Thursday, November 15, 2007

here, have my milk crate

Yesterday I spent the day traipsing around Cape Town with my Cape Town host, Gavin. I’m staying with him and his wife Avril. They’re great, by the way! :-)

I interviewed a neat variety of neat people, all of whom I enjoyed talking with. Perhaps my favorite interviews, though, were with some folks who live on the streets in Cape Town. A man Gavin knows named Brian spends a lot of time building relationships with this group of street folks. I talked with them as part of a story about the Upper Room’s Prayers for Encouragement books. The books are distributed widely, and Brian gives the books to folks in the group I talked with yesterday.

I may have mentioned on here before what an honor it was to be invited inside the small one-room tin home of Joyce in Kenya, and I’m still trying to figure out what language to use to even more adequately explain what I mean when I write such a statement. I’m not trying to do the politically correct thing or the polite thing or the “oh, no, the honor is definitely all mine” thing by saying that it’s an honor to talk with folks like Joyce or Willy and Jonathan from the Cape Town street family.

There is something humbling for me in approaching someone whose life is so very different from mine and, well, whose category in society is lower than the one I’d usually be categorized in. To approach them and feel like they have every reason for not accepting me, for not talking to me. But, instead they let me into their space and their home and offer me their milk crate so that I don’t have to sit on the ground while I talk with them. And somehow whether that person knows it or not their willingness to talk with me is a gift of acceptance, a gift I gladly receive, a gift that humbles and fills me in ways I can’t even understand.

Perhaps it has to do with being trusted by someone who has any number of reasons for not trusting outsiders, with being given the chance by that person connect with them. That gift is somehow more meaningful when it is given by people who’ve struggled and been categorized as untouchable types. It’s meaningful in a similar way anytime a friend lets me into their pain, trusts me with their story. But, when a stranger does the same thing, there’s a different sense of accompanying responsibility.

I felt the same way in Nashville last year when I got to visit the home of a woman living in the housing projects. We met so I could to talk with her about her participation in a community garden. I was so thankful that she would invite me into her home, offer me a seat on her couch and answer my questions.

A different situation in Uganda produced the same feeling in me. As we returned to the airplane from our second day in the Lake Victoria islands, a group of school children met up with us along the path from the boat to the plane. Most of them ran on ahead of us, but one particular girl ended up walking much of the way with Layton and me. This girl probably would have been ridiculed mercilessly by school kids in the US for her appearance. She wasn’t ugly but had features that apt-to-be-cruel appearance-conscious kids would have made fun of.

While the pilot got the plane ready, I entertained myself and the kids by taking some photos. Then I began saying goodbye to our hosts from the island. During my travels I’ve shaken lots of hands but exchanged far fewer hugs. I’d already shaken hands all around with the school kids, who were from a village on the other end of the island from the one we visited. They weren’t kids we’d met prior to this moment. The goodbyes to the island church team, though, turned into hugs. And, while the other school kids played and ran around the plane, the girl in purple, as she’s been named in my head, stood on the edge of our group watching these goodbyes. Then all of a sudden she turned to me and hugged me too. And that hug was the biggest, humbling, wonderful gift. Whatever her motivations, this unattractive little girl jumped into my world and gave me this wonderful little hug that spoke of trust and of some sort of relationship that had sprung up without any word-based conversation.

If such responses from me to such actions from others were only about being received by someone different from me, then I would expect to feel the same way when life or work takes me into the homes of the very wealthy. But, in general, I don’t feel the same sense of honor or humble gratitude. I can’t say why or whether that’s right or wrong or something inside me or something inside them because I don’t know. Perhaps it just is. But, whatever the reason, the time with folks like the ones I spoke with yesterday feels like a gift to be treasured.


Anonymous said...

This article makes me feel humbled and once again thankful to God for giving you to me as daughter. And, to think I was given three other equally wonderful and thoughtful chlldren. How awesome God is!! -Mom-

Anonymous said...

The hugs of the kids in Uganda are amazing! I've visited a lot of orphanages, but I think the kids in Uganda have got the record for "warmest hugs."
My husband and I hope to go to Bevuma Islands next week. Maybe we'll see some of the same people!

Cydil Waggoner said...

you have such a wonderful way of articulating things, Kami. [I guess that's why you're a journalist. ;-)] thanks for sharing these thoughts.