Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The End's Not Near, It's Here

I guess it’s time for the final post.  As I sit here on the plane from Joberg to Frankfurt, I struggle to find the words to explain the impact that this trip has had on me, my beliefs, my priorities, and my knowledge of the world around me. So here goes nothing.

This last week has been amazing.  Trying to squeeze in all of our goodbyes and last minute bucket list items kept us busy, but our adventures were well worth it.  We spent the majority of our time appreciating the local natural beauty of Cape Town, taking advantage of the good weather on some days, and braving the poorer weather on others.  During “Katie and Alena’s Adventures” we managed to do a sunrise hike on Lion’s Head, a hike in Kalk Bay that took us up the mountain above the clouds, a beautiful bike ride to the beach, and a hike to town from our house via the Table Mountain trails.  Our group had a few awesome days in the townships where we watched the Amy Biehl students perform the traditional dances, songs, and instruments of the area, and on another day we learned some smooth dance moves and songs at a braai in Khayelitsha. 

Traditional Dance at Amy Biehl

Lion's Head Sunrise

Kalk Bay Clouds

I’ve learned so much in these past five months, the list seems absolutely endless.  I’m sure Fairfield and Marquette would love to hear that I learned the most from my education with my classes at UWC, but that would be a lie.  I have learned much more from the 19 other individuals who I shared a house with, the kids in each class that I taught at Zimasa, and the many random people I have met on our adventures along the way.

I’ve learned that the word forgiveness has so many more implications than I ever thought possible, and that the power of forgiveness can lead people to do amazing things.  I’ve recognized the strength that it must have taken for the Biehl family to forgive the men who murdered their young daughter and then to turn around and work with these men to establish a non-profit to help “weave a barrier against violence”--teaching children the importance of humanity over race, gender or religion.  After meeting Amy Biehl’s murderers, I’ve also recognized how hard it must have been for Amy’s murderers, Easy and Ntobeko, to trust the Biehl’s, who are white, after growing up under the oppressive white apartheid regime. 

I’ve seen the practice of ubuntu first hand: the random stranger who stopped to help the group of random white girls find their way to their destination in the townships, the local who followed us literally 100 yards down the road to make sure we were safe while getting a soda, the man in the combi who told me that what I was doing at Zimasa made an impact on the kids and that the whole country thanked me, and the man who invited three Americans into his one bedroom shack and shared his bed with all of us.  This is the stuff you don’t hear nearly enough about.  Sure, South Africa is known for it’s beauty and prosperity, but you often hear about the high AIDS rates, rape statistics, and domestic violence situations because this is the stuff that makes the news.  It seems like we thrive on it, and therefore it fills the headlines, preaching all the dramatic bad news first, blurring out the stories of the local heroes who do so much to help others.  The people that we’ve met: Desmond Tutu, Mary Burton, Judy Mayotte, Easy, Ntobeko and so many others have dedicated their lives to changing South Africa into a place where we can all feel comfortable, where words like white, coloured, and black mean nothing at all, where we live according to our own standards, treating others as human beings no matter how different they are from us—it is this work that needs more recognition.  The things that these people have done are mind-blowing, yet we still focus on the negatives.  How do we change this?  Why are we always struggling to see the good in a person or place, but we have no troubles seeing the negative aspects?

I’ve also learned about the power of love while in South Africa.  I felt the absence of love, arriving in a country without a single person who knew anything about me- where I come from, my experience, my struggles, my LIFE.  But I’ve also felt a huge abundance of love from those same people that I considered strangers just weeks earlier.  We had some of the craziest experiences together, whether we were cheering each other on as we jumped off the world’s highest bungee or holding each other as we cried about situations that we had no control over.  To the nineteen people who have shared the past 5 months with me in the Kimberley House, I love you all more than you can imagine.  Catherine Bruning, Molly Arendberg, Janelle Smith, Charlie Wagner, Tyler Atkinson, Vicky Mei, Sarah Bowen, Caitlin O’Brien, Lydia Gajdel, Brian Mahoney, Dan Beck, Laura Malandra, Kristen Loeser, Alena Owen, Hanna Joyce, Madeline Wadley, Melissa May, Laura Bicknell, and Bailee Lauer, you are all awesome.  This trip would not have been the same if it were not for each and every one of you.  Our theology professor Chris Ahrends showed me that I don’t need to have a concrete definition of God in my life, nor do I need to associated with a specific religion, or set of ideals to be religious.  Our body map projects, where we told our own stories through symbols and pictures allowed me to put my past, present, and future in to perspective.  Our grassroots class with Sharon Penderis taught me so many different methods of development, used to involve the community in a project to ensure sustainability in the area.  The class also paired with my service site, where my learners taught me about living simply and being happy while living in circumstances that the majority of us would consider unbearable.  It helped to put my troubles into perspective.  Today, when I found out my first flight was delayed and hour and a half, I became frustrated, but then I realized that it really doesn’t matter.  I have had the privilege of flying across the world, living in a beautiful house, and getting a world-class education while working with kids who have never had a hot shower.  And here I am getting upset about a delayed flight.  Old habits die hard I guess. 

As I leave the mountains, ocean, and colourful people of Cape Town behind, I do not regret one moment of my time here.  Every experience has been one that I have learned from and grown from and for that I am so thankful.  My time in South Africa was filled with love, laughter, and learning and as hard as it will be to readjust to my hectic American life, I will always carry Cape Town in my heart.

You and I will meet again, When we're least expecting it, One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face, I won't say goodbye my friend, for you and I will meet again” - Tom Petty

1 comment:

  1. The photograph reverses the purpose of travel, which until now had been to encounter the strange and unfamiliar.
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