Sunday, 20 July 2014

An Exchange of Cultures - Homestay in Zwelethemba

Over the course of our third weekend in South Africa, we were given the opportunity to do a homestay in Zwelethemba, a part of the larger region of Worcester. The homestay this weekend was a really amazing experience. For me it started with a long time of reflection during the bus ride there. One of the questions that was on my mind during this time was a debate that I had recently had with my friends, over the “Western Savior Complex” and how many a times American students go abroad and then take pictures with African children for selfish purposes. I had a pretty large conflict inside myself mostly because though I have taken pictures with kids in places like Honduras, India, and Africa before, I did not see it as a way of subjugating them in any sort of way. I thought about this for a long time over the course of the ride, but once I had the opportunity to interact with the kids in Zwelethemba the ideas that may have been sitting in my subconscious became clear to me.

Township of Zwelethemba, Worcester
Over the course of the weekend I was staying at the house of Nozipho, a mother who took us in and took fantastic care of us. I was amazed at how open and loving this “Mama” was to some random American students that she had just met. I was being housed along with two UVA students, who both shared the same sentiments as I did.

My favorite part of the weekend was my interaction with the children in the township. As soon as we got there, the kids took our hands and started playing with us. With smiles on their faces and a skip in their step, they had a blast interacting with us on our first short tour of Zwelethemba. Kids and adults alike were hollering out, saying hello and hi to us as “foreigners.” People even walked up to us and shook our hands, bidding us a warm welcome to their country. More and more of the kids kept piling up and following us as we walked through the township, as if we were a of carnival attraction. Granted I kind of did make it one, picking the kids up and flipping them around like a “plane” one time or “superman” the next. And as soon as you were done throwing one of them around, them too dizzy to walk straight and me too tired to pick up another, another ten would show up in line! At one point some of the boys that were holding my hands took hold of my sunglasses and started posing for me. At that point I took out my phone and started to take a few pictures of them.

The first picture with one kid and the next with another, and then there were more and more. The number of children in my small little iPhone screen was growing exponentially, to the point where I couldn’t even fit them in anymore. And once I got in the picture myself, I leveled with them in a sort of way. They were my equals, and I theirs. We could all be in the same photo together, and all have fun doing it. This is around when the children went mad. They started jumping on top of me and pulling me here and there. And though it may sound as though I am subjugating them in some way, making “Americans” seem as part of some better class of people I am not trying to. What I felt was rather happening was the happiness that they were getting from interacting with someone from such as foreign land, from a place that they have heard so much about but never seen. When I told them that I had flew there in an airplane they were fascinated. They asked how big the airplane was, how many seats, how many people it could fit.

What I appreciated in all this was the equal exchange of information, of all of us as equals. I learned about the values, traditions, and customs of Zwelethemba. But at the same time, to these children the foreign land of “America” was no longer some distant, foreign place but something that they could connect to intimately, even if just for a little amount of time.

Shaun Verma, Class of '17

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