children attend. Some of the children sleep on that site as ChiFi is a building project in progress – limited by money and time. They wanted to tell their stories, as did Elsa who, another burns survivor teaching the children French on Saturdays, also shared her story. It became quickly evident that we were being immersed into a large family with many stories of trauma. I felt for Taigh, who having had little sleep was becoming a little overwhelmed. Bronwen understands volunteers, though and has been checking in with Taigh, making sure he is ok, talking through his feelings and encouraging him to write.
Taigh and myself are sharing a bedroom in our own little house (Sand Cottage) in the grounds of the main house as we navigate our way through this journey. It gives us time to talk through our experiences, fears and ideas. Taigh, on the first day has flipped from questioning his decision to come to being in awe of the people, diversity and landscape. He’s already been invited to a soccer match (waylaid due to a huge storm on our first afternoon.) and finished the evening being invited to Slovo squatter camp the next day (sans mother). I think word has got around there’s a new guy in town – and I’m off to a local church with the other children.