This morning we went to Stepping Stones children center to help the teachers with a new initiative to identify each student. One of the teachers talked to us about how violence and crime rates are really high here against children; recently a child was killed and when trying to identify the body there was only one black and white picture of her ever, and no true record of identifiable characteristics. With this being said, we went through the preschool and measured each child’s height, weight, took their hair color and eye color, and finally took color pictures of them for the teachers to have. While this may seem like a simple task, it’s a step towards the children being in safer hands which means a lot to all of us here. After doing this we had a chance to read to the children and play with them and it again reminded me of how loving and welcoming everyone here is. The children had no hesitation sitting in my lap, reading to me, making up secret handshakes, and even singing for me.
After playing with the children, the chef at the preschool had created a few traditional African snacks for us. Unfortunately I can’t remember the names of them, but one was like a croissant with a chicken filling, one was similar to a triangular spring roll with a ground beef filling, and one was like a donut with coconut on top. All of them were so delicious and we all took seconds (and thirds).
After our snacks we went through the District Six museum. District Six is an area in South Africa that got completely redivided during the Apartheid. Many blacks were forced to move from their homes with barely a suitcase full of stuff to their assigned housing location based on their color. This led to the development of some of the townships I have mentioned earlier in my posts. As I walked through this museum I found myself wondering what I would do if someone walked into my home and told me to pack a suitcase and move to a whole new location just because my skin color was white. Another thing that weighed heavy on my mind was the number of people that were forced out. 60,000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the estimated population in Dinwiddie County on July 1st 2016 was 28,144. Imagine forcing EVERYONE in Dinwiddie County out of their homes TWICE and then some. Every child, every family, every memory. It’s easy to think that it’s a big number, but it doesn’t really hit you how large of a number that is until you can compare it to something you are familiar with.
After the museum we went back to the waterfront where I was able to catch some more pictures of the art work and signs around the different buildings. On our walk over to the waterfront I saw both a McLaren and Aston Martin dealership so I had to take pictures for my sweet nephew. Also, while shopping for something to wear to a 21st birthday dinner tomorrow in H&M we convinced the baby of the trip, Chris, to try on some thigh high glitter boots. I’ve included those pictures for your entertainment as well.
I’ve struggled a little more today with feelings of loneliness and even awkwardness. I think I’ve finally gotten to the point in the trip where I’m feeling a mixture of physical and mental exhaustion combined with being homesick and mixed emotions. I knew that coming here was going to push my established values and morals but I wasn’t really ready for the things I have seen and heard both good and bad, as well as how many self-realizations I have had. I’ve felt many mixed feelings of happiness and pride for the life I have been given, as well as building, while also feeling a lot of guilt for the things I have been greedy over as well as for the times that I have discriminated without trying to.
After a lot of thought (and I’m sure there will be plenty more), I’m trying to come to peace with who I have been, as well as some of the people I have associated with. I’ve acknowledged that I haven’t always made the best decisions or been the nicest person, and I won’t always be perfect in the future; however, this trip has given me a lot of enlightenment on the type of person I want to be, and the type of person I want to associate with. It also has reminded me of the things I can do with my privilege as well as my voice and moving forward I want to remember that as much as possible, not only in my giving and my work, but in my character and who I am at the end of the day.
A quote that I read today was by Nelson Mandela… “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
This really spoke to me, as he put an emphasis on both white domination and black domination. So often in America the media can taint what’s actually going on which leads to only ONE side being bad, and the other side being innocent. It’s this idea that there are flaws between each side, but the overall goal is harmony and equality that really resided with me. There are things that black people have done that I have personally been offended by, and there are things that white people have done that I have been offended by, but at the end of the day both are human beings and deserve equal rights and an equal shot at happiness, neither side is COMPLETELY at fault, and neither side is the ONLY side that matters, and neither side matters MORE. This seems to be a hard concept for many people in our country to grasp and even I still don’t have a complete grasp on it. What I do have a grasp on is the depth of a man saying he would die for the rights of other people. It’s very easy to live for something. I, personally, live for my education, my family, my friends, my ambition, my dreams. These are the things that keep me alive everyday and if I were to ever have a thought of ending my life, these are the reasons I wouldn’t, they are my reasons to live. But to die for something is totally different. Those are things that you would sacrifice all the things you live for, for. I can’t say with complete honesty that there is anything or anyone besides my sister, my niece, and both of my nephews that I would willingly give up every reason for living for. So for Mr. Mandela to say that he would give up his money, his power, his career, his family, his friends, his education, his home, and every other reason he has to live, for the freedom of OTHER people, is not only awe-inspiring, but should also clench you in your gut a little bit, because death shouldn’t be normalized, and to die for something shouldn’t be taken lightly.
So when I say that I have been enlightened on the type of person I want to be, I want to be the type of person who would die for the equality and rights of others. Whether it be equality in healthcare, equality in human rights, or even just equality in love and happiness, I want to feel so passionately about something that I would give up everything that I love for the sake of that thing. Along with this, I want the wisdom to clearly see the inequalities that are present so that I can have at least a feeling for them instead of being blind. I want the voice to stand up and speak for those that don’t have the access, the power, the money, or simply the courage, because a lot of times those in power don’t realize how much oppression can mute a person’s voice. Finally, I want the hope that Mr. Mandela had. I want the hope that dominance can subside, and people can live in a time of peace and equality. I want the hope that the next generation, these children I’ve been hugging and holding and reading to and wiping boogers off of, never learns the hate of the world, and continues to play with peoples’ hair, even if they have a different skin color. I want the hope that one day socioeconomic status will not play a role in one’s access to healthcare, and that one’s health isn’t dependent upon the money in their bank account.
While I know to many this will be wishful thinking, and may almost seem like dreaming, but my question to you if you have read this far is, what great change isn’t brought about by wishful thinking, hope, and a voice? Without hope and a voice, there would be no change, or effort in general; in fact, without hope and a voice, everyone would just follow the flow of the norms set by those with power (or worse, those who used to have power), which unfortunately is all too familiar for me, and much of America.