Thursday, June 9, 2011

Presence or Presents

After everything that has happened in Gugulethu, the group has been having lecture and discussions to try and figure out what all of this means. How does it relate to out lives? How does it relate to leadership? Our group? We started out the day by doing a meditation exercise where we walk around campus alone and just notice our surroundings and try to block out other thoughts, which as usually, was found to be quite difficult for me.  I found that I have to consciously pay attention to my senses. How does the wind feel? What am I hearing, smelling or seeing that is out of the ordinary? Through all of this, I realized how more relaxed my life has become over the years. I used to find the fastest way possible to get around campus, walking as fast as I could to get to my destination even if I was 30 minutes early. This past semester however, I have noticed that I have slowed down a lot. I do or do not put my headphones and I generally walk around smiling at the trees. Sounds ridiculously hippiesqe (or however you would spell that) but I completely enjoy taking it all in. I have become very keen on how to allow myself to relax throughout the day to avoid the ever so familiar stressed out rushing feeling. I have also just realized that I am good at making lists for what I need to do in the future so I can focus and enjoy my current state of mind. I can converse with friends; hang out with my boyfriend or family without worrying about what I have to do all day.  It is important for me to do this, so I can be present for everyone, which was the topic of discussion today in class.

So I am present within myself, but what about when other people are talking to me? Sometimes not really. I cannot count how many times I have sat in the living room with my roommates having my computer open while they are casually talking to me or if we are watching tv. Why the hell do I need to be watching TV, surfing the Internet on my computer and talking to my friends. Yeah at times, I am doing homework but 75% of the time I am just lolly dollying around on facebook, stumbleupon or twitter. Same with my phone. I am glad I can respond and interact and multitask but how much more present could I be if I wasn’t doing this? There have been times when I have been conversing with other people and they have been texting and didn’t hear anything I said. That is not being present in a conversation and I do not want to make other people feel that way. I want to make it a goal to shut my computer when talking with others so they feel that I care what I have to say.

I learned that to be useful to someone else I have to give something back, in this case myself. I don’t have to bring any skills or talent, just my presence and myself. That was reassuring to know, there is no need to impress.

So what is the benefit of presence?
  • ·      You can get the most out of an experience, by listening to what other people have to say you can learn exponentially more
  • ·      It is respectful for others to be present mentally and physically, actually listening not just sitting, be receptive with eye-contact
  • ·      Don’t have to be caught up in what to say next, just listening, respond, no need to plan

I have been struggling, however, what all of this has to do with leadership. I was glad when we talked about it today. Presence is a leadership tool because it allows you to see from different perspectives and further understand other people. With respect to understanding others, you can learn things you thought you understood but actually never did. By being present, you wont be blind to your group and what is happening in front of you, most likely leading to better communication lines. As a leader, more people will respect you when you truly listen to what they have to say. You wont seem condescending or high and mighty. Being present is a great quality to have and I look forward to using it in my future life. I want to be able to remember what others said in a conversation and build relationships through respect and compassion.  Today proved to be a meaningful and insightful discussion and reflection that I will continue to think about. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

In Country Assignment #2-Reflection of Emotions in Gugulethu

            My week in Gugulethu has given me experiences that I will take with me in life for years to come. Even after I return to the United States, I will continue to grow and learn from all of the emotions, thoughts and feelings I encountered during this short but intensely jam packed week. From the hospice visits to the knowledge gain of apartheid/TRC to seeing people starving and living in shacks to meeting people struggling with HIV/AIDS, I seem to struggle to put my thoughts into words that make sense to others. How do I communicate my feelings when I do not even know what my feelings are myself? I do not know what I am feeling or why I am feeling certain ways; all I know is that my experience has changed me as a human being and has challenged my role in community. While my feelings seem to be currently unapparent, there were many observations made this week about the community of Gugulethu and its inhabitants.
            Although there were many emotional moments throughout my stay in Gugulethu, there were some experiences that stood out to me as unique to the community. I so frequently noticed the strength of family bonds between blood and non-blood relatives. Every single night we had dinner with all of the other host families and their friends. It was a full house every night, full of laughter and conversation.  We would all gather around food, talk and dance to house music. It felt warm; it felt surprisingly comfortable. People in Gugulethu do not seem to enjoy being alone. They are constantly surrounding each other whether that is at dinner, at church or at a local hang out spot.
            I found it especially interesting that these bonds were so close considering the amount of deaths the average person experiences throughout his or her lifetime. For example, my host mother, Noxie, experienced the death of her mother in 1998, her father in 2001 and her 17-year-old son in 2003.  No matter whom you talk to, they have lost someone in their life of great importance. Many children my age have no parents; many have lost children, aunts, uncles, brothers or sisters. Every single person I met no matter what age had a story about a death of a loved one. I think about my life, and how I have only lost two grandparents. I was not extremely close with them and therefore this has not dramatically affected my life. I have my parents, all my aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. I could never imagine losing some or all of these people at a very young age. Many teenagers in the community live with their grandparent because their parents have died. The generation equivalent to my parents has been dying due to HIV/AIDS and left behind is their children.
            I am grateful to have my parents, to guide me through my life experiences and help me figure it all out along the way. When you have such a large generation gap between grandchild and grandparent, it seems it would be difficult to discuss everyday issues such as relationships, sex or normal teenage struggles. This is a large issue concerning HIV/AIDS because these children cannot openly discuss the safe ways to go about having sex in their lives, leading to higher infection rates and higher teen pregnancies. Not even that, but the sadness that I would experience in my life without my parents would be unbearable. Who would walk me down the aisle during my wedding to support my decision of a life partner? Who would be there to guide me in raising a child or making important life decisions? I have realized through this trip that although I am a very independent individual, I still need guidance from the important people in my life such as family and friends. Losing them to a deadly disease such as AIDS would be difficult and I give much recognition to those in the community who had to go through that and come out with such a positive attitude and outlook on life.
            The experiences that are a stab to my heart seem to be the hospice visits, home visits and seeing the living conditions of those in the community (see previous blogs). The problem, maybe not problem but struggle, that I am having is that these experiences have hit me the hardest but I do not know what to necessarily think, feel or interpret from them. Of course I have become exponentially more grateful and positive in my own life but I know there is something deeper there; I know this because I can feel it. I just do not quite know what it is yet. I don’t know if it connects to leadership, the way I go about my life or my viewpoint of the world. It could be one, it could be all three or it could be the infamous: none of the above. I have confidence I will figure it out in time but until then I see it as a struggle in the back of my mind.
            So how do I sort through all of these emotions? How do I make sense of everything I have experienced? It appears to me that it is too soon to completely do just that. I have breached below the surface of these emotions but these feelings are stuck much deeper. As time continues and my life progresses, I think these emotions will have a way of unraveling themselves to teach me more about the world and my life. It doesn’t all have to connect right now. That is the beauty of this trip; I will continue to learn from it for years to come. I will only be here for three weeks but it is a trip that will last much longer than that. I look forward to what I am about to learn in the future. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hospice visits and emotional roller coasters

      Today was a rough day for all. Yesterday we talked to Lydia, who has been an HIV survivor for 20 years. And we visited people who live in Hostels that are rooms about the size of 2 queen size beds: Kitchen, bedroom, living room toilet (a pan under the bed), all in one room. It was hard to see someone living there. Even harder when we all found out about the way rent works. If you don’t pay rent one month, that is fine but it builds up. You cannot move out until you pay all the rent you own. The people that lived there hadn’t paid rent in a while and will therefore most likely be stuck there forever, unless they win the lottery or something.
            Then today, we went on Hospice visits. Nurses go to people’s homes (or shacks for that matter) who have HIV, TB, cancer, etc and care for them.  These shacks are made out of recycled tin and scrap metal. We went on two house runs with the nurse. The first house we walk into was found by winding our way through shacks. We walked in this home which was 10’ x 10’ with dirty dishes everywhere, dirty clothes, a smell unlike anything other (damp, mold, sickness, urine, etc.) with a dying woman laying in her bed, unable to even get up and move. We interviewed the woman about her life and she begins to tell us how frustrated she is with white people coming into her house, taking pictures, making promises and then just leaving. This was an issue for most, because it was our biggest insecurity. Many of us have been worried about people in this community wanting something from us and us feeling like we need to do something about all of this. But we are just students here to learn, here to process. It is hard to be applied to a stereotype. So after this woman lying there, barely even able to talk told us this, some walked out, some became angry, some confused.
            Why would she allow us to come into her home if she felt this way? We felt intrusive. A major invasion of privacy. If I were lying sick I wouldn’t want some of my closest friends to see me that way. And we were complete strangers of a hated race. Many of us were unable to go onto the next location. I walked into it, it was a man living in a 4’ x 6’ shack, with no bathroom, no electricity no kitchen nothing. Just a room with a bed in it. And he was lying there, with bedsores all along his backside. I watched as the nurse dressed his sores and I began to look around the inside and outside of his home. This was no comfortable or sanitary place for any person to live.  It was seriously indescribable. I don’t even know where to start. Scraps of metal houses, a bathroom out back far away from his house, bricks and broken stones in the pathway to walk around. I cannot describe it. I just broke down. It wasn’t fair and I became angry. I pictured my closet, bigger than this mans whole house. I pictured my warm bed, and all the times I complained about being sick. At least I had a comfortable place to be sick. At least I had warmth, comfort of friends, food to eat, a sprite to drink if I’m nauseous. I look like a spoiled brat compared to this.
It was an interesting realization, an even more interesting realization that Gugulethu isn’t just this bubble that I went to in my mind to learn things. This is an actual place in the world and these people are actually struggle to make it to the next day. They are uncomfortable, in pain, lonely, hungry, dying. I have never been more thankful for my family, my friends, my health and my life. It was a bittersweet moment looking back on it. A great wake-up call for me, a nice slap in the face I suppose you could say. Gugulethu is struggling; there is no doubt about that. But, at least these nurses are willing to help. There is an amazing sense of community here. Neighbors are like family, friends are family, and everyone is connected somehow. I would think you would have to be to live in these conditions. They all need hope, each other, God, someone or something to hold onto.
So to say the least I have been extremely overwhelmed. I am so happy for the life I have and the opportunities I have. Its amazing how much this has opened my eyes to the life I have been leading and made me realize that I have been extremely high maintenance. I have taken so many relationships for granted. I have realized how important friendships and relationships are to help you and be there for you. I want to strengthen the bonds I have now, so that I don't lose relationships. I have realized through this trip the friendships that I value and want to strengthen and I look forward to doing just that.
Sorry for the randomness in these posts that may have just occurred. My mind has been everywhere, trying to sort this all out. It’s hard. But as time passes, I find myself feeling new emotions, new realizations. It’s a lot to take in, a lot to understand. How I process all of this is out of my conscious control. It is time for me to relax, clear my mind and try to figure out what all of this means to me

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wednesday June 1st 2011-Kwanele Mgedezi

     Today we put together, distributed and delivered food parcels to families. Our last delivery stop was to a boy in high school that had been riding in the car with us the entire time. He showed us around the house, showing us pictures of his friends, of him playing soccer and chorus. The house was beaten and run down. A dirt path leading to the door. The walls were falling apart and it was cold and damp. It didn’t feel like a home. His dad died in 2005 and his mother a month ago this year. His brother lives in a shack behind the house where he sits and drinks all day. We asked him what he was studying and he told us he was still in high school. He said that his biggest dream in life was to go to the University of Cape Town where he would get his college degree. All the sudden he got a huge smile on his face as he reached into a pile of his items. He pulled out an undergraduate perspective catalog for UCT. He told us he read over this everyday to figure out which classes he should take and uses it to keep him motivated. He has no money and doesn’t know how to pay for school because student loans are out of reach.
One food parcel: Maize, sugar, flour, samp, rice, chicken, beans, vegetable oil

            It broke my heart how he sat in his broken hoe, with no money, no food, and no family and he had this UCT booklet, “his biggest dream.” He spoke of it as an unreachable goal, something near impossible. Applying and going to college for me was something that was expected and very much so a reachable goal. Fill out an application, pay $50 and wait until you are accepted, knowing you are most likely guaranteed to get into at least one place. And money doesn’t have to be a hindrance. If you are not getting money from parents, you can get student loans with decent interest rates. It is possible. It is so possible that it’s nearly impossible for it to be impossible. I have found through this experience how grateful I am to have an education and have parents who support me through it all. Sometimes I take for granted the opportunities I have, and I think it is important for me to step back and just realize what I have: A warm bed, a loving family, a school to teach me about this world, close friends and materials to succeed. I hope that in the future Kwanele can reach his goals and taste the freedom of education he so longs to feel. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


     The other day we met with a man named Lumkile. He worked for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). He was HIV positive and wore a shirt that read, “HIV positive.” He wears it in his community. He doesn’t want others to be ashamed of their status, as he once was when he found out he had HIV in 1999. He refused to believe it and continued to have unprotected sex with the same women. One night he was alone, lonely, sad, crying. He was angry, angry with the women who may have given him this disease. He would blame others in anger because it was easier. Then he stopped saying that it was no one’s fault but his own. He had the choice to use a condom and he didn’t. He had complete control over his sex life and he chose not to control it. And now he wants others not to have to experience the same thing. He wears his shirt with confidence, not afraid for others to ask him questions. He wants others to have hope and know there is help. He has been taking ARVs for 10 years and has not been sick. If others come forward to get tested and treated, their lives could be greatly improved.

            I find it amazing he would be brave enough to wear that shirt. I would be freaked out to wear a shirt around saying I have the flu for fear of others wanting to keep their distance from me. I give him a lot of respect. He is brave. He is courageous and I look up to him.  He wants to make a difference in the community and he is making himself internally uncomfortable to do so. He is vulnerable, something not many people in my community could sat they do on a daily basis to complete strangers. It is refreshing to see people here trying to make a change. Many people I talk to get angry and think no one in Africa is doing anything about HIV, that they are all just running around promiscuously having sex and that the US or other countries are they only ones doing anything about it. But that is not completely correct.
            There are people in this community trying to make movement. Trying to educate, create hope and solve complex problems. I think this country still has a lot to fix with respect to the issue of HIV/AIDS (about 25% in the community has it) but I feel and trust in the fact that they are moving in the right direction. I know this will get better. The passion and leadership is amazing here. This community is amazing and is doing great things to progress this world. I look forward to seeing the progress and keeping up with the events of South Africa. 


Last night we had dinner at Noxie’s (that is my host mom). The food was delicious, as always here. I wish I could tell you what it was called but I forgot. It was some kind of ground spiced gingery pea meat with a nice layer of melted cheese on the top. Not to mention how delicious the lunch at JL Zwane was. Two words for you: Fat cakes. Look it up.  I feel bad for eating when people come here whom barely have 1 meal a day.  It’s 10:30, we all ate breakfast around 7 and we are talking about how hungry we are. But then I think about the food parcels we are putting together for people in the community and I start to wonder if I should feel bad about being hungry. I have 3 huge meals a day, sometimes with snacks. The way society has taught, I think I should feel guilty. But why fell that way? Why not be happy. Happy that I have access to these items. Excited I live a life so privileged.
I don’t think the people here expect us to fell bad for them. Them don’t want us to feel guilty, hopeless, etc. They want us to listen to their stories and try hard to understand what they are going through. The minister the other day at the church we visited talked about how the church and people in the community are always talking but never listening. We are instead supposed to just listen. We need to realize that if you are not a woman with HIV you will never truly know what it’s like to be a woman with HIV. Because of that, all we can do is ask questions, listen, and try hard to understand.  And REALLY listen.
Which is proving to be an easy task with South Africans because they love to talk. And by a lot I mean A LOT. You ask someone what their name is and you get their first name, their Xhosa name, and their surname. Then you get a story about how they were born and into what situation they were born into. Which leads to the name they received. Each name in Xhosa has a meaning. For example Siviwae. His parents wanted a male to be born, but their first-born was a female. So the second child (him) came and they were praying for a male. When he was born they named him Siviwae, meaning answer to prayers.
            So I am learning to listen. I am learning to take in everything everyone is saying. At times, it is difficult to pay attention. I may be tired, cold, distracting or spaced out. But I owe it to the community to stop telling and start listening. They have welcomed me to Gugulethu without any judgments. They have given me a warm welcome into their world and are so open to sharing their stories. It is my duty and respect as a guest into this community to hear them out. To just listen. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

1st day in Gugulethu

What: Gugulethu not as run down as I thought it was going to be.

So What: Fears and Paranoia before you are in a situation tend to be irrational. Stop, relax and do not create emotions until you are knowledgeable.

Now what: Stop worrying all the time; its not worth the stress, time and energy.

Gugulethu is a township outside of Cape Town made up of mostly blacks and colored. In the 1960’s blacks in district 6 were moved out to make room for whites. Blacks were forced into townships, such as Gugulethu. They had no home and had to start with scratch, finding it a struggle to survive. Since then it has been difficult to bounce back out of poverty and the constant struggle of teen pregnancy and HIV has continued.