There are those times in life that make you reflect on your choices, your problems and what truly makes you happy. Sitting in our second QU 301 South Africa trip was one of those moments where I took a step back to measure the direction of my life.
The class began with us being introduced to the list of projects we would potentially be working towards during the semester. We were also able to see a few pictures that were taken during last year’s trip. It was nice to see some pictures that made the trip seem more real.
Professor Gallay showed us a picture of three school children all smiling with colorful stickers on their foreheads. I smiled at the brightness the children gave off amongst the dull and dreary background that was their school. I realized that although these children are from thousands of miles away, they aren’t all that different than the children I work with every summer. These kids just wanted to play and to explore, and above all else, they just wanted to be kids. Something as small and trivial as a cheap sticker made these kids light up like it was Christmas morning. This realization was just one of many that I had during this class period.
During class we had the fortune of getting to have a Skype conversation with Tamarin, who we will be working with during our trip to South Africa. It amazed me how far technology has come and I valued what a great learning tool Skype turned out to be. Tamarin gave great insight on the people of South Africa, their lifestyle and their perception of Americans.
One point that really struck home with me was Tamarin’s talk about how she passes children on the street corners begging for food. She said that it is common for parents to have drug and alcohol abuse problems, even while pregnant, which can affect the children their entire lives. It may seem naïve but I always just assumed that these people struggle to find food, to find shelter, or to find water. Hearing that they struggled with alcohol and drug dependencies made me realize they are regular people too. It hit me that their problems really aren’t all that different than mine and yours. I may not personally have such problems but they are common in America and it makes people from half way around the world seem somewhat relatable. In that moment I was able to connect to the people of South Africa and to their struggles which gave me my second realization of the night.
While we were talking to Tamarin and getting to know more about her personal life, she brought up a great struggle of her own. It had never crossed my mind before that whites in South Africa may feel out of place but that was exactly the case for Tamarin. Throughout her life Tamarin has always had to identify as “European” even though her ancestry was born and raised in South Africa just as she was. Tamarin voiced to us her question of who she is and how she doesn’t feel there is a place for her. I felt my heart ache for this person who has given so much of her time, resources and even herself to help the country she loves so much and yet can’t even be considered a part of.
How is this right?
She doesn’t have to say it but it’s clear that she is proud of her country and wants the label of a South African and not a European.
There are moments that force you to forget your problems, to measure them against the problems of others and to decide which problem you would take back. I can say that this moment made me do that, but the reality was in that moment; reality came and slapped me in the face.
As Americans we are always told, taught, even to think out of the box and to create something bigger than ourselves but the truth is that our “world” is locked tightly into that box. It’s time for us to break free from the box and to explore the “worlds” of others and to see the reality that these people live. I believe that in that realization will come the ability for us to value our own reality as so much more than we had previously thought. It’s easy to say it was only a class, only a seminar, or for some only a nuisance, but for me that short class was the eye opening experience I needed to finally push myself whole heartedly into this upcoming experience to South Africa.