It is spring. My daughter just rapped on the window to tell me she glimpsed a tiny fluffy head in the Cape robin’s nest.
We don’t have too many flowers in our garden. The birds eat them – including the plastic hyacinths I put out in a pot. So we’re limited to clivias and jasmine at the moment. But we do have lots of birds. Apparently it’s not wise to feed them too regularly, because they become dependent. It gets expensive too, because the more you put out, the more they eat. So I only fill the feeders once a week and I mix the wild bird seed with chicken feed. Of course, it doesn’t end there. The minute I hang out our bird cages, the cuckoos arrive, stealing seed through the bars, and the moment they get the chance, the doves come peeping in at the door.
I’m probably doing it all wrong – encouraging the wrong kinds of birds, providing the wrong kind of food and, of course, indirectly encouraging the destruction of any flowers that might struggle to bloom in my garden. But I try not to think about it.
The poor, however, are something else. They’re on every corner, waiting for a handout. How to judge who is a deserving case? Soup kitchens seem to be the answer, but are they really? You can’t turn away the “less” deserving. I could be feeding a millionaire for all I know.
That’s why, instead, I buy ingredients for what I think of as my virtual soup recipe. “Virtual” because I can do it from a distance and “soup recipe” because it feeds the poorest of the poor. The idea originated with a Mennonite community in Pennsylvania. They keep a supply of bags on hand for any national crisis, so they are always among the first on the scene to help the casualties. Here in South Africa, the system has been adapted to feed the poor on an on-going basis.
Each month I fill my bags with the ingredients for 10 basic meals for a family of four. (It wasn’t long before I knew the list by heart.) Then I drop them off for local missionaries who know exactly what they’re doing. Only the most destitute receive help. My friend, Ken, took these pictures of people lining up for their bags and taking them home afterwards.
In Tai Ji Quan there is a posture known as “Grasp sparrow’s tail”. As well as being part of a martial arts movement, it’s also a gentle reminder to focus on what’s really important. My virtual soup recipe may not amount to more than scattering a few crumbs – but it’s better than tossing them into the bin as if there were no such a thing as a sparrow in all the world, don’t you think?
Meet some real angels. The Fill-a-Bag website is www.fabfaf.org.za