Over the past few weeks in South Africa, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many people from my Uber driver to fellow train passengers, park rangers, and retailers. The majority are migrants from surrounding counties such as Zimbabwe and Namibia. So, I started asking questions.
A man from Zimbabwe told me his story of migration to escape a dictator that’s ruled for a decade or so too long. He told me of inflation and the collapse of their currency, to the point where US money is now used in Zimbabwe. He spoke of his desire to go back-something he’s thought of every day in his 10 years in South Africa. Through his kind eyes and smile, he revealed that’s he’s a chef and has two children almost my age. He will run back the minute it’s safe to do so. Maybe if we ask questions, we will understand why people leave.
I asked a beautiful women with a radiant smile where she was from while I was browsing souvenirs in Cape Town. She’s from Namibia and had come to South Africa for work, but she didn’t feel safe here. She wouldn’t live in the townships for safety reasons, so she spent extra to live in Cape Town city. I asked her for food recommends/ where she’d eat to which she replied- nowhere. The restaurants were all too expensive for her, so she cooks at home. I felt a bit foolish after this, but she was so gracious about my questions and her kindness permeated our conversation.
Imagine how hard it is to leave everything you know and start over somewhere else. What it would feel like to leave behind your home, memories, and family to build a better life for yourself. The risks involved are huge- it takes immense courage to walk away, into the unknown, and start over in a new country, to adapt to a completely new lifestyle.
My interactions prompted me to reflect on what’s going on in my own country. Perhaps we can try to humanize migrants and refugees? Everyone deserves to have a good quality of life, regardless of where they are from. Didn’t I leave my home town for opportunities elsewhere? I’m living abroad to gain a different experience, and in this way I’m the same as everyone I’m speaking with. Is my life less valuable outside of my home country? I think not. State/national boundaries don’t separate us. We all want the same things- respect, love, kindness, opportunity, understanding, and compassion.