Sipho, gentle Sipho, stands proudly in “her” greenhouse, shyly smiling at me as I ask her questions about growing lettuce and about her life. I love watching her face break into a huge smile when I ask her about her baby, an 18-month old chubby girl. The baby, born of rape, is a child who is loved. A child of hope. A child with a future.
Sipho wakes up very early and heads out to the greenhouse, watering the plants and pulling up weeds that threaten her ground. The drip irrigation system has done its job and the soil is pliant and forgiving. To the far left, the lettuces are large and almost ready to harvest. Two rows down, they are smaller. Two rows from that, they are even smaller. Two from that, they are seedlings peeking through the soil, reaching for the warmth at the top of the greenhouse. Two rows from those, there is nothing – just two rows of dirt waiting for seedlings to be deposited in a week’s time. This method of planting and harvesting ensures that there is a constant supply of lettuce throughout the growing season.
Shipo is in charge of it all, all 500 square meters of it.
She asks other girls who live in this children’s home for help when she needs it and delegates work as she goes through her day. This is her internship and she takes it seriously, knowing that she could get a full time job if things go well here. She is proud of her work and it shows, without being arrogant. In fact, there is a humility in her being that is sweet to encounter.
When asked, she tells me that her life was saved here at the Sandra Jones Center, where she came when she was pregnant and alone. She understands at a deep level that she is loved unconditionally and that without the people here, she’d likely be dead, or because she is parentless, on the streets. When I ask her what she has learned while being here, she looks at me and says, “that I can do anything with my hands. That I can raise my baby in love.” I wait a while as we sit side by side under the African sun, taking the heat into our bones. We sit in silence for quite a while, each thinking our personal thoughts, lost in them for a bit. Then, I ask her again – “what have you learned since you’ve been here, Sipho?” and she turns her body towards me, looks in my eyes and exhales while saying:
That I am loved.
That I am important.
That I have a lot to give.
And that, that right there, is the crux of it all. We stare at each other, as this secret knowledge of hers is been said out loud and has been given wings. I feel tears forming in my eyes and it is me who looks away first, bowing under emotions that I can’t name. It is Sipho who hugs me and says, “Auntie Tanya, thank you for that greenhouse.”
And I weep.