September 14, 2015

Day 696: From Botswana to Zimbabwe

I volunteered for 10 weeks in Masiphumelele, a township near Kommetjie.  As I have volunteered aboard elsewhere I thought I knew what to expect. This however, was not entirely true. I didn’t expect to be loved, looked after, cared and hugged so much from both the children and other volunteers. Most of the volunteer houses that I have stayed in are filled with love and laughter. This one however was more than that.

I grew to become part of a much larger family and community in Masi. I lived in a homestay with Candi, her partner Sidney and her daughter Amy. Her house functions with the philosophy of Ubuntu. I had never come across this philosophy before but it translates to human kindness, humanness and humanity towards others. Everything in this house was based with this at the core and the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who is the founder of the Art of Living.  Again, prior to coming to the house, I was not familiar with this idea. The Art of Living run numerous courses with personal development at the core. By focusing on our breathing, feeling more at peace, we can in turn reach our true potential.

During my stay here, I was welcomed along with the other volunteers and we were all made to feel part of the family.  Many of the volunteers here were younger than me, most ranged between 18-20 years old. It was an interesting experience to say the least, sharing the house with so many young women. We had many German and Brazilians.  It was good to be around a younger crowd for the most part, listening to their dreams and ideas on life. It made me laugh to know that I was a decade older than them and when I was their age, we had no mobile phones or ipad.

The highlight and the most precious part of my experience, was the kids. I was at two different projects, in the morning I was at Kiddies Corner and than during the afternoons, I was at Yade’s homework club. The kids at both of these projects were so loving, kind, funny and adorable. My sheer presence made their day. It doesn’t matter, where you are from or how old you are. I saw so many kids face light up every morning that it warmed my heart.  These kids are not shy, they are open and expressive. They love you with their heart and soul and expect nothing in return. Their innocence and curiosity for life is adorable. I couldn’t help but smile when I was with them. I loved each and everyone of these children so very much.

I have worked with and volunteered with many children over the years but with the kids in Masi, they are truly unique. These kids don’t have toys or puzzles or even paper sometimes. They make their own games and make each other smile. They don’t complain, they don’t have a mood swing and they are not disrespectful. They eat the food given, they share their lunch with others and they are grateful. These kids have no expectations, all they want to do is sit next to you, plait your hair and hug you. This is not too much to ask for.

Given how amazing the house, other volunteers and kids were, it was very hard to leave. I think I have this feeling every time something comes to an end but honestly, saying goodbye doesn’t get any easier.  The more I’m surrounded by love, the harder it is to leave. I felt my heart break when I said goodbye to the kids in Masi and many of them didn’t understand why I was crying or leaving. I used to wish I could explain it to them, that I could get them to understand that I would not be coming back any time soon but I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want them to be upset or hurt. I didn’t want the reality of me leaving to make them feel sad because of course they too get attached to volunteers.

There is no easy way to stop this sadness or even contain it. It is strong and over powering and at times all too much. I used to think I would stop getting so close or attached to other volunteers or children but this again is not possible. I love with all my heart, I give with all my heart so I feel the sadness with all my heart. I would rather feel everything, the love, the happiness and in turn the sadness. I don’t want to go back to feeling nothing or being so dis-attached.  Sadness is another emotion, not a pleasant one but an emotion and well we just have to ride it out. I know goodbyes are terribly hard for me, I no longer avoid them or live in denial instead I have come to accept it.

Just because something is hard or painful doesn’t mean we should avoid it. I am much happier to have all these memories, stories, moments shared with others than not. I’m nothing but grateful to Candi for running this project how she does and teaching us all so much. I am a better person for it and have learnt a great deal from other volunteers and kids. So I have come to accept that I will cry continuous for a while, my heart will ache and nothing will feel right for a few days once I’ve said goodbye.  Not all emotions can be understood or explained but they can be embraced.

Every ending has led to a beginning so upon leaving the house in Kommetjie, I started my tour. I was encouraged strongly to book this tour and whilst initially I was sceptical, I’m so happy that I booked it. Having only backpacked solo in both South East Asia and South America, I wanted to do the same in Africa but Africa is very different. Perhaps I would have managed to do this trip solo but I may not have enjoyed it as much. Sure, when on a tour, days are long, packed with a lot to do and see. The pace is fast and sometimes one is left thinking more time should have been spent in a city however this aside, everything is organised. When in a tour, we are able to share our experiences with other people.  Given how important people are to me, I’m so much happier to share my Africa venture with these people then go solo.

I left one family in Kommetjie to join another. I went from living in a house to living off a bus. I spent the last three weeks with a Australian couple, a German couple, a Portuguese woman, a American woman and an Australian man. I went from being the oldest to the youngest again. We were a small family but a kind and loving one. Given I was the youngest, many of the others looked after me. We swapped more travel stories and experiences and most importantly, we laughed. I feel extremely lucky and happy to have shared the first part of my Africa trip with them all and again am sad that we have all come to part ways. Initially, I was a little shy and even had doubts about my group but this all changed as days went on.

I love meeting people, all kinds of people, different backgrounds, ages, cultures, countries and languages.  What is so normal and acceptable to me, perhaps isn’t to someone else. How I would pronounce a word or share my opinion is done differently by others. Each time, these differences make me smile. I love listening to stories and people’s experiences.  I love how people make the effort to speak and understand English when their first language is German or French. I don’t need very much in life but I appreciate being surrounded by warm, loving people who are up for a laugh. We don’t know what is around the corner, we don’t know what tomorrow holds but we have today so we may as well crack a smile, spread the love and make our neighbour laugh.