It is mid-winter already. The trees in the village are ghostly, grey and wandlike, and the leaves that flutter down are the colour of saffron. We took the new pup out for a walk and he behaved beautifully, trotting along on a lead and pausing to admire the scenery. Then he came home and tried to munch on another dog’s tail. He excels at chewing.
Another season turning, fat waxy buds on the horse magnolias, clumps of crocosmia spearing their way up and soon to flower, strelitzia unfurling that glorious spiky riot of blue. black and orange. Blue skies, a freezing wind and thunderclouds towards evening. My friend Char is to have an operation and is worried about what to do with her timid fat ginger cats. I dare not bring two chubby moggies with fragile nerves into this bold and fearless household. The noise level alone is staggering.
And I have a leaking gutter. The local shelter for battered women is crammed to bursting with refugees and places must be found for travel-weary rape survivors. This article on women in a Catholic shelter in Musina on the Zimbabwean border moved me. Most shelters for women and children here are also refugee centres for those fleeing war and starvation elsewhere.
Caretaker and housemother Asneth Msema says the numbers sometimes rise to 65 women on some nights, and the shelter, which had initially been designed to accommodate women for three days, had had women stay on for a year.
She said: “But they usually have no money to move on so they stay on for much much longer.”
According to Msema, the women who come through her shelter come from, among others, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Congo, and they all stay there while they either look for work or apply for South African documentation.
“We give them blankets and toiletries, including soap, toilet paper and sanitary pads,” she said. Disposable nappies were also given to those with small babies. The shelter depends solely on the church for this and the only meal, served in the evening.
“They arrive here hungry, desperate and very scared because of their experiences back home and along the way,” she said. Others arrived with swollen feet, respiratory problems or traumatised from being sexually abused.
We sober up to so many realities outside of the small room at the back of the mind where once we obliterated consciousness. So many challenges and invitations to empathy, opportunities to be useful and even helpful. Then there is the mysterious forgetting of self as we engage more fully in life, one of the key blessings of a new way of living.