The truth about my trip to South Africa…

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!)

Safety and sure footing in the shadows…

I woke up at a little after 4am this morning, looked around me and in the shadows of my room, I couldn’t quite figure out where I was. It is hard to explain. For about 30 seconds, all I saw was shadows and figures and I was trying to figure out where I was. I sat up on the side of the bed for a better view and couldn’t figure out what house I was in.

I had the pleasure of being welcomed into several homes and hosted by several families during my stay in South Africa. In each of the homes I felt safe. Whether I was in a home in a gated community in a suburb of Johannesburg, a well-secured gated home in a suburb outside of Pretoria or homes in townships outside of Duran, KwaZulu-Natal, I always felt safe.  (They call it KZN. It is pronounced like /kay – za – REN/ with a roll on the R sound.) 

So when I woke this morning, I wasn’t concerned about my safety as much as I was with knowing where I was.

Then my feet touched the floor and I heard the squeak of wood. My sight had not been able to ground me and now my hearing was struggling to adjust as well. Why? Because in the areas of South Africa I visited – from Johannesburg to Pretoria to Durban – I do not recall seeing wood being commonly used for floors and I never heard a floor squeak.

tile floorsEvery place I went – from homes to grocery stores to restaurants to wherever – had beautiful ceramic tiled floors or some other stone flooring. There was so much tile. Someone always seemed to be cleaning the floors, so they were extremely clean as well… So much so that in some places people walk around without shoes. Ceramic tiles even beautify outdoor spaces.

I accidentally hit my head on a few walls while I was there as well and found they were made of strong material as well. But I don’t remember wood. The floors never squeaked. The ground beneath my feet was always solid, sure, and unwavering…

I guess Gene heard me shuffling around and woke up. He got out of the bed and asked if I was okay… I didn’t want to alarm him, so I just said I was gathering my bearings. His voice and presence helped ground me and remind me of the familiarity of my home and bedroom and squeaky floors.

And the shadows began to make sense again… and then I remembered and the familiarity of my home came flooding back to me.

I’ll have to ask Coach Green Gene about how the differences in building and construction materials affect the environment and why people choose to build and develop differently in different environments.

Now, if I my body could just remember when it should sleep and when it should be awake…
Oh, why fight it? Maybe I’ll just use those off-schedule waking hours to get caught up on some work and reflections about South Africa through my blog posts until things get back to normal.

Connecting again…

This is the first morning that I have been reconnected and able to be fully online in quite a while.

I am sitting in a Virgin Active Gym… Everybody works out here. There is a nice cafe. Hold on… I will allow you to see what I am seeing…


Workout machines… Heated pool… Totally different than my past week’s experiences. I am still processing so much of my total experiences here and I have committed myself to take the time needed to process all of this out. I am determined not to cheapen this experience, so I will most likely be writing about this for a while.

Originally, I planned to write a post a day… I planned to neatly catalog my experiences. But then things began to happen that sent this trip into a whirl wind.

Originally, I stated that my intentions were to explore birth culture and make connections with universities. Those objectives have and continue to move forward as I prepare for my departure from South Africa back to the U.S. However, this trip has proven to be more of an opportunity to connect to death as well which has provided additional perspective and learning opportunities through personal experiences that I never anticipated.

I feel like I have been here for a month… I wonder if the Creator has done one of those “things” again and placed me on a journey where I believe that there is one purpose, but in actuality if I had seen the full intentions I would have run away… Far away… In the opposite direction. I do that sometimes…

For those who are reading… THANK YOU for journeying and processing this with me. At this point, I plan to write and post until I get it all out… And when I am done, I will stop and get back to my regularly scheduled program. I have A LOT data from the Doula Perspectives Survey I developed that needs to be analyzed… Believe it or not, I have had inquiries about doula work while I was here as well… I have A LOT of opportunity and UMSEBENZE ahead of me. That is the Zulu word for WORK… I will NEVER forget it.

I leave on Wednesday and still have things to check off of my to-do list, so I will go and deal with this post and hopefully a few others that have been sitting in queue for almost a week.

I am still figuring out how to formulate those thoughts, but if you will accompany me through my process, I promise to be transparent and tell it all.

I appreciate you…