Helping the Homeless

For being homeless, Chips has a pretty nice place. He camps on a vacant residential plot on the southeast side of Gaborone. This area was developed back when the plots were very large, and the brush hides him from view of the nice homes on either side. There is a water tap on the plot, but Chips doesn’t have any way of bathing. When you’re homeless, you pretty much have to wear everything you own, and you can’t very well wear a tub and a towel.

When James and Dingane got there, Chips was sitting on a log. He seemed very happy to see them. "Should I get a log for you?" asked Chips. "No, we’re okay," they said. They exchanged greetings and then James said, "We came to give you a bath." "I don’t have a tub," said Chips. "We brought everything you need," said James. "Dingane brought you his tub, and we brought a towel, warm water, soap . . ." That really made Chips happy. The three of them walked across the plot to where our car was parked outside the gate. James reached inside the car and pulled out a pair of new shoes. Chips, who was saying something, stopped in mid-sentence and clapped. "They might be too big," warned James. "No! They’re not!" said Chips, without even looking at the size.

They got everything else out of the car and carried it back to a secluded space on the plot. Chips took the huge jug of water and started to tip the whole thing over into the tub. "Wait!" said James. "I would wash first, and then dump the water out, and then wash again." Dingane agreed, and Chips complied by pouring only half the water into the tub. When James handed Chips a bottle of shampoo, he started pouring the whole bottle into the tub. "Wait!" said James. "You have to wet your hair first, then put the shampoo in your hair, and then rub it in and rinse it out. I’ll go to the store to get batteries for your radio, while Dingane stays here and helps you." Dingane gave James a "Thanks a lot!" look, but he agreed to stay and help. "When you come back, I’ll be clean!" said Chips. As James walked back to the car, he could hear Chips squealing like a kid getting splashed in the pool. Dingane, pouring water over him, was doing his job!

James bought batteries and some antiseptic cream for a wound on Chips’ foot, and then he returned to the plot. Chips had just dried off. Even though James and Dingane had brought him new clothes, he was putting on his old clothes that hadn’t been washed in "forever." "Monna!" said Dingane. "Don’t put those on! Put the new ones on!" "No!" said Chips. "These stay up on me." Chips is so small, that apparently he was worried that the new clothes wouldn’t fit. "We got you the right size," said James. "Put these on." Chips continued putting on his old clothes. "They won’t smell nice!" protested Dingane. "I have some perfume," said Chips, and he pulled a bottle out of a plastic bag and started spraying himself. "Put the new clothes on now," said James, "or we’re taking them back!" "No, Dad, don’t take them back!" said Chips. "I’ll wear them!"

"I forgot to buy underwear," said James, "but I had these in my car. They’ll be big for you, but you can have them if you want." And he handed Chips the old boxer shorts that have been protecting our car mirrors from the birds. Chips pulled them on, then twisted the waistband and tucked it under to hold them up. Then he put on the new pants, new shirt, and new socks, to go with his new shoes.

After Chips was dressed, James told him that they were taking him to the barber. "No," said Chips, "I need to wash my clothes." "You can wash clothes tomorrow," said James. "Let’s go!" "Okay," said Chips, "let me get my stuff together." James and Dingane went to the car and waited. After waiting for ten minutes, Dingane went to investigate. Chips was washing his clothes. "Monna!" said Dingane. "Didn’t you hear us? We’re waiting for you! You must come now." So James, Dingane, and Chips went to a little hole-in-the-wall barbershop, where James and Dingane asked the barber to cut Chips’ hair and trim his beard. "No, just the beard!" said Chips. He sat down in the chair and covered his dreadlocks with his hands so that the barber couldn’t touch them. James and Dingane kept pleading with Chips to let the barber trim his hair at least. "Monna, you’ll look much better!" said Dingane. "You will look much better if you cut your hair," agreed the barber. "No!" said Chips. "I have a lot of money invested in my hair! And if I cut it, my people won’t recognize me!" "I can’t force him to let me cut his hair," said the barber, but he proceeded to shave off Chips’ whole beard.

When the barber finished, Chips bent down, scooped his beard up off the floor, and placed it carefully into a plastic bag. "What are you going to do with that?" asked Dingane. "I’m going to bury it on my plot," said Chips. All the way back to the plot, James and Dingane told Chips how good he looked — and how much better he would look if he had cut his hair! Chips just stroked his bare chin and said, "I’m going to feel cold tonight!" When they got back to his plot, Chips thanked James and Dingane. He was so happy. "You know why he’s so happy," said Dingane "he’s happy to feel fresh."

The last thing Chips said to James was, "Pray for me, Dad."