This Is Africa

David Sargent Life, Scenery, Travel

I have a shower. Every morning. Without fail. Exceptions include sleepovers where as soon as I get home, I shower. When I am away on a summer camp, I usually have 2 a day; morning and evening. I think nothing of it. At least, I didn’t.

So it’s the day after my Sister’s wedding and I’m waiting at the bus station on my own in the freezing cold wearing my new walking boots, a trilby balanced on my suitcase and over a grand’s worth of camera equipment slung over my shoulder in my brand-new, awesome camera bag. I’m getting bored of waiting for the other’s to arrive, but I arrived early (as per usual) and the others are sure to arrive late (as per usual).

We’re due to catch a bus to London Heathrow, to get a plane to Amsterdam and then on to Johannesburg where we shall be helping to build an orphanage for 10 days. I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Most of the group that I am going with have been before, and are terribly disorganised. All I know is that I need to bring my camera to document the trip, a computer for extra storage and at least 2 changes of “work clothes”. I have absolutely no idea what the work will entail, what I will be filming or taking photos of, what the facilities are like and more importantly, how I will shower.
I like to be organised and I like to be clean. So far, although I am looking forward to the trip, I am seeing a distinct lack of both.

So we arrive at Heathrow after an uneventful coach journey. Joe (13) delighted in telling us how Terminal 2 was voted the best terminal of 2012 and that we should all visit it. Whilst in the airport we saw a sign… “Terminal 5: Voted the best terminal of 2012”. Nice one Joe. So, onwards to Amsterdam which brought about possibly one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life. We were told that there were “comfy” seats upstairs to sleep on in the airport by a member of my church who shall remain nameless, and as we had to spend 11 hours in the airport overnight, this seemed a good option. We found the seats, they looked really comfy. They weren’t. Worst designed seats ever… Rhys (13) opted for the floor, where he slept soundly (although this may not have been an indication on the comfort factor of the seats, as we would find out over the rest of the trip that Rhys has the remarkable ability (and one that I am very very jealous of) to sleep anywhere). I have trouble sleeping at home in my own bed, let alone in an airport amongst other people sleeping. I think this night tops my “worst night ever” list, even after the time I slept in the salad bar at Thornhill Church (it was a sleepover and it looked comfortable but it turned out to be very cold as I’d left the refrigeration on… oops).


So I’m not going to go into detail on everything that we did in SA. If you want to find out our daily activities, read the blog or ask me in person. This post will get too long and boring and you’ll give up if you haven’t already.

Throughout our time in Grasmere, we cleared some rubble, demolished a house, cleared some more rubble, rebuilt the house as a generator cover, cleared more rubble, moved too many bricks off a lorry and cleared some rubble. We also visited a lion park, attended a church service in the building that our team had helped to build last year and had a tour of Soweto, the nearest City. It was very hot, I got a bit of a tan and didn’t shave for about 2 weeks… so looked rather “rugged” (at least, that’s how I’m putting it) by the end of it.

Here is what I realised whilst out there, and especially now that I’m back. The reason I started this post by talking about showers, is that is the small factor that has had the largest impact. Or rather, the defining factor that has created a larger realisation. I take so much for granted.

Here in the UK, I think I’m poor because I do not have enough money for a new iPhone, or a new guitar, or a new hard disk for my computer. I am not poor. I have a shower every day, I have clean water to drink and food to eat each day. I have clothes that are washed regularly and I can live a life that is relatively safe and comfortable with no extra effort involved.
Out in South Africa, I believe we were spoiled. We had mattresses to sleep on. We had clean water to drink and food to eat each day. We had hot showers, intermittently at least, but we still had them. We had guards protecting the compound we were staying in and were relatively safe. Yes being out in SA was different than here, but it struck me just how different it is again only a couple of miles away.
Here, live people without food, people without clean water, people dying of aids. Families crowding into small slums, rape and incest are rife throughout the community.

We were well off where we were.

Yes I know that we were there to help, and we did. We took part in building an orphanage for 30 children to move in to and be safe, educated and looked after.

We went back to visit the Khaya centre, which the team from last year had a massive role in building. On Easter Sunday, it was exactly a year since the centre was opened, and this was the first day in which we went back. We got to experience a little bit of South African culture in a church service celebrating the Risen Son. Hallelujah, He is Risen indeed. It is so apparent that the lack of personal possessions only makes the faith stronger. The amount of praise, worship and adoration that poured out of every part of the local people was astounding. They had very little, yet they were so complete in the Lord.

We went back on the Tuesday and were given a tour of the centre. Before it was build, aids was rife in the area. The day of starting the project in 2012, the people involved had to attend the funeral of a child. This year, they could proudly announce that there had been no child fatalities in the area because of Aids or related illnesses. This was down to the centre and down to us.

We made a difference and I truly believe that. But it isn’t enough.

To think that before we went I was worrying about where I would shower, how I would back up all my pictures and how we would update the blog. Whilst we were there (admittedly I still worried whether I had enough storage) we made time to let people know what we were doing and I actually just lost the interest in having showers. It was interesting, but I didn’t care that I wasn’t clean every day. I wore the same clothes for 6 days straight and I genuinely felt and smelt great (other people will testify to that too, I made them smell me) and besides washing my face before I went to bed, that was it. And it was fine. I don’t know what changed in me, but something did. I hate being unclean and I have to have showers. But being somewhere like SA makes you realise, stuff like that you take for granted at home where it is the norm, out here, it’s different. And once you notice the showers, the rest comes flooding out. Wandering around with a £500 camera, taking photos of children who could live off the price that the camera would get for a good number of years. Videoing situations that the people involved in will never get to see, but instead have to live day by day. Eating out at Steak Houses whilst a few miles away, a family has yet again gone without food for the night.

It’s in our culture to act the way we do, and I’m not disagreeing with it. But I wish we could do something more to help. Someone asked on facebook what we feel “thankful for” now that we’re back in the UK. For me, I don’t think that is the right question. It just seems a little selfish. I don’t think that I should be looking at how I am better-off, but rather thinking how has South Africa changed me and how have I changed it.

I can go more than one day without a shower, and have been since I got back. I’m back on Facebook after a two week break, uploading pictures that I’ve taken over the trip. I’m proud of what we have done, but for me… I want to do more. Looking back over the pictures, I want to go back. I wish we could have stayed longer, to help finish the whole orphanage and then move onto another project. Someone said recently that it was the “SA Bug – Once you’ve been, you’ll always want to go back”. In my case this is true. There is no changing the culture that we live in here, me quitting Facebook or selling my camera isn’t going to help anyone really, and I would never be able to share my experiences otherwise. So this is why I am writing this blog post; yes it’s to share what I thought with you, but also to remind myself of why I did it and what I got from it. I’d love to go back, to go for longer, to help in other ways and to make a difference again and again and again.

I stood under the edge of the veranda outside the shack where our accommodation was and watched the storm pass overhead. The water pump had yet again been turned off, the taps didn’t work and I was just about to go to bed as we were leaving SA the following day. I held the glass just where the corrugated iron roof ended and allowed the heavy flow of storm-water to fill it up. Cleaning my teeth with rainwater. The simplicity of life out here. Allowing the chaos of a storm to fuel something so insignificant as filling one glass of water; perhaps that’s what we need for Africa. There is a flood of support available, an unlimited number of ways in which we can help but maybe change needs to happen in small doses. One glass at a time.

Until the next time, TIA: