Sunday, July 27, 2008

it all started with a hug

I have been meaning to write about this ever since I got back from South Africa, but I must admit, I have been a bit jetlagged. But, I am now slightly more refreshed, and wanted to take a moment to share this with you. This is a story about how my life shifted all because of one woman, her child, and a hug.

For those of you who have been following my trip, I had gone to South Africa with a group of journalism students working on a project on the refugee crisis.

On this particular day, we had been driving down these dirt roads near the border with Zimbabwe for hours, trying to find someone who had entered the country illegaly, and would agree to talk with our student reporters. We finally stumbled across this little group of houses. Ok, the use of house might be stretching things a bit. They were actually these small sort of huts, with outhouses. Some of these outhouses were just a few wooden stakes, with plastic around the posts to provide a little privacy.
As I looked at this gathering of homes, I remember thinking to myself, "Man, this life is so tough. I can't believe these people actually live out here. How could this be better than the country they had left?"

Then I saw a woman sitting on her back steps with a little baby girl. There was something about this woman that I just connected with, and I got out of the van and walked up to her introducing myself. I told her what we were doing, and started to ask her questions. After a little hesitation, she started to tell me how she had left Zimbabwe because there was nothing there for her anymore. She said she wanted a better life, and had found it here in South Africa. We talked awhile longer about her life in South Africa, and then I asked her if she would go on camera and do an interview with my students. She shyly looked down to the ground and said that noone would be interested in her, and she declined.

I just looked into her eyes as she held her little baby on her hip, and thought to myself how could she think that? How could she think that noone would want to hear her story. She was a woman of strength, a woman who was willing to do whatever it took to make a better life for her little girl. I realized at that moment that I had to honor her decision not to be videotaped, and I had to be OK with that decision.

I then held out my hand to her to say thank you and goodbye, when all of a sudden she reached out and gave me this huge, unexpected hug. It was an amazing feeling. I felt that we came from such different worlds, but we were joined for just one moment by this hug. I realized that in that one hug, she had given me a gift, the gift of hope. She had hope for herself, for her daughter, and for me.

It is so difficult to even begin to describe what feelings I got from this moment, but suffice to say, it's a moment I will never forget!
Sue, Tempe, AZ

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