A tale of two countries

By Naly

Everything was in the exact place that I had left it in… but something had shifted, something felt different and I realized soon enough that something was me.

It’s been about two weeks since my return from South Africa and by now I normally would’ve adjusted back to the regular flow of my busy life. After this particular trip however, I have found it a bit difficult to go back to status quo. I’ve had moments of reflection about my experiences in South Africa both personally and professionally, and know that I have gained more than I ever expected to from this trip. I think back to my first night home, walking into my apartment and just standing there taking everything in. I clearly knew the space but it felt foreign to me in that moment. Everything was in the exact place that I had left it in… but something had shifted, something felt different and I realized soon enough that something was me.

I absorbed the beauty of Africa in Cape Town with its wonderful seascapes and breathtaking views from Table Mountain.  In Johannesburg I met extremely talented business leaders that were passionate about changing the quality of life of South Africa’s citizens.  However, as each day of the seminar passed my perception about South Africa shifted a bit more. The more I experienced the more I drew upon the similarities between South Africa and the United States in regards to the inequalities faced by people of color. I will never forget the words expressed to me by one of the business leaders I had a chance to speak with after our group presentation, “I know that your story is my story – even as we are in different continents”. These words looped through my mind as I walked the hallways of the Apartheid museum and experienced what South Africa once was. As I experienced the townships and took in the conditions that people of color were living in and heard about the obstacles they faced, all I could think of is how similar this situation seemed. The systematic disparities that exist in South Africa closely mirror those of the United States.  Two powerful countries with great promise that are struggling to treat their citizens as equals and move beyond their ugly past. What’s even more astounding is the parallels that can be drawn between the two countries regarding upcoming political elections and increased attacks against refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. (Quartz Africa) ‘Securing our borders’ is a message being thrown around as the latest rhetoric in politics of both countries to keep those that “don’t belong” out. I find myself thinking about those that have been within the border their whole lives and still  don’t feel secure… whose advocating for them?

When asked by family and friends about my time in South Africa, I tell them it changed me. I share pictures of beautiful beaches and crowded townships, discuss the highs and lows, but ultimately share my truth of what I experienced.  The mixed emotions of finally not being one of the few people of color in a room, while also knowing that my “freedom of choice” has much more power than those native to the country. The reality that I, as an American, have so much in my life that is easily accessible to me and that I may not as appreciate as much as I should.  I have learned so much more about the global need for social impact through this opportunity, I am looking forward to one day empowering others to recognize their own power and influence in the world.

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