This past Thursday we celebrated “Heritage Day” in South Africa by hiking Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain. Heritage Day is a holiday meant to bring people together, across all spectrums, to celebrate our differences, and at the same time faithfully recognize we’re all in this together. The idea behind all of this is to remember where you come from, what makes you unique to your walk of life, and celebrate what got you to where you are now— South Africa.
We chose to hike the 4-hour trail up the backside of Table Mountain. Standing at the bottom, this world wonder doesn’t seem to tower above the clouds, but from the top the view certainly changes. Climbing this mountain got me thinking about our journey to the destination on top. Usually when you hike, its common to spend much more time getting to where you’re going than you ever actually spend once you finally arrive. Doesn’t that then make the journey more important than the arrival? Does the sheer amount of time spent on the journey make it more meaningful, more altering, and more powerful than the destination itself? I thought about this as we were climbing the mountain. Knowing we clearly wouldn’t spend 4 hours on the top, I got to thinking about the journey— all these little journey’s in life we take to get to the destinations we hope for. There are the journeys of the day to day, the journeys of years, schools, professions, dreams, and the overall journey we take in life.
Heritage Day is a celebration of the journey we all take to get where we are— celebrating not the destination, but the journeys of histories, heritages, and pasts that have paved the way to where we are now. How beautiful to this human experience to take one day out of the year to focus not on the present, nor where we are going, but where we come from, and what brought us to where we are.
South Africa is a complicated nation, imbibed with the fibers of a rich, colorful culture, and a devastating and separated past. With just barely more than 20 years separating South Africa from the Apartheid era, there is still much progress to be made. Many people here are still very angry, and there is still a palpable separation between races, classes, and suburbs. The memories of segregation and separation are still fresh on the minds and hearts of the South African people. If everything about my birth was the same— day, month, year— but only I was born in South Africa, I would’ve been born separate from people of other races. This is not an issue of past generations for someone in their early twenties here, this separation was part of their life, and would’ve been a part of mine had I been born here as well. There’s no way for a middle class white guy from America to relate to this— all I can really do is observe and take in as much as I can. Is it overwhelming at times— the anger I see in some of the people? Absolutely. But is it understandable, given the poverty in some of the areas, and recent history of this place? Absolutely.
It’s hard to imagine a world different than your own, unless you get the chance to climb into the boots of someone else and take a stroll in theirs. Once you experience the world from another perspective, the world you knew begins to seem much smaller. A big part of the growth I’ve experienced during this internship is realizing how important the journey is. After all, we don’t all know where we’re going, but we all know where we are, and where we’ve been.