Power of exchange – Cape Town story

Tekst przygotowany na potrzeby projektu Power of Exchange. Ukaże się w druku jesienią 2017 roku, obok ponad 100 inspirujących historii z całego świata. Książkę można z wyprzedzeniem zamówić tutaj. Oczywiście zachęcam i polecam! 

The plane was slowly taking off and my favorite feeling was already there. Excitement mixed with curiosity and just a little bit of fear of the unknown. Watch out for it – it’s very addicting. That’s why besides enjoying it, I started to wander how many more times will I seek to turn my life upside down. I laughed quietly when I realized that for the first time ever I was doing it literally, as the plane was taking me to the other side of the globe. If it wasn’t enough, for the first time ever was I also ridiculously unprepared. I really didn’t know what to expect – neither from Cape Town, nor from the volunteering programme I was about to start.  However, what I knew was that the mixture of excitement, curiosity and just a little bit of fear, was always a good sign. So I closed my eyes and just enjoyed it.

In a drawer of feelings connected to travelling there is another one I love.  It comes when you’re somewhere long enough to build there your everyday reality. You don’t feel like a tourist anymore, you have your job, friends and even though you still want to explore everything, sometimes it’s fine just to be lazy and stay home for the whole day. It appeared to me in Cape Town suddenly, somewhere between calling barbeque “ a braai” and recklessly jogging alone in the suburbs.  I found my ways despite all the differences – between areas of the city, between things I was doing at work and after it, between the realities surrounding me in the mornings and evenings. Even if I researched a lot and read all the published guidebooks, I would never be able to fully prepare for what I experienced. Spending time in the city center, I got to now Cape Town as big and lively, with plenty of good restaurants, bars and cultural events. Full globalization – the same brands, the same groups of tourists, the same music in the clubs. Someone seeing only that, probably has a feeling that South Africa has solved all the racial discrimination problems and that the most characteristic things about  the city are surfing, good sea food and marvelous views.

But those who take the train for only half an hour south, can see completely different world. Not so wealthy and not so safe, but diverse, full of colors, sounds and smells. With whole grocery store on tiny tables in the middle of the road. With mini-buses destroyed so much that you think the doors will fall off while driving. With people walking slowly and stopping a lot just to chat. I was lucky enough to experience that every day, as I lived and worked in the suburbs. Not hard to imagine, comparing that to the touristic city was already quite a shock. And that was only the beginning.

If you drive for around 30 km more from the suburbs, you get to the townships. The biggest one – 1.3 mln inhabitants. Shacks and tents next to regular houses, children and animals running everywhere and women hanging laundry wherever they can. With legal clinics and social justice programs run by the office I worked for, I was there at least twice a week. Sitting on a plastic chair in the garage, I was listening to all kind of stories, trying to figure out how could we help. Sometimes it was enough to go with a client to the public offices, with white shirt and the same skin color. Sometimes we couldn’t do anything. But it’s not really the results that you remember afterwards. It’s the faces of all the people that were so thankful for your help and effort. No matter if they cried, hugged you or just stayed silent and shy – you could always see that in their eyes.

That kind of experience makes you a person you want to be.  I’ve spent in South Africa 118 absolutely amazing days. Working as human rights volunteer, travelling, exploring. I had a chance to help refugees, women in the shelters, local communities in townships and young offenders in detention centres. I’ve developed my fluency in English, my skills as a law student and my vulnerability as a human being. I met people from all over the world and warm-hearted local family that opened their house for me. I watched sun rise and set, stars shine brighter than ever and two oceans meet with force and fury announced by the wind. I’ve seen hunting cheetah, climbed mountains and waterfalls and jumped from the highest bungee jumping bridge in the world. All those puzzles, smaller and bigger, will always build the person I call myself. That’s the power of exchange. Next please.

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