There have been a couple soccer practices where I can remember Brian talking to us about mental toughness after a fitness test. On one occasion, he told us that he wants to set us up with the tools to be able to use after we leave the Union College Womens Soccer program to “gobble up life” from one of his movie references that I cannot remember. (The Great Santini starring Robert Duval. He told me later and I then put it in). As we were all bent over recovering from the sprints, he explained that he was tough on us because he knows that we will be successful after we leave here. To take our experiences and get as much out of them as we can, to learn as much from them. This is what I strive to do with my fellowship, but with my life too. It is what I think about when an opportunity crosses my path. Gobble up life.
From past experiences in life, and as told by the previous Fellows wisdom is that you will see certain things or be in different situations that will hit you and change your view on the world. Before coming to South Africa I researched, asked a bunch of questions like the try hard that I am to try to get an upper hand on what it would be like. It has helped to a certain extent, but I do not know until how I would feel until I was put in a situation and place that made me feel differently. Not just feel but more importantly see differently.
South Africa is unlike any place that I have ever experienced. There are 11 official languages that I learned from my google search, but there are so many more that are spoken. What I did not realize is that you can hear 5 different ones more or less on a daily basis. It is not just the language that makes it so varied but there are so many different cultures, accents, and people that co-exist in Johannesburg. I experience this at the clinic everyday. I struggle to understand the various accents and they struggle to understand mine. But the experience that promoted this blog post was the invitation to one of the staff members engagement party. The engagement party was to be held in Diepsloot, which is a township. I had not yet been to a township, and was not sure what to expect. I knew there was extreme poverty and people living in shacks. I hesitated on the invitation and waited four days before I said I would go. I knew it would be a good experience, but I struggles with how people would react to me being there. Would I be intruding, seem ignorant, or cause attention to be drawn to me as I knew I would stick out.
When I arrived, I saw what you would see in photos. What you do not see in photos is the interactions that take place between people. These interactions were: two boys that hid around a corner in order to sneak peaks at me and giggle, everyone welcoming to me, helping me understand rituals, translating the ceremony (they spoke in their language and had someone translate everything that was being said in english just for me), to after the ceremony when the food was served, the little kids were grabbing my hands to teach me different African dance moves. They loved it as they liked to show me how to do it and then watch me fail miserably. For anyone who knows me, knows that I cannot dance. Not at all, but I gave it my best shot. Several people came up to me and said they are happy I am here, but very surprised that I came because people like me usually do not come here. I think the thing that touched me the most was a grandmother. She stopped me as I was leaving, and said “Honey, are you leaving? I hope you enjoyed yourself.” When I replied yes with a huge grin, she said “I love you, I want you to come back and see us, it was so lovely to have you here.”
After that comment all I could do was hug her. I really struggled with the first time in my life with privilege. I knew I was privileged to attend Union College and to have this fellowship. But I did not fully realize my reality with how much of a privileged life I have lived until coming here. How fortunate I was to have the parents I have and to have the experiences I was given. I did not want to impose my culture, appearance, or view on these people. I wanted to blend in. These thoughts filled me with shame, that I have been working out since I arrived here because of the poverty that I see around me. I am so happy to have had this experience and to have accepted it. That grandmother showed me that my thoughts have been holding me back, and that I was withholding myself from gobbling up life. I could have missed this opportunity and I am sure glad I did not. One thing is for sure, the people really do make the experience, and I have met so many strong and inspiring people here.