When I arrived in Johannesburg almost two months ago, my academic director kept reiterating the idea of being present in South Africa for the time that we are here. He began to explain that South Africa is not as Wi-Fi connected as the US therefore; my peers and I should try to adjust to our limited access but also embrace it so that we could “land” in South Africa and not straggle in the US. With this information, I planned to slowly ease myself off of my Wi-Fi connection but first I wanted to do this and that. Oh how my plans changed…
Within the first month of my arrival in Durban my Samsung Galaxy S5 got stolen or lost. One minute I had it in my pocket the next it was gone. And ok fine I can live without my phone but I’m still responsible for taking pictures for my blog so now what do I do? I had to use other people’s cameras and that was helpful but complicated so I eventually got my own camera. Ok, now I’m back on top of the world right? Nope! A few weeks later my computer’s CD drive just stops working. As a result, I had to take it to an apple store to get it fixed. And let’s just say that was not cheap. Ok, computer fixed now I’m on top of the world, oh contraire. My CD drive stops working again but I was headed to my rural homestay for a week so it would have to wait to be fixed. And for the icing on the cake, while I’m enjoying my rural homestay, I go to the beach and forget my South African phone is in my pocket so that, of course, it gets water damaged and no longer works. Now how do I interpret all of these events? Why am I explaining all of this? Who really cares?
This blog is titled, “Learning to be present” because in each one of these electronic mishaps I had to learn to be present in the moment in a different way. For example, when I went to the South Coast, it was the first significant experience I had without my phone to take pictures. Someone lent me their camera but I had never used a camera like that so I did not take a lot of my own photos. Instead I relied on others to capture the moment while I enjoyed every moment. Instead of worrying about capturing the right angle, I just reveled in the natural beauty of the place. I walked along the beach, breathing in the ocean air. I was awestruck by how a place that beautiful could exist. And I can honestly say I fully enjoyed the experience of the South Coast.
As I learned to be present, I also wrestled with this notion of learning to be quiet and fully disconnect. I’ve already mentioned that South Africa overall is not as Wi-Fi connected as the states. Well, that translates to all of my homestays being without Wi-Fi. So what do I do during those moments of no Facebook, email or Skype? Once again I am forced to experience my surroundings up close and personal. I am forced to be quiet, alone with my thoughts, journal or read a book. These moments of quiet have become so important to my time here in ways I could not anticipate. For example, while in my Cato Manor homestay, I finished reading Forgive Us, in which the authors, who are leaders in the evangelical church, admit ways that the church has failed in regards to race, gender, homosexuality etc. The authors ask the people the church has hurt to “forgive us”. The book has of course more depth and complexity but while I was reading it, I realized that the church can be and should be God’s vehicle to move on earth. This realization has led to my current research project that will involve me studying how a specific church community in Durban engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle. I hope to see how God used or didn’t use this church community to change the community and society.
I write all of this to explain that my journey to presence and quiet was not easy nor was it my idea. But I believe that God has taught me and allowed me to engage with Durban in a way that I have never engaged with a new experience before. I have been forced out of my comfort zone on so many levels and learned to accept it. To face each day as a new adventure whether the experience is great or not so great it does not matter because the point is to be there in the moment. I would encourage everyone to be present because once the moment is gone it’s gone but that’s ok if we learn to be present.