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Saturday, May 9, 2009

The life & Times of Louis & Amber - Makhasi's Stabbing

In our last post I wrote about an unplanned event that served to remind us again that we need to be flexible at all times, not knowing what will happen next. Yesterday I got a phone call that made our interrupted evening on Sunday seem like an appealing scenario.

We were attending Liam Niehoff’s first birthday party when my phone rang. It was about 5:00 in the afternoon and initially I chose to ignore the call, planning to call back later. I could see from the caller ID that it was the phone of one of the boys from Thabong that I do Bible Study with and normally they would leave a message. It rang two more times so I figured I had best call them back right away.

When DJ picked up the phone he said “Uncle Louie, I have some bad news about MaCrazy.” MaCrazy’s real name is Makhasi, but his enchanting personality and vibrant storytelling prompted one of the teams from the US to nickname him MaCrazy. This is the same guy who claims to own an island somewhere in the Carribean or South Pacific, depending on the circumstances, and has spent hours regaling his friends with the wonders of his island (one of the wonders is that meat grows on trees planted from meat seeds). The name has stuck, with even some of the teachers from the school using the new moniker.

You can imagine that when you hear something like that you immediately wonder what that news could be. DJ told me that they had just been told Makhasi had been stabbed. We have grown to love these boys, and now I think I know a little how a parent would feel when they get a phone call like this. It’s a feeling hard to describe. The other boys didn’t really have any more details other than his room number at the hospital.

First thing I went and told Amber, then grabbed my Bible and a few treats to bring to the hospital and left. It took about 20 minutes to get to Thabong and pick of the other 4 boys. On the way to the hospital I learned that two of these guys had also received threatening phone calls the night before from the boy who stabbed Makhasi. Sam even has a text on his phone that says “I’m going to kill you.” Because of this they had all taken to carrying knives the next day. The scary thing for them is that they don’t even know who this boy is and at the time they received the calls they hadn’t heard about Makhasi, so for all they knew they had been selected to be killed as maybe some gang initiation rite or something.

Once we arrived at the hospital the sisters (nurses) asked us to wait in the hall because it wasn’t yet visiting hours. They went to fetch Makhasi, as he was well enough to walk. During the wait one of the boys seemed to be taking things pretty hard and when I sat down next to him he buried his head in my shoulder and began sobbing. Imagine the strain of knowing someone has attempted to kill your friend and has threatened to do the same to you and your cousins. Add to this the fact that these young men have been on their own for many years with no father figure or adult man in their lives, and it becomes clear how difficult a situation like this can be.

When Makhasi emerged from the ward he was hunched over and carrying a bottle filled with red liquid and attached by a tube to his side, about 6 inches below his armpit. It was then that we finally had some of the details filled in. Here is what happened according to what Makhasi told us.

On Thursday evening there was an ANC youth meeting – ANC is the main political party and the one that just won the national elections. The meeting ended about 7:30, which at this time of year is after dark. Also at this meeting was a girl with whom Makhasi had hung out with quite a bit 3-4 years ago. Flashback to Monday: Makhasi was approached by this girl’s boyfriend, who lives in the same neighborhood as the two of them. The boy began asking some questions.

Apparently the girl had told her new boyfriend how much fun Makhasi was and he grew a bit jealous. He came to Makhasi to ask if they still spent time together and to warn him to stay away. Makhasi told him that it had been several years since they had spent any time together. The boy didn’t believe him and wanted to talk to some “references”, so Makhasi gave him the phone numbers of Sam, JT, DJ and Alex. These 5 boys are inseparable and they would be able to vouch for him. This is how the boy knew how to contact them to threaten them. Fortunately, we’re pretty sure the boy has no idea who they are, where they live, or anything about them.

So this girl is at the same meeting that Makhasi was attending and since the meeting was over after dark she asked Makhasi if he would escort her first to the corner store to buy some items for her grandmother, then to her grandmother’s home where she lives. No girl should be walking alone after dark in Thabong. The boys tell me that murders happen on a weekly basis and rapes daily. In January one of our housemother’s neighbors was walking home from music practice at her church and was raped and murdered. She was in her early 20’s. Makhasi agreed to walk this girl home.

As they were walking down one of the dirt streets he sees a friend of this other guy approaching him. Then from behind he hears this boy call the girl’s name. Makhasi turned and as he was turning saw the guy spring toward him. He twisted and was able to block the blow slightly, deflecting the weapon from his chest into his shoulder. The weapon used was a sharpened screwdriver or something along those lines. It penetrated on his left pectoral just above where the pocket would be on a man’s shirt, where his shoulder meets his chest. It stabbed downward and toward the heart but fortunately only punctured his lung. He saw the friend of this guy was pulling out a long knife or short sword and he turned and ran.

He was able to get to his grandmother’s house where he lives and she instructed his brother to pour salt water into the wound to help prevent infection. Then they called the ambulance and he was taken to the hospital about 8:30. At the hospital X-rays were taken and showed that his lung was filling with blood from internal bleeding. The doctors then inserted a tube with a hypodermic needle about 4 inches below his left armpit into his lung to allow the blood and fluid to drain.

The doctors say his recovery looks good and he should be released this weekend. The only concern at this point is the possibility of infection. I spoke with him today and the nurses are giving him painkiller and antibiotic three times per day. He says the pain is very minimal. The biggest discomfort he is feeling is from spending so much time in bed. To quote “Uncle Louie, my buttocks are sore from so much time in bed.” That is encouraging to hear because that is the Makhasi we are all used to.

When we went to visit on Friday night we spent some time visiting and then read some passages from the Bible dealing with the question of why things like this are allowed to happen. I promised to return on Saturday with some KFC, which Makhasi was excited to hear. When I arrived today I told him next time he wants KFC he doesn’t need to get stabbed to get it. This is only the second time in his life that he’s had it. Earlier this year the other boys saved all their change for several months so they could give Makhasi a chance to taste KFC. He loved it so much he ate one piece, then put the other in his pocket to save for later. His family struggles greatly. In fact, even though the stabbing happened on Thursday night none of us found out until Friday afternoon because the family didn’t even have money for a payphone call. They haven’t yet called the police for the same reason.

One interesting thing that we've learned since coming to South Africa is that surgical experts and forensics specialists from all over the world are sent to South Africa to study stab wounds, since stabbings are so common here.

One difficult aspect of this situation is the fact that Makhasi was supposed to take a trip to Pretoria, the capital, for a conference where he would be able to apply for several scholarships. The principal of the school had arranged transport for him and a couple other boys and they were really looking forward to the trip. Because of the stabbing he was prevented from going and from applying for the scholarships which could allow him to continue education after graduation. Without assistance there is no way the family could afford school fees.

I spent some time alone with him today and asked how things were going – what he was thinking about. He said that this morning he had been reading in the Bible I had left for him. He read Matthew 6, and just after the Lord’s prayer he read “If you don’t forgive those who sin against you, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” These boys challenge and encourage me constantly, even though I’m supposed to be the one teaching them. In our last update I asked for prayer for the physical and spiritual safety of these boys. Little did I know how soon that would be put to the test. Again we ask for your prayer support as you think of the work here. It is clear that we are not fighting against flesh & blood but against spiritual forces of wickedness. This was made all the more clear from our conversation with the boys, and from something that happened at Bible Study this past week. Unfortunately this is running a bit long, so that will have to be a narrative for another day.

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