[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Week That Was goes to Kliptown and follows us as we introduce twelve young souls to the benefits of mindfulness and offer them some respite from difficult emotions.
The birthplace of freedom
Kliptown is the oldest district in Soweto. It has a noble history as the place where the Freedom Charter was born. It remains desperately poor. Despite hundreds of millions spent on an upgrade in an attempt to redevelop the area, the Walter Sisulu Square looks neglected. The surrounding buildings are starting to show signs of wear. Informal traders cram around the outside edges of the buildings, while some have seeped into the square itself. The Soweto Hotel's flags hang limp and faded on their poles. The entrance to the hotel parking has been cordoned off behind orange netting and the hotel lobby is blocked by cement plinths.
Not the warmest welcome
Not the warmest welcome for two out-of towners, but it was not here that we were destined for. It was into the informal settlement across the railway line from the Walter Sisulu Square that we were lead to conduct a group emotional fitness class, using Shape of Emotion, with unemployed youth from the area. We had been invited to try out our work there by Khulisa Social Solutions, an NPO working for social change in this and many other under-resourced communities.
A short stretch of tar quickly turned into pockmarked sand road bordered by crumbling buildings. Litter blew across the road and hung like forgotten washing on barbed wire fences. The road of rubble bent and dipped, got progressively narrower and then disappeared around a corner. Our robust car bumped along bravely and came to a gingerly stop outside a building barely habitable from the outside. Movement inside, however, indicated it was still in good use.
A makeshift church
The room we were ushered into was small and dingy and like everything else in that area - crumbling. White tiles covered some of the concrete wall of what might have once been a kitchen. Ragged curtains fluttered in front of cracked panes held together by glue or wishes. Neither had seen soapy water in quite some time. A makeshift pulpit jutted into the room. This, along with a few religious pictures clinging heroically to the wall, crosses pasted above window frames and several rickety wooden benches propping up some young people, confirmed we were in a makeshift church.
Space, noise and more noise
As we set up the space for the class - getting the young people to put the benches in a circle, setting out candles and incense - two older women knitted, gossiped and ate something bready and sticky in the corner. We weren't quite sure who they were or why they were there, but we left them be. Until their chatting got too noisy and we had to ask them nicely to lower their voices.
Outside there was more noise and lots of it - scraping and bashing in the road (were there really that many stones that had to be moved?), thumping doof-doof music competed with Barry White wafting from the bar across the way. A child cried and a mother scolded. Friends yelled greetings to each other. Inside it was hot and sticky. Flies peppered the air. We left the door open despite the noise and opened those windows not welded shut. It did not help much.
A first time for everything
There is a first time for everything and this was ours - doing a group class in conditions like these: noisy, hot, where English is not a first language and the concept of mindfulness is as foreign as the tourists that saunter in groups outside. Yet, somehow, in all this chaos, heat, and noise, we managed to still twelve young souls and offer them some respite from a difficult emotion. It felt hopelessly inadequate to only do the clearing of one difficult emotion but the words of relief and smiles said differently. We left them with an expanded positive emotion, a small mirror to remind them that "it starts with me", and a two-hour reprieve from their not easy lives.
We have a dream that there will be people in every community like this one trained to facilitate regular Shape of Emotion group classes. These emotional fitness classes are like guided meditation sessions or yoga for the soul. We saw that it can be done. We were gifted with young people who want to hope, want to learn, want to teach and all who want more.
Principle: Offer don't give
When we are tempted to give solutions to others without asking if they want our assistance - we assume they are helpless, that they need rescuing. If we can stop and offer our help, we acknowledge them as capable and resourceful beings who can choose to accept or not. Offer, don't give.