Whilst hiking through the African Savannah early this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on the trip as a whole. Even as I write, details slip from my mind but what they leave are the bare emotions this journey has left me with. Love and thankfulness for the people I’ve met and the country I’ve grown so attached to.
Despite, or possibly because of, it’s many heartbreaking issues, South Africa calls to me. I feel connected to the people, the land and the music. It’s a feeling of thankfulness that I had difficulty articulating until this morning’s hike through the terrain of our ancestors. The open love and acceptance that exists within the heart of this country, despite the history of hatred and separation, has shown me how to truly see and be seen. More than this, South Africa calls to me with familiar voices that can only be described as close to those of home.
Pregs Govender and Desmond Tutu both taught us to embrace the whole, whether that is a country, a people, a person or oneself. That’s exactly what the people we’ve met in South Africa have done for us. Wherever we journeyed we were greeted with unquestionable acceptance that we couldn’t help but return.
Tomorrow morning we will depart, ending this journey and leaving South Africa. I have the bittersweet sense that, though I am returning to one of my homes, I’m leaving another one. There’s no way I’m leaving for good. Someday I will return to this place that I have begun to think of as home.
Throughout the school year we read many interviews in our Values in World Thought book. When reading these interviews we were told to look for complimentary themes. Searching for common themes while in South Africa was a much easier task then searching within a book. Our time there provided us with ample opportunities to notice common themes.
The first theme we found in abundance was passion. The people we met in South Africa all demonstrated genuine passion in unique ways. At Fezeka High, Wynberg High, and the Tembisa Arts Center, passion was expressed through performing. At Fezeka High the students sang with high energy and acted with deep emotion. In Tembisa, the dancers conveyed their passion for their culture through dancing. At Wynberg High their passion appeared in the form of camaraderie within their dancing and in their dedication to rehearsing.
Another theme that occurred often was family. The places this theme was most present were MylifE, Philani, and Botshabelo. At MylifE, Linzi Thomas said that she is a person that street kids can come to for help getting their lives back on track. Linzi expanded her family to include anyone in need. At Philani it was clear that the families they worked with were connected and close with one another. The mothers at Philani form a unique type of family. At Botshabelo, Marion and Con make an effort to help families affected by AIDS. They give the kids a place to live and to be educated. Marion and Con have taken in numerous children and animals. They have made a family.
The final theme that I noticed on this trip was love. This theme was apparent every place we visited. Each person or group we met greeted us with love and warmth. These communities took us in whole-heartedly and we were treated with love and kindness. I hope that the people we met know how much their love meant to us and felt our love in return. I truly fell in love with many people there. It has only been 3 days and I already want to go back. I couldn’t have imagined the trip to be any more perfect then it was.
My journey to South Africa brought with it a whirlwind of emotion, adventure, and discovery. Through each precious experience, I have come to understand the strength of unity, the power of one smile, and the benefit of saying yes. I realize now that the opportunity for human connection is limitless if I have the courage to embrace it with sincerity.
For too long I have been shy around new people, fearing their judgment and convincing myself that I was not worthy of their attention. I didn’t feel funny enough, playful enough, or energetic enough. I would rather people not know me then risk them not liking me. During my time in South Africa this changed. I have gained a stronger perception of self and have reaffirmed my sense of worthiness. I know who I am and I know that is enough. As Desmond Tutu told us in our interview, “God doesn’t love me because I am loveable. I am loveable because God loves me.” By coming to this realization and solidifying my sense of self, I have been able to establish genuine connections throughout the journey and am more willing to continue the search for new ones.
During my time in South Africa, I have also been exposed to many of the heart-wrenching truths of our world. These difficult experiences have helped me better understand how to establish a foundation for change. Linzi Thomas, the founder of MylifE, told us “giving a group of homeless children a mansion would lead to nothing but a destroyed mansion.” I now realize that I can’t simply throw money and resources at our problems and expect them to disappear. In order to ignite positive change, I must be willing to listen, care, and love. In other words, rather than attempting to take care of others, I must provide a support system and enable them to take care of themselves.
Overall, this journey has been the most meaningful experience of my life. With each sacred moment, I have made both inward reflections and global realizations. The insight I have gained will play a crucial role in shaping my future, and the connections I have made will be treasured for the rest of my life.
I have awoken at last to the daunting reality of our world.
The miles of slums.
The starving families.
The HIV infected children.
I’ve always heard of such things, but hearing is not always knowing.
I have been confronted by the truth, and at last it seems real.
My consciousness has been transformed, forcing me to reexamine my life.
My worries: petty.
My complaints: trivial.
My goals: restricted by society’s definition of happiness.
This is who I was…and who I will never be again.
We were not put on this world to simply be.
Life must be more than that, and I must be more than that.
I am scared to let go of my comfortable life,
But I can’t go back.
I will never go back.
I am worried about readjusting after the experience we have just had. It feels funny to return to my former way of life after having such a meaningful experience. I don’t know how to return to my daily routine after spending time setting up a computer system for an orphanage or interviewing a Robben Island prisoner.
We spent so much time preparing for our journey but I don’t know how to deal with the return.
I find it difficult to try and explain my time in South Africa. I don’t know how to describe it so that people will truly understand how amazing it was. While I feel that trying to put my experience into words belittles it, I know that I have to try my best to share what I saw and learned.
This trip was a much-needed wake up call. Each person we met and each place we went taught me something different that will stay with me forever. Seeing people smile, despite their suffering, opened my eyes and gave me a new perspective. The talented kids at Fezeka High and Wynberg High taught me that you don’t need to impress judges or pass theory tests to be a true musician. All that matters is that you love what you are doing and put your heart and soul into it. They also taught me the importance of passion and to not take myself too seriously.
The people living in the townships taught me that you don’t need material goods to be happy and that something as small as a smile can leave a lasting impression. They showed me how important it is to take the time to acknowledge everyone as human beings. This is something that a lot of us don’t think about anymore. The kids at Botshabelo taught me that you don’t have to know someone for longer then five minutes to love them and accept them into your family. Everyone I have met has given me more then I could ever give them. I hope that the feeling of love and acceptance they have given me will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Even if I don’t grow up to ‘change the word’, this trip has caused me to look at life completely differently and will influence my decisions in the future. I now feel a responsibility to take every opportunity I’m given. Before this trip, I was one of the many people who assumed that everyone had the chance to change or improve their life if they really wanted. It scared me to see that some people have no say in the direction their life goes.
One of the biggest lessons I learned on this trip is to have an open mind to everything and everyone, because things and people have a way of surprising you. The things you see and the people you meet can change your life if you allow them to. Trust me, it’s worth it.
South Africa is a land of passion; a place of joy, of pain, and of contradictions. It was a truly unforgettable journey that I know will always have a special place in the hearts of all who were involved. We named our trip Sawubona. This means, “I see you”. Every day in South Africa, I learned how to truly ‘see’ others. Everywhere we went the people we met were engaging and present. At Fezeka, Wynberg, Tembisa, MylifE, and Botshabelo we were welcomed with hugs and sincere smiles. I immediately felt as though we had been friends for life. They did not care that we were white teenagers, with completely different lifestyles and backgrounds, from half way around the world. Somehow we all meshed together perfectly. I made many dear friends through our experiences.
In the beginning, when I talked with the teens at the different schools, I wanted to know about our similarities. I was surprised to find that there were many: music, clothes, dance, and hobbies. However as our conversations progressed, I found myself wanting to know not about our similarities but about our differences. I found myself moving from my safety net and into uncharted waters. The confidence and passion that everyone I met in South Africa embodied rubbed off on me. They unknowingly inspired me to jump out of my comfort zone and take more risks.
These risks included opening myself up completely to others. At Botshabelo, I fell in love with the children whose smiles showed me true joy. At the end of the night, my heavy heart and tearful eyes made goodbyes difficult. I realize that being open to others makes you vulnerable and this can be painful. But without this vulnerability, what is there in life? Without real human engagement, our lives can go by in a blur of nothingness. My experiences in South Africa taught me to always stay passionate, engaged and open, no matter how much it hurts.
At MylifE I learned that I am not too small to make a difference and that now is always the time for action. From Desmond Tutu, I learned that our past actions do not define us. At Wynberg High, Tembisa, and Fezeka High I learned that a passion for life leads to fierce joy. At Botshabelo I learned just how easy it is to love and be loved. I know that this journey will never end because I will keep the experiences and lessons I learned in South Africa with me throughout my life.
I experienced many new things on my journey to South Africa. I made new friends. Their experiences, motivation, passion, and dreams have motivated me to work to do good for others and myself. I met wise people who advised me to make my own mistakes and learn from them. To forgive, make peace with myself, find balance in my life and know that I am intrinsically worthy.
I had the opportunity to visit townships. Seeing people’s positivity and hope in the face of such struggle inspired me. I got to meet many amazing individuals. Seeing their gifts encouraged me to discover my own. They proved to me that every person has a talent to offer the world. They showed me that the smallest thing can make the biggest difference and that one smile or greeting is all it really takes.
I met people that find joy in the little they have and give their hearts out to strangers fearlessly, expecting nothing in return. Their history taught me that unity is power, passion is success, struggle gives hope, and dreams are inspiration.
As we travel home, I feel the need to reflect on our journey. Our preparation for the trip, our experiences while in South Africa and what we take back with us are all-important aspects of the change we are going through. There are multitudes of life altering experiences that I could write about, but what stood out to me the most is a life lesson connected to the name of our trip, Sawubona.
Sawubona is Zulu for “I See You”. At first glance it seems simple but the longer and harder you think about it, the more incomprehensible it becomes. Our interactions and experiences these last two weeks have shown me the true meaning of this word.
I learned that by recognizing the existence of somebody you validate him or her. It is easy to say that you see people, but Sawubona is about engaging them, their experiences and trying to truly understand where they come from. I believe you can change the world by showing individuals that their lives matter to the world. You can achieve this through Sawubona.
Everywhere we went in South Africa, people demonstrated how welcoming and openhearted they are. I was one of the lucky few chosen to go with social workers into the township of Kayelitsha. Every family we visited allowed me into their home without questioning who I was or what I was doing there. The families let me play with their children and watch as the social workers performed their weekly progress procedure. I felt lost the whole time, trying to act friendly while also trying to comprehend all I was seeing. I felt helpless and confused in the face of such extreme poverty but I also felt warmth and love radiate from the smiling faces of the people I met. I didn’t understand how people living in such horrible conditions did not dwell on the negative. Instead they seemed thankful and happy for what they had.
Throughout the trip I struggled to understand how the people I met kept their heads up. How could they be so positive? Why is it that I have all I want, yet continuously focus on the negative? I have asked myself these questions over and over again. Although I still don’t have any answers, I know there is something that needs to change in my life. I know that there is a lot to be learned from what I saw.
The hardest question to answer after completing a difficult journey, such as the one I took to South Africa, is, “What about the journey changed you?” There were certainly countless eye opening experiences. Walking through the township of Soweto where numerous South Africans live in extreme poverty and not once feeling the slightest hint of danger. Watching the orphans of Botshabelo standing over the graves of their loved ones and seeing hope and love in their eyes rather than grief and despair. Yet despite all these experiences, I am still the same person. I still weigh the same as I did the day I left. I still have as many freckles blotching my face as the day I left. So what is it that changed for me in South Africa?
Even before my junior year started I knew that I wanted to help people. I thought the best way to help people was to simply go to the nearest Starbucks and put a couple of dollars into the donation box bound for who knows where. Before I started the Values in World Thought program, I had nothing but pity for the millions of impoverished people in the world. I thought that there could be no happiness without possession of objects with monetary value. As I went through the Values class, my pity evolved into an unhealthy envy. Reading through various lessons, I began to think about how much purer and simpler happiness was for people that don’t lust for useless possessions. I thought that their lives must be better than my own and I began to lose sight of the truth that no matter what level of happiness I imagined these people to have, they were still living in horrible conditions and they were still in need of aid.
My trip to South Africa helped me find a balance between pity and envy for the impoverished of the world. They are neither animals nor gods, but humans just like me. I no longer wish to mail out envelopes of money to unknown charities or forsake the wealth I have out of a misguided sense of envy. My true mission is to make the world aware of the conditions these people are living in. Not to pity them but to learn lessons from them about happiness and what it means to be a family. I don’t want to invest money in them. I want to invest my life. I left part of my heart in South Africa and in return I was given a piece of its soul that I shall carry with me forever.
During this trip I have heard many times, “Don’t glorify poverty.” Or, “Don’t make poverty the hero.” This usually follows a comment by a fellow classmate that suggests lack of material goods is the key to being ‘real’. This makes sense to me because the people we met on our trip had nothing…..and they were some of the most genuine people I have ever met. So……. What is it that has a large number of people acting human? It could have something to do with money and STUFF being out of the picture. But, I think it’s something more. I FEEL as though many of the people we met have lost almost everything. But the thing they clung onto through all the struggle is being human. REAL. After meeting these REAL people….. It sort of became clear to me that much of my life is spent on autopilot. ANT PILOT Millions of humans that think they are so much more ‘dignified’ than other animals? Where did this idea come from? WHO THOUGHT OF APARTHEID? All these humans living their so-called ‘LIFE’ as though constantly crawling through an anthill. Human feelers (Antennae) at the ready, but only used to bounce off one another with NO AKNOWLEDGEMENT. Let alone connection. I think the South African people have kept their feelers working properly. They have the ability to see each other……. SA Feel them. WU Know them. BONA In a single moment. IS ALL IT TAKES!! THANKS AFRICA. For helping me grow a new, functioning pair of antennae.
This trip has been a crazy experience, but in a good way. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone. This is something I actually like. I have learned a variety of things. Everything from how to sit on a plane for fifteen hours, keep eye contact with an interviewee, and stay awake when I am exhausted; to more complex things like how to relate to people that have gone through hard times and how to become more comfortable talking to strangers.
Several things about South Africa have struck me. I have noticed that the people here are kind, open, and full of spirit. Wherever we go we are welcomed with open arms. During the singing and dance performances, the performers showed no embarrassment or fear. They hit every note with strength and every beat hard.
Another thing that I have noticed is the lack of clocks. I think it speaks about the culture. Their lives are not crammed full of things and they are not always rushing off to the next event.
One of the highlights of my time in South Africa has been our safari. While I thought it would just be a fluffy bonus, it turned out to be one of my favorite things. I learned much about the animals. Our guide was fun and easy to listen to and because of this, the information he told us stuck with me. Being on safari made me realize that the wide-open South African savannah is where I belong. Although my parents will be sad, I have heard ‘the call’ to become a guide. Our teacher Ward says you usually want to resist ‘the call’ but I don’t. I hear ‘the call’ and I accept it.