Johan has travelled extensively in the USA and Southern Africa. He is a retired school teacher and evangelist.
The Booi children's story
When Two Worlds Meet – The Booi Family
Kola was concentrating on prying some mussels off a rock and putting them into his bag when he heard his sister Simla shouting: “Run, there is someone coming!” As he turned and looked back he saw a woman dressed in brown longs and a shirt with an official looking badge on the pocket, approaching with a young girl trailing behind. “Throw your bags and levers into the sea and run”, Kola shouted to the twins. Taking off through the rock pools towards the beach, he slipped on the wet rocks and crashed onto the shell covered sharp rocks in the Nahoon Nature Reserve. He felt the barnacles ripping the flesh on his leg, arm and shoulder. Jumping up he threw his bag and lever into the sea and took off after the two girls, running towards Bats Cave. As they ran they heard someone shouting: “Stop, it’s me, Mary!” But they ran on and came to a path going up a dune leading into the thick coastal forest.
They huddled in the bush, their hearts beating wildly, not knowing what to say. “What are we going to do?” Francina broke the silence. “We need to find our way back to the township without being seen”, Kola stated the obvious. So carefully following paths in the coastal bush and dashing across the Nahoon and Bonza Bay beach areas, they began their journey home with nothing to show apart from their fear and Kola’s gashes.
It was late that night that they got back to their shack to be met by a very worried and angry mother. “What happened to you? I have been worried sick. Where is the shell food you went to collect? Look at your arm and leg Kola!” It was an uncomfortable time as the children told the story of how they had moved along the coast into the Nahoon Nature Reserve to collect the barnacles, periwinkles and mussels that had become an important part of their daily food. It was more and more difficult to find shell food close by and so they had moved further along the coast towards East London. Yes, the children knew they had gone into the Nature Reserve but they had decided to take a chance. Their Mom was shaking as she took Kola to the township clinic to have his wounds cleaned and dressed.
Since their arrival in East London from the village near Port St John’s two years ago, everything seemed to be going well until the Covid 19 epidemic struck. Their Mom had built a shack in the informal settlement near Gonubie and had a job working as a domestic worker for an elderly couple in the suburbs of Gonubie. Shortly after news of the Covid problem broke, the lady who employed her got sick and died. Her husband then moved to Cape Town to stay with his daughter and so their Mom lost her job. At present work was impossible to find.
At school the children proved to be very good at sport; Kola at rugby, and the twins at netball. It however, became increasingly difficult for their Mom to put food on the table. School uniforms, books and bus fare took most of her money. They got some help from their church in the form of occasional food parcels but they often went to bed hungry. Their Mom taught them how to find shell food on the nearby coastline as she had done when growing up on the Wild Coast and this helped to keep things going. Now this mess! What was going to happen? Why did they go into the Nature Reserve?
“Mom, I heard the young girl calling out to us to stop and saying her name is Mary. Do you think she knows us?” Simla asked. “I don’t know what to do” Her mother answered, and a worried Mrs Booi hardly slept that night. The children did not fare much better. When her phone rang mid morning her heart sank. Who would that be and what was going to happen? Was this about her children? Did people somehow find out who they were? Was that possible? The questions jumped around in her mind but there were no answers finding them.
“Good morning Mrs. Booi, this is the headmaster of Stirling Primary School speaking”. This was not good, she knew immediately. After a brief discussion where she was asked if Mrs. Lemming from the Cape Nature Department could bring her children home from school, she agreed to the request and then sank into the only old easy chair in her shack with a desperate feeling of doom covering her. No one in her family had ever been arrested and now she knew her children and perhaps even she herself were in big trouble. Why had she not watched the children more carefully?
When Mrs. Lemming, accompanied by a young girl and her three children, arrived at the shack that afternoon after lunch, Mrs. Booi invited the visitors in and dreaded what she was about to hear. At the same time the woman from Cape Nature did not seem to be angry and so this helped to still the anxiety in her heart.
“Thank you for allowing me to bring your children home Mrs. Booi. I hope we can sort out this rather serious problem. You realize your children were breaking the law by collecting shell food off the rocks in the Nahoon Nature Reserve?” “Yes, I am sorry that they did this and I should have taken more care when I sent them to find some food as they have been doing for the past couple of weeks. How did you find them?” The pent up questions poured from her lips and heart.
Mrs. Lemming explained that her daughter Mary had identified them on the beach. They are at the same school and she knew them because they are such good sportspersons. Mary has been battling since yesterday with the fact that she had identified them as she did not want them to get into trouble.
Can you tell me something about your situation here in the settlement and where is the children’s father? Mrs. Booi explained how their father had left her for another woman and how she had moved to the East London area to give the children a better opportunity in life. And then when Covid struck it resulted in her losing her job and how difficult it was to find work. The hunger that they faced over the past few months and how she had shown the children how to find some food from the rocks on the nearby coastline as she had done as a young girl on the Wild Coast. “I knew that the Nature Reserves were out of bounds and had warned the children about this!”
The three Booi kids sat on the floor in the kitchen and listened to everything with big eyes and guilty looks on their faces wondering what was going to happen to them. Were they going to be arrested and kicked out of school? They feared the worst. “What food have you got now Mrs. Booi?” the Nature Official asked a question that she never thought she would ever ask anyone. “Not really anything”, the answer came “but in a couple of days my child grants will come and then we will be able to settle our account with the taxi driver and buy some samp, beans and mielie meal. Then we will be okay for a while.”
Mary, also sitting on the kitchen/dining room floor, could not help looking into the second room in the shack and notice the one bed and three mattresses on the floor. “How can these people have so little when I have so much?” she asked herself. Mrs. Lemming knew in a rather abstract way, about the poverty that many in this country faced. At the same time she had never really seen it up close as she was doing at present. In fact she, like most white South Africans, had never even been into an informal settlement like this, and certainly not into a two roomed shack. What was she to do? That was the question that she found so difficult to answer.
She had known about the problem of poverty being so big it seems impossible for an ordinary person to do much to solve it, so most people did nothing. Jennifer Lemming however, after coming face to face with the reality, decided that she had to do something for this family. After a serious warning to the children not to break the law by collecting rock food in the nature reserve she set out a plan of action. Telling her family the story she raised enough money to set up a monthly allowance for the Booi family that ensured that they would not be hungry and that their taxi fees could be paid. She also supplied them with some second hand furniture after getting permission from Mrs. Booi. Mary and the twins became good friends and kept in touch at school and spent some time visiting over weekends. When two worlds meet it can lead to good things, even if at first the situation may look rather scary.
Liz Westwood from UK on March 16, 2021:
This is an interesting, well told and uplifting story. It seems so unjust in this world that some can have so much, while there are others living nearby in poverty.