Mackenzie’s Reflection

As I sit here at home, winding down from the holidays, it is hard to believe the journey I began a few months ago. Living in South Africa and working on a project in an informal settlement opened my eyes and taught me countless lessons—so many that I struggle to piece them all together and convey it to my family and friends when they ask about my experience. I usually tell them about shark cage diving, seal snorkeling, show them pretty pictures of Table Mountain and animals from safari, and start to tell them a little about my project, but I spare them the “unexciting” details when I see their eyes begin to glaze over (I don’t understand why though—I find toilets unremittingly fascinating…). I do, however, believe the most important knowledge I have gained, from all aspects of this experience, is a new perspective on everyday life and relationships between people throughout the world.

Getting to know our liaisons was an awesome experience. It is amazing to realize that people who live half a world away can have so much in common with us, and how quickly we became close to them. I remember riding in Olwethu’s car on the way to Langrug, and listening to his stories about his home and his relationships with his parents and siblings and thinking how similar his idea of family dynamics is to mine. Sizwe could talk to us for hours about his life and the lessons he has learned, and I could never get sick of it. I seemed to learn something new from him every time he spoke, and I thought about how to apply some of his ways of thinking to my life.  Baraka liked to joke around with us, but at the end of the day he often became the voice of reason with our projects and decisions we made. He taught me that while humor can make work more enjoyable, it is important to stay focused on your goals and objectives. I could not have asked for cooler liaisons.

The community of Langrug was incredible to us. When Khungeka and the caretakers cooked lunch to welcome us during our first week of work, we were touched by their generosity. Although we could not communicate very well to some of them, we had plenty of laughs together and it was so difficult to say goodbye to them. Our co-researchers were so dedicated and passionate about the building of a new WaSH facility in Zwelitsha. I remember how amazing it was pulling into Langrug on their first official day of work to see them waiting outside the WaSH facility, smiling and waving to us, ready to work. Washington Boise is wise and was so open and honest with us, teaching us about the cultural nuances that we wouldn’t have otherwise picked up on. Trevor, Alfred and Nobethembu were great examples of leadership in the community, and they were not afraid to stand up for what they believe in and what the community deserves. The people of Langrug were so full of light and life in the face of adversity. They truly inspired me to appreciate the important things in life instead of getting caught up in silly details.

Working with my group and my advisers taught me the meaning of hard work and dedication and how it results in remarkable accomplishments. Our group was so passionate about our project that we sometimes drove each other crazy, but that only made us closer. Scott and Lorraine were so supportive of our project, especially when we took on the huge task of planning a Zwelitsha facility, and we could not have accomplished what we did without their hard work.

I have learned some of the most valuable life lessons from our liaisons, co-researchers, caretakers, group mates and advisers in the past two months, and it was knowledge that I could have never gained from studying or sitting in a classroom. I miss all of the people I got to know in Cape Town, and I am so grateful to have had this experience working with them.