Scene 11: A Raw and Unexpected Story


On the Thursday of our second week, after having felt that our project had been up in the air, we were excited to arrive in 7de Laan with a concrete plan of action. Our day’s goal included forming deeper connections with people, better understanding the context of our project and developing a stronger sense of pride in community members by conversing with them to develop an individual personal profile as a gift.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
Student Researcher: Carin
7de Laan Residents: Molly, Elizabeth, Abby


The 7de Laan informal settlement, Molly’s shack.


a raw and unexpected story

7de Laan community member Elizabeth

As our team of five hopped out of the van onto the sandy dunes of 7de Laan, we passed out interview sheets and decided to split into two groups, each with a translator to make conversation with community members smoother. Our group walked to the back side of the settlement and peeked in the first doorway to see our friend Abby smiling at us from inside the back room.  She waved us in and the four of us cramped into the small back room in which the family kept a small spaza shop.  In the room we found Elizabeth and Molly sitting together and smiling up at us.  They didn’t need to tell us how happy they were to see us again, because it clearly showed, but they did anyway. Chiana pulled out an example of a personal profile from a 2010 project and Elizabeth loved the idea.

We began collecting general information, asking for her age and surname.  Then we asked Elizabeth about her life so far, and she joked with us about her naughtiness as a child and shared about her earlier years. We then asked if she wanted to share any big events in her life. At first, she was slightly confused, so Chiana brought out the 2010 profile again, pointing to the bottom of the page where Elizabeth could read and see the timeline of events. In an instant, Elizabeth went from laughing and joking to stiff and speechless and with this change in demeanor, tension filled the room like thick smoke. Concerned, we asked Elizabeth if she was okay and explained we could move on to another question easily if she desired.  Still struggling to speak, Elizabeth began with the year. “Two thousand five” she said, beginning in English, “there was a big fight”. Elizabeth was holding back tears, some having already escaped and gathering in the corner of her eyes. We noted this, while we kept eye contact with her, doing our best hear whatever she needed us to. Someone had approached Elizabeth, drunk and disagreeable. She had told the person to leave her alone. The story came in pieces as she struggled to communicate in English and keep herself from crying. We just listened and tried to take some of the weight off Elizabeth’s shoulders. All our fear and worry was locked inside.  It was like the room of us had taken a collective breath and stood motionlessly, holding it like we held our thoughts as we hung onto every word that escaped Elizabeth’s lips. She said that the person wouldn’t leave, and Elizabeth reached for her friend, Molly who mirrored Elizabeth’s emotions from the chair beside her. Elizabeth said that she had stabbed the person. Our translator, Karen, softly spoke the question we all had – “to death?” The answer, yes. The four of us still stood motionless, now held not by anticipation or worry, but shock and sympathy.  Chiana thanked Elizabeth for sharing her story. After a few moments, Elizabeth recovered, and we moved on.


We learned a lot more about Elizabeth, but this scene stayed fresh in our minds. No language barrier could hide the struggle Elizabeth still carried with her, eight years after the traumatic event had unfolded. None of us ever anticipated having this conversation, and certainly not to happen today. This was quite an experience to process. Chiana’s words will forever ring true – we are humbled and honored by Elizabeth for sharing such a personal story. Based on today, who knows what tomorrow has in store – who we will meet, what experiences will be shared, and what hardships we will encounter.