For better or for worse, an experience as new and anticipated as my cross-cultural makes me hyper-aware of what I am learning and how I approach both extraordinary and mundane events. I catch myself trying to analyze-to-death some insignificant piece of glass or trash on the ground, and I tell myself to relax and back away from my absurdly poetic state of mind. But there is a lot of value in noticing, and moments when I can recognize the mundane as extraordinary are particularly rewarding: feeding the drab sparrows daily with a heel of bread; helping my host mother make cole slaw; watching a kid withdraw his sticky, slobbery hand from his mouth to grab my arm and choosing to appreciate our interaction of stranger with stranger.
On the way to the apartheid museum today, there was another moment when the mundane became beautiful. We were driving to the museum in our rented taxis, and a revolting pop country song was playing – twangy guitar, heavy beat, crooning female vocalist. But in a taxi driving through Soweto, I enjoyed the music in a way that’s hard to articulate, the song, the environment, and the pathos of the moment fit together perfectly, and I was happily content where I was.
At the museum, I lingered in the Nelson Mandela exhibit. Moving through a chronological account of Mandela’s life, I learned that Mandela was one of the first ANC leaders to suggest publicly that South Africans use violence against the apartheid government. This did not fit my impression of the Nobel laureate. I moved on, dismayed, until the exhibit began to address Mandela’s home in prison. A quote from Desmond Tutu said that Mandela transformed in prison from an angry revolutionary to a man who valued the humanity of his opponents. Knowing more about Mandela’s journey to peace, he seems more human now because he had to work to form his values, changing from a man who dismissed non-violence to a man who pushed for negotiation 30 years later.
-Tsepiso Moremoholo (Brendan Erb)
On Friday we had a debriefing session which included the group + each person’s host mother. The discussion mediator asked us to reflect and share on how our world view or perspective of self has changed through the three weeks together in Soweto. It was silent for several minutes while each person mulled over the significance of the question. Mme Nora broke the silence with a story about her upbringing. She grew up despising whites for the oppression of her mother who was a domestic worker in a white household. After getting an education so she would never be in that situation, Mme Nora knew she had to forgive. Even though she chose to forgive the whites for the oppression and hurt, she couldn’t forget. She shared about how thankful she is for the opportunity to host students over the years because through our smiles each day we help her to forget.
Many of the students also shared. One spoke on how he had heard about white privilege but didn’t actually understand until his time here in Soweto. He saw how truly privileged he is to be able to further his education and have an experience like this one.
I shared about learning to be content. I feel like at home I am never content. I am always looking ahead to what is happening in the future. Here in South Africa I am completely content in living in the present. There is no reason to worry about what is going to happen in the future because plans will probably change anyway. I’m getting so much more out of this experience through being present rather than worrying about what is happening next. I am so thankful for this new perspective.
One person shared about the love she has received here. She didn’t realize that in such a short amount of time she could receive so much love and care. She mentioned that every time a Mme says “I love you” she knows that it is genuine.
We have truly received an extraordinary amount of love, and I am so thankful. It is going to be excruciating to leave the families that we have been a part of these last few weeks, but each person is excited for the new experiences to come in Lesotho. Thank you for every thought and prayer that has fueled this journey so far. We would appreciate continued prayers as we move further into the unknown.
-Lebohang Dieta (Caitlyn Suttles)
“Motho ke motho ka batho.” – A person is a person through other people.
In our last week in Soweto, we took a trip to visit the Apartheid Museum. After the initial shock of turning in to the gate of an amusement park (surprisingly situated right next to the museum), I tried to put myself in the solemn mood that I take on when entering into all museums. I’m here to learn. I’m here to focus, I’m here to absorb dates and facts. But the Mandela exhibit wasn’t like that. As soon as I turned the corner to enter in the exhibit, I was greeted with a colorful, musical depiction of Mandela’s life. Nelson Mandela. Such a legendary figure. It’s hard to remember sometimes that he too was a mortal man.
In the whole exhibit showing the life of nelson Mandela, the thing that made me pause was one little African proverb on one little panel about Mandela’s childhood. “A person is a person through other people.” And it was like, “Oh yeah. There were more people involved. It’s not just Mandela. THE Mandela. There are others.” In a country that has Mandela day, Mandela memorials, Mandela murals, Mandela on the money, it can seem like a one-man show. But there are others. Motho ke motho ka batho. A person is a person through other people.
And if there is one lesson I’ve learned in Soweto, I would say that is it. A person is a person through other people. I don’t know if you all know this, but in Soweto people are everywhere. There is really no space. But having no space means the people of Soweto have turned into one big family. A family that we have been lucky enough to be included in for three weeks. How our host families have managed to give us all their love and attention in such a short amount of time I may never know. But one thing I do know is that I am more of a person because of it. A person is a person through other people.
-Kamohelo Khomongata (Mila Litchfield)