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7 AUGUST 1999
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Those street kids...

Annette Cockburn

It's a Topsy Turvy world we live in! It was a bad day. Sniffing thinners is contagious. Two of them go out, then five, then nine, then twelve. High as kites, the boys whirled around the Homestead.

Archie and I were on the pavement. He was confiscating “pinies" and burning bottles of thinners. I was trying to talk reason and order. The children were out of control. Passers-by stopped, stared, motorists hooted. The street outside the shelter was a war zone: crying, fighting, screaming, blood and bricks.

The phone started ringing, I ran past all this into the office. A window in the kitchen smashed as I passed. Covered in splinters of glass, I answered “Hello".

"This is Sally here", (the fundraiser for Child Welfare). “I've got wonderful news for you, a donation of fruit juice – and the best thing is it's tartrazine free!".

"Sally", I say, “thanks a lot, but the toxins these children are consuming this afternoon make tartrazine a paltry problem! Thanks a lot anyway. Bye!"

Smash, bang, scream! “Bye!"

* * *

It was a real gangland mediation: Girls, Boys, Gangs. All outside the Learn to Live premises. I was there, but I'm quite afraid of gangs. Taking a deep breath I explained to them: “You know about territory! How would you like it if the Ninjas moved into your space? I think you must now take off from here! This is NOT your territory. It's not Dock Road territory, and It's not Sexy American territory. It's Don Bosco territory!" Much to my surprise they moved off. They did!

* * *

The boys love videos, the more violent the better. We wage a constant battle, not always successfully, with video outlets who supply them with movies that have an age limit. One afternoon I came back to Patricks House after a meeting. A video was playing. Forty boys from the oldest to the youngest sat there mesmerised (as did some of the staff!)

Next day two of the eldest boys slouched into the office. They were wearing the mandatory Rasta hairstyle, balaclavas and dark glasses.

"Yes?" I said sharply looking up from my work.
"Pall," one said. “Will you buy for us that video?"
We have never in the history of The Homestead bought a video! R74.00!
"Yes" I said. “I will" The name of the movie? The Lion King.
I've said it before I know, but they never fail to surprise us.

* * *

And in contrast: One night at 1 am the child care worker heard sounds from the kitchen. Going through, he found some of the boys watching a “blue" movie.

The staff next day were aghast! Where did they get it? Who brought it in? (One staff member suggested that he should watch it to make sure it really was a blue movie!)

"Don't lets overreact" I said, and I put the cassette in my desk drawer.
Sure enough a day or two later Mark, visibly uncomfortable, appeared before me.
"Please Pall, can I have the movie back? It belongs to a boy at school"
"What movie?" I asked him opening my eyes wide with bewilderment.
"Um, Ugh, (shuffle) ... that movie."
"Bring some of the other boys who watched it with you into the office and I'll give it back to you." I said. I delivered a short lecture to them on the exploitation of women as sexual objects and then gave back the movie.
Maybe, just maybe, one or two of them may remember something of what I said.
But then on the other hand, maybe they won't.

* * *

One spectacular spring day Annie brought some jasmine into the office. The scent became overpowering and the vase was moved onto a partition in the dormitory. The oldest group took it into their section and a few days later Simphewe came in. “The flowers is dead" he said, drawing his finger across his throat in the classic gesture.

So Annie brought some more jasmine for them. They tended the flowers carefully. “Perhaps its because the scent covers up the smell of cigarette smoke" I said cynically.

But when next there was a “past sell-by date" donation from Woolworths which included fresh flowers, they fought over possession of the roses, while the chocolate mousses were quite neglected!

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