Beauty Lies In the Eyes of the Beholder

What image pops into your head when you hear Africa? Before coming to Africa, I pictured a big, open, sandy desert, packed with elephants, zebras, and cheetahs. For you, it may be different but if you’ve never been here, you probably can’t picture everything that lies within this complex continent. If you asked me that same question now after being in africa my answer would be townships. Townships are areas originally created in times of Apartheid. Their original purpose was to separate races, blacks, coloreds, and whites, not only from living in the same home, but also the same area. Today, different ethnic groups aren’t forced to continue to live in townships based on race, but many people choose to continue this lifestyle, or can’t afford to break the pattern.


Our first experience in a township was in Cape Town, South Africa. My group of 18 women piled into a van to “tour” a township. As we turned a corner, I got my first glimpse of township. I felt shocked that people lived in these tiny, mulit-colored shacks made of a slab of wood, and a sheet of aluminum. The majority of these homes have no running water, electricity, or a roof that would be reliable in any sort of rain or wind. As we continued to drive through the area, I saw little kids running around barefoot staring at our van shouting “Lungu,” white people. Some of the children looked sick, with runny noses and glossy eyes, but most looked hungry, their ribs visible underneath their torn shirts. Near the end of the tour, I saw cows heads roasting outside, being skinned to be served as a “delicacy of the area.” We toured on a Wednesday, yet adults sat outside almost every home, staring blankly into the distance. “The people here are so lazy,” our tour guide remarked, “They don’t try to make a better life for themselves.”


After we finished our tour and returned to our hostel, the feeling of sadness and anger overtook me. There wasn’t a glimpse of hope that I saw that day, and I felt terribly for the children that are forced to follow on their parents footsteps. I wondered how these people felt who lived in the township. Do they feel as badly for themselves as I felt for them or are they happy with their lifestyle?

Recently, we toured a smaller township in Knysna, South Africa, and my pervious perceptions of townships changed completely. We turned a corner, and at the first glance, everything was the same. The same shacks made of unreliable material, the same barefoot children gawking at our truck, but as we stepped into the village, everything changed for me. We were greeted with open arm. The children smiled and hugged us as we approached them. We walked into a church service and the priest stopped his service momentarily to greet our group, and welcome us to their community. The people in the church sang loudly with soul and passion. They sang of their faithfulness to the Lord, and how thankful they were that God continues to watch over their families.


After church, we went to a children’s center where we served lunched to the children of the township. Their hopeful eyes looked up at us, smiling, eager for their meal. They ate with us, laughed with us, and welcomed us. It was an eye opening experience to interact with the happiest children we had met thus far on our journey. Their faces are ones I will never forget. Looking around the room I saw smooth coco skin, bright eyes,and smiles, but mostly I saw hope. Something I wasn’t able to experience on our last township tour through Cape Town.


Our group also went to our tour guide Ella’s home after serving lunch. She welcomed us with juice and warm bread, and began to tell us her story. She explained that she has been running the soup kitchen for two years. The kitchen provides lunch for up to 40 children daily, off of 100% donated food. I was so relieved to hear that people care. They care enough about the children who don’t have the resources to eat on a daily basis to donate food to the soup kitchen, and Ella cares to take time out of her day to make sure the food is cooked and the children are fed. After Ella finished her story, the room filled with silence. I processed everything I had seen and heard, and happiness swept over me. I no longer felt angry or upset.


It is hard to say if the township in Cape Town would have had the same amount of hope under the surface, had we been able to experience it ore. Regardless, both experiences changed me. I am inspired by the hope and happiness shown in the eyes of the children surrounded by poverty and sickness. The people of Knysna were accepting, I couldn’t help but wonder what we would have experienced in Cape Town. There are many aspects of Africa, mnay different kinds of people, and many different beliefs. It’s impossible to generalize “Africa” into one or two sentences. I’ve learned that generalizations are completely misleading and incorrect. I have only experienced two townships to far, I can’t even begin to imagine what my thoughts witll be after our four month trip comes to a close. People who have nothing in our eyes can have everything in their own. There is hope and happiness in places we would never expect to find it, and there is strength and dedication among people we would never think of. Are the people of Africa “lazy?” Do they have “no motivation to make a better life for themselves?” Or, beneath the surface of poverty, is there happiness and faith?





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