I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on February 24. There were many things that we had planned on our itinerary for the two weeks. My visit was to involve visiting universities and exploring birth in South Africa. Two days into my trip, Zinzile found out that a family member had passed away. I understood that birth would be unpredictable, but had not anticipated the unpredictability of death and how it would transform my visit into a once in a lifetime experience.
I will admit I have spent the past two weeks since I returned trying to figure out how to process my experiences. I have been waiting to feel “normal” again, but I am not exactly sure what my “normal” is anymore. I can hardly look at depictions and interpretations of Africa without recognizing how skewed and incomplete the perspectives are that I have viewed all of my life.
I have personally been concerned about making sure that my photos and depictions of the beautiful people I have eaten, slept, and WORKED with do not reinforce a perception that Africa is dangerous and should be feared; or that the people are ignorant and are in need of rescue and deliverance from some intrinsic evil. Of course… ultimately, people will see what they see based on the core beliefs they hold about people, places, things, and ideas.
I planned my trip with an itinerary and specific expectations. The funeral plans fell right in the middle of my visit. There was a part of me that became VERY anxious and VERY concerned about accountability to Harmonic Connections PLUS’s board for the way I spent my time and the professional connections I was planning to make.
I tried to play tough, but the truth is I called Gene (the Managing Director of HC+) in tears, trying to figure out how to refocus.
He listened to me and then he said, “DR. MASON… I am about to say something important to you… ARE YOU LISTENING?”
“Yes… [sniffle]” I answered.
“Are you SURE you are listening, Dr. Mason?” he asked again.
“[sniff] Yes, I am listening…” I said.
“YOU ARE IN AFRICA! [paraphrased] You have been called to the continent during this time for a reason. Stop thinking about YOUR agenda… God has another plan for you and has caused the whole universe to shift to make sure that you see and hear and experience all that you are supposed to during your visit. Focus on connecting to the spirit of the continent…”
Gene slipped from his Director role into his “ride-or-die” role as my best friend, confidant, and vision partner. Then he messaged me on Whatsapp: “Turn it over to HIM. He will touch the hearts and by design you will see what you need to see. Take notes by smell, touch taste & sight… Take it in… Then write about it!!! Don’t forget to find a quiet corner and sing to your ancestors a new song… Leave a piece of LittleMason until you return (smile)”
So I am finally ready to WRITE ABOUT IT! And the very first thing I have to do is introduce you to the family I made in Clermont, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The place that was not on my itinerary was where I became most grounded and where I saw my connection to the continent and its people.
The family I made in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) reminded me of my family in Alabama. It felt the same in many ways and reminded me of the time I spent with my grandparents each summer as a child. The values systems were very similar with some differences based on tradition and culture, which is common all over Africa.
While in the Clermont Township near Durban, the greatest noticeable difference I found was the language… And even in verbal communication we figured out ways to find each other when necessary. We connected through UMSEBENZI – WORK – preparing for a funeral where there would be an unknown number of guests in attendance.
I was so worried that Zee’s family would see me as an intruder of some kind. Besides receiving several lectures from her about what it means to be “family” in African culture, Zee assured me that they would welcome help during UMSEBENZI. I found the opposite of my worries to be true. They embraced me as I embraced them. Zee’s mom (I call her Mama Maureen) shared this with me after I returned:
“We must always remember that God has a Master Plan with a chapter on pairing people across the world, thank you for being paired with my family… Ubuntu embraces among other things caring & loving others as you love yourself. Going hungry to offer food to others, sleeping on the floor with others, being humble… (just like you did). You represented that and reminded us that Madiba preached ubuntu wherever he was. So my home is your home.”
I am excited about the time when the entire Little Mason crew will be able to visit. I made so many new connections in different parts of South Africa, but let me begin by introducing you to my KZN family! (Mama Maureen is the one telling us to get back to WORK! Lol!)