Month: February 2012

everyone has a story to tell

They call him D, short for Dennis. He held a smile that was captivating, genuine and it was the main reason I took a look at his work as he called out the all too familiar and common, “come, look, I give special price for you.” Laid out on the boardwalk where handmade African artifacts. You could find anything from goblets, bowls, Africa outlines, strings of colorful beads, four-foot tall giraffe statues and smaller wooden elephants. He saw the tourist in me and desperately wanted my money, but after I asked where he was from, his story began to unfold.

D was from Uganda, located in central Africa. He grew up in Bukoto, a township in the city of Kampala with his father, the township priest, his mother, older sister, and younger brother. He told stories of riots, rampages, and burning within the township. But after a long gaze at the ocean he looked back at me and in an even solemn tone, he announced his father had been shot. Being a renowned man in the city, he was sought after by the white people and shot straight in his head in front of his entire family. It brought chaos to the township which quickly fell apart. The once community fled in all directions, every man, woman and child for themselves. His sister fled to the UK through a business deal, but through the disorder communication fell through and she hasn’t been heard from since. His brother fled as well, ultimately ending up in Johannesburg, a large city in South Africa. With D ending up in Port Elizabeth seven years after the tragedy, it wasn’t until two years ago that he and his brother finally found each other. With land comes pride, which is why his mother never left. She held onto the fifteen square feet of land his family owned and hasn’t left yet.

He came here with nothing. Leaving his town, family and two businesses behind, he was left with nothing. For the first four months he slept on the streets. Not used to the city life, he was scared of everyone, even the children. He spent his days at the boardwalk where the weather was a little warmer and more tourists were likely to give him money for bread, the only thing he could afford for the first seven months. Through relationships built, he learned to sustain himself with art. He began carving and mimicking designs of other local artists. Seven years later he can stand on his own two feet and feel proud of the business he has created. He had a passion for life that was truly remarkable.

“I’ve lost, I’ve suffered, I’ve started over, and I’ve succeeded. This is what life is about. This is why I am happy. You can’t appreciate life until you can say you’ve really lived.” – D.

People here give, share, love. They want to tell you their stories so you can learn where they come from, learn about Africa. Learn about the real Africa too, not the modern, tourist, “make-up” covered version that has been created. These people have lived. They’ve lived more life I could even dream up. They are proud. They want you to know them, to understand their struggles, to feel proud for their accomplishments.

“I am learning all the time.  The tombstone will be my diploma.” -Eartha Kitt.

erin.

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Make Everyday a Mandela Day

For the first time, Life College and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation came together and created a leadership workshop for college students based on the life works of Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela: The Champion Within workshop was offered for free to the international students. Last Friday, Megan, Dane and I set out at 6:45 am to seek out the workshop. It took place at one of the five NMMU campuses about thirty minutes away. Upon arriving we were split up to different tables of ten students each to commence the workshop. The day was split into five different modules (classes) each with a different theme of: Mentality Mindset and Attitudes, Madiba &I, Madiba’s Catalysts; My Catalysts, Building My Principle-Centered Champion Mentality and Make Everyday a Mandela Day. Each module was taught by a different professor and was broken up into lectures, videos, guest speakers and discussion. Each lesson was either to be discussed among our tables, self reflection time, or volunteers came up and shared their ideas with the auditorium of 600 students.

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.” – Chinese Proverb.

It was a powerful day; a day of enlightenment, a day of learning, day of sharing, a day of respect. It was a day where 600 students from all over came together to share one common goal, to learn how to become better citizens of the world. We didn’t know each other. We didn’t know where we came from or what we believed in. But we learned to respect each other, to open our minds, to ask the hard questions, and respect the variety of answers. We debated, chanted, sang, listened and most importantly learned.

“I developed some inner strength and soon forgot about my difficulties and my poverty and suffering, my loneliness and frustrations.” – Nelson Mandela.

It starts with one, it starts with you. The first step is the hardest but it’s the most important. You can’t help others until you are content with yourself.

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Next up was the Red Backpackers Valentine’s Day bash.

A local backpacker (hostel) that we had visited on our city tour the previous week decided to hold a Valentine’s Day event to raise money for the community. The school chartered buses for us to attend safely. Filled with mostly international students it was an evening of praying, poetry, speeches, dancing, drumming, performances, local beer (made from corn) and cow head. It was an authentic night never to be forgotten. To share just a few of my favorite memories are these few photos:

The township mini soup kitchen

cow head…. it was really fatty

dancing township girls

Valentine’s Day bash

African dancing

and then Megan and I danced 🙂

So blessed to be in Africa 🙂

Erin

my african beginnings.

I’m in South Africa. What?! It’s so crazy! The past couple days traveling and getting here have been a whirlwind. I left from Atlanta to Washington Dc, two hours. Then from DC to Senegal, seven hours. Then from Senegal to Johannesburg, eight hours. Then from Jo-burg to Port Elizabeth, 2 hours. With layover and everything in-between it took a total of twenty two hours, minus driving to get here. Whirlwind. I didn’t switch planes in Senegal, actually I wasn’t even allowed to leave the plane. I sat next to a cute girl that was a senior in high school. She told me all about her college plans and future dreams of adventure. We gossiped, told stories and shared advice as we didn’t leave each other’s side for seventeen hours. I was lucky there.

Once in Johannesburg I met a boy named Stephen that was headed to a school about an hour away from mine to study. We bonded over local beer as we waited out our delayed fight. We were lucky though because the two Port Elizabeth flights before ours were cancelled and ours still somehow went through. We parted ways in Port Elizabeth as NMMU students were there to greet me and take me next door to the hotel. My first night and I was by myself, which honestly didn’t matter since I was dead tired by this point. The next morning I had to get up to be back at the airport at 8 am for my ride to my new home. I thought other students would be there as well but with all the delays and cancellations I was the only one. Leaving the airport I got my first real taste of South Africa. It was unreal. Driving on the other side of a road lined with short palm trees and men riding in large vans shouting places I had never heard of. My first taste of Africa.

Once I got to my apartment, the landlord showed me around and one of my flatmates, was just getting up. She’s great, her name is Anne and she’s from Germany. Once I had settled in some we went with a couple other girls to the local mall to find bedding and groceries. We took a minibus taxi, which I found out was what the men in large vans yelling were actually called. It’s basically just a shared taxi for about fifteen people. It’s only seven rand (about a dollar) to get almost anywhere in the city. They just pull over all the time and randomly pick up and drop off random people. I quickly learned it’s for daytime use and use in groups. Private taxicabs are more expensive but more reliable, we took one on the way home and it was 100 rand for the four of us (about four dollars each). On the cab ride home the driver was telling us places to avoid and to basically never use your cell phone in public. Safety is a huge deal here. You have to be so aware of your surrounding and just make sure you at least look like you know what you’re doing. It’s such a different world down here, and it will definitely take me a little while to understand it.

My apartment is pretty decent. My room is big, a basic college dorm but like twice the size. I share a bathroom and kitchen with one other girl from America, I haven’t met her yet though. The kitchen has a microwave, stove (ish), and a half working toaster oven…. Cooking will be interesting. I don’t have internet here and that’s going to be something hard to get used to. We have it on campus but I’ll have to figure that out next week… probably when I post this. This hardly even touches on my first week here. I am a fifteen minute walk from the beach! There is an ice cream shop on the way down so I have spent my afternoons eating ice cream on these incredible beaches. It doesn’t get much better than this….

Classes started today so it will only get harder from here but I am simply loving this place.

Stories to come 🙂

“The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of this place.”

– George Kimble.

erin.

fearless?

I’m not going to lie, I’m kinda scared. I’m going to Africa for five months and I am nervous. Excited, anxious, nervous and a little bit afraid. Part of me doesn’t even feel like I’m going, and right now that’s the part I feel the most. This feels normal to me, this life here in Asheville hanging out with my parents, stopping by the local ice cream shop, walking the dog at night. It feels normal just being here. But this time tomorrow I will be in the airport, leaving it all behind again for Africa. People don’t often go to Africa. People go to London, they go to Europe, they can relate to me. But few people that I have told have been able to relate this time. This time it’s on my own. This time I don’t have a travel buddy. This time I’m not staying on campus with a flat rep to guide me. This time I don’t have a fellow UNCW student to go with. This time it’s on me. This time it’s Africa.

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” 

– Nelson Mandela.

So that explains the fear. What do I do the first few days? Will my roommates be there when I get there? Will I be able to pronounce their names? Will there be new people to adventure with the first few days? Will it be safe to walk around by myself? Where’s the grocery store? What will I eat? What if they don’t all speak English? What if I can’t find the university? What if I can’t find the beach?! Unanswered questions. Fear. A new destination that feels more like a whole new world I’m breaking into. Fear.

I don’t think it makes sense not to be afraid. But Taylor Swift once said, “I don’t think fearless means living without fear, but living in spite of your fears.” And in that case, I am fearless.

Fear drives me. Fear pushes me into adventure. As long as I don’t let my fear overcome this experience, I win. It feels like I’ve already won. I already have one semester abroad under my belt. I’ve already left everything comfortable and familiar behind once. I’ve already started all over and created a life for myself. I’ve already fallen in love with a city and left heartbroken. I’ve already made new friends, eaten new foods, and gotten lost in a huge city alone. I’ve already won. This is just the next step. The next great adventure. The next big win. This time it’s on me. This time I am pushed beyond my comfort zones, beyond anything I imagined. This time I have no choice but to grow. Grow in my independence, my confidence, my spirituality. Grow in my views of the world, in other people, in myself. I will push the boundaries. I will open my eyes. I will expand my world. I will overcome my fear, and I will win.

Here we go.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt.

Erin.