July 2, 11:17pm
Pause. FYI. This blog entry has content relating to drugs, addiction & child abuse.
Before coming to South Africa, I had never heard this word before. Though I was grossly familiar with the destruction wrought from it, this particular colloquial term was foreign to me. It didn’t take long to learn the effects of tik, or methamphetamine as we know it, in this community, amongst people in other townships and in city centers all over South Africa. It’s a drug that is attacking people in droves. Children as young as 8 are addicted and at the price R30 (~$3.00) for a pack, even those with little money can afford it, making it a million times more dangerous. For something I had never come in direct contact with before, I now couldn’t tell you the amount of people who have told me about their/their child’s/their sibling’s/their parent’s addictions to tik.
“You can tell he’s tiking”
“I was addicted from the first time”
“Parents give it to their children as young as 8 or 9”
“I started tik when I was 13”
“The more we took, the more money we would have, the higher we could get”
These are the narratives I hate to hear. I wasn’t going to write about it until one of the fellows who shared his incredible life story with me asked me to do so while jointly sharing the work they are doing to combat it.
I first remember hearing about tik when I attended a community meeting for a Christian based drug and alcohol rehab support group in St. Helena. This is a small, relatively young group, meeting twice a week in the town hall to share stories with each other about daily battles and occasional defeats. Last weekend the group leaders invited me to go along with them on a trip to Stellenboch and Cape Town to attend a youth concert at a church, visit a rehab centre and participate in a soccer tournament. As part of the tour of the rehab centre some of the young men offered their testimonies to the group. I don’t speak Afrikaans (yet) so I wasn’t able to immediately understand their stories, but I could see from the demeanor of the audience that they were listening to something heavy. After the final presentation some of the fellows gave me a rundown of each statement. I was told that the person I had just befriend, who shared the longest testimony, had been shot 8 times when he was fifteen and was pronounced dead. Nothing really prepares you to hear something like that, and I didn’t know what to say in response, I just listened. He was the same person who had been talking to me earlier in the day about choices. He asked me if I believed that everyone is exactly where God wants them to be, If people living on the streets are supposed to live there because its Gods will. My response was that God gave us the capacity to create and we created a system that took from many to give to few creating wealth, material poverty and a value system based on trading paper. A group of us had stood in a circle bouncing this idea off of each other, it was cyclical conversation, with answers that will likely change with time. I saw seriousness in his face as he questioned us; I wasn’t sure what was behind it until I heard the synopsis and, later on, the depth of his story. He told me that he changed his life around after finding God and realizing that he himself is a diamond. “A diamond is a piece of wood” he told me, “take that and in a thousand years it will be coal, then a thousand more, it will be a diamond. If we don’t see that we are all diamonds we’ll never be able to help each other, to sharpen each other.” The amount of things that he has gone through at 22, is more than most experience their entire lives, no wonder he offered such timely wisdom. We had been talking for the majority of the soccer game until the head of the rehab centre came by to offer a group of us a tour around the homestays.
The space is huge; there is a main hall, agriculture land, tunnel farming and houses for in and out patients. This particular centre has been operating for thirty years, using the Bible, structured routine, employment skills and support groups to rehabilitate people and prepare them for reentry into their communities. They have three month long programs, separate for men and women, accepting people at age eighteen and above. They also run semi support facilities, similar to halfway homes, and independent living houses. In addition they operate safe houses for children who were abandoned by their parents. We were told a horror story about children being rescued from medicine men who bought them for R5 (~$5.00) to sever for special medicines. These things, I had never imagined, and to be honest, scare me to death. Despite all I have seen, the work I have done and the stories people continue to share with me, Im still ignorant to the many, many things we do to harm ourselves and to each other. There is a lot to take in but despite some of these incredible and intense stories I ended the weekend exhausted from the laugher, new friendships and great conversations.