Saturday, June 30, 2012

Simply Living

I’ve been thinking a lot about a frequently used YAGM phrase- Live Simply so others may Simply Live. I’ve been thinking about how that has applied to my life here in Kimberley and how it will come into play upon my return home.

A large part of being a YAGM and going to a different culture is to live simply within your community. During the first month in Kimberley it definitely felt like simple living when comparing it to what I came from. Water, transportation, food, and entertainment- everything was scarcer, less varied, smaller, or nonexistent. It was new, but with each day everything became more habitual. At this point, life feels just as it always has- normal.

Now that I have gained this equilibrium, I’m questioning this simple life that I have been given the opportunity to live and comparing it to others in my community. In doing so, I see that I am still sitting quite pretty. The majority of people that I know, that are my neighbors, friends, and coworkers, do not have a room of their own, do not have a television, do not have dinner prepared for them each night, do not have running water, do not have taxi fare every single day, and let’s get realistic, some of the kids I know by name do not have a roof over their heads.

These are all things that I have. Everyday, no problem.

My house in Kimberley

This hit me pretty hard one Sunday. I was getting ready really early in the morning to take the kids at Thusong to church. It has been so cold here and I really did not want to be out from under my covers. I had a hot cup of coffee, put on my North Face winter jacket, earmuffs, scarf, and gloves and headed off on my 45-minute walk to Thusong. I felt really sorry for myself the entire way there. When I got to Thusong I saw all the kids waiting for me in front of one of the houses where the only bit of morning sun was shining. No one had on a winter jacket. A few had on a pullover or track jacket and a few of the guys were still in shorts with their socks pulled up as high as they could go. Everyone was looking as cold as they felt. I stood there feeling like a complete idiot. I was so ashamed of myself. As I walked home after church the sun was high and the day turned hot. I was annoyed that I was now sweating, but mostly I was annoyed with myself and the attitude I had earlier that morning. 

So this is where my questions come in. This is where I wonder about my simple living in South Africa. Here is where my privilege slaps me in the face and says that even when “living simply”, I am comfortable.

Being a comfortable YAGM is a terribly uncomfortable feeling.

Some of the girls at Thusong receiving donated blankets on Family Day in South Africa

This feeling has caused me to switch up my schedule during this last month in Kimberley. On afternoons when most of the kids are at school I usually sit in Thusong’s office going through and organizing files. Now I spend those hours walking into town and spending some time with the boys who previously had lived at Thusong but now just…don’t. I hate to tell you that there hasn’t once been a time when I have gone into town and not found at least one of these boys. They are usually walking around with others or sometimes they are handing out fliers or washing cars, which I’m sure someone tossed them 5 Rand to do. During each of these visits my heart grows a little tighter. We usually sit on the curb, share a few granola bars, and I try to ask them where they have been staying, usually without much luck. We share a few laughs, tell each other that we miss and care for the other and then hug goodbye.

I know these interactions don’t change the fact that I have and they do not have, but for a portion of my day I get the chance to sit on the street and listen to what a boy has to say and I allow myself into the reality of another. I become uncomfortable that their reality is real.

Being uncomfortable is the exact feeling I want to have.

Knosi, George, Joy 

So, bringing this back to going home. Home, sweet home. There’s no place like home. Nothing more comfortable than that.

I may never see any of these kids and teenagers again; these kids who don’t even have a postal address. I may never be back in Kimberley or hear whether or not the kids graduate Matric or what it is that they go on to do. I may never get another chance to tell them how much they mean to me and how much they have affected my life.

I just hope that in going home I never lose this uncomfortable feeling I have when I see the troubles they go through (uncomfortable being an extremely understated word here).

These same issues happen in the United States as well. Right there in hometown Racine, Wisconsin. It’s a challenge to live differently from what you’re used to but in my experience it’s when I’m uncomfortable that I’ve learned the most and truly experienced real life. Going home doesn’t mean that it’s time to go back to being comfortable. Leaving South Africa doesn’t mean that we no longer seek out those who live differently from us, who’s lives and histories may make us feel uncomfortable, who may need someone it sit and share a few stories with.

I have a new standpoint on ‘living simply’. Acts such as taking shorter showers and not overeating are important and things that we can and should all do, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s more than being conservative with resources and not indulging ourselves.

I think that living simply includes simply listening to a different perspective, or simply accepting other lifestyles, or simply giving not just money but a few hours of your time, or simply admitting when you’re wrong, or simply seeing the world and all it’s complexities that affect each and every one of us. Simply taking the chance to be uncomfortable in order to lift up another and in return lift up yourself.

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