Searching for Ubuntu

My Village Is Privilage

by theboeskool

To Whom It May Concern,

It’s 40-something degrees outside, but it’s plenty warm enough in my house to sit on my really nice couch in my boxers. For some reason, there are Angry Birds on my underwear, and I have a $1200 computer on my lap — Both of which were made on the other end of the world by people I have never seen and will never know, but I can be certain that they work much harder than I work.

I think I’ll go take a shower.

Chris

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Awe, Unjani or Eta

by cirvant

Dear Ryan,

I am happy to read your letter. The sentiments seem to echo my current season. I am OK in Nashville. I think I am striving to find moments to live, to be present. A life of mere existence and remembrance of times I laughed like you, without reservation.

Over these last five years of traveling back and forth to Africa, a lot has changed. The strong sense of Ubuntu I once boasted here in Nashville seems to no longer exist. It seems with each trip the bands have stretched. Now, among those who once knew me, I feel alone.

I struggle to understand how a place that I once only knew as home makes me feel like I am a stranger. However, I have also learned the necessity in the season. I have learned to dance in the rain. I have learned to “push through” it.

As I read you letter, I thought of the time we spent hanging during your time in Tennessee. I thought about sitting at the picnic table at your mother’s home and telling you my story as you wrote. The days I would come to my sisters and you would be in town for the weekend. I miss that sense of family that alludes the system of community.

These last few months, I have tried my hardest to find it among the different tribes of this city. I sat with those who boast community and family, and felt alone. I have watched as an outsider as they laughed at jokes only they get and yearned to be a part. I think this culture has confused community with clique.

I aimed at being intentional in building thriving friendships; trying to gather sticks from under the tree, intent on building a raft that could carry me through this season. I found those sticks only useful for fire to keep me warm in those moments. I learned quickly the differences between hanging out and spending time with brothers.

Today, I miss South Africa. I watched an SA movie on Netflix and unexpected emotions erupted in me. Initially I thought it was solely seeing the mountains of Cape Town, remembering my last trip there, driving from Worcester to Cape Town. Driving among those mountains settled me.

I thought about the smell of the trains from Bellville to town. My mind then raced to the Gautrain and the freedom of traveling the big city and feeling a part of the people. Then faces begin to flood my mind. The faces of my South African family, both Cape Town and Jozi.

I miss walking in the village of Muizenberg. I can taste the Almond Honey Croissant at Knead. I miss being frustrated that Checkers closes so early. I miss the YWAMers, ha ha. I miss feeling like I belonged somewhere.

Nearly every Sunday evening in Jozi, we have a family lunch. It’s a good mix of us; Ashy, and my Zulu sisters Phile and Nontebeko, Solomon my brother from Nigeria, Anthony Lebanese a brother from the Congo, and Zipho another Zulu brother. Nontebeko serves as host most of the time. Others weave in and out, but mostly it’s just us.

We get together and it gets loud and often emotional. We argue and debate for hours. We eat and laugh your kind of laughs, loud. The neighbor comes up often to tell us to quiet down. From lunch, often we split ways or head to Rhema for Young Adult night. Monday comes, and we are all Whatsapp-ing like we have not spoken all week. We walk out life together.

The truth of it all hit me this morning. I am not searching for a group of people to hang out with while here. I don’t need another person to chill with at Fido. I am longing for people to walk out life with again. People who will argue with me and tell me I’m wrong. I long for people who will show up unannounced and without appointment, solely because we are a part of each other’s life. I know you know this well. The word that echoes in our stories: Ubuntu; I am searching for it for sure.

I am happy that you have found a place in Brooklyn. It seems you have found a purpose that prods the  justice fighter in you. I love seeing your updates. I have always been amazed by the profound profundity of your ability to celebrate the kids around you. You carry an innate quality that kids seem drawn to. I have seen it both in SA and here with my nephews.

I will greet them for you when I see them; they miss you. Mike-Mike was wearing the hoodie from SA the last time I saw him. Micah wears glasses now. It’s amazing to see how fast he and the girls have grown.

You must tell me about Brooklyn. Have you found any similarities with SA? What moves you? What has captured your heart?

Awaiting you words…

Grace and Peace,

Cirvant

An Open Letter to Humanity – One…

by capetownbrown

Dear Humanity,

I hope this letter finds you well, though I realize the individuals who form our collective “you” are each in such completely different and independent places, going through our own unique sets of trials, indifferences, and victories, that such a hope is more of a wish, and naive at best; but it is truly my hope, nonetheless.

My heart is more often than not heavy by the way we treat us. I desire so much more than what we have become accustomed to offering one another. It seems we routinely choose to see and believe the worst in each other, discriminatorily, and unfairly, withholding the benefit of the doubt; however, I might be offering the benefit of the doubt by insinuating that we have a choice in the matter, and that it has not merely become a subconscious habit, or custom, or a way of life.

Please do not believe for a second that I do not notice the good around me, the genuine offerings of the truest altruism, for those breaths of fresh air are what keeps us alive as one collective body; they are what keep us from completely falling apart. But in order for us to move to a more healthy place, we need to scrutinize the sickness we have become infected with, the negative ways we treat us. Will you help me in this investigation?

I have three questions for you, or us rather:

1) Do you think we are so quick to see and believe the worst in each other out of self-preservation, and maybe for the gift of a pleasant surprise when someone acts in opposition to our negative thoughts of them?

2) Why do we so desperately wish for the benefit of the doubt from others, but are so biased in our willingness to extend it?

3) How do you suggest we go about mending this state of affairs?

I would greatly appreciate any insight you might have in this matter. Please tell me. I will patiently wait for your response; yes, “your” plural. Take care of yourself, and us.

Love,

Ryan

Cradle of Humankind…

by capetownbrown

Dearest Warsan,

I hope this letter finds you much more than well, welling over even. We have almost made it through the cold and dreaded Winter. Almost, that is. Spring is pushing its way in, truly battling to stay, as it seems Winter is trying to prove its final point for the season; snow is in the forecast today.

But I can’t be bothered by Winter’s need for attention. No matter what it is trying, I am on a much needed hiatus: Spring Break. A neighbor kid is over playing mini-basketball in my living room, Miles Davis is playing in my speakers, and I have no pressing matters, or urgent work, or places to be right now but right here, doing absolutely nothing. Truly sublime.

What is happening in your world?

I couldn’t help but notice, and be moved by, your tweet the other day.

photo

 

 

That type of extended humanity is like a refreshing wave, washing clean the individualistic indoctrination society has attempted to stain our soul with, reminding us that we are, in fact, connected, that we are a part of something bigger than our all-too-often self-serving selves. So simple yet beautiful. Thank you for that reminder.

I suppose some of humanity’s avoidance of sharing with one another comes out of self-preservation and protection, wanting to be shielded and guarded from the pain, hurt, and abuse that can commonly come with human interaction; the pain, hurt, and abuse that you so eloquently oftentimes write about and seem to understand so deeply. Besides us trying to avoid pain, I think greed is probably another major perpetrator against our shared experience, our togetherness. But I don’t think that is how we were innately made to interact, to live, to be.

I think humans were created for communion, and the acknowledgement of the importance of one another, in our individual-yet-shared journey through life. I think Ubuntu, “I am what I am because of who we all are,” is imprinted in our DNA, though our modern cultures, for the most part, seem to be at war with this concept. Community was at the center of most original, indigenous cultures; cultures that were most pure, basic, and first; way  more socially developed than most cultures in existence today.

I find it extremely fascinating that the African philosophy of Ubuntu was founded in an area of Southern Africa that is also acknowledged as the Cradle of Humankind. Meaning, the idea of Ubuntu was developed at the heart of the geographical location of the very first humans. Stunningly magnificent. Surely this is no coincidence. And we still need that human connection so, so bad, though our modern societies have developed ways of hindering, and warping it. Why else would solitary confinement be one of the worst forms of punishment found in modern Western prisons?

At any rate.

If you wouldn’t mind, tell me about your experiences and encounters with Ubuntu. Your words always speak to a deep place in my soul. Please send my love and greetings to the lovely little sisters, and walk up to your mother and say something hilarious (of your choosing) on my behalf. Hope to hear from you soon.

Warmth and love from a wintery Spring day in Brooklyn,

Ryan

 

 

 

Sharing, Over-Sharing, Pseudo-Sharing, “Sharing”…

by capetownbrown

Dear James,

I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying your recent arrival into fatherhood. It suits you. Can you think of anything more spectacular than holding a tiny little being who is one-half you and one-half of the person you love most in the world? I can only imagine, truly. Give that sweet little baby a big squeeze and kiss on the cheek from me.

I have enjoyed seeing the pictures you have posted so far, and look forward to seeing others, and watching him grow from afar.

Do you remember the joke-yet-real-occurance from our childhood, where a certain family would invite another certain tepid family or person over to watch a slideshow of pictures from their vacation? Sitcoms from my childhood loved that joke, and I most definitely sat in on a couple of the real-life versions.

The pictures were literally projected onto the wall, or a projector screen; real dust danced around in the beam of light that glowed from the humming projector to its destination.

In this Facebook Age we live in, does that even happen anymore? Further still, do people even have actual, physical photo albums, with actual, physical photographs in them, or is everything digital now? I know, for sure, that avoiding someone’s vacation slideshow or photo album is much easier now: “hide from newsfeed,” or better yet “unfriend,” or even better yet “BLOCK.”

Hmmm.

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about sharing. These days, with all of our technological advancements, and the myriad of electronic devices we have at our fingertips, and the ever-growing number of social networks that we are constantly on, I think we “share” things with each other way more than ever before, and yet actually share with each other much, much less than days gone by. I am of the opinion that social networks create a sense of pseudo-community, pseudo-sharing, but hinder our sharing with people we are actually, physically with; texting is also a major culprit.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for these advancements, in the way that they help me keep in contact with those who I might not normally have contact with. I myself am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, email, several different blogs, and even Myspace, though it has moved into a place of irrelevancy. I am on, at least a couple of, these platforms daily, and I cannot actually remember a day that has passed in which I have not texted with at least one person; side note, texting has become such a significant part of our lives that the word “text” has even been added to our dictionary as a verb; it was only a noun a mere few years ago.

I myself provide a daily deluge of posts, on various different social networks; considerably more than many people I know, at that. So, please do not think I am excluding myself from these grievances. My concerns might possibly even come out of my own guilt and self awareness.

But how often do we see two people sitting across from each other at a restaurant, not sharing even as much as a glance at one-another, or a second, much less a word, and yet they’re plunked across the table from one another, obsessively staring down at their cellphones, communicating with a person, or even multiple people, who are not even in the room or in that moment with them? And then ironically, I imagine them later that day, or week, or month, spending time with the person, or multiple people, they were so preoccupied with during dinner that they neglected their significant other, not really spending time with them either, because they are so busy on their phones communicating with their significant other. What a vicious cycle of “sharing” and neglect.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when we were forced to truly be with the person we were with, un-contactable by, and unable to contact, others for the most part. Cellphones did not exist. We made plans in advance. The only interruptions at dinner were the waiters, or a friend who happened to be in the same restaurant and passed by our table, or thick, awkward tension from a fight, or general boredom with a relationship. But at least those variables actually physically existed in that moment.

We did not have a cellphone to text and tell our absent-from-the-moment friend, “I’m eating dinner with so-and-so. Lol.”

Or Facebook to update a status about how good or bad the service in that restaurant is, and maybe even “check-in”.

Or Tumblr to look through pictures of “Cats in Space”, instead of looking at the person we are with.

Or Twitter to randomly share our political beliefs while the person we are with rambles on about something we are not interested in.

Or Instagram to take a picture, documenting what the food we are eating actually looks like.

Or a blog to get on because we are so perplexed with how we don’t share time with people we are with, and it becomes so urgent in our minds that we decide to neglect the person we are with to share with everyone how sharing with everyone can be so toxic.

It seems we have fallen into a pattern of constantly “sharing” with people we are not with, simultaneously neglecting those who are in our actual, physical company.

The other day I saw a father post something on Facebook and it stuck with me, set up camp, and has refused to leave my mind. It was a really simple post. Apparently, he was in the middle of playing a board game with his five-year-old daughter and stopped to tell everyone what they were doing; not about to play a game, or finished playing, but declaratively in the middle of a game. I tried to envision what his daughter was doing while he was looking down at his phone, preoccupied with telling everyone what he was doing.

Was she just sitting there staring at him?

Was it her turn? And if so, was she even aware that he was paying her no mind in that moment?

Was it his turn, and she was just sitting and waiting for him to put down his phone and take his turn?

Was she nagging him to take his turn, “DADDYYYYYYY! It’s YOUR turn!”

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Alas, for all I know, she had excused herself for a moment to use the bathroom or get snacks. And again, who am I, the cyber-sharing king, to judge what was going on in a moment that I was completely absent from. But wait, I was included in those who the father chose to share that moment with, so according to this new technological age we live in, was I there? No, not really. But yes. Yes, I was. But no.

In all my pondering, I’ve realized that real sharing, in general, is a captivating concept, and is an integral one for true community to exist. And ways of sharing can be varied by the type, quality, and selection of who-to-share-with, amongst other things I’m sure.

We can share money, material things, emotions, touch, conversation, time, energy, love, and also even the elements that are the antithesis of these things.

We can share more than we have, be selfish with how much we are willing to share, share the best of what we have, or share with others less than what we are willing to take from them.

We can share with only one other special person, a close group of friends and family, the broader community, strangers, or even everyone we come in contact with.

But whatever the type, quality, or degree of what we are sharing, with whoever we are sharing it with, when we sincerely share with one-another, we are acknowledging the essence of Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are,” because we would not be who we are if others had not shared themselves with us.

My hope for us, and when I say “us” I mean humanity as a whole, is that we can get back to true sharing…

Dinner conversations that are uninterrupted by cellphone calls.

Intimate embraces that are undisturbed by re-situating to check a text.

Continuous attention whilst playing with our kids, with no unnecessary breaks to tell the world we are spending time with our kids.

Good, quality, un-intruded time with the person in our immediate, actual, physical company.

Am I being unrealistic? Has sharing just taken another form, and I am being an old grump? Is it ok that we ignore someone we are with in order to communicate with those who are somewhere else, because we might eventually do the same with that person, sharing with them when we are in the presence of others?

Nevertheless, this letter has turned into a novel, my thoughts have turned to idle ramblings, and I fear I am maybe being too harsh on us, or a little unfair. Please write and let me know how fatherhood is treating you. I would love to hear of any signs of Ubuntu you have encountered in your comings and goings. Extend my love to Jessica and that sweet baby boy.

Light and love from a Spring-like Brooklyn day,

Ryan

Heart’s Dwelling…

by capetownbrown

Dear Cirvant,

How are you faring in Nashville? I know you miss South Africa dearly; there are probably few who understand that as well as I do.

The year-and-a-half I was in Tennessee, in between living in Cape Town and living in Brooklyn, was one of the hardest seasons of my life. It did, however, feel somehow necessary, though I maybe don’t understand the fullness of that necessity even now. Necessary nonetheless.

It is so strange living somewhere when your heart is somewhere completely different. Cape Town was my home for so long. Cape Town was my heart. They say “home is where the heart is,” and that year-and-a-half in Tennessee often left me wondering if I was homeless or heartless; though I was probably a mixture of both, as dramatic as that sounds and is.

All of that to say, I get it. I can imagine your deep longing for South Africa; I can see it in my mind, feel it in my stomach.

My laugh is too loud for America, my eye contact is too strong, and my smiles-to-strangers are too frequent.

I think the laugh was invented on the continent of Africa, and if not, it was most definitely perfected there. Most Africans I have met, from all different countries, from old to young, have learned how to laugh from the gut, from the heart, from the soul. There is nothing better than a whole-hearted, unapologetic, uninhibited, booming laugh. Musical. Poetic. Beautiful.

I digress.

But not really.

Anyways.

As blasphemous as it might sound, I miss Cape Town less than before. And that has nothing to do with Cape Town, or Tennessee, or Brooklyn. It has everything to do with me. You see, that year-and-a-half in Tennessee, I didn’t really make many major attempts at seeking out Ubuntu, that sense that we are all in this together. I just kind of sat in my own misery, with the occasional wallow, and waited for a savior; forgetting, or maybe not realizing, that I am my own savior or oppressor in those times.

I was rarely living in the moment, and spent more time resenting the past and longing for the future. But rarely just being. Not a healthy place.

I snapped out of it when I moved to Brooklyn.

I started giving of myself again, allowing myself to really be in the moment and not wish for something far off, and I started allowing others in again. I have made such wonderful family here in Brooklyn. I feel so content. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely miss Cape Town, but I am slowly making my home here in Brooklyn, and it feels good, great even.

Enough about me. Please let me know how you are doing. Have you managed to find any favorable signs of Ubuntu where you are?

Say hello to Woodie and the nephews for me. I miss them very much.

Positivity and love from Brooklyn,

Ryan

Unwanted Skepticism…

by capetownbrown

Dear Jesse,

I hope this letter finds you well. In general, I am working hard and exhausted, but feel better than I have in a long, long while. I’m in a very good proverbial place right now.

There are, however, some things that have been weighing heavy on my mind; mostly us. No, not you and me specifically or necessarily. But “us” as in humanity. What are we doing? Have we lost the plot? And if, in fact, we have, is it possible to find our way back to it?

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I would ride the subway with a big smile on my face, greeting every person, making eye contact, and sometimes even attempting to strike up conversation. Most people on the subway looked miserable, and I was only sometimes met with warm reception. For the most part, people merely tried to avoid eye contact with everyone. I hated it; so many humans, all piled on top of each other in one city, yet such few human connections.

But city life is fast, and the days can feel longer and more abusive than days in other places. And after a particularly long day, I sometimes find myself assuming the avoid-eye-contact-at-all-costs-and-look-as-miserable-as-possible subway pose. Sad but true. I still hate it.

Tonight on my train ride home, a random stranger tried to befriend me. I’m not sure what about me caught his attention, but he kept making eye contact and smiling at me. I thought I was mistaken at first. But after several stops passed, I realized he was trying to make connection. Even though the hardened, citified version of me told me to be suspicious, I smiled back.

He immediately asked how I was. I responded with something simple, like, “Tired.” With growing skepticism, I didn’t ask how he was doing. I felt like a horrible person, but was obviously conflicted. He asked me where I lived, and voluntarily told me where he lives. He asked what I do on my free time, and I told him between teaching high school and attending grad school, I have no free time.

He said he was trying to be more social, make more time to enjoy the company of friends, because that is the more healthy way to live. I agreed with him fully, but felt my cynicism growing by the second. I went back and forth in my head whether or not I was being realistically skeptical or unrealistically overly paranoid. I never came to any conclusions.

Did I mention he had a kid, maybe 10-years-old, who sat beside him and played a video game the entire time?

They had Whole Foods bags between their legs. That’s normal, right? Not really serial killer vibes, huh?

I noticed a loaf of multigrain bread sitting at the top of the bag.

Right before he reached his stop he gave me his card. I took it, looked down at it, and looked back up at him. He repeated the name I had just read. I only gave him my first name. The train pulled up to his stop, he smiled, said it was nice to meet me, and him, his kid, and their Whole Foods bags were gone.

What is wrong with our human condition that he had to be a rapist or a murderer or a sociopath in my mind? Do you think he might just be a single dad, in a great big city, a little lonely, with no one to talk to, just wanting, no, needing a friend? I don’t know.

Anyways. I have rambled on. Have you had any recent signs that we are part of something bigger than our individual selves? Please let me know how you are doing.

Warmth from cold Brooklyn,

Ryan

P.S.

I kept the man’s business card. So, if you think I overacted and should make contact, let me know.