We’re home! Several people have warned us that re-entry into “normal” life in Australia can be hard. I know my sister Morag has always found it difficult to come back to the affluence and materialism of Australia after visiting Africa. How can you reconcile everything seen over there with the relative comfort of the West? Worse, how can you explain everything you’ve seen without starting to sound like an over-wrought evangelist? And how do you practically help the great need over there, from over here?
Re-entry started on the plane as we settled onto a QANTAS flight, shocked at just how broad and nasally the Australian accent sounds when you haven’t heard it much for five weeks.
I’m not sure how to describe this without sounding gratuitous but towards the end of our time in South Africa, Lance and I started to experiment with what over there might be viewed as over-the-top generosity. When there is so much need all around we realised you can’t help everyone, but we began to look for opportunities to do something surprising that would make someone’s day. One of these occasions said so much about the spirit of Africa.
In South Africa you don’t need reverse sensors (well maybe I do when I approach a tree with the hire van but that’s a whole other story). In most car parks there are people directing traffic in and out of shopping car parks. We were in a car park in Port Shepstone and in the corner of my eye I noticed the demeanor of the attendant in our bay. Close to 5pm after a long day, he wasn’t just directing traffic. He was doing a happy jig, smiling, laughing – impressive that he would be having so much fun and putting so much effort into a medial task. Lance and I glanced at each other and each pulled out a R50 note. R100 equates to around $12.50 which doesn’t sound much until put into the context of the minimum wage over there. An adult male on minimum wage will earn as little as R160 a day, for up to 12 hours work. That’s $20 or around $1.75 per hour. So R100 goes close to doubling his day’s wage.
We handed it over, and this is what we noticed:
a. He was so focused on doing his job well that he didn’t look at what he’d been handed until we were safely in the flow of traffic.
b. When he realised it was R100 his face lit up into a broad grin and he started jumping, dancing and cavorting with glee.
c. He raced over to his mate in the next bay brandishing the two R50 notes and handed one of them over to him so he could share in the spoils.
d. Both embraced and jumped and danced around, gesticulating wildly to us until we were out of sight.
That moment – TIA (This is Africa). Joy in little things, an immediate rush to share, a whole lotta community going on. Life, colour, action.
Back to the QANTAS flight we were parked in the very back row (Row 75) for the long overnight flight home. So far so good, I figured at least I wouldn’t have someone behind me kicking my chair and waking me up. What we didn’t reckon on was a few selfish, self-absorbed folk who decided the wells next to the exit door, and right next to our chairs, would become the de facto congregating lounge for the duration of the flight. Try getting kids to sleep on a plane surrounded by raucous laughing and loud chat despite several requests to desist at the equivalent of 4am. The best they could offer was a sarcastic “saahrrreeeeeeee” before continuing. Welcome back to the West where everyone is an island and to hell with everyone else.
I know it’s unfair to generalise but re-entry is happening, okay? Already I miss the friendly greetings and recognition of everyone that is Africa, replaced with busy, harried looking people trying to appear important as they bury their faces in their smart phones. I have to remember they haven’t seen what we’ve just seen or been where we’ve been.
This trip has manifestly proved that no country is perfect, but every country we’ve visited has wonderful and unique things. If only you could create a hybrid of all the best you’ve seen – maybe that’s what’s heaven is all about.