Many of you will wonder what this newsletter has to do with organising but I had to share my experience with you? For me the words of Lao-Tzu: “Manifest plainness, Embrace simplicity, Reduce selfishness, Have few desires.” say it all!
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour Soweto, the city of contrasts. Initially I was quite apprehensive, not knowing what to expect, yet if I had known how it would touch my life, I would have gone a long time ago…
Early in the morning we were met by our friendly tour guides, Bongani and Gugi for the day. We were taken through the newly revamped Main Street in Johburg with its historic pedestrian mile flanked by beautiful office blocks and apartments. A site well worth taking time to visit.
Just after entering Soweto, the guides stopped at a house. I was not sure what to think and on enquiring what was going on, I was told:”It ‘s a surprise”. I must be honest; I definitely did not feel like a surprise at that stage, still being a little uncomfortable with the thought of being a white South African in Soweto. The next minute a woman came out warmly embracing us in greeting. It was Duduzile, a Sowetan jazz singer. Her talented children accompany her while she gives a wonderful performance, right there in her lounge. Wow, it was absolutely unbelievable; I still get goose bumps thinking about it!
We drove through the upmarket area of Diepkloof Ext; here we saw mansions like one would find in any upmarket area in Gauteng with beautiful gardens and expensive cars parked in the driveways.
We got out at a nearby hostel which in the past was used as single gender accommodation for migrant workers, now it is used as informal lodgings for family units. There’s a lot of new housing being built, almost ready for occupation. As it was Sunday, the ladies were busy doing their laundry by hand in huge plastic containers under running taps forming little rivulets in the dust. Everywhere the clean, colourful clothes were waving happily in the wind on all kinds of fences. We were greeted with big smiles by everyone and to my astonishment; there was no begging as one finds in other African cities. The children were playing in the dirt filled with litter. Deeply I wished that there would be a better system for water usage and refuse removal. No one should have to live like that!
In the same area we visit the Ekhukhanyeni Crèche; a shipping container transformed into an “edutainer” and met Sylvia, the teacher. Everything is sparkling clean and colourful. Here pre-school children are educated by three ladies and get one meal a day. This is a Soweto.co.za project which is supported by some of the tour agencies.
Close to Baragwanath we stopped at a huge taxi rank for a walk about. It was great to hear so much Zulu being spoken. My husband and I soon started greeting in Zulu to everyone’s delight! We ate breakfast at “Smilies” of ox heart braaied on coals and a steaming plate of “pap” served on a communal table to the delight of the African gentlemen around. The informal open-air butcher shop with the meat being cut up in the open and skins and bones lying about is quite something to see. We saw the herbalist shop with all kinds of everything and the barber. I bought butternuts from a veggie stall, which could beat any of our best for freshness and price, any day. At a shebeen we had a sip of Omqombothi (traditional beer) out of a carton and not out of a traditional vessel as I would have liked it. It also was not as tasty as the Omqombothi we got from the locals on the farm in Kwa-Zulu when they had something to celebrate.
We passed Baragwanath Hospital, the largest hospital in the southern hemisphere. In the distance we saw the beautiful painted Soweto Twin Towers, these used to supply electricity to the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg, now one can bungee jump from the top. We drove past the modern Maponya Mall, recently opened by Soweto’s first millionaire Richard Maponya.
The next stop was Kliptown Squatter Camp. It was developed in 1903 and the residents are still living in poverty. The area houses people in little tin shacks. Each fenced off in a tiny yard. There is litter everywhere, water running in streams down the dusty paths from the overused taps. One sees many young children in the yards and laundry hanging on the fences. Bongani was looking around for a youth that is involved in the tour group’s youth outreach, to show us around. Eventually we were invited into one of the homes. Who would have thought that this would be the highlight for me on this tour? The yard was cleanly swept, a lovely, rusty metal table in the center. A wheelbarrow and other implements tidily stacked behind a wooden divider at the back. As we got into the tiny shack, we were warmly embraced by three people sitting in the small kitchen area where we could hardly move. I was overwhelmed with the organised, functional space. Everything had its place close to where it was needed. Everything clean and neat! Behind the wood stove the cooking utensils were hanging neatly against the wall. The sparkling aluminum pots standing ready to be used on a triangular pot stand in a corner. On the counter next to the cooker – a plastic bowl for washing up with clean dishcloths hanging from the counter. Crockery displayed on a shelf, other things hidden from view with a curtain suspended below the counter. The small bedroom filled with the double bed covered with a colourful blanket, but the order continued. Suitcases neatly stacked in one corner. Shoe organisers for her and his shoes, hanging on the wall. One cupboard neatly packed with their meager possessions and last but not least, a framed print decorating the space above the bed. I was taken aback by the fact of the pride this women had in her home and the warmth it exuded. When I turned to complement her on her efficient beautiful home she got tears in her eyes and for a moment there was no difference, just two women appreciating the other. It left me wondering why it is that most of us need so much in our homes and are so reluctant to let go of it to help someone less fortunate.
After lunch at Windy’s Place, a buffet fit for a king and ice cream to die for, we spent some time wandering through the Hector Peterson museum looking at the multimedia presentation depicting the scenes leading up to the student uprising of 1976 and the transition to democracy in South Africa, being thankful for the men that had the grace to orchestrate it peacefully.
We then drove through Vilakazi Street, which is the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners lived: Nelson Mandela & Desmond Tutu.
We passed the Regina Mundi Church, known as the Parliament of Soweto and the home of the famous Black Madonna and Child painting. Thokoza Park is a beautiful park with trees, lawns and a river. A paradise for all around, with benches to relax on while the children play on jungle gyms, swings and see-saws. It is amazingly almost litter free.
After visiting a local shebeen for a sundowner we saw the soccer stadium that is being built for 2010. It will be absolutely amazing when it is finished.
This was an amazing experience and on the question whether I ever felt threatened or uncomfortable, I can honestly say, initially yes, but soon felt quite at home and proud to be part of the diversity of this wonderful country.
The lesson I learnt was that one should never let ones fears prevent one of experiencing something new! That being organised means having your life functioning in an efficient manner no matter who you are or where you live. It’s not about having your stuff in perfectly matching, pricey, colour-coordinated boxes. It’s about having your things easily accessible in a place where you can find them when you need them and to keep only the stuff that you love and need. I trust that you are willing to start a new journey of discovery.
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