Some final reflections on our Journey to South Africa written after returning.
I stared pensively into the prickly blackness of night and watched the stars dance brightly between the clouds. The sky in Pilanesberg Park was breathtaking, and we had stopped mid-safari to witness a South African sunset and take a break. I used this time to admire our vast nocturnal landscape and reflect on my personal experiences. The trip still seemed so surreal, and I had only begun to process the weight of every profound experience we had. If I had to choose three words to embody the personal inspirations that the trip incited within me, they would be empathy, urgency, and sonder.
When we walked through many townships such as Soweto, Langa, Khayelitsha and Tembisa, I noticed a cacophony of horn beeps, loud music, and emphatic greetings. Their culture was so different than ours, yet in these ghettos people seemed to be overwhelmingly happy. It appeared that even though these people were facing challenges such as famine, racism, and marginalization, the people were content and firmly communal. These are two things that a lot of people in the U.S. don’t seem to overwhelmingly possess because of things like depression and our general lack of community. If I were to take a stroll around town, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be able to exchange loud greetings with any of the people I saw because it isn’t our way. It’s interesting to think about what things would be like if we were all more integrated with our community. Maybe that’s what we’re missing a little bit of Uxhumano.
During our visit with various high schools in the course of our time there, it was so intriguing to notice how many similarities we share and how easy it is to make powerful connections in just a few hours with people that live on the other side of the world. I learned so much from them during our talks. All of the songs and dances we shared broke down the cultural barrier and united us, and it was cool to see how much music meant to their culture because of their history with Apartheid. It was also interesting to hear many different perspectives on Apartheid from the interviews and from the younger generation that we spent time with. The wisdom that all of the people we interviewed shared with us was very potent and meaningful.
When we visited the Botshabelo AIDS Orphanage in Magaliesburg, the talk we had with Marion Cloete was probably the most profound moment for me. She was brutally real and honest and wasn’t one to meddle with the redundant. Everything she said was crucial and it baffles me that anyone could ever gain that much wisdom in one lifetime. When she talked about not feeling guilty for being privileged but using our fortunate circumstances to forge influential lives and make changes, it was enlightening for me because I always feel guilty about my inherent privilege; it always felt more like a curse to me, accompanied by exorbitant obligation to achieve great things. Everything Marion said struck a chord with me and I can’t possibly list it all.
When we played with the kids at the orphanage, it amazed me how quickly I fell in love with them. They were all so open and loving from the start. When Marion talked about their situation with HIV and how they all had such short lives ahead of them, it incited a powerful urgency within me that overcame my previous guilt. Wasn’t there anything to be done? I wished I could help them more, wanted desperately to cure them. Why couldn’t they receive antiretrovirals for free? What’s the price of a life in this dark world? What does it say about the world when there isn’t money to fund these kids’ treatments, but there is money to fund wars and prison systems? Just thinking about this unfairness anguished me. I wished upon a star for all the ignorance and prejudice in the war to be replaced by empathy.
I hope to not lose this urgency for change as I return to my privileged life full of material merit and comfort. I could write for pages and pages about the weight this experience had, but I’ll spare you. Special thanks to our teacher, Ward for organizing this experience, and to the parents for funding it. This has certainly been an eye-opening trip, and I will cherish it forever.
It didn’t even hit me that we were in South Africa for the first few days we were there. It was surreal being so far away from home. But as we had new experiences at various schools and around Cape Town, I started to become more aware of where I was and what I was doing, and as the trip continued I was getting more and more inspired by everything we were doing. Visiting the schools was a great way to make friends and connections with other students, the interviews improved my understanding of the people we had been learning about all year, and the townships changed my perspective on the way everyone in the world experiences life. However I think the international trip itself had a more general influence on me. Not only did it allow me to leave my comfort zone in terms of spending so much time away from home, but I was more able to reflect and think about everything we did, which I think will greatly help me for the rest of my life.
The safari was a very special experience. It was a great way to end the trip and was an amazing opportunity. I really wanted to get everything I could out of it knowing I would probably never get to do anything like it for a very long time, if ever. I really wanted to take every chance I could to go out, and I’m glad I did. I think it paid off considering the amount I saw and how much fun I had. We also had a lot of free time while at the Black Rhino Lodge, which gave me a chance to look back at the rest of the trip with my peers.
When we started to leave, I was pretty excited to return home, but there were quite a few times when I wished we had more time to do certain things. I’m very grateful for what I got to be a part of. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience. I did not expect any of it in the months before I left. I really hope I am given another chance to return to that beautiful country at some point in my life.
I was homesick the last few days in South Africa. But being home, back with my family whom I’ve missed so much and the bed that I’ve longed for, I realize that I am still homesick. Not for my home on Casa Lane this time, but for my home across the sea—South Africa. In fact, I am reluctant to write this because it feels as if I am closing the door on my experience. However, I know that a trip like this is impossible to forget. It opened my eyes to see beyond my own little world and gave me a wider scope of thought.
The first moment that comes to mind when I think of the connections made in South Africa is the gentle face of a little girl at Philani. She wore a long, puffy, sky blue winter jacket despite how warm it was, cuffed jeans and black boots and short frizzy hair. She had beautiful, thoughtful eyes and a gorgeous smile that never ceased. She also had a walking impairment and therefore walked with a limp. No one treated her differently, for better or for worse. She wasn’t excluded, but the kids didn’t accommodate for her slower speed either. They’re little kids, though, so I suppose I didn’t expect them to. Instead I picked her up and carried her around with me, making sure she was having fun. Rather than her choosing me, as was usual when we visited children, I chose her. I was the one who became attached to her. And when it was time for her to leave and she ran to her dad, I was the one who came up to her to say a few more reluctant and sad goodbyes. She didn’t speak much, aside from saying my name, but her smile and laugh was all that I needed to know that we shared our connection through love. She played with my hair and laid in my lap, and I ran her around on my back and pushed her on the swings. I could tell that she was strong and undeterred by challenges; she retained her happiness and her smile despite her walking impediment and the difficulties it posed. This little girl, this little ray of sunshine, is the first face that I see when I think of the people we met in South Africa. She has a pure soul and a wholesome love that I wish she will spread when she grows up, uninhibited by any challenge.
I will remember the people we met and the connections made more than anything else on this trip. More than the colorful sunrise on the safari, more than the ever-present, ever-beautiful Table Mountain, more than the biting winter winds (but maybe not that much more than being charged by a black rhino). The students we met at the high schools we visited were so easy to talk to and make connections with. After timid but warm hellos and a showcase of our hit single, “Shosholoza”, our class and the other classes that we met became instant friends. I learned how much we had in common, despite living so far away from each other and in such different circumstances. The people that we had the privilege of interviewing, specifically Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were very wise in what they said, and it made me proud that they took the time to talk to us, and even seemed to enjoy our company.
Humanity is universal, and kindness and hospitality is abundant. I held witness to this during our time in South Africa. It was so different than what I’ve grown to know to be my world at home, but it was so easy to make connections. There is an overall goodness of love inside all of the people that we met that unified our happiness.
I cannot summarize my trip in a few long paragraphs, nor can I explain the nagging loneliness I have felt since leaving South Africa. The question of, “How was it?” and my response of a few adjectives does not seem to do this trip justice. I miss the friends with whom I’ve made strong bonds with, and the little kids who stole my heart with their generous love. I miss the sense of purpose and appreciation I felt in Africa, but I know that I can reflect back on the trip and share memories with my classmates every time I’m feeling a little homesick.
Uxhumano (connection) is a fitting synopsis to describe this trip. Like a dazzle of zebras traveling as one, we traversed around South Africa making many connections along our way. Through music, youthful interactions, demonstrations of love and even smiling and waving, South Africa has shown me the significance of connecting with others. Connecting with others allowed me to embody the true meaning of Ubuntu (I am who I am because you are who you are). Without connections, I cannot be the person I was meant to be.
Music enabled me to get my first glimpse of South Africa’s embodiment of Ubuntu. Music invited the community together to celebrate or acknowledge an event. From performances at high schools to funerals in Botshabelo, we encountered musical expressions everywhere we went. South Africans are passionate singers who express their emotions through harmony. Voice projections and melodious tunes are imprinted in the South African lifestyle. In Tembisa, I encountered Ubuntu in the choir that we formed. As I sang with the group, I was assisted and supported in my musical performances. My friends and I sang together to experience Uxhumano through music.
Love was intertwined in the kids in Philani and Botshabelo. As they squeezed my hand and jumped on my back, I was the recipient of unconditional love. A mere encounter with a young girl was converted to an affectionate friendship. She looked at me with bright eyes and a loving smile. I looked back at her with mutual love, and it was confirmed through the grin in her eyes that we were going to be friends. The Uxhumano between us was as intertwined as the ties within a woven basket.
Hospitality continued to surprise us during the course of our trip. Every time we entered a high school, kids would greet us with open arms. A greeting from a stranger had the potential to be converted into a friendship. When I shook hands with a young girl named Meghan, a conversation struck immediately. It was as if we had known each other for years when we had only just met. It is interesting how just a simple handshake can turn into an instant friendship. Uxhumano at its best display.
My trip to South Africa has further broadened my understanding of Ubuntu as a real idea instead of a previously abstract thought. Music, love, and hospitality are huge components to South Africa’s way of embodying Ubuntu and making Uxhumano come alive.
“So you have become immune to profundity.” – Jillian Haley Campbell
When our trip to South Africa began I didn’t expect much. I expected to get there and do many things that I was told were supposed to be enlightening but get nothing out of it other than another day in my life. Each day I grew more and more surprised because I realized my expectations were ignorant and naïve. Each moment became a memory I could look back upon and learn from; this reflection came through the blog post I wrote. All these moments seemed profound to me, each with a hidden meaning I had to search hard for. There was so much profundity in every activity we did that by the end of the trip I was not surprised by anything that we saw. I didn’t expect to see what I saw, but I was not surprised. I had become immune to profundity as Haley pointed out while we were reflecting on our experiences. I am extremely thankful that I was able to go on this trip and experience all the things we did firsthand; otherwise I don’t think I would truly understand what South Africa is: a place of truly inspiring dynamics that have the power to transform how I see the world.
Immediately after our arrival in the United States my family whisked me away from the chaos of the San Francisco International Airport and treated me to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, PF Chang’s. We followed the waitress and took our seats around a circular table. When our waitress took our drink orders, my dad said with a proud smile, “We’re having a celebration today. Our daughter just returned from a two and a half week trip to South Africa!” The lady’s face lit up. “Oh, how was it?” she started, “Was it life changing?” There it was, the unavoidable, dread-inducing question being asked by the waitress at PF Chang’s. “Umm, I’m still not sure; I’m just trying not to force too much meaning into everything right now,” I responded with hesitation and uncertainty. But now, having been back home for a few days with time to think back on my experiences I wish that I had responded differently.
The moments that mean the most to me from our journey are characterized by vulnerability. These instances of rawness were prevalent throughout our visit to South Africa and were quite profound. While sitting in a circle in a room at Getty 1, the pier from which the Robben Island prisoners were sent, Thulani Mbaso recounted the traumatic brutality that he underwent at Robben Island. After giving us a tour of the township Langa, Amanda, a learner from LEAP School told us how difficult it was for her to show us the poverty in which she lives because she felt embarrassed and wanted to show us the nicer parts of the township. Marion, the founder of the Botshabelo AIDS Orphanage sold nearly everything that she had, bought a piece of land and dedicated her life to something that seemed immensely bigger than herself. The kids at Tembisa greeted us with endless amounts of infectious energy, casting aside all inhibitions and fear of judgment. Thinking back on these moments I cannot help but wonder what our trip would have been if these risks had not been taken. If Thulani did not sit on the ground and reveal those painful details and insights, my sense of empathy would not have been stretched in the way that it was. If Amanda hadn’t told us of her challenges then we wouldn’t have been able to fully understand or appreciate the depth of her gift to us. If Marion did not have the courage to sell everything and start Botshabelo, the fate of hundreds of children would be very different. If the kids at Tembisa hadn’t shown us their vibrantly authentic selves then there would have been a lot less laughter and smiles shared.
The lesson that I learned and relearned over and over on this journey has to do with embracing vulnerability. It’s one of the big ones that has shown up again and again in my life. I really don’t think that you can learn it enough times. I truly admire the courage that is deep in the hearts of the South African people, and I hope to bring a little bit of it to my life on the other side of the world.
Under normal circumstances I would find myself feeling uneasy when asked whether or not this trip changed my life. Thankfully, over the course of these past two and a half weeks, moment by moment I have come to realize that I don’t need to be noncommittal and unsure when faced with vulnerability. I felt the value of being authentic, declarative, and certain. So, to put this into practice: My trip to South Africa was life changing. I’m not exactly sure how and I’m not exactly sure to what extent, but it most definitely was.
Any trip of this magnitude is almost impossible to sum up, but the closest possible description is that it was an amazing and very full two weeks. The trip was a whirlwind, which began with what Ward said before we left: “I’m not promising a life changing experience.” That sentence before such a trip can have many connotations, but the one that I took from it was that you make your own trip, plus the bumps and bruises. If you go into an interview tired and with an attitude of this isn’t going to be fun, your experience will reflect that. On the other hand if you go in not necessarily awake or well-rested by any means, but with as much energy as possible and an interested attitude, chances are that the interview will be a better experience for you.
That simple principle made the trip seem simpler and more manageable because when high school students, like ourselves, face such a seemingly insurmountable task we need simplification. I know I did. The idea that we were going to interview and meet amazingly powerful people like Desmond Tutu and Dave Steward is crazy. The impact and insanity of some of the things we did was only apparent afterwards and even now is still coming to light. When you explain to your parents and friends how Mr. Steward and The Arch command a room, you sound a little crazy. Tutu’s attitude and Steward’s laugh are things that are nearly impossible to explain, but every time you try, the memories become fresher. His Archness has this amazingly happy attitude that brings an entire room right up to his level. The infectiousness of his laugh and smile should honestly come with a warning: CAUTION: EXTREMELY CONTAGIOUS. It is something more people could use.
Steward has this cool, calm, and collected nature that keeps his laughing exterior afloat. We asked him what some of his biggest challenges were during his time as Chief of Staff for F. W. de Klerk, and he chuckled, as if thinking how to answer without too much self-incrimination. His ability to laugh at himself and his past errors was amazing to me. Between the two of them, that first week was a great way to start the immensity that was this trip. The stunning quality of the trip almost never faded; some of the flights were less fun than one would hope, but it was an all-inclusive package.
That package obviously had the Values portion with interviews and late nights working for early mornings, but there were indeed other parts. There was this little part that came toward the end of the trip, the safari, which honestly rivaled the entirety of the previous week and a half. The warning we got before leaving was watch out and roll up your windows. Well, watch out we did, but there were no windows to be spoken of, just frigid air and animals most people only dream of ten feet or less away from us. Not twenty minutes into the first morning, we saw two white rhinos whom we were told are brothers. We moved to a better position and stayed for a while, and eventually the rhinos walked right up, almost up to our car, and then behind us. With several more hours to go, we were wired and ready, despite the ever-permeating cold. The safari was like nothing else anyone in our class had ever experienced. It was off-roading meets the San Diego Zoo. The roads were unforgettable, and the animals were closer than we could have imagined. The safari was more than the animals; it was the area, the sunsets, the sunrises, the rocky crags, the perfect grasslands. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve’s specialty was that they had multiple biomes within one small area, so in a sense, it was South Africa.
Although impossible to do accurately, summing up the trip eventually boils down to just a few things. Never underestimate exhaustion, do your best to understand those around you, both classmates and new people, because it gets hard, and finally, just roll with the punches because you might get hit in just the right place.
Our journey to South Africa was a whirlwind of new, exciting experiences and deep connections. Every single day there was an amazing experience, and every day taught me something new about the world we live in. The trip has taught me to be thankful for what I have and to not feel bad for having it, but rather to share it. Although Uxhumano was not a life changing experience for me, I will cherish the memories made and never forget the lessons I learned. I loved everything about the trip, so picking something that was my favorite is difficult, but if I had to pick a favorite part, it would be the day we gave clothes and medicines to the children at Botshabelo Aids Orphanage. All the smiles on the children’s faces after they had received their new outfits really affected me and showed just how much of a difference every little thing makes. Their happiness lit up the room. Shout out to Botshabelo for being the best! Overall the trip was a success, and it helped me grow and develop a greater awareness for the world around me.
“We don’t believe it. No matter what we say, it’s true. Is this our world?” These are the lyrics to the appropriately titled song Law Of The Jungle by Laszlo. This song was constantly running through my head throughout the journeys and moments that I experienced in South Africa and was a major component of the trip in its entirety for me. Not just this song but all of the musical endeavors that were thrown at us. Whether it was singing in group, listening to my music on the long bus rides, getting blown away by the choir at Leap School in Cape Town, or struggling to complete the first steps in the Gumboot Dance at both Leap School and Norman Henshilwood High School, music was everywhere and it was a special way of connecting with others that I will truly and greatly miss.
Throughout the trip, the idea and concept of change was often brought up and discussed. From Marion’s speech at Botshabelo to the small group discussions at the various schools we visited, one of the most common themes was how we were going to bring change to the world. Going back to the song, that was inspirational fuel throughout the trip. The lyric “Is this our world?” made me think of the similarities between us and South Africans. When I arrived in South Africa, I was not expecting to be greeted with open arms at every turn.
On our way to the Black Rhino Lodge where we experienced the safari, we stopped at the house of one of Ward’s old friends. Her name was Chene and she specialized in Narrative Therapy. We began to discuss the similarities and differences between South Africa and America, and we all came to the realization that people in America are often self-centered and only think about what is good for them, whereas people in South Africa are extremely hospitable, kind, and loving. This realization brought up the question: Is this really our world? I was not used to nor was I expecting such a large change in social environment, but that being said, this shift was one of the greatest things I experienced on this trip.
This trip has reminded me of how fortunate and how unfortunate I am. South Africa has shown me the capability of humans in dire and unreasonable states of life and the power of connection through music and art. This trip has made me realize that even though we don’t live in poverty, we are missing out on a huge step in human nature. I watch the children at Botshabelo and the people in the townships and I see them working as one, connecting, being open and curious. It astonishes me that even though they have so little, they still have so much and are using everything they have to live the best lives they can.
At the end of the day, we are all humans and we all live in the same world, just under a different set of circumstances. As the principle of Ubuntu states, “I am who I am because you are who you are.” I believe that this is how South Africans see the world, and this is something that we all need to learn how to embody.
P.S. I shook hands with Peter Harris.
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” ~ Nelson Mandela
The day I left for South Africa, I ran along west cliff to say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean. Today I said hello again. It has grown more crowded, as it does when the days grow longer and the heat comes to the Central Valley. I wove around families headed to the boardwalk and surfers carrying boards atop their heads just as the women in Khayelitsha carry sacks of mealy meal and buckets of water. Besides the tourists, nothing much has changed; the starlings still wobbled atop five foot grasses in Lighthouse Field and the roses still bathed me in sweetness as I passed.
I’m still not sure what inside me has changed since I left this foggy beach town nearly three weeks ago to journey to South Africa with my eighteen classmates and five teachers. However, I am starting to think it has something to do with my voice. I’m not quite sure when I stopped singing; it must have been fourth or fifth grade because I have memories before then of loudly vocalizing wherever I happened to be. Though I appreciate song share for the courage it has fostered in me, it did not give me back the joy of singing. This trip did.
The sun is bright above and we are singing Shosholoza to a group of older women knitting blankets in a woodchip pavilion surrounded by orange shipping crates turned study rooms, recently planted saplings, and a chain-link fence behind which an ever-growing crowd draws near. A sound appears and it takes me a minute to find its source: one of the wrinkled and brightly clothed women just in front of us. I don’t know how to describe the sound. I can’t find anything to compare it to, and I think that is because only a human being can make that noise. It is like she is an overflowing vessel of happiness and love. We are all instantly smiling.
Singing still does not come easily to me, but that makes it all the more precious of a gift I can give. I think I am starting to love my voice. It is my tool to connect with friends and strangers and to share the truth I gather from the world around me through singing, speaking, and writing. In our interview with Dave Steward, he said that the most significant mistakes he made were all the result of not speaking up. He told us not to doubt our intuition of what’s right and wrong. From this trip, I am learning to speak up and speak out.
Looking back on my experiences in South Africa, I smile. I’m filled with gratitude and love and I feel different in my skin; in a good way. This trip taught me how to let negativity go, that bad things will pass and doors to good things will open. Through the compassion and openness of the people I met on this journey, I grew. Bonding with kids my age that live across the sea from me gave me comfort. Holding the hands of small children, sharing laughter, games, and love with them brought me true happiness and not the kind that I feel everyday.
I feel inspired from this trip. I want to be better and do better. I’ve looked into the eyes of dying children, I’ve seen the conditions in which people in townships live in, I’ve heard stories about the cruelty of Apartheid and watched as a former prisoner of Robben Island reenacted his torture and cried. I’ve experienced things that other kids my age will never know, never feel, and never see. I can only be thankful for this. My heart and my mind have opened from this tremendous blessing.
There was a moment when I felt myself changing. It was when we were given the option to sleep in or go and sing for kids at the school down the street from where we were staying. I made the decision to go, even with my sickness. I stood up there in front of the crowd of students in a tiny church and felt like I was going to throw up, literally. But in the end we were rewarded with a loud, thundering applause and I knew that I had made the right decision and that this trip was truly changing me for the better.
Our teacher Ward told us a story on the night before our departure. The main message I got from it was that we all just experienced a feeling that is difficult to find, and although we may never feel it again, we can take comfort in knowing that we felt it at least once in our lifetimes. I know that I will spend the rest of my life trying to find the feelings I felt when I was in South Africa.
Undoubtedly, our journey to South Africa was the experience of a lifetime; not only due to the breathtaking sights we encountered but also the connections we made and the inner growth we all experienced. I was surprised at how much I felt truly changed, opening up to strangers of a completely different world. By our first encounter with students from LEAP school, it was clear to see that despite the physical differences, we really are the same people. One huge difference, however, was how friendly and confident the students were, an inner confidence not commonly shared by teens in America. Considering many kids in America these days focus on what they don’t have, it was inspirational to see a group of kids who were truly content with what they do have. Having nothing but the bare minimum of resources actually leads to a fierce appreciation of what you have, which is something I never thought about before. Teens were fantasizing about a strong education and following their passions. Whether it be a pop star or an actor or an art teacher, they seemed determined to let nothing stop their path. It made me re-evaluate my own privileges; materialistic things I obviously had taken for granted suddenly seemed so unnecessary.
At Botshabelo, Marion brought up these cultural differences by telling us to not pity the less fortunate, to not be ashamed of our luck in this life; instead, we can use our privileges to benefit not just ourselves, but the world. We don’t need to blame ourselves for being lucky in this life, but true appreciation is using our luck to help the unlucky in the world. This trip has really impacted me in ways I never expected, and it really made me realize what’s actually important in this life. Everyone generally has the same desires and dreams, but not everyone has the means to get there. This trip to Africa, no doubt a huge privilege, has given me more than sights to remember; it’s given me a reconstructed perspective on the true important things in this life, and to use my luck to the world’s advantage. I am so grateful to have been a part of this experience, and I am so looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish in this life.
I feel as if I am taking the oceans I crossed back with me, but then the surface shimmers and the depths become intangible to the grasp of words. My heart sags with the weight of a tiny blue marble given to me by a boy at Botshabelo. Unsyncopated thoughts dance in my head; numbers one through nine, Sudoku, gridlock. I stare out the window. From 30,000 feet up, the world is a rose, its petals unfurled. We ride alongside Helios in our steel framed chariot until hooves touch down, click clack clank, and we are home.
A week or so later, I am tossing the blue marble from hand to hand. I place it on my desk but still feel its gravity. It doesn’t weigh me down but rather sets a foundation for my thoughts. I wander into my memories until I arrive again at Botshabelo. Marion’s lucidity of purpose is rendered visible by her vow of poverty, by her endless changing of diapers and burying of children. Her most subtle intonations reveal that she is unencumbered by doubt. Some of the kids contracted HIV/AIDS as sex workers, sold into the trade by their parents. Marion told us that for the kids who suffered in this way, their parents’ betrayal, not the rape, is the most damaging part. I didn’t understand how Marion remains so hopeful in spite of the funerals and manifest injustices. During piggyback races I didn’t notice the weight of the child on my shoulders. When I looked up I saw a smile spread across the face of my jockey; it reached the corners of his jaw as he urged me to go faster. I understood; broken hearts like planets become whole with love and laughter.
My time in South Africa flowed by so quickly, but the river of places, scents, feelings, and people did not just touch me in the ephemeral moment of experience. In the Apartheid Museum I realized that true bravery is to take another step when no footprints lay in front of you. At Tembisa I marched, danced, and hooted not for fear of silence but out of love for the human song that I learned I can lend my voice to. When my mind was at play in the indeterminable miles of the savannah I didn’t discover my own clarity of purpose. Instead I found myself repeating a line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” In the time that has touched me and in the moments that my mind lays claim to like an explorer of the vast cosmos, I seek out the edge of the horizon and cast myself over, certain that what I love will always be with me.
The English language is something of a conundrum. Despite its position as a linguistic anathema that shamelessly pillages the roots of numerous other languages, it is able to weave together ludicrous non sequiturs into colloquial chains of logic that can describe a scene to such an utterly vivid degree, that having read a passage, one can claim to know the evanescent taste of a sunset or the booming depth of a silent street. And yet despite this creative carte blanche, there are some things that the English lexicon simply cannot do justice to. The experiences I’ve gone through over the last couple of weeks fall under this category of semantic anomalies.
Luckily, it is in human nature to try against all odds, and so I invite you to watch me fail. Someone once said, “If you have the opportunity to play this game of life, you need to appreciate every moment. A lot of people don’t appreciate the moment until it’s passed.” Inspiring words, no doubt, but they didn’t become real to me until I witnessed the vibrancy of the human spirit that flowed throughout everyone I met in South Africa. It is truly something to see a country that has faced such intense turmoil over the past century be so full of people making the best of what they’ve got. I’m used to complaining about school and taking it for granted. Yet to receive an education is something that is cherished in South Africa. In every school we visited I met kids just like me, who liked the same things I do and even listened to the same music I listen to. And yet they universally held school and learning in a place of utmost reverence.
Driving through the townships and seeing slums spread out as far as the eye can see, bustling with those to whom life would never afford the opportunity to go to school, put my place in the universe in stark perspective. On an even more global level, Botshabelo made my level of ennui towards life seem absolutely comical. These kids who had lost so much and had so little, maintained a level of joy I hadn’t felt in ages. Had it not been for Marion’s unabashed mission statement that privilege is something to be used for the good of others, rather than something to feel contrite over, I’d most likely be miring in guilt right now instead of planning for the future. Props to her. In retrospect, I wouldn’t say that the most important thing I took away from South Africa was necessarily something I hadn’t known before, rather it would be more accurate to say that my journey gave the reality of my situation a context that I had previously lacked. And for that, I am grateful.