My metaphorical hike at TSiBA

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Written By: Sharon Tan

This is a journey I’ll be taking you on, my metaphorical hike. In our placement at TSiBA, we were invited to sit in on a class with a small group of 3rd year students. It was almost like a group counselling session, and we spoke about how where we came from and our background made us a certain way. Many of the students had been betrayed in terrible ways growing up, such as being abandoned by their parents or having to become family bread-winner at a very young age. But the lesson was that, although those experiences were important, they didn’t have to define us. Everyday, we can still choose. We choose whether to engage or withdraw. Whether to love or not, to listen or to switch off. Mama Dorothea, counselor at TSiBA, shared this traditional bushman greeting. When they meet each other, their equivalent of ‘hello’ can be translated into:  “I see you looming from afar. “
This was especially poignant because San people are not very tall. Yet they acknowledge the greatness in each other. Not only have I seen this mountain looming from afar every morning, I have seen each and every one of you looming from afar.
My time in Cape Town has been a period of self-exploration and personal growth. I came here from a place of instability. I’m so grateful to have found time and space here to slow down, be alone, and make sense of what I was feeling and going through. More than ever I was able to engage in prayer, reflection and meditation. It took me some time to become acquainted with the place, the community and the new living style, but slowly and surely a routine took root. In my heart I’ve clocked several personal milestones. As in climbing a mountain, I’ve taken it one step at a time.
I’ve been at receiving end of a lot of love. I remember visiting Claremont Main Road Mosque, arriving late. I didn’t know what I was doing at the service and this lady Aisha took me under her wing and whispered to me, ‘Do as I do’. I remember navigating my way to the Gardens Shul for their Friday evening service on a dreary day, and finding guidance in a kindly woman called Hazel. I flipped the pages as she did. I’ve also been to church a few times, I loved the singing and sermons because they reminded me to become better. I attended a meditation retreat and a handful of meditation sessions with the Buddhist Dharma Centre, a source of lots of peace. In these ways I have found many paths towards faith, and deepened my self-belief and hope for the world.
I’ve enjoyed learning in an affective way - meaning that my emotions and belief system participate actively in the learning process. I benefited from our discussions of identity in terms of race and gender and learned to recognise, accept and let go of my racial microaggressions and assumptions. Hearing from one another’s service placements taught me about specific instances of how to manage difficult circumstances, especially with relationships came into the picture. History was incredible in giving me local context to make sense of the sites we saw and people we met. I liked learning of bottom-up development successes in my Cities class. I think I enjoyed academic studies here not only because they were remarkably stress-free but also because they were often immediately applicable. We are here and learning about how to be here.
In my Cities class, I wrote my final paper on Ubuntu. Ubuntu is loosely defined as I am because we are. I was inspired by Graham’s spotlight at our house to consider others before oneself. I’ve been facing my own demons for quite a while now that I’d almost forgotten how to do that. It makes me think of service as an extension of myself. It reminds me of reciprocity, because when we acknowledge the humanity of someone else, ours is affirmed as well. It inspires me to want to be better - to be more compassionate, more confident, and more creative.
It’s been a great hike. I’m very grateful for this chance to share some closure. The San greeting that I began with is usually given the response: “I was dying but now that you come, I live again.”
I’ve been inspired by each and every one of you here. Thank you.

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