The requirement is to always look deeper.
I want you to know that I can feel the support of all of you back home. It means more than you can ever know. I wish there was some way to really tell you what this experience is like. I wish there was some way that I could convey in words the complexity of this place. But I know it is impossible to do it well.
Everywhere you look in Khayalethu the signs of poverty overwhelm. The poverty is like nothing you will ever see in America. We have poverty, but we do not have poverty like this. The shacks.....”called informal structures”, are made from anything they can find.....wood, plywood, tar paper, corrugated metal. There are some government built homes. To get one of these is like hitting the lottery. They are wood homes with a few windows. They are not much bigger than our average bedroom. Maybe 10x15. This is their castle. And it is rare. Every street is littered with mounds of garbage. Used dirty diapers, garbage bags ripped open by the starving dogs, discarded food containers, household items that are no longer usable.....it is endless. There is no infrastructure here. What does an entire community do with garbage when there is no plan for what to do with the garbage? It is so tempting to look away. Isn’t it always so tempting to look away? But that is not the requirement....the requirement is to look deeper.
So I looked deeper, and saw the people. The streets are filled with people. Every face I looked at appeared to be embedded with sorrow. There is a wisdom and a knowing, and a heaviness that can only come from deep, deep suffering and in Khayalethu it is everywhere. The children are running and smiling, being playful. But behind this normalcy it is impossible not to notice the sorrow. The weight of this life is apparent in every single person. It seems to fill the air.
As we watched the activity on the streets. Lyndall pointed out two women sitting in lawn chairs......surrounded by dreary buildings and garbage, they were sitting outside enjoying the beautiful day. Lyndall and I commented on the colorful, vibrant umbrellas shading them from the sun. The splash of color seemed to signal the need to look even deeper....past the suffering, past the embedded sorrow....to the splash of hope. The faces are complex......every face here has embedded in it the imprint of sorrow. For me it is the eyes. The eyes tell the story. But there is also a resilience and a strength. And also a splash of hope.
This was our first day of work in Khayalethu. Lyndall and I were quiet, reserved before going to the township. That is unusual for us. Our conversation is often serious, but always littered with humor, and often filled with laughter that draws attention. But not today. We were quiet, contemplative....as if we were preparing. Not nervous, but filled with the gravity, the deep responsibility of what we were faced with.
We had two women scheduled to see us today. Our first two sessions. We were unsure of how to present our work....how to explain what we do in a way that was meaningful and filled with the deep faith that is the very essence of their survival.
The first woman....arrived dressed as Lyndall said.....as if she was about to have “tea with the queen”. Her hair was perfectly set, she wore all red.....a red jacket, red skirt and matching red shoes. I was deeply, deeply touched by her regal walk as she came to greet us. She hugged both of us and told us that she was open......she wanted a deeper connection, to God, to herself. Our experience will be a part of me for the rest of my life.
The second woman.....only found out about our work on this day. When we offered her the work, she looked a little shocked, and very hesitant. Two hours later, she knocked on our door, entered, and said.....”I would like to be your next one”. She sat and shared her story with such openness. Her sorrow and heaviness seemed to fill every cell of her body as she talked. As she cried.
Working with both of these women I felt such a deep sense of responsibility and honor. Both women opened themselves to sharing the sorrow they have experienced. We experienced the sorrow together. Lyndall and I explained that we knew they had suffered entirely alone their whole life but that today we were going to experience it together. All of us....Lyndall, myself, and and each of them......we were going to experience it together. It was the first time they were able to tell their story, the true story, unencumbered by the defenses they have built around it for survival. They opened themselves to it with such grace. With such love.
At one point during the second session, I looked at my hand. This beautiful woman was holding my hand so tightly, as she cried, as we all cried. As we all experienced her unbearable suffering, together, it felt more bearable. It made sense to her. She was able to identify the shame she had carried her whole life since the age of eight. For the first time, she was able to see that this shame did not belong to her. It belonged to her perpetrator. I was struck by the contrast of my white skin with her very dark skin, and how she was holding my white hand to her face. and I was aware that in this complete connection we knew each other. I was aware of how often we see the contrast of our skin and see only difference. How we define ourselves and our differences on the very surface of our being. But in this experience, I looked at our hands filled with connection and love. I could hear the sobs from Lyndall and I knew that together we had all looked deeper. We had all followed the requirement to look deeper. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
THE REQUIREMENT IS TO ALWAYS LOOK DEEPER.