Guest article written by Hills of Africa Travel’s Client Services Director, Amy Green
The last stop on our journey in the South African township of Soweto was to visit to the home of a local resident to have lunch. I had no idea what to expect, and was unsure how 15 teenagers would react. We arrived at our destination and were warmly welcomed by the homeowner, Lindiwe, and several of her friends, who had prepared our meal comprised of traditional southern African cuisine. We were instructed to wash our hands in water basins then line up and dig in.
As I moved through the line, the world became even smaller as my plate was filled with food so similar to the “soul” food my grandmother made when I was a child, I felt immediately at home. My plate was filled with pap (which are essentially thick grits), “gravy” (stewed tomatoes, peppers, onion & garlic), black-eyed peas, butternut squash, and green beans with potatoes, all piled high.
The ladies were surprised that I asked for more pap, not understanding that I was a southerner who loved her grits! The food was delicious and I believe the kids enjoyed their meal, as well. The biggest difference between this meal and being at my grandmother’s was eating with our hands—Ma-maw would definitely NOT have approved of that! But my heart was warm and full, and my belly would soon be, as well.
As the ladies joined us for lunch, small groups settled into quiet conversations sprinkled with laughter as we spent time, sharing details about ourselves, our interests, and our families. We found ourselves making connections with a world very different from our own, but in many ways so very similar. After the meal, we spent time role-playing social interactions; the kids demonstrated social customs back home in Maine and our hosts showing us how it’s done in Soweto. We thought it was very funny that, in Soweto, you don’t just knock on the door, but you also say “knock-knock” (but in the appropriate local language, of course).
Our time together ended with our group being taught a song and dance, which was cause for more laughs as we all loosened up and worked out our inept rhythm. The hugs and smiles were from the heart as we bid our hosts goodbye with thanks for their warm hospitality.
This time in Soweto reminded me that the world isn’t such a big place. We are all connected by the universal desire to be respected, understood, appreciated, valued and loved. While we may live oceans apart, there are always ribbons of similarity to find that connect us, whether through the pain of the past, hope for the future when struggles are overcome, or in simply sharing a plate of warm food and sharing life as new relationships are built.
I highly recommend a visit to Soweto on your next journey to South Africa, and encourage you always to open your heart and mind to seeing past differences in others but rather finding the ties that bind us each to the other.