Current Location: Paarl, Western Cape South Africa
Eleven days. It has been 11 days since I’ve said goodbye to what is familiar. To the family and friends I love so deeply and taken a step in the direction of a dream. A dream that I had long buried because I had counted up the number of excuses that would excuse me from believing that even this God can do. That God can take this flickering dream of freedom and set it ablaze. Giving me a new level of faith to trust Him in this new land. I finally had the courage to dig up this decade old dream; South Africa I am glad to return. The fifth time promises to be epic. During my time here, I hope in you I find a home. I can not yet call you that because everything is different. Everything. Truthfully, every day I rise with discomfort, but it is also decreasing slowly. This discomfort is present because I’m still searching for my voice here. I spend a lot of time listening and observing and I believe this will be true for a long time. I’ve learned the most from what people’s eyes have told me.
People stare and it’s often uncomfortable. During my short time here, I have experienced a lot of stares. Young children staring intently as I enter the school with my friend to pick up her children. Stares from the waitress as I have lunch at a winery with my friend and her extended family. Stares as I enter church to worship with my friend. Stares as I open my mouth to speak and there’s the realization that I am not a native isiXhosa speaking South African. Stares as I have brunch with my friend to celebrate our birthdays.
Every other visit to South Africa these stares seemed bearable because there was an end in site. My experience of South Africa has been entirely through the lens of my friend of nearly 15 years. She is the native South African. White native South African. Each visit, I have experienced so much of the beauty that the country has to offer because I am friends with her. Her privilege has opened doors for me. I am treated differently (even at the airport) when I am with her or her family. I’ve often said to her that these experiences come with hidden pain because I see myself in the image of the Black South Africans. From my observation, they are largely treated and viewed as subservient to Whites. In those moments, I am often torn because I wonder at times how I can be treated so differently than my Black counterparts here.
Adults may speak words, but their eyes reveal their truth. When I peer into the eyes of some adults, although welcomed with a smile, they’ve said, “Why would you desire to live here, knowing our history?” “Now that you are here, just assimilate [bury your blackness].”
The eyes of adults and children are also trying to process this beautiful, yet complex, friendship I’ve been blessed to have for so many years with my White South African friend. Our differences are clear externally, in personality, and empirically.
Behind those stares are questions. I don’t think I am here only to answer a few questions. I do believe as my friend and I continue to be kind, loving, and equitable towards one another, the questions will dissipate and I hope the stares begin to take on a new meaning.
Apartheid officially ended here in South Africa in 1994. I was a student in high school. My 20 year high school reunion is next year. The laws changed less than 30 years ago. Deep seated bias, prejudice, and old mindsets don’t move easily. What I have learned in my 11 days here is that I must be loving, patient, gracious, unapologetically Black, and fearless. I know that this dream is not my own. I am certain it was given by God. Therefore, I will not fear.
When people are uncomfortable with your presence, you see it in their eyes. I am pretty sure others have seen discomfort in my eyes from time to time. I’m thankful to be here; in this place of learning. I’m thankful that the eyes can tell me a story when people may be unable to express what they really feel. As I build relationships, I look forward to dialogue. I am here to love, learn, and live. In that order. What a week.
The adventure continues…
“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.” – Nelson Mandela