What is your reality? My reality is huge, it is enormous. I could fill a book with it! Let’s see - I am 24 years old and from the United States. I have travelled across the country, and even across the world. I have a college degree, and a history of impeccable health. The sky is the limit and the world is my playground!
But you know, during the past seven months I have spent in South Africa, I have met some amazing people. Amazing people with very different realities!
How about Gogo Gloria? What is her reality?
About 20 months ago, she was bit on her legs by a snake and had a failed skin graft surgery. Now she can’t get out of her house without facing a 200 yard hill with a torn-up dirt path leading to the paved street above. With open wounds on both her legs, she can’t make it up the hill. That hill is her reality. Her reality is that every Friday, the noble Zulu woman that she is has to swallow her pride to squat into a wheelbarrow that carries her up the hill so that she can get a ride to the hospital to have her bandages changed. She does not need pity- just a way to get up that hill.
How about young Nomphilo? What is her reality?
She should be in the middle of her last year of elementary school, as a bright and beautiful teenage girl. She couldn’t make it to classes this year, though, because she was spending too much time in the hospital. Her reality is that she was born with AIDS. She did not contract AIDS through any fault of her own, she was simply born with it- it is the only reality she has known. For most students here, Holy Thursday was the first day of a three week holiday from school. For Nomphilo, she had an IV in her arm and spent the night in the lobby of a government (meaning: poor conditions) hospital. She’ll never get to celebrate her 15th birthday- she passed away in July.
And Manqoba? What is his reality?
He is 14 years old and full of energy and life. He is also a student in Grade 5th for the second year in a row. His reality is the life of an orphan. He stays at St. Theresa’s Boys Home in a cottage with eleven other boys, all under the care and supervision of one “Auntie,” who struggles to divide her time and attention between them all, like a parent with twelve boys (except she already has her own children, too). Manqoba is generally well behaved in school, except on Tuesdays, when he goes to see the psychologist and it shakes him up inside.
As I think about my reality, I can’t help but reflect on the realities of Gogo, Nomphilo and Manqoba. These are people who have deeply touched my life in the past seven months. It’s come to the point that I can’t see my reality without seeing them in it. And that’s the point.
The point is: my reality is connected with each of theirs. My reality might fill a book with eloquent prose, but as long as it’s only about me, consider it a work of fiction. It must include the reality of Gogo Gloria and that hill outside her house. It must include the reality of Nomphilo and the disease that stole her life. And itmust include the reality of Manqoba and his unstable future.
In fact, they have a word for that here: “ubuntu,” which is short for the Zulu “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” Translation: “a person is a person through other people.” What a profound concept in such simple terms!
So it’s all about ubuntu. Our reality is shared: our relationships impact and change us in profound ways that forever connect our lives together. This concept has never been clearer to me than through my relationships here with people from all different walks of life. So forget about filling a book, a library couldn’t contain my shared reality! That’s ubuntu!
And that’s my reality. What’s yours? Or rather - what’s ours?
South Africa 2008