Hope, Joy & Community
One of the strongest lessons of hope was experienced at Robben Island prison when we saw the cell Nelson Mandela was held in for 18 years. Mandela was arrested as a “political prisoner” because he rebelled against an unjust government. As I looked at the cell, all I could think was “What would drive a man to be willing to sleep on a concrete floor, live almost completely alone, and perform manual labor for 18 years?” The answer came from our tour guide who actually was a past political prisoner like Mandela. He explained that fellow political prisoners decided to use the chance of all being together in prison to discuss how to make South Africa racially equal. They deemed the prison as a school and did everything they could to learn.
Being sentenced to prison for unfair reasons would be a hard experience. It would be easy to give up hope. However, Mandela and other political prisoners knew better. They had hope that one day they would be released, and had the wisdom to understand their country would need their leadership when that day came. By having hope, they were able to end racial segregation.
Often in our lives we become so obsessed with all the things that go wrong, we forget to be grateful for all the things that go right. I learned what it means to find joy in all situations when we visited the township of Kayamandi. Kayamandi is a shanty town which means most of the people residing there live in poverty. Many people live in homes constructed out of metal sheets and wood scraps. When it rains in Kayamandi the road conditions near homes cause flooding. Imagining all this, a pretty desolate and sad place comes to mind. However, Kayamandi is quite the opposite. Upon arriving in town, we were greeted with warm smiles and open arms. Walking down the streets, you could hear music playing and children laughing. We met our tour guide’s family, and as we sat in her home made of metal sheets, all I could feel I was an immense sense of love. The people of Kayamandi know something that we often forget: you don’t find the happy life, you make it. And the only thing you really need to have a happy life is love. By expressing love and gratitude, the people of Kayamandi taught us to find joy no matter the circumstances.
When we landed in South Africa and walked to the baggage claim area, I already knew we were in a special place. There was a welcoming atmosphere and a sense of community that was excitingly unfamiliar. Strangers would greet you and wave as you walked by. Having a conversation with a stranger is normal in South Africa, and I think there is a lot we can learn from that.
We even further experienced community visiting a high school with an agriculture program. Immediately students at the school were very open to conversations with us. They were casual enough to ask us about American traditions like prom, yet honest enough to share their thoughts on issues currently facing South Africa. By the end of our visit, it felt like we had made lots of new friends. By constantly expressing genuine interest in others and building a welcoming culture, South Africa has become more than just a country, it has become a community of beautifully genuine people.
South Africa is a country that embodies love. You can sense it walking down the city streets, feel it in the welcoming attitudes of people you meet, and see love’s influence on their culture. As we try to build lives that are led with love, let us all support our communities, have hope for a brighter future, and most of all find joy in the every part of the journey.