I’ve finally made it on to post about my final days in South Africa, albeit a little later than I intended to!
It is really strange to still be writing and sharing my adventure when it seemed so long ago now. It is really nice to reflect though, as I get to relive the incredible experiences all over again!
Okay, so here goes…
The last two full days of my trip (Tuesday and Wednesday) held some of the most moving experiences of the whole trip for me. After school had finished on the Tuesday, me and the other volunteers went to the local Children’s Home in the township. This is a place I had been really hoping I would get a chance to visit, because I knew how much the children would appreciate people like us, who just wanted to give them some attention and a bit of a distraction from the troubled childhoods they had led. Like many things on this trip, I had underestimated quite the impact that afternoon would have on me. In the few hours that I was there, I really bonded with the children particularly some of the oldest girls in the home who latched onto me. We were supposed to go to help the children with their homework and reading English, and after that we had free reign and could play games, do colouring etc. One of the other volunteers brought along pens and I took some coloured paper with me and the start of a scrapbook I had made (but didn’t get round to finishing before I left the UK!) The scrapbook had pictures of England and the Queen and a bit about the country that I lived in. There were also pages full of pictures of dancers, the different genres of dance as well as musical instruments and the different shoes worn for dance i.e. tap, ballet etc.
Upon showing this book to some of the older girls, they told me that they wanted to be ballerinas when they grew up and that they did a bit of ballet at school (they attended the local high school in the township). This thought plays over and over inside my mind, because these fifteen year old girls had so much ambition and passion but the saddest part is that many of them will not move out of the township their whole lives, particularly growing up in a home with little or no family for support once they are old enough to leave. It really was one of the most touching moments and for me training in Musical Theatre, it was a real eye opener. Here I am having the opportunity to train in what I love doing and how often I grumble about late night rehearsals and the huge amount of work I have to do, but these girls will probably never get the chance. That moment of realisation really inspired me, and it is always something I try to keep in the back of my mind now. A lesson learnt, perhaps.
Anyway, at that moment in time, I put all my thoughts aside for the meantime and decided to give this group of girls all the attention and love I could and told them I was training in dance back at home in England. It was incredible how their faces lit up, and I was hugged by them all as they begged me to show them all the different steps so they could copy me. That afternoon, I really felt the appreciation of those children. In the school, particularly with the older children (and like teenagers over in the UK), they often seem disinterested or more interested in their own conversations. Of course, that is not the reason I came to South Africa – it has something I have always wanted to do, but that feeling of appreciation was a really special moment all the same. (It gets better when I get on to tomorrow!)
As well as demonstrating some steps to them, they also showed me their dance that they had been working on at school in their PE classes. As a dancer, it was interesting to see the cultural difference in the style; ballet is such a universal genre, and yet there were such diversity from the Western interpretations I am used to. I loved it, and they were so enthusiastic and graceful. One of the girls had run to get her ballet shoes – I assume that she must have had them before coming to the home; and the others danced in bare foot. Later on, the girls were trying to do the splits to show me and asked me if I could do them. I showed them and then before I knew it, I had a whole swarm of about 20 children around me asking for a demonstration. I felt like a circus act! More children came out and asked me to show them because they had missed it – it was such a strange feeling that they were so intrigued – I felt like a celebrity!
Just before it was time to go, the girls had said about my figure saying I was ‘so slim’ or something along those lines. I think it was more to do with the fact that I am quite tall, blonde and my legs and torso are quite long, which I guess is not the typical female figure they are accustomed to seeing. They saw the tragus piercing I have in my ear, and that was the next topic of conversation. They asked if I had tattoos, tongue piercings etc and they were pleased when I said no and their response is the reason why I have gone into so much detail with this. What the girls said surprised me because their views were so strong and a complete contrast to the opinions of young people in the UK on this subject. Body piercings and tattoos are seen as appealing by a large majority of young people in Western society, with people so desperate to get these additions to their bodies before the legal age. I have tried to rephrase this as close as possible to the girls’ words, but it was along the lines of: “I am glad you do not have tattoos because did God create you with tattoos on your body? Were you born from your mother with tattoos? No. If we were meant to have these tattoos on our body then God would have made us with them. Our bodies are beautiful enough, we do not need anything else added.” It was such a thoughtful and intuitive thing for someone so young to have said, although of course whether it is their personal belief, I am not sure. I think it is more likely that it is a cultural or religious belief. I have learned that religion is placed on a much higher pedestal in South Africa and observed by a greater deal of the population than in England. Regardless, it did make me stop and think. I did admit to having my belly button pierced and they asked me to show them. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate but one of the girls proceeded to lift up my top anyway. They didn’t seem too offended by it, and one of the girls said it looked beautiful and precious.
Sadly, after a few hours spent there, it was time to go back to the volunteer house. I knew we were coming back tomorrow so the reality of leaving these children didn’t really hit me just then. Another volunteer, however, got very upset. She had been playing with some of the younger children, communicating through gesture because they were too young to know any English yet. So, when it came time for her to leave the home, the little girl who had been sitting on her lap and playing games, did not understand and burst into tears and was clutching at her to try and stop her from going. It was heartbreaking, and although I didn’t see it, my volunteer friend was shook up. I think it was one of the biggest reality checks we had all had since being in the country. All the children lined up at the fence and were shouting and waving goodbye to us, some of them smiling and others looking sad.
I wanted to end this post with a light-hearted memory, but seeing as this post has taken much longer than I thought, I have decided to dedicate a whole post to it instead, which I will hopefully post very soon. After that will follow ‘the final post’ where I sum up my last full day in South Africa, the last meal with my volunteer friends and how it felt to leave the country and return home after such an amazing time.
Thank you to all of you who are still reading!