Why South Africa?

Okay, so time to address the elephant in South Africa. When I came, the people wanted to know if I thought I would see lions roaming the streets of Africa. But then again people at home wanted to know what was worth going to South Africa for. Over one month in I am ready to attempt to answer ‘the question’ which I was asked by numerous family members, friends, and acquaintance before I left, which was why do you want to go to (South) Africa?
Let me begin with this image. I awoke one morning like any other, to scroll through my phone before pulling the covers off and starting my day. Being that there is a 6-hour time difference, my missed notifications are more numerous than usual. On this morning, my friend sent me a video in the form of a GIF, who had tried to call me while I was sleeping, but failed because of the time zone difference. The GIF perfectly sums up a lot, while still eliciting a good laugh. The GIF was a bunch of actors from different movies/scenes forming the phrase “Why did you have to go to South Africa?” (Unfortunately, I cannot post the GIF on this platform)

So why did I come here? I still truly believe what I said in one of my interviews, which is “that I am continually surprising myself.” When I was applying, it was something I dreamed of doing for over a year. I could not think of a solid reason why I should not be applying. I love learning, travel, and new cultures. But of course, this fellowship is so much more than that. To understanding what a global citizen is, to understand a new way of thinking, to press my own comfort zone so that it is uncomfortable makes it worth it when I realize what is beyond that ‘zone’ that I have unconsciously set for myself. This fellowship challenges me in a way that I have not been challenged before. It puts all my experiences to the test. I am pulling from each one in order to be as productive as possible. These experiences range from a term abroad, various classes, working in a clinic, working as a peer mentor, and sports team. As I remember Claire stating in one of her blogs, “to hustle” sums it up the fellowships perfectly because you have to think on your feet all the time.
With one month of the fellowship come and gone, this is just one of the things I have reflected on. With the concept of time looming over me, I realize just how fast time moves when you want to make a meaningful impact, but yet it also does not move fast at all. Nine months seems like a long time (sorry mom), but when you think about it, it is really not that long at all. As I said, I am one month down, but I have eight to go. I know I keep saying, it but I am really understanding the concept of perspective in so many new ways that had never before crossed into my mind. While I am still struggle with coming to terms with my own privilege there are so many more experiences that I would like to share, about these perspectives and why I came to south Africa. Being ‘on the ground’ makes all the stories and blogs I’ve read come to life.
1.) The women in support groups. I get to have a glimpse into what their life is like. You share very personal stories about your family situation. I see how hard it is for them to tell the group. From struggling to come to terms with their HIV status, saving money in order to come to buy food for their children, shed tears of your fears, but more importantly you women are so strong and resilient. You keep fighting back, and trying. You form a network with the other women in support group, and I see the power in numbers first hand. I have worked one on one with students before, but working in a group in this setting is something entirely new to me. It is quite beautiful to watch it all unfold. I see how hard it is for you to share with the group. From struggling to come to terms with their HIV status, telling your partners, and providing the best life for your children. As the past fellow Bri said to me, “All of these moms are success stories.”
2.) I see cultures and lives that live together, but separate. There is poverty everywhere you look, but there is also wealth in the same area. You see people begging in the street while people in BMW’s drive past them.
3.) I often have many ideas that come to mind on a daily basis. Most of them aren’t good so I toss them away, need a lot of work, or one time they are a go. But I believe that this is okay, for if you don’t try then who knows what will happen.
So, back to the question, “why did I come to South Africa?” I think the reasons and answers are changing all the time. Now that reason has faces to it. From the women in support group, to my co-workers, and to the friends I have made here, to the experiences that I know share with all these people. Every time I see something new that strikes me, I meet someone that shares a different perspective or story with me, or I’m introduced to a new cultural aspect. But one thing is for sure, is that this experience of living and working in South Africa has so much to offer me. I can already sense a shift in myself from this experience and I am thankful for being able to experience this new way of life with these new and amazing people.





3 thoughts on “Why South Africa?

  1. Dear Randi- This was a powerful post! First of all… I love that you reiterated the quote from Bri! The mothers I have met in HIV support groups have been phenomenal. It is hard to express the challenges they face, but so moving by how they manage to tackle their struggles and overcome them. Moreover, I am again pleased to see you and other fellows tackling the issue of inequality in your blog posts. This is a tremendous issue! One that I hope you will be expressing with students here when you return to Union. I also hope you will be thinking and comparing with what you are seeing to how similar inequities are present in the US. Consider Schenectady if you will… think about the education at Union versus the challenges being faced by residents a few miles away in Hamilton Hill. Essentially for me– this tension– between extreme wealth and extreme poverty was one of the challenges I most struggled with when staying in Joburg. Yet, I think it is a tension you want to keep, you want to reflect on, and to be bothered by! Try to resist attempts that such disparities are normalized. Yet recognize that such tensions create a lot of emotional and even physical strain. I am so grateful that you are enjoying the work, the experience, and remain grateful for the opportunity. It sounds like you are doing an incredible work!


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