Murmurs from the Cape Flats express


 

This week marked a new chapter in my teaching adventures. While others in my profession move cities and countries, I’ve enjoyed the great adventure of moving my classroom from the suburbs to the city center! With the drop in foreign students over the wet Cape Town winter, a reshuffling of staff was in order and I took on doing what I had doggedly dodged for 8 years: working in the city. The idea of navigating the tedium of morning traffic around the mountain, into the heart of Cape Town, wipers swishing and demister puffing, has never inspired any degree of enthusiasm in me. And I had successfully avoided it by teaching in the leafy suburbs…until this week.

 

The truth is that I have been open to  new chapters this year: this blog is evidence of that. So I approached teaching in the city, with adventure in mind – a Metro Rail Adventure, at that! Rather than brave the carbon crawl in my car, I’ve opted for a real life, man-in-the-street experience. Which means (not the dreaded mini bus, thank goodness!) a morning train with my fellow South Africans! And it’s been a learning I continue to look forward to each day.

Now I’ve  traveled by train during various phases of my life before: as a high school and university student, and later as a young working mother. And what I’m getting is how differently we perceive life at the various stages of our journey through it. I accept that the world itself has changed: after all, I am no longer checked for the audacity of entering a first class carriage, signs are now displayed in three official languages inside the train and hawkers are allowed aboard to sell their wares. But what has changed most is my own awareness of life around me, of human behaviour, of the barriers that remain in place despite the apparent freedom we enjoy. As a teenager commuting only two stations, I looked forward to meeting my friends on the station then chatting all the way through the train ride and all through the walk up Kendal Road until the bell went for assembly. Barring a conductor throwing a passenger off for “jumping train”, I was oblivious to the people around me.

But I’m fully present now. And it’s been a wonderful discovery…

Embarking on any adventure requires a spirit of cheer and excited anticipation. So, despite the biting cold of Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, I rose early and eager. This was great! I was out in the fresh air, energised and ready for a real workday start. There was a spring in my step as I briskly trotted down the steps into the subway. Immediately, the whiff of government issue sanitizer hit my nostrils, barely covering the stench of stale urine that lingered beneath it. I found myself smiling and shallowly breathing through my mouth, intent not to gag. Horribly familiar, true, but the memory had faded better than the stench.

Up on the other side, I marched on to the platform and chirped a “Good Morning” to three women sitting on the sheltered bench. One raised a sharp eyebrow, another looked away and the third smiled her bemusement in reply. Determined to maintain my cheerful demeanor, I scanned the platform.  How could there be so many people and so little sound, I wondered. Of course! Coated up against the chill of the morning, almost everyone was wired up to an iPod or their cell. A few others had a book and even fewer sat in pairs talking softly. Here and there were some dejected souls looking like the day’s work ahead was a fate worse than I could imagine. And near the fencing, like me twenty years ago, a group of self expressed teens were freely sharing their opinions on life with their buddies and whoever else would listen.

As the train pulled in to collect us, I realised how sheltered we are in a car –  my usual mode of transport. Without the protection of our vehicles’ hulking metal, we are all afraid, too timid to say hello to a stranger, too self-conscious to even smile warmly. In our cars, we easily show another driver our emotion – a wave to say “go ahead, cut in” or a fed up arched brow saying “Do you think your big car makes your rudeness okay?” We even show fists or a finger when we’re justifiably fed up and we don’t hesitate to blow our horns. But take away the shelter of the windscreen, the roof and the bonnet, put us face to face in a carriage with other human beings and – as in a fully packed elevator – there’s a fearful shut down: eyes drop or stare unseeing, bodies compact and stiffen and bags are clutched tightly.  Nobody wants to engage. There is no acknowledging the other. Even for those teens yakking away loudly, their full-blown expressiveness operates only to keep others at bay.  And packed as the train is, we remain disconnected.

So with these insights, I observe the other passengers. I’m enjoying the world that this adventure has opened…I’m learning about myself. And I’m learning about everyone else. What have you been noticing lately?

I almost omitted mentioning  Three Word Wednesday and this week’s prompts: ‘gag’, ‘maintain’ and ‘omit’. Follow the link in my Blogroll and read some more of the responses.

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Do Something…


Whenever I catch up with an old friend or ex-colleague, the first few exchanges are always about how “hectic” life is. “I’m so busy…no time for this…oh, no haven’t had time for that in ages…ja, that’s how life is nowadays.”

But what is it we’re so busy doing?

 

I’ve been paying closer attention of late to what people say they’re busy with and without being disrespectful… it’s ORDINARY. In fact, in relation to the hype, emotion, drama and time allocated to many of our everyday activities, there’s a case to be made for our collective insanity. With all that there is to address and transform in the world, all too often our focus as individuals and as a society is on the ridiculously mundane.

         

I recently sat in a presentation done by a very passionate Palestinian youth calling for support for his compatriots in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, and for an end to the oppression in his country. What struck me was how a boy so young could be so articulate, well read and so very confident. I was reminded of my own youth during Apartheid South Africa. The rage, the hope and the dreams we fed off, urged us forward. Like this Palestinian youth, we were clear that we had a cause greater than ourselves. We were the generation that would end Apartheid and bring in a new era.  Whether you led the rallies and got arrested or just toi-toid from the back, whether you made public speeches or quietly painted banners, whether you new Nkosi Sikelele or only hummed along…if you were from our side of the tracks, you were a freedom fighter! There were times when it was terrifying and times when it was just the sweetest, most thrilling thing to be on the edge of something new and RIGHT.

In my daily interaction with youth nowadays, I’m often left with the impression that being born into a free country has deprived them of  the inclination to strive, to serve, to belong to a cause greater than themselves. In a free world, it is ME that is important. My likes, My wants, My preferences become the focus of My life. And an entire life can pass with that single focus.

But we’re not living in a free world.

 

There are only a few parts of the world where freedom is enjoyed. And it is up to those of us who enjoy those freedoms, to strive to empower those who don’t.  Mostly we’re too busy seeking personal satisfaction to set aside time to care. Ironically, spiritual leaders, life coaches and leading psychologists today recommend contribution to others as a sure access to the greatest thrill in life. The ultimate satisfaction of human being is not in being self serving but in serving others. Of course I’m not advocating that we all become monks who sell our Ferrari’s! We don’t have to abandon life as we know it to make the kind of difference that makes a difference. But it would be interesting to start to pay attention to what our attention is generally on everyday. The life of Me…or the difference I can make to others?

 

So today’s blog is dedicated to social activism. This may not change the world, but it is intended to raise awareness, shift our focus, elicit ACTION.

Scroll down to the SocialVibe button on the bottom right, click it and support my Cause. It’s a really small action to take in a day full of me-business, but it’s a difference making action: everytime you press the button, you urge big sponsors to make micro donations to the project of choice. The SocialVibe project supported by Creative Introspection, is DO SOMETHING. DO SOMETHING challenges young people to become people of action. It provides them with the tools to transform their own energy, ingenuity and innovative thinking into meaningful action in the world. I found it most appropriate as the purpose of this blog-site is to engage in reflection, then take creative action and encourage YOU to reflect, challenge and take action too. Our commitments and affiliations may be to different causes, but we can only realise any of them through taking action.

Press the button. Become people who DO SOMETHING today that will bring about a change.