Sunday, July 17, 2011

Michelle Obama!

The lovely and graceful First Lady, Michelle Obama. :)

I just love Michelle Obama! She just seems like she could be anyone's next door neighbor, and I truly believe we could be the dearest of friends.

On 22 June, I got see her speak in Soweto at Regina Mundi Church! It was such a great experience! She is quite the woman; so impressive. She's beautiful, strong, inspiring, has integrity, takes her girls everywhere, and has a fabulous sense of style (especially for a First Lady)! I also just love hearing really great speeches; ones that are inspiring, make you think, and make you want to go save the world. That's how I felt after listening to Michelle. Here are some of my favorite quotes from her speech that day. :)

Background to the first quote: And you all know the story –- how 35 years ago this month, a group of students planned a peaceful protest to express their outrage over a new law requiring them to take courses in Afrikaans.  Thousands of them took to the streets, intending to march to Orlando Stadium.
But when security forces opened fire, some fled here to this church.  The police followed, first with tear gas, and then with bullets. 
And while no one was killed within this sanctuary, hundreds lost their lives that day, including a boy named Hector Pieterson, who was just 12 years old, and Hastings Ndlovu, who was just 15.
Many of the students hadn’t even known about the protest when they arrived at school that morning.  But they agreed to take part, knowing full well the dangers involved, because they were determined to get an education worthy of their potential.
And as the Archbishop noted, that June day wasn’t the first, or the last, time that this church stood in the crosscurrents of history.  It was referred to as “the parliament of Soweto.”  When the congregation sang their hymns, activists would make plans, singing the locations and times of secret meetings.  Church services, and even funerals, often became anti-Apartheid rallies.  And as President Mandela once put it, “Regina Mundi became a world-wide symbol of the determination of our people to free themselves.”
It is a story that has unfolded across this country and across this continent, and also in my country -- the story of young people 20 years ago, 50 years ago, who marched until their feet were raw, who endured beatings and bullets and decades behind bars, who risked, and sacrificed, everything they had for the freedom they deserved.
So the question today is, what will you make of that inheritance?  What legacy will you leave for your children and your grandchildren?  What generation will you be?

And I am here because I know that true leadership -– leadership that lifts families, leadership that sustains communities and transforms nations –- that kind of leadership rarely starts in palaces or parliaments.
That kind of leadership is not limited only to those of a certain age or status.  And that kind of leadership is not just about dramatic events that change the course of history in an instant.
Instead, true leadership often happens with the smallest acts, in the most unexpected places, by the most unlikely individuals.

So make no mistake about it: There are still so many causes worth sacrificing for.  There is still so much history yet to be made. 

And in the end, that sense of interconnectedness, that depth of compassion, that determination to act in the face of impossible odds, those are the qualities of mind and heart that I hope will define your generation.
I hope that all of you will reject the false comfort that others’ suffering is not your concern, or if you can’t solve all the world’s problems, then you shouldn’t even try.
Instead, as one of our great American presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, liked to say, I hope that you will commit yourselves to doing “what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are,” because in the end, that is what makes you a lion.  Not fortune, not fame, not your pictures in history books, but the refusal to remain a bystander when others are suffering, and that commitment to serve however you can, where you are.

So you may not always have a comfortable life.  And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once.  But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.

Nicole Harvey and I waiting to see Michelle. I thought this picture was an appropriate one to end with because, (yes I know it sounds corny) we are those people she's talking about! :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Soweto Bike Tour Part 2: the people

So here is the final posting on the Soweto bike tour, and it's all about the people/culture. Once again, I'll just post pics and comment on them. Enjoy! :)

An, my co-intern.

So everywhere we went, kids just want to have their picture taken. They would say, "photo! photo!" or "shoot me!". All they wanted was to see their picture on the camera screen. They all are so sweet and so happy; what simplicity. Once again, I could help but feel amazed and heart broken, at the same time, for how joyful they are and for how little they have. 

One of the tradition things that was "included" in our tour was tasting local delicacies. Here,  people are tasting homemade beer. When you drink it, you are supposed to kneel down as a sign of humility/respect. Many of the men sitting in the background are leaders in community. 

An tasting the beer.

Me tasting the beer! To be honest, I was a slightly grossed out at sipping out of that sphere that everyone was drinking out of, but I just sucked it up and went for it. :) The beer was actually extremely mild, slightly watery. Don't worry, no one was falling off their bikes afterwards. ;)

One of the other delicacies we tried was ox jaw. Yes, OX JAW. I don't really know what else to say about it - it was not a highlight for me of the trip. 

Yep, I tried it. It wasn't as bad as I wanted it to be - just extremely chewy. That is my kind of scared face, not excited face. 

More sweet, sweet kids who just wanted their picture taken. 

You really would think we all knew each other. 

Two other girls on the tour. 

At first, I couldn't understand what this boy was saying when he came up to me, but I quickly realized it was the same request as every other kid: a photo. :) He is wearing his school uniform for an event for Youth Day. 

Our tour included a typical Soweto-ian lunch: "bunny chow'. Don't ask why it's called that, I don't know and I don't think anyone knows. It's 1/4 break, french fries, egg, meat, and maybe a little bit of veggies. (They made mine vegetarian because I'm trying to be one. I'm sure that mind sound confusing to you when you just saw a picture of me eating ox jaw; that's why I said trying. :) ) To be honest, the bunny chow was not my favorite.

I'm sorry this picture is so blurry but I had to include it. This man was at the monument with the Ten Commandments. Here, he is playing a recorder with his nose. 

We had to stop for a few minutes to fix one of the bikes; these boys found us quite entertaining. 

More kids just playing in the street. Most of these kids live in shacks. The girl on the right in the stripes caught on to the fact that I was taking pictures. (See next photo.)

She'll be famous one day, no doubt. :)

These boys live in the community of shacks that I pictured at the end of the part one post. 

Hamming it up for the camera. 

This kid would not smile for anything, and just sat there on the ground. 

And then I got him to smile. :) I love the contrast between the two pictures. A highlight in my day.

This is same photo that was at the end of part one, but I wanted to feature the kids again. They were so happy, singing and playing in the dirt. It reminded me of "king of the hill". Their joy and simplicity still cuts my heart and inspires me to just simply be, grateful.

So, that is Soweto in a nut-shell. If you ever come to South Africa (which I hope you do), you must visit Soweto. Comment if you have thoughts or questions to share. :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Soweto Bike Tour Part 1: the place

[part of] Soweto

I've been thinking about this post, and I think the best way to tell you about it is to show lots of pictures and just put captions. And then maybe some concluding thoughts at the end. :) So, here we go...

Actually, maybe some quick background info would be helpful. Soweto is a township of Johannesburg with a population of over a million people! (Think of a suburb near where you live; now imagine one million people living there.) Soweto started in the very early 1900s as a township designed to house mine workers. It continued to grow from the mining business, but also from laws during the apartheid era that forced blacks to move into specific townships. In the 1960s and 70s, Soweto became the hub for the anti-apartheid movement. Home to Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the 1976 student uprisings, and many more historical moments and characters, Soweto is a richly cultured and welcoming place, that no trip to South Africa would be complete without.

The neighborhood just around where the tour started.

Ready to go!

This post is all about Soweto the place: what it looks like, the feel of it, etc...

A not so great view of Soweto. We started our tour off in East Orlando (I'm pretty sure it was east - it's either east or west!), which is where Nelson Mandela first lived when he moved to Soweto.

This is a snapshot of the first neighborhood we biked through. As you'll see in pictures to come, this is actually a nicer neighborhood than many others. Here, the houses are made of cement and have solid roofs. 

Side street.

This bike tour happened to occur on Youth Day (see previous post). In 1976, students in Soweto (some as young as 12) began protesting against certain apartheid measures directed towards education. The protests turned deadly; the youngest victim being 13. This is the memorial for that day (now remember as Youth Day), just outside a museum.

The home of Nelson Mandela. 

Address on Nelson Mandela's home.


Vilakazi Street. The only the street in the world with two Nobel Peace Prize winners living on it: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

An extremely common scene: trash everywhere. And yes, that is a pig. I have no idea where it would have come from. 

Yep, two more pigs. Really though, this image is quite sad as it's everywhere, and that is just how so many people live.

View of a development of shacks. In the background are two towers from an old power plant (no longer active) that have become a staple in the Soweto skyline.

This is the only picture I'm including of this, but this monument is in honor of South Africa's "Ten Commanments". These are provisions in the law for things that every South African citizen is entitled to, such as all groups of people are equal and everyone shares the country's wealth.

Another wider view of a shantytown. This was just before we biked through one of the worst areas of Soweto. As you'll see when I post the "people" pictures, these kids started hamming it up when they realized I had a camera. :)

Closer up.

It's still amazing to me how everyone is just in the streets, all the time.

We were given a tour of one of these shantytowns; in this one, there are over 600 shacks. Usually one or two families live in a shack and about four or more shacks share a porta potty. There is only one tap from which to draw water for the entire community. This was walking in between some of the shacks. Most are made of sheets of metal, but these had cement.

Some of the homes in the community.

Walking through the shacks. It turned out that our tour guide on the bike tour came from here and still lives near by to help out in the community.

This picture fits in both posts (people and places). I wanted to include it hear because this is where the kids played: on the pile of dirt. They were so happy though! They were singing and waving at us. It occurred to me, that they probably don't realize the way they live - that they are amongst the poorest in the world and that most of us look at their homes and clothes and life, and feel pity for them. They are just happy to play together. Even though I see scenes like this, and people like that often, it is still hard to process and breaks my heart every time. 

I'll share more in the next post about Soweto, but the thing that really amazed me about the place is this: despite the living conditions of many in Soweto, everyone has such a deep sense of community and responsibility for each other. There is great pride in their township and the role it has played in history over the years. It is not a place to be pitied, but rather, respected.