By Ryan Cheng
When family and friends found out I was planning on going to Africa, it became apparent that none of them thought this would be a good idea.
And who could blame them?
The global portrayal of Africa is not overly positive – disease, war and poverty.
Essentially, an unruly mess.
However, the place that had the greatest impact on me during my recent trip to Africa was a township in Cape Town (South Africa) called Imizamo Yethu.
Set against the beautiful mountainous landscape of Cape Town, Imizamo Yethu had such an impact on me because popular beliefs surrounding Africa were both confirmed and disproven.
Yes, poverty and hardship were present.
The day I arrived at the township, a huge fire had occurred, burning through homes and displacing many. Walking through the township itsself, living conditions were appalling.
Homes were cluttered together, pushed together like Lego blocks, creating a stark sense of claustrophobia.
The only way to move around was through maze like alleys, in which getting lost seemed a certainty.
The ground was covered in rubbish while the air hung heavy with an indescribable scent.
One local exclaimed to me, for a township of approximately 50,000 people, they only had 9 toilets.
Now I’ve painted a pretty dire picture here, one that may have even confirmed your own beliefs and understandings of Africa.
But the beauty about travel is that it offers an opportunity for these beliefs to be challenged even though they may, to some extent, be true.
Imizamo Yethu did that for me.
For all the poverty and hardship I witnessed, I rarely saw the misery and anguish that would have been expected to come with it.
Instead, the people of Imizamo Yethu were some of the happiest and most hopeful people I have ever met.
They were always smiling and laughing.
They would always be happy to stop for a chat.
Community was essential to their being.
Meals were a family affair, and it was not uncommon to see people gathered in the streets sharing drinks and conversation.
The moment that will stick with me the most was when one of the local men invited me into his home, to share in family dinner.
His family of 8 was sharing a single lambs head, and they were insistent that I at least ate a bit.
In that moment, I was provided the purest insight into the human condition.
In that moment, I understood that what makes us human is not what we have, but how we act.
How we care for each other.
How we support each other.
Before I left, the man had one request:
“Please share our story.”
I hope I’m doing him, and his community, the justice they deserve.