‘True travel doesn’t just involve visiting a place and seeing its monuments; it involves getting to know its inhabitants.’ So wrote traveller, photographer and documentary film maker Nick Danzinger.
After a trip to the old QwaQwa area of the Free State, South Africa, I couldn’t agree more.
We know we made a difference to people in difficult circumstances.
Take Julia Matokotsi, for instance. For all her 54 years, her life has been a blur. Literally. She’s so short-sighted she can’t see anything more than an inch from her nose.
As a little girl she couldn’t run around and play with friends because she would have tripped over the rocks or stones at her feet. As a young mother, her children’s faces were a puzzle. Even cooking for her family has been a struggle because she saw food and cooking pots as if through a fog, unable to identify them even by vague outlines or shapes unless she brought them right up to her face.
But with her new spectacles she can see almost as well as you or me. It’s a small miracle that will change her life.
Make no mistake; it’s tough being poor and unemployed. We met bright youngsters yearning to be accountants and doctors, but forced to idle away their time because their families have no money to send them to university just a short taxi-ride away in Phuthaditjhaba. We met a woman who was irreversibly blind as a result of damage caused by a perfectly treatable disease that had been left untreated. These are the realities of poverty; these are the realities of Harankopane.
Yes, the area was beautiful in spring, the sun glowing gold along the sandstone koppies, the flush of peach blossom spreading like a windfall in the settlement’s muddled yards. But if we had simply climbed the mountains and admired the view yet neglected to spend time with the people, our experience would have been shallow and trivial. We would have missed a big-hearted demonstration of what ubuntu really means. (Ubuntu is an African philosophy of interconnectedness that asserts we can't exist as human beings in isolation.)
Instead, we came away immeasurably richer for meeting them all. Nick Danzinger would be proud.
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