As we exited our tour of the Delft Health Center this afternoon and stood as a clustered group in near silence, the Sister who showed us around said 3 simple words that I will never forget: This is Delft. The mood was stiringly somber, but her tone of voice someone managed to sound hopeful, rejuvenated almost. She asked for our prayers and if for now that is all I can give the members of this community, I will certainly pray for them.
We headed out early this morning to head into the township of Delft to begin out first day of service learning. After an orientation and introduction yesterday morning, I was feeling ready to get my hands dirty today. We all worked together to the pull weeds out of Afrika Tikkun's community garden. Afrika Tikkun is the name of the organization we are working with, and yes for those of you wondering Tikkun in this title does in fact mean a sense of restoring and repairing. I learned yesterday that Afrika Tikkun was started and funded by a Jewish man. I have no doubt that I would have just as great an experience working with any organization that does work comparable to Afrika Tikkun, but for me there is something inexplicable touching about working for an organization that has a Jewish connection.
Some of the plants were thorny, the roots were stubborn, I was sweating, and there were snails everywhere. I didn't mind at all. We cleared the majority of a garden that otherwise would likely be sitting around unusable for who knows how long. We worked on this small project for a small organization, but we worked on it together and I pulling out just one weed felt incredibly productive.
We then took a 20-30 minute walk from Afrika Tikkun to the Health Center. Physically walking down the streets of this township was such an experience. I was so aware of my perception of everyone we passed, but I couldn't stop wondering the perception those we passed had of us. So many of them smiled and waved at us, but what was really behind those gestures? I suppose I'll never know...
We entered the Health Center and met the most inspiring woman I'll probably ever meet. She has devoted 24 hours a day 7 days a week to the people of this community who are in need for the past 19 years. If I heard and understood correctly, she answered someone's question about her own children and said that because she is watching over the people in this hospital she knows the Lord is watching over her children. Normally I don't think I would connect with a statement like this, but in this place and time I very much did. I wish I could recall her name, but I also know I'll hold on to her voice, her appearance, and her work for a very long time.
Walking through the hospital was extremely emotional. I've never walked through a hospital in the States, so this one in a township of South Africa was a lot to take in at once. I was very surprised at my reaction. Almost immediately after stepping into the first room I began crying. Although I definitely cry, I've never cried like this before. I've never cried so rapidly and so meaningfully. I cried my way through the entire visit. This is the first time I think I've ever cried for other people. I really struggled to let myself cry. I walked through the entire hospital with my sunglasses on. I didn't want the patients to see me crying. If they aren't crying, why should I be crying? I couldn't help it though. I was feeling. I was being human.
This is Delft. I return to that and will for the remainder of this trip. The Health Center was Delft because there is suffering and pain. The Health Center is Delft because there is support and life, old and new. All the services in the Health Center are free. That's incredible. I'm so thankful for the other people on this trip who have reminded me as the day has gone on that while it is okay to feel sad and slightly ashamed, it's important to keep in mind the vibrancy that does exist. Life in Delft is not all doom and gloom. Optimism and laughter exist there too, just as they exist anywhere else.
It was definitely heavy day. There is so much to think about, so much to process. I continue to be humbled and I continue to be grateful. Today was the first time in my life I've felt inspired. I've been waiting to find out what inspiration feels like and the first place I found it was Delft.
Tomorrow we return to Delft and will continue our work in the garden. We have the afternoon and evening free as well as a day off on Saturday. As much as this trip is about social justice, I think it's important for all of us to enjoy being here in this marvelous city and country. To take the stories from class, the readings, and the townships and take them with us as we move forward.
Love to all back home,