It's a curious thing that happens. It seems that when we get to a place where no one knows us, we become most ourselves. Traveling to Africa was an incredible departure from my normal everyday life. The chance to see, touch, and do things that I had only previously experienced via my couch & flat screen, opened my world immensely.
The western world pumps adopt-a-child advertisements into our homes so often that the images of hungry people and stick thin babies become just another 30 second blip we forget 30 seconds later. American parents are quick to throw out the "starving-children-in-Africa" phrase to a child who refuses to finish their lunch. But I have been there. I have met those kids. I have shared meals and time and hugs with those people. And I have realized something vital. The only difference between myself and any S. African living in a one room shack is simply the fact that I was born a middle-class American.
Their way of life is different from ours. You don't see as much evidence of the rat race and the Jones's. Hope is a thing pushed to the side in favor of meeting basic needs. Families are broken by disease, distance, and desperate actions. Yet there still seems to be joy and contentment in even the poorest circumstances. Every place I walked, a smile was returned with a smile. Each person I met took a genuine interest in knowing my name, my story. People were kind, helpful, and reassuring. There was less focus on self.
It literally translates as 'human-ness' and is a common philosophy throughout Africa. In essence, it is the belief that we are all interconnected. No man can exist in total isolation. What I do with my time, talents, money and relationships always affects someone else. After spending time in Paarl the ache of poverty became real to me. But upon returning home, I realized a few things:
~ Just because you live in a smaller space, own less, eat less, and travel less that does not make me better than you. We are equally deserving and loved by God.
~ While I cannot adopt, save, or feed every person who is born into a life with less, I can re-evaluate how I use my treasure. Spend less time accumulating & complaining and more time giving.
~Living in this country is a gift. There are people that I now personally care about who will never have the opportunities that I daily take for granted.
Hanging in our home is a giant wall map with pins stuck in all the places we have been. They are color coded - Blue for my husband, White for me, and Red for spots we have seen together. Blue pins far outnumber all the other colors. But today I gained a couple on him. To others, they are just 2 white pins on a map. But to me, they are 2 weeks of cultivating my heart and regaining perspective on my life.