Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clearing away the smoke

Clearing away the smoke

Smoke billows into the air, covering the landscape. The clear sunny skies have a hazy look to them as the fire burns away at the earth. The acrid smell hits your nose and you merely look into the distance amongst the rolling landscape to spy the source stimulating your senses. The dry Kwa-Zulu Natal winter months bring many controlled (and some uncontrolled) burns to the dry, crisp and pale landscape. The charred and blackened earth can be seen in vast hectors of land in both rural and cityscapes alike. As you travel down the roads, you are occasionally even made to detour as the smoke envelopes the sky and visibility is minimal. This blackened earth is commonplace throughout the months of June-August in our province (and some others) as a practice of cyclic renewal of the earth. Oftentimes one may think how unattractive, stale and lifeless the landscape looks throughout these months. But with the first rains at the end of August, the green “fuzz” appears as you look over the vast areas of land. For amidst the charred and lifeless remains of earth springs new buds and blades of green. Renewal begins and the cyclic pendulum has swung, bringing beauty and color to the once inert landscape. The green “fuzz” gets thicker as the grass, plants and trees begin to taste the sweet drops of moisture from the swollen clouds. The beauty and fragrance of the flowering trees and plants tickles the senses as one walks down the road seeing eye-catching violets, corals, reds and other vibrant colors springing out from the buds. As the memory of the dry and charred earth fades, one is reminded that there is always more than meets the eye. For a snapshot in time of this blackened earth would not capture the potential and cycle of renewal that takes place in Kwa-Zulu Natal (and other parts of South Africa). There are so many life-giving occurrences that happen each and every day reminding us that there really is so much more than the senses can take in and process.

This can also be illustrated by a recent experience we were blessed with in Alexandra Township. “Alex” as it is known, is one of the oldest townships in South Africa and is situated on the outskirts of Johannesburg, close to Sandton, one of the very affluent and wealthiest suburbs in South Africa. In contrast, Alexandra is one of the poorest urban areas in the country. Picture over a million people sandwiched into a few square kilometers of space. As one enters the township many of the observed homes, hostels (housing thousands), dwellings and shacks are put together with any variety of resources.

Here the color and vibrancy of trees, grass and flowers are replaced by dirt, garbage and bland colored materials of the make-shift small shops and densely crammed houses. But just as the blackened earth provides one with the mistaken identity of a lifeless snapshot, the outward appearance of Alex is deceiving, for it is one of the most vibrant and alive places to have the opportunity to experience. The kids dancing on the corner, the soccer games happening in every available space, the women sitting, talking and singing as they sell their goods, the man sewing with amazing craftsmanship in his shop, people walking up and down the streets greeting one another with familiar smiles…life abounds! People flow in mass numbers up the main streets (6 in one direction, 22 the other) creating a notable buzz. The energy in Alex is contagious and one is reminded again that there is so much more than meets the eye. As we came to a seemingly ordinary and small room made of cinderblock, we are told it was once the home of the world-renowned Nelson Mandela. Not only he, but so many other notable names such as Hugh Masekela (musician and trumpeter), Mark Mathabane (tennis player and author of the autobiography Kaffir Boy), Samora Machel (former Mozambiquan president), Alfred Nzo (South African Minister of Foreign Affairs 1994-1999), Wally Serote (poet), Annie Twala (the "Mother of Alexandra"), Sam Buti (reverend) and many others called Alex their home. From one of the main streets we were then directed into an alley like area. From the portal of the road we entered the bowels of Alex and were treated to the sweet sounds of jazz. We were in one of the oldest jazz “clubs” in the country (oldest in Alex) and have an amazing cross-cultural exchange of learning local greetings with the people there. So many laughs occurred and so much was learned and experienced between two seemingly dissimilar people from different backgrounds. An observer would think it a group who knew each other for years. As dusk drew near, and we exited Alex, the “smoke” had cleared and we could see that this place was not the snapshot of a dry and blacked earth, but the green “fuzz” and vibrancy of so much potential, color and flare…the beautiful people!

What we are reminded of every day is how blessed we are to see the cycles of life here and to see beyond the snapshots and begin to piece together clips to the bigger picture. We are humbled each and every day to look beyond the sometimes challenging outward appearance and see the beauty and amazing gifts within the people we walk and serve alongside. For we continue to see that the blackened earth provides so many amazing green and vibrant blades of renewal and life-giving promise in so many ways!

With peace and love,