A South African Story: Denzel Washington in the Northern Cape

Here’s a heartwarming story from MARIKA VAN HEERDEN who was visiting the Douglas Spar in the Northern Cape, South Africa, when she met a young boy called Denzel (scroll down for the Afrikaans version):

Denzil Washington South Africa
Denzel of Douglas in the Northern Cape

DENZEL… By Marika van Heerden

We stopped at Spar in Douglas on Sunday.

It’s early morning and the town is still quiet. Even the beggars. We are on the road to a farm and needed to buy a few groceries before venturing into the wilderness.

Our dogs, Dingetjie and Blapsie, were waiting in the car and I was constantly checking to see if they were ok. I came out again and saw a street child sitting on the pavement alongside the car.


I ignored him.

Dingetjie started barking at me and I started playing a game with her. I was knocking on the windscreen and she charged towards me, barking. As she saw me, I knocked on the back window and she stormed towards the back.

Back and forth, time and again. My eye caught the young street child on the pavement. He wholeheartedly laughed at my game. There was life force in this boy that I seldom see in the lifeless, hungry and desperate eyes of street children.

I took my dog out of the car and sat next to the boy on the pavement.

“Do you want to pat her?” I asked.

Maybe the child could feel a certain happiness, warmth or some good experience by stroking the dog.

“Won’t he bite me?” he asked while extending a shaky hand. Dirty hand.

“No. You can stroke her,” and I saw something in his eyes that made me open mine widely to feel more sympathy.

After years, (and my years as a social worker helped me here…) I know that one should have compassion, but that one must always remain  realistic, in order to prevent  disappointment. In other words, to prevent an emotional feeling-sorry-for-and-eventually-disappointed-in-humankind mess.

So, let’s be real: I will not save anyone here and the child is not going to listen to a moral lesson, because he is hungry. But his eyes glow. He made a connection with what happened to him.

I reached out:

“Where do you sleep at night?”

“By the Caltex.”

“Where are your parents?”

“They live far away,” and he said a place that I did not hear properly.

“Why are you in Douglas?”

“With my grandmother.”

“Where does she live?”

“On the farm.”

“Why don’t you stay with her?”

“There is no food.”

And all the while, he stroked Dingetjie.

“Do you sniff glue?”

“No, ma’am,” but I already knew because I saw his eyes. And he responded to me for the first time.

“I want to see that you will be good to yourself. Not for anyone else, but for yourself. Do you know how? Let me tell you: Make smart decisions every day, ones that are good for you. Every day. Do you see how the people who  smoke and drink look like? Bad! They are angry, simple, hostile. They are not good to themselves. You must be good to yourself.”

He sat and looked at me, and I imagine that he’s listening, but no more; he listened with something like wonder on his face. His smile is so wide, that I wish I could take this boy to the orthodontist.

“Do you know how you still must be good to yourself?”

“No, ma’am.” A second time.

“You say thank you! For everything that you have, that you get and for who you are! In the morning, when you wake up at the Caltex, say your first thank you for being awake and alive!

“Because appreciation for life is the seed, from which every good thing grows from one day.”

His mouth hung open. And he stroked Dingertjie like she had never been stroked before… with such passion! And I, I could not believe what kind of child was sitting next to me.

I gave him some money (actually quite a couple of rands): “What’s your name?” I asked.

“Denzel.”

“Oh my!” I exclaimed. “You are going to be a famous man. Do you know Denzel Washington?”

His smile was covering his face and he said, no he didn’t know him, but… but I explained to him about Denzel Washington [the Hollywood actor].

“Ma’am, ma’am.” There are stars in his eyes and an urgency. “Ma’am, my surname is Washington, ma’am!”

As we drove off, Denzel Washington of Douglas in the Northern Cape stood up straight on the pavement and waved. Open-mouthed.

“Ma’am must have a lovely day, ma’am!”

The last thing I heard was, “Thank you ma’am! Thank you!”

Lord, bless Denzel please!


Here’s Marika’s original story in Afrikaans:

Denzel

Ek het deernis met nood. Enige nood. Nood maak mense weerloos. En dis veral oumense en kinders, wat so verskriklik weerloos kan wees.

Ons stop die Sondag by die Spar in Douglas. Dis vroegoggend, en die dorp is nog stil. Sy bedelaars ook. Ons is op pad plaas toe en ons kry gou n paar kruideniersware. Ek stuur n laaste paar sms’se en eposse en loer vir oulaas op Facebook voor ons die verlatenheid ingaan. Eers gou Spar toe.

Dingetjie en Blapsie, ons brakkies, wag in die kar en ek is kort-kort uit om te kyk of hulle oukei is. So kom ek weer n slag uit en sien die straatkind wat langs die kar op die randsteentjie sit. Ek ignoreer hom.

Dingetjie begin blaf vir my en ek begin n speletjie. Dan klop-klop ek aan die voorruit en sy storm blaffend vorentoe. Nes sy my sien, gaan klop ek agter en sy laat spaander agtertoe. Heen en weer, keer op keer. My oog vang die jong kind op die randsteen. Sowaar, hy lag te lekker vir die lawwe brak! Daar’s lewe in die mannetjie se manier wat ek selde in die dooie, honger, desperate oë van straatkinders sien.

Ek haal die brakkie uit die kar en gaan sit langs hom op die randsteen.
“Wil jy haar vryf?”, vra ek.
Dalk kan die kind bietjie troos, of warmte, of watookal goeds ervaar as hy die hondjie voel.
“Sal hy my nie byt nie?”, vra hy en steek sy hand huiwerig uit. Vuil hand.
“Nee. Jy kan maar vryf”, en ek sien iets in die ogies wat my deernis-kasdeure wawyd oopskiet!

Na jare, (en my jare as maatskaplike werker het gehelp, hoor), weet ek dat as deernis nie realiteit se hand vat nie, is dit n bols-up! n Emosionele-jammer-vir-en-uiteindelike-terleurstelling-in die-mensdom-bolsup.

So, ‘lets be real’: ek gaan niemand hier red nie en die kind gaan nie na n sedeles luister nie, want hy is honger. Maar sy ogies flikker. Hy maak kontak met wat om hom gebeur.

Toe reik ek uit:
“Waar slaap jy saans?”
“Byrie Caltex”
“Waar is jou ma en pa?”
“Hulle bly ver ” en hy sê n naam wat ek nie mooi hoor nie.
“So hoe kom jy toe in Douglas?”
“Saam my ouma”
“Waar bly sy ”
“0ppie plaas”
“Hoekom bly jy nie by haar nie?”
“Daar issie kossie”
En al die pad vryf hy vir Dingetjie.

“Snuif jy gom?”
“Nee mavrou” , maar ek weet dit reeds, want ek sien sy ogies. En hy spreek my die eerste keer aan.
“Ek wil dat jy goed is vir jouself. Nie vir ander nie, eers vir jou. Weet jy hoe? Kom ek sê jou:
Maak elke dag slim besluite wat goed is vir jou. Elke dag. Sien jy hoe lyk die mense wat drink en snuif? Sleg man! Hulle is kwaad, simpel, bakleierig. Hulle is nie goed vir hulleself nie. Jy moet goed wees vir jouself”.
Hy sit en kyk my aan, en ek verbeel my hy luister, maar meer nog, hy luister met iets soos verwondering op sy gesiggie. Sy glimlag is so breed, dat ek wens ek die outjie by n ortodontis kon uitkry.

“Weet jy hoe nog moet jy goed wees vir jouself? ”
“Nee mavrou”. Tweede keer.
“Jy sê dankie! Vir als wat jy het , wat jy kry en oor jy jy is! Sommer in die oggend as jy by die Caltex wakker word, sê jy eerste dankie dat jy wakker is en lewe! Want dankie-leef is die saadjie waaruit allerhande lekkertes eendag groei”. Sy mond hang oop. En hy vryf vir Dingetjie soos sy nie vryf ken nie! En ek, ek kan nie glo watter kind hier langs my sit nie!

Ek gee hom n paar rand (eintlik heelwat rande…): “Wat’s jou naam?”, vra ek.
“Denzel”
“Maar my!”, gil ek. “Dan gaan jy mos n bekende man raak! Ken jy vir Denzel Washington?”
Sy glimlag is nou amper rondom sy kop en hy sê, nee hy ken hom nie, maar….
Maar ek val hom in die rede en ek vertel hom van Denzel
Washington.
“Mavrou, mavrou”, daar’s sterre in sy oë en n dringendheid. “Mavrou, my van is Washington, mavrou!”

Toe ons ry, staan Denzel Washington van Douglas in die Noordkaap regop op die sypaadjie en waai. Oopmond. “Mavrou moet n lekker dag hê, Mavrou!”
Die laaste wat ek hoor is: “Dankie Mavrou! Dankie!”

Here, seën vir Denzel asb.