*Reflection from January. My thoughts on the past month (Feb.) will be posted just now. Sorry for the delays.
This has been an interesting month to think back on, reflect and then write about. It has been a time of transition and clouded by frequent visitors. It is the halfway month of my time here and it really hit me as I reflected on the questions that always float through my head of what am I doing here, who am I hear to serve, what can I learn, what is in store for me after YAGM (yes I know, scary question). It was a month of transition in that halfway through the month I returned to my “home” outside of Loskop after being away in the mountains for a month and had to get back into the swing of things. I found myself once again living alone and with plenty of time on my hands to reflect, read, and talk with those I live around and with. Overall it was a bit of a tough month. Cultural differences, visitors, a few general frustrations, looking forward to family visiting and the perpetual question of whether or not I am needed or appreciated around my “home” at the center brought about a few long days.
It can be hard to, in a sense, sit back and work on relationships and solely living with those you serve. That has been one of my major challenges this year. I was brought up to work hard and do the best job I can do at a given task. But at the end of the day I don’t think I am here to work. I am here to be a representative of the Lutheran church and to represent the idea that I have come to learn from those I live around. I still find it a bit strange that there would be no emphasis in really putting a long term volunteer to work daily within the church and community as I work for FREE and enjoying doing so. But I think this is a cultural difference from back home and it is just the way it is. People enjoy just spending time in conversation and getting to know what I am all about. It has been very cool to see what just spending time with my “neighbors” has produced. I am welcomed and greeted by name even so far as 20km from my house by total strangers because I have been living with and among my fellow brothers and sisters from the surrounding areas. I am not saying that my white face has always been welcomed as a friendly face at the shebeen, in Estcourt at the taxi ranks, at the market or in Gorton at the rural taxi rank and market but the first step to loving your neighbor is to choose to live and spend time in their neighborhood, eat what they eat, shop where they shop, travel how they travel, and wait for time to happen as they wait for the same thing. The friendships with my neighbors of a different race and socioeconomic background have been created over time not overnight. It takes time for people to cross barriers and layers of misunderstanding, hurt, and guilt that clouds and clutters many cross-cultural relationships.
Its one thing to visit poor people with donations, advice, and the idea that we are hear to teach “these” people, and we are here to show “these” people how to do things cause they don’t know how. It is an entirely different thing to stay and walk with them, to be willing to show our own needs and humbly admit “we” are the ones that really need to learn how to do things and how to go about living a more fulfilled life, and to take on a piece of their sorrows and troubles in solidarity. I will never fully know what another human who lives in my area goes through on a daily basis. I know what its like to walk on the side of a gravel road and dodge kombis by diving into the weeds and grass as they pass by blaring SA house and hiphop beats. It reminds me of the famous advice to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. But no matter how far I walk around Gorton, Empangheni, the Kwaz, or Estcourt, I will never know what it feels like live and be brought up in a traditional Zulu society where unemployment is high, people scrape by on welfare grants, and the HIV rate is around 50 percent of the adult population. What I do know is that when I get home to the US or as I travel around with my family the next couple of weeks I will think about my brothers and sisters in the rural areas as I wake up in warm beds, air-conditioned rooms, a large breakfast spread, a car, a college degree, etc. and ask the question how I am different and what did I do to deserve this. Its not a guilt ridden question, but it is a question that will remain in the back of my mind as I obviously come from the “developed” world, I will always have the advantages of a good education, a network of (hopefully) employed educated friends and employed relatives, the freedom to walk into a church without feeling threatened, and a lifetime of role models. I think the main benefit and blessing of my time so far is that it forces me to make an attempt to imagine, even go so far as try to experience, what life is like for someone else with fewer advantages in life and to question why. At the end of the day if I don’t maintain this awareness I will be missing a beautiful piece of how god loves people.