Back in December of 2014 when I was presented with the opportunity to visit South Africa for a month this summer, I knew straightaway that my life would change. I did not return the same person as when I left. Something about me is…different. Before I left, I promised everyone that I’d talk about my time there via my blog and/or newsletter. I promised I’d share pictures and stories.
I’ve been home more than two weeks and I’m struggling to put this life-changing experience into words. My emotions are too strong, I suppose. Perhaps I should preface with I’ve had my lion’s share of life-changing events in the past years. I got a divorce. I moved halfway across the country. I climbed to 14,000ft above sea level and actually enjoyed it. I got a book deal. I started graduate school…again. I quit graduate school…again. And I’m about to be published. Yep, me, published.
Led by three faculty, CSU graduate and undergraduate students visited Harrismith and Qwaqwa, South Africa for a month. We primarily spent our time with the South Sotho, people who grab onto your soul with two firm hands and give it a sincere, loving hug. I’m still warm with happiness from their big hearts. And I ache to be near them again. I’ve never met a group of total strangers who welcomed me into their lives with such excitement and genuine affection. How could anyone not wish to immerse themselves in that for life?
The South Sotho were victims of Apartheid. For those who aren’t up on South African history, I’ll give you an abbreviated version. The Afrikaans, Dutch folk who migrated to South Africa long ago, enforced Apartheid (which literally means “being apart”) from 1948-1994. What it meant was that the Afrikaaner minority forced blacks and other “non-whites” to live in designated areas of the country. Apartheid was segregation in the worst form—no interracial marriage, no interracial schools, no interracial sports, no voting for non-whites, etc., etc., etc. If this sounds familiar it is because the United States lived in a similar “segregated” world up until the Civil Rights Movement. And if Apartheid sounds awful, it was. From it, however, Nelson Mandela rose from the ashes of his imprisonment and was voted President of South Africa in 1994. So, yeah, positive change came to the country eventually.
Shortly before leaving for our trip, we were told that racism still runs rampant in South Africa. We were told to beware. We were warned. I expected to witness racism. I did, of course. So, it’s no surprise that I expected the South Sotho to be distant. They could have seen us white Westerners in a very different light. They could’ve shunned us. Instead, they showed an outpouring of friendship that I have never quite experienced in the United States. Even now, I’m brought to tears thinking back on it, wishing that I could bring a piece of that scarred part of the world back home to Colorado for everyone to see and love too. Somehow I feel that if people could spend just a little time engaging with others from all over the world, forging bonds instead of separating each other by our differences, we’d cross physical, emotional, and historical barriers.
I will share more of my thoughts on the trip as the weeks progress. There’s too much to tell in one blog post. But before you go, listen and smile like I did when we were invited to a birthday party of a Zulu friend:[youtube video_id=”MtWaRV8F2sk” width=”100%” height=”auto” player_id=”player1″]
Peace and light.