Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's not about you

I walked to the top of a small hill near my home and looked out over the twinkling lights of the townships in the distance.  I became overwhelmed with apprehension concerning leaving this place I had grown so attached to.  I came to this place with so many expectations of what would happen.  There were so many things that I wanted to see and do.  There was knowledge I wanted to share and questions I wanted answered.  I thought to myself,

 If only I had more time…”

In my first weeks teaching, I began frequently conversing after class with a disinterested grade ten boy who I discovered sitting in back of the room and reeking of cigarette smoke.  His English was poor and our conversations were simple, but I could tell he appreciated the attention.  After a few months he shared with me,

“Sir, my home, it’s not good.  The roof has holes in it and my mother… we’re hungry.”

He would miss school two to three times a week to work as a door boy on a minibus taxi to make enough money to support himself and his mother. He continued,

“You’re my role model.  Help me learn, I need to pass.”

I’ve never felt more helpless after hearing that.  I thought,  “if I only I had more time, I could make a program specifically for him, I could give one on one attention every day.” Then I thought about it realistically and conceded that even if I could dedicate an entire month of individualized attention he would still be behind where he needed to be.  And even if I could somehow help him to meet his academic requirements, it still wouldn't change the fact that he presently lives in a hole-roofed shack and goes hungry most days.  To quote the South African author, Alan Patton, in his book "Cry, The Beloved Country",

“And were your back as broad as heaven, and your purse full of gold, and did your compassion reach from here to hell itself, there is nothing you can do.”

  As I sat there at the top of the hill, feeling sorry about what I wasn’t able to do in my time here, I was smacked in the noggin with a two by four of profundity.  I heard an audible voice in my head,

“It’s not about you”

It kept repeating,

“It’s not about you”

It’s not about what great things I can accomplish, or amazing results I can produce as a teacher, or even about how many students I can save from failure. It’s not about me.  This country will continue on just as my home country did when I left it.

After some convincing, I talked the boy from my class into meeting weekly with another one of the teachers from our school who would be there after I left. During my last week at the school, he came sprinting over to me excitedly,

“Sir, I had my meeting today!”

I smiled and he ran off to his next class.

 It's been a privilege to be a part of what is happening in this nation; to be a part of of the joys, struggles, sorrows, and successes. This experience did so much more than merely expand my narrow perspective on this big world.  A different perspective may alter your view, but experiencing a different way of life may change the way you live.

See you later South Africa.

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