A Day in my South African Life (and other meditations)
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – Mosesetjane, Limpopo – South Africa
Voices in tribal tongue surround me and carry me away with their rhapsody. Exuding vibrations of conviction, the sound of their song moves my spirit to another place. I begin to cry.
I cannot hold back the tears. It’s too much an experience; the people, their tradition, their faith, their smiles, their struggle, and their forgiveness. I am overwhelmed with joy, but a deep sadness accompanies it.
I look to my left into the pretty eyes of a girl, probably age eight or nine. My attention is stolen when the woman in front of me begins to sing in the native language of Sepedi, indigenous to rural Limpopo, South Africa. A new celebration has begun. Teenage girls and boys dance down the middle aisle in “kereke” (church) garb. I shift my eyes to fully take in my surroundings. I gaze to the right, through the opened stained glass window, to the mountain view. I inhale…and exhale gratitude for the sun’s touch on the high peaks of the Earth. A gust of wind causes dust to fill the air around me. I am forced to turn my eyes, overflowing with tears, back to the celebration.
“How could the Apartheid happen, and WHY for so long?”
These are good people, with unrelenting hope and joy in their hearts despite the oppression. “How could anyone let this happen?”
To think, I was a seven year old girl when South Africa’s parliament voted to end Apartheid rule, and it is not yet 20 years ago that this country had its first democratic election.
I like to think of the human race as ever evolving, and I do have ultimate hope and faith in humankind, even as I sit here in sadness questioning why. I also sit here believing that I have the answers to these questions. It is apparent that much evolution is still needed.
There are some cultures who have come far, yet so many who live in fear so deeply hidden that extremism, oppression, apathy, and even Apartheid mentality still exist.
It is not always the oppressed, poor, or under-educated that require evolution. No, it is more a requirement, for the good of humankind, that the educated, working, intellectual minds evolve; especially those dangerous minds, the habitual self graspers, who identify as being entirely separate from the sum of the parts (as if breathing different air); those that have acquired positions which can pull the strings of others’ fate.
The world needs human talents for the salvation of its existence, but these talents are worthless if their hosts’ minds are not freed. We must dig deep to understand our fellow humans, and to approach them with compassion in our hearts; our hearts that hurt by their ill minds’ actions. Easier said than done. But possible. The key is to remember, their minds are ill, and they are our fellow humans. With this approach, I can have ultimate faith in our ability to de-tangle and unravel old mind patterns, and weave peace through the torn and frayed.
My host sister’s voice penetrates the air as a young man begins a beat on djembe drum. My eyes drift again to the young children. I watch their eyes dance as they ingest the world around them; pure, innocent, deserving of all life intends to offer. How could anyone look into the eyes of this child and that child, and say to them the World is Not theirs? Yes, work must be done.
How is it still a question whether these children will receive textbooks this year or next? How is it a question of debate (or available for excuse) whether their futures are an important investment? How do we overlook the truth that equality and social justice benefits the Whole?
Yesterday I drank mojitos and martinis in the First World; South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. Today, just two hours away, I awoke in the land of bucket bathing, electricity shortage, and food insecurity. First World; Third World; One Country.
My host sister now interprets for me, the priest’s words. It is time to meet and greet. I extend my smile and hand to one of the young girls who has been particularly interested in My presence at church today; the “lekgowa,” or white person. She is shy at first, but smiles and shakes my hand in the fashion of the Sepedis; a shake, a squeeze, and a shake. Before I can let go her grip, three girls her age scurry in my direction with big smiles, each extending their hands with excitement to grip the hand of the lekgowa. Innocence, and parents who, despite much of their lifetime under the Apartheid, have raised their children to somehow not fear what is different and not mistake my whiteness as the color of oppression and wrong doing. This excitement and curiosity is something I get to experience everyday.
There is no such thing as a quiet walk around the village. I’ve tried many times to take my books to the mountains just a short walk away, and sit in peaceful meditation, or simply attempt a quiet communion with nature. I find myself greeted from every direction. The children yell, “Hi” and “Hello” from hidden places as I pass by the homes. I hear them, but often there are so many “hellos” that I cannot see from where they come. When passing by the women, who balance the day’s purchases upon their heads, while their hands swing free, I show respect by greeting in their native language; “dumelang” if I am up for conversation, or “relotsha” as I pass on by. They laugh with giddy that I’ve taken the time to know their language.
It is not uncommon for me to hear snickering behind me as I walk along. When I suspect I’m being followed, I turn around and see ten little black faces behind me. If I walk another few minutes, this number could multiply. They burst into laughter as I acknowledge them. Some will practice the only words of English they know. I am often asked, repeatedly, by the same child:
“How are you?” I reply with, “Fine, how are you?” They respond, “Fine, how are you?” I reply, “Fine, how are you?” This will repeat up to six or seven times with the same child.
The older children take a particular interest, “What is your name?” they ask. They laugh when I tell them Amanda. When spoken, my name sounds like the South African expression, “Amandla,” which was often shouted at anti-Apartheid meetings; a Zulu/Xhosa term meaning “Power.” I cannot help but love this similarity!
The children laugh even harder when I try to pronounce their names. I have found this a fun and enlightening challenge however. Tribal names often have beautiful meanings. I recall meeting Lehlogonolo at a school visit recently. I could not speak his name at first, but promised to be able to by the end of the week. My host family taught me to speak it. They belly laughed each time I tried. After three days, I finally got it. When asking them what “lehlogonolo” means, they told me it means fortunate. I love this word because it is exactly how I feel about my opportunity to live and work here, and for the grace of my host family, who I will be leaving soon (who I can also blame for feeding me too much and making me grow in places I never thought possible).
At a school visit in Mpumalanga last week, I met with students (referred to as “learners” in South Africa) ages 14-16. When I asked them what they wanted to know about me, they replied immediately, “What is your deepest fear?” and “What can you not live without?” My responses are too personal to share here, but I will say the difference in an American and rural South African upbringing were illuminated for me when they responded to the same questions.
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