One year ago, we were on a road-trip to Cape Town and back to Pietermaritzburg. We had already traveled through the Karoo area (heading towards Cape Town) and enjoyed it greatly. On December 4th, we spent the night at a guest house half a day’s drive outside of Cape Town. It was peaceful and lovely, even if a touch touristy.
The next morning, I checked my phone as soon as I woke up to make sure all was okay with the young adults I work with. No messages had come in overnight. But while I was at it, I checked my email. And there it was: news that Nelson Mandela had died during the night.
I could not believe it. I’m not sure why I was surprised. He was elderly and had been sick for so long. There were speculations about his health and his longevity. But to have it actually happen was something else. While I peacefully slept that night, the world lost a hero. I didn’t even feel the trembles during the night from the loss.
That day, I kept looking around to see how the world was different. I told the kids that they were so fortunate to have been in South Africa while Mandela was alive, to have been even that close to an icon of forgiveness and reconciliation.
As we traveled that day, one thing sticks out in my mind. We stopped for lunch in a town that was steeped in poverty. We stepped out of our car to look for a place we could eat and I could feel the hunger in the community. People lingered around the buildings, likely without work or a place of purpose for the day. There were signs of poverty everywhere.
We got out and a young boy eagerly scampered over to offer to watch our car. We did not need our car watched. But I knew he wanted to do it for work and so I said yes.
We walked to a restaurant. We sat down and ordered. Plenty of choices. All of them we could afford. I walked down the street while we waited and browsed at a used bookstore. I even found a book to buy, a score for me on our budget as new books are very expensive in South Africa. But I knew that they were still a luxury beyond the dreamings of many who lingered on the streets.
We finished our meals and we had leftovers. I asked them to be boxed up. We walked back to our car and the young boy eagerly dashed over to show me how my car was still safe. I gave him some money to thank him. And I gave him our extra food and asked him to share with his friends. His face lit up with joy.
Before we could even pull away, the boy was dividing the food up among several others and it was eagerly being eaten. My kids saw it all and learned a powerful lesson about abundance and sharing and gratitude and poverty.
And I sat a bit numb, thinking about this world. Yes, the world lost a hero the night before. Yes, Madiba had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make the world a better place. But there is still so much work to do.
May we all be inspired by the legacy of Nelson Mandela and give of ourselves to make the world a better place.
(I do not like to write about the poverty in South Africa because it isn’t all poverty. It isn’t all people who are unemployed. It isn’t all hungry children. Yet that part is also real and so I wrote of it today. But please read past and future posts as well as other perspectives to see that South Africa is so much more than poverty.)