Okay, here’s a warning: this will be mostly a really mushy, feel-good post about love and life and whatever else is involved in Ubuntu. You see, we just had a lecture. This pretty awesome woman, Sonja Kruse, came to our class to talk to us about ubuntu and the love she found traveling alone in South Africa.
First, I guess I should explain what ubuntu is. It doesn’t really have a direct English translation, although the closest would be something like “humanity” or “humanness.” The Zulu definition is “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabuntu,” “I am because you are because we are.” Another common definition is “A person is a person through other people.” Our lecturer defined it as “exist, extend, expand.” So, hopefully that gives you a fair enough idea of what it means.
Anyways, Sonja decided to travel South Africa to discover the ubuntu. She took a backpack, a camera, and R100 (about $13, but it would go a little farther here than in America…maybe 2-3 meals, a night at a hostel, or taxi fare for a few weeks). She would hitchhike wherever, go to a random house, knock, explain herself, and ask if she could have a meal or a bed. Even if the family couldn’t take her in—she was denied 8 times in 351 days—they would usually direct her to another family. She had no destination and no time frame in mind. She went where she could whenever she could. She stayed in 150 homes, in all 9 provinces. All together, she lived with people identifying with 14 different cultures.
She told us some of her more fascinating stories. For instance, in one town the gogos (old women) had a soccer team. In fact, South Africa has a South African Gogo Soccer League. She also told us about Woo, a 10 year old girl who facilitates ARV workshops in Limpopo. She’s done this since she was 5. Once, a truck driver acted threateningly, saying she shouldn’t be without a man, and she calmed him by saying the trip was not about her or him, but “the people of South Africa.”A lot of her stories resonated with my own experiences here—how families would sleep on floors and give her the bed, the amount of food people stuffed her with, how much the mamas cared about her safety and wellbeing and just her.
Now, there are problems with her trip—or rather, the circumstances surrounding her trip. The idea worked well for her, but in SA, it wouldn’t have if her skin had been a different color (hint: she’s white). Still, her goal was to show the hospitality of South African people, and by sharing her stories, she is breaking some barriers. Or at least putting cracks in them.
Mostly, I was so enthralled with her courage and tenacity. I could never travel through a country through hitchhiking and bed surfing. Especially not with about $13. I would be terrified of being robbed, murdered, or left without a meal or a bed. Also, I’ve been living in other people’s homes for 2 months, and while I have been welcomed and treated like a family member in all of them, I am already ready for my own space that I genuinely feel is my own (4 more days until I move into my new place!). I can’t imagine crashing in people’s homes for a year.
The talk was definitely inspiring. It made me want to travel around, proving to everyone that we’re all human. Ubuntu is such a cool concept.