South Africa: Day 18 (Tour of Southernwood and Derrick's Childhood)

This post has taken me such a long time because there are so many pictures. But because these photos account for 99 percent of the documentation of Derrick's childhood, I wish I would have taken even more. 

Southernwood is a neighborhood in East London. It is not the safest place. We figured that the best time to go would be early on a Saturday morning. It worked out perfectly that Rachel and Lucy were still at the Flowerdays.

I am going to post these pictures in order of our day. . . which is not in chronological order of Derrick's childhood. You can follow along with this map:

We actually started out at the Sahara (A), which is the apartment complex in Southernwood where Steve and I lived for three months in 2002: 

It looked run down and in desperate need of repair. Here are some old photos from our trip in 2002: 

The building, seen below, was the location of the Internet Cafe that Steve and I used for our online classes through USU. This is also where the laundromat was. . . and where my scooter broke down, leaving me stranded with a large bag of laundry as no less than ten men approached me and offered to "help fix my scooter".  

We drove past some little markets that were significant to Derrick: 

And then we got to De Villiers Street (B): 

This is where Derrick lived with his Aunt Shirley from time his mother passed away in October 1998 to when he came to the United States in January 2005. 

Steve stayed in the van with Adam and Mykaeleigh, while me, Derrick, and Gcobisa went to check things out. 

This visit was strategically timed for safety, not lighting. The sun was bright and there were lots of shadows that weren't optimal for taking pictures. I was nervous that none of them were going to turn out, so I took a bunch. 

Derrick lived here with his Aunt Shirley and her three boys: Timothy, Tyrone, and John Paul. Two of his cousins, Gabriel and Eric, slept with Derrick in the shack behind the house. 

They can be seen here, sitting on the very same steps in this photo from 2002. Front: John Paul. Middle: Tyrone, Derrick, Eric. Back: Timothy, Gabriel. 

In this picture, Derrick is explaining to me where the garden used to be: 

We knocked on the door and asked if we could go walk around back and take some pictures. The girl let us in through the house, which has been split into rooms for rent, so we took a few photos inside as well. 

Here's the kitchen: 

And this is the inside bathroom. . . the one that Derrick was not allowed to use: 

Since Shirley has turned the house into a rental, she has also added a few more shacks in the back to bring in more money. I should have taken a picture of the sign that showed the price, but it was surprisingly high. Something like $175 USD per month. 

This green shack in the back is where Derrick lived. 

He slept there with his two cousins, Eric and Gabriel. 

It was so crazy to be back there.  

This is the outdoor toilet, the one that Derrick was allowed to use: 

And this was the shower: 

We walked back into the covered garage area, and Derrick got so excited to see specific items that he remembered from his childhood. . . he used the light blue tub on the ground to wash his shoes:

He remembered the little heater. . . everything: 

"This is where we used to do pull ups." So then he showed us: 

The girl who lives there came outside to brush her teeth: 

Here's a better look at the "sink" she was using:

One last picture with Derrick: 

And one last picture. . . trying to capture some beauty: 

And then we left: 

Goodbye, De Villiers Street: 


By that time, there was more activity outside, and I was glad to get out of there. 

Next, we went just around the corner to the apartment complex where Gcobisa lived until just a few years ago, when her parents moved out of the city to their home in King William's Town. As soon as I took this picture, a security guard came out and wanted to know who we were and what we were doing taking pictures because that wasn't allowed. 

The security guard made Derrick and Gcobisa go over and sign in. Gcobisa tried to explain that she used to live there and was just taking some pictures for memories, but the guard didn't believe her because he couldn't remember her. Lucy later said that we should have just told him that we were with Google Earth.

She told him that we were going to visit the Mpiyakhes, so he phoned them to confirm that they knew who we were. He wasn't really happy about us being there, but we just went on anyways. 

These cute boys were playing checkers on the stairs: 

And they weren't too interested in moving so we could take a picture: 

So we just worked around them: 

Here is Gcobisa, standing in front of the door to her family's old apartment: 

And then we went next door and knocked on the Mpiyakhe's door. This is what they looked like in 2002. Front: Litha; Back: Ludwe, Fezeka, Mtsabi, Luntu, and Ntombi.

Ntombi stayed with the Mpiyakhe Family and was in my Young Womens group. She was pregnant and passed away shortly after we left South Africa.

Here are more pictures of the kids, playing out on the porch in front of the Mpiyakhes. Front: Ludwe, Litha, Yondela, Back: Derrick, ????, Mtsabi.

Ludwe and John Paul: 

And then, eleven years later, here is Derrick with Ludwe, all grown up: 

Ludwe was busy working on a pencil drawing: 

A really good pencil drawing: 

A few weeks later, I read on Facebook that it won first prize in an art contest. 

We visited for a few minutes, while someone went to go get Litha. 

We were sad that Fezeka wasn't around, but it sure was fun to see her family. She is a great mother and has raised her children well. There was such a feeling of peace in their apartment; she has done an amazing job of making her home a safe haven from the outside world. 

Derrick and Litha were good friends growing up. He was a smart, well-mannered boy. Litha couldn't believe how tall Derrick was: 

It would have been fun to spend an entire day with the Mpiyakes, but we had a long list of places to go. They came outside for some photos: 

Derrick, Gcobisa, Litha, Nokuthula, Thobeka, Ludwe:

Nokuthula is now serving an LDS mission in Zimbabwe. 

The little boys who had been playing chess earlier were gone, so Derrick and Gcobisa posed for a picture on the steps, right where they used to hang out together: 

Luntu and Thobeka Mpiyakhe's's baby girl: 

The security guard watched us the entire time. . . he wasn't happy about us being there and was clearly concerned about the camera.

Everyone ended up following us out to the parking lot to our van.  If you can tell, all eyes are on Mykaeleigh in this picture. She loved being the center of attention. 

Then we were off to go see Derrick's elementary school. 

This was a common site along the streets in East London: 

This was another common site: 

Note that the boys were actually attempting to run quickly across the street: 

But the man is casually taking his time, even though he is crossing on a red light (and we are waiting to turn left. . . which is like a right-hand turn in the U.S.)

This is the view, looking south down Oxford Street. To me, it is the South African equivalent to Washington Boulevard in Ogden. Maybe it's the tall spires on the churches?

We drove across town to A.W. Barnes Primary School (C), where Derrick attended elementary school: 

This housing was located just outside of the school. I am guessing that the school's caretaker lives there with his family: 

This school is located three kilometers from Aunt Shirley's house. . . at first we didn't believe Derrick when he told us that he walked to school. . . But apparently, he did. 

The school seemed so big: 

Especially for such little kids: 

But it was bright and colorfully painted: 

There was a soccer game going on back behind the school: 

So that's why there were so many people around: 

These kids were playing closer to the school. It appeared as if their mothers might have been inside the school, cleaning. 

This "Early Childhood Centre" was located just down the street: 

Immediately across the street was this dumpster, overflowing with trash. Look closely. . . there are wild pigs: 

We drove to Buffalo Flats and stopped at Greenpoint Secondary School (D). Gcobisa matriculated (graduated) from this high school: 

Buffalo Flats is a colored neighborhood that is about two kilometers by one kilometer. 

We had just gotten there when Derrick excitedly yelled at us to pull over. He ran out and greeted this man: 

It was obviously someone important to Derrick, so I took a few pictures (from inside the van): 

And then I got out some better shots: 

Derrick introduced him to me as his friend named Boyson: 

It wasn't until ten minutes later, when we were back in the car, that Gcobisa told me that Derrick thinks that Boyson might be his father. What??!! Why didn't you tell me? I would have made sure I got a better picture. And Steve should have gotten out to meet him! 

And then we started to hear some whispering in the back seat. Derrick was telling Gcobisa that he wished he could do a paternity test because he wanted to know if Boyson was his father. And why didn't Boyson say something to him if he was his father? Should Derrick have asked him? 

It wasn't until even later that Gcobisa told us that when we had dinner with the Horners, Derrick had a serious talk with his Aunt Cynthia. And asked who his father was. Cynthia said that she really didn't know for sure, but they thought it was one of two guys. Either Boyson, who actually lived with Derrick's mother for quite a few years and acted like a father to Derrick, or a different guy who lives in the Transkei. 

Looking at this picture, I think there's a whole lot of physical resemblence. (I feel like Derrick is casually scrutinizing Boyson in this picture, trying to figure out if he is his father.)

There was further talk on this trip about this situation. Should we have helped Derrick sort out who his father was? But Boyson didn't make any attempt to express a relationship. And maybe that's for the best? Because what if he was his father. . . then what? Would Derrick benefit from a father-son relationship from someone who had dropped out of his life for so long? From someone who lives in such a different world and has such different values? Would Derrick be obligated to keep in touch? To visit? To send money?

And that makes me think of this quote again: Everything is as it should be. 

Next, we drove to Cranberry Primary School (E): 

It was a Saturday, so the school was closed. But there are always people around, just to keep an eye on things: 

This is the school Derrick attended when he lived in Buffalo Flats with his mother, before she passed away. 

We drove by the house where Gcobisa's family stayed when they lived in Buffalo Flats: 

(Derrick and Gcobisa both lived in Buffalo Flats, and then they both moved to Southernwood.)

And then Derrick yelled for us to stop again. He jumped out to greet another friend: 

Saturday was definitely the right day to be in Buffalo Flats. Or maybe people are out walking around every day?

We could barely drive 50 feet down the road without Derrick seeing someone he knew. And he didn't just know them. . . he knew their brothers and their mothers, and their grandmas too. They were all so shocked to see what kind of a person Derrick had become. 

Derrick's memory of everything was impressive, especially because he was only nine years old when he moved away from Buffalo Flats. As he visited with old friends, he seemed so happy and full of light. There was a part of me that was sad to think he wasn't able to serve a mission. Because he could have been an excellent missionary. 

This is the house Derrick lived in up until the time his mother died:  

He lived there with his mother, his grandparents, and a few other relatives too: 

The woman who rents the house looked out her window and saw us taking pictures, so I told Derrick to explain why we were there. 

She invited us in, so Derrick checked out the kitchen: 

And showed me the room he shared with his mother: 

We got back in the van and were driving for all of five seconds before it happened again. "Pull over! That's my cousin!" She couldn't believe it was Derrick. 

 He was pretty much a celebrity.

The last person we bumped into was his friend from Port Rex: 

He asked me if I was Derrick's wife. . . so I immediately went back to the van and put on some makeup. 

Derrick wanted me to take a picture of this corner because it's where he got bumped by a car when he was a kid:

This is Aunt Shirley's house in Amalinda (F). We were supposed to meet her there for a visit, but she never showed up. After waiting for almost thirty minutes, we called and she said she was twenty minutes away. . . which we assumed meant more like twice that long. We all needed to use the restroom, we were all hungry, and it was past time for us to pick up Rachel and Lucy. So we had to reschedule. 

This is what things looked like in the Flowerday's family room (G): 

Needless to say, they had quite a fun sleepover. 

On our way back to Chandlers Guest House, we stopped at Clarendon High School (H), which is where Gcobisa went to most of her high school years: 

I saw a couple of girls, in uniform, and asked them to pose for me: 

(The girls were attending a field hockey game, so that's why they were wearing their school uniforms on a Saturday.)

We went to Chandlers so the girls could get dressed. And look, I did take a couple pictures of our room(s). 

This was the room that me and Steve slept in: 

And this was part of the kitchen. The door on the right opened up to the bathroom: 

We dropped Derrick and Gcobisa off at Wimpy's (their favorite) and then the rest of us went back to The Windmill for a (very) late lunch. Mykaeleigh got some creme soda for enduring the long day: 

Creme soda is a very popular drink in South Africa, but it's not the same type of cream soda that we are accustomed to in the United States. Creme soda in South Africa is green, and it's made by Coca Cola. 

We took our food to go and went and parked by Eastern Beach (J). This is the view, looking northeast: 

And this is the view, looking southwest: 

That building that hangs out over the ocean is a restaurant that Steve and I ate at on Valentine's Day in 2002. It was the only time that we watched the Winter Olympics on television, and it was so strange to think that we were missing out on all of that happening back home. After dinner, we posed for this picture on the beach: 

And then, just after we took the picture, it rained. Poured. We were completely drenched by the time we drove our scooter back to our apartment. Good times. 

We drove by the East London Aquarium:

But since they only have a few seals, we decided to wait for the aquarium in Durban. 

Here's another view of Eastern Beach. It's not the safest beach in East London, but it sure is beautiful!

This is the store where we bought many of our souvenirs on our first trip to South Africa. We were hoping to purchase a few things, but it was closed: 

We were planning to take the kids to Friesland, a popular ice cream shop in East London: 

But shakes in South Africa are usually quite runny. . . so we decided not to bother. 

We drove by Walter Sisulu University (K), which is where I taught during my internship: 

But back in 2002, it wasn't Walter Sisulu University, it was Border Technikon: 

Some days, I would arrive at the school and find that there was no electricity in my classroom. You had to carry your own toilet paper with you because otherwise, it would just get stolen. Most of my students were older than me and they could not believe that I was married. I could barely pronounce their names, and of course, I had to take role every day. 

As part of the course I taught, I met with students one-on-one to help them set three goals for the semester. I still remember the awkward conversation when one of my students told me his goal was to get circumcised. 

Everything was just like I remembered it. . . including all of the STOP HIV billboards: 

We drove back up towards Oxford Street: 

And past the LDS chapel (L), where the East London 3rd Ward currently meets: 

And then back to Mechaelar's house for another quick visit: 

We took some more pictures:  

(Mechaelar and her mother live in the third-floor apartment, up above Derrick's head):

There is something special about Mechaelar. She just exuberates happiness:

Last week, she received her call to the Ghana Kumasi LDS Mission. (We were really hoping for Temple Square.)

And then we said our final goodbyes: 

We drove back to the Flowerday's house for dinner. . . it felt like we had been driving all day long. 

The kids couldn't wait to play with the turtles again: 

The Flowerdays have a lemon tree by their front porch. . . how cool is that?!

They also have a trampoline. . . which was a big hit with these girls: 

The Flowerdays invited us over for a braai. . . and they really know how to braai: 

I should have taken a picture of all of the meat once it was cooked because it was pretty incredible. I did get this shot of the whole group around the dinner table: 

Everything was so good that I ate way more meat than my stomach could handle. Stephen and Jacqui had asked about my surgeries and I had just explained to them that everything was fixed and I could eat without any problems. . . so then, when my stomach was killing me, I felt silly and didn't say a word about it. 

I also ate my very first (second and third) passion fruit. I have always loved the flavor of passion fruit, but it was my first time eating the fruit fresh. They all laughed when I ate the seeds, or "pips". . . but I like crunchy things. 

The Flowerdays are fabulous hosts, and we could have stayed and visited with them all night long. Stephen is a world traveler, and listening to him is fascinating. He loves to analyze different country's economies, politics, etc. And he always makes us laugh with stories about the church in South Africa

But we finally had to call it a night. I was completely exhausted, but we still had one more stop to make. . . a visit with Aunt Shirley. Steve might have had to talk me into going. . . 

We drove back out to Amalinda for a short little stop. Derrick was holding Mykaeleigh and Tyrone walked right up to her and asked, "Who is this ugly man?" and pointed at Derrick. It might have been funny if he had said it just once (or if he had been joking). But he repeated it three more times. Mykaeleigh didn't know what to do and just looked at him. Derrick said if he would have said it one more time, he would have punched him in the face. 

The kids could all sense the tension, and it was a very strange visit; we never even sat down. 

Derrick was really hoping that Aunt Shirley would give him some photos and other things that belonged to his mother. But she just went on and on about how busy she is with school (she is going back to college?) and that she just didn't have time to get things together because she didn't know he was coming.

There were photos of Derrick's mother, Alicia, right there in Shirley's house; I was slightly tempted to take this one for him: 

But instead, I just snapped a few pictures of them with my iPhone before we left. 

I will have to find out who everyone is in this picture below, but that looks like Shirley on the far left with the orange pants, and that's Cynthia in the white blouse, third from the right. That is definitely Tyrone, right up front, and maybe that's Derrick peering out from behind him? Eric is wearing the navy blue and red jacket. The photo was probably taken sometime between 1993 and 1994; I am thinking that might be Derrick's mother, third from the left with her head bent over: 

At breakfast earlier that morning, the host of the B&B asked me how everything was. I politely complained about the water situation, and they finally figured out the problem. . . Our room was hooked up to a solar water heater, separate from the other rooms. Winter was just beginning, and it had been unseasonably cold (and rainy), so there wasn't an adequate supply of hot water. They gave us keys to a different room so we could have warm showers for the night. We also got some wood to have a fire in the wood-burning stove. Going to bed clean and warm made me very happy. 

This marks half-way through our trip. . . do you think I'll ever finish?!


Rachael said...

I love reading about your trip. Keep the posts coming! Also, my step-brother just got a mission call the Ghana Kumasi! He leaves on Christmas Day.

Rebecca said...


Awesome, awesome pictures. My favorite one is the one where you are shooting through the chain link fence and the baby is sitting in the window.

Natalie B. said...

This is one of my favorite posts about your trip. Was it emotional for Derrick? I can't even imagine! I think Boyson looks like Derrick and M. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Woow! Its the first time I've seen this... Totally amazing. Funny enough I come from Buffalo Flats, my family still leaves there. I stay far away from there I have been staying in Pietersburg for almost 10years now, something about leaving the nest I guess... I also finished my high schooling at Greenpoint. I must say when I saw your pictures I felt emotional. When I saw the pictures of Eastern beach tears filled my eyes, I really miss home now. Perhaps its time to pay a visit. Thank you for your story... Be blessed.