On January 5th & 6th, we travelled to a local neighborhood in Soweto. We had the privilege of participating in a home stay, where we spent the night in women’s homes and met their families. The “Mama” I stayed with was Busi, and this was her first time inviting foreigners into her home. Her sister (who also lives with her in a different house on the property) has been doing home stays for a while and encouraged Busi to open up her home. So not only was this my first experience with home stays, but Busi was new to it as well. I felt like that created a common ground because neither of us really knew what was expected out the other.
During my stay, my eyes were opened to the struggles that many South Africans face in terms of their living conditions and how they were affected by Apartheid. Busi’s home was a series of very small brick homes that had no toilet, sinks, or running water anywhere inside. Her sister actually built her brick house on her own, having someone build the foundation for her. Since their family kept expanding, there were two metal shacks that were built onto the property to accommodate other family members. In Busi’s home (where I slept), there were only two bedrooms, and in order to allow people to come stay in her home, she allowed me and my roommate Alexa to stay in one of them. That meant that only one bedroom was available, and some of the children had to sleep on the hard, uncarpeted floor in the living room, and Busi had to share a room with other members of the family.
Busi and other women of the family participate in these home stays in order to make extra money, so I realized that they had to make huge sacrifices – even ones that affected their children and their needs – in order to accommodate for complete strangers. This made me a little sad but it also showed me just how strong African people truly are. They always seem to find a way to make things work for them to some sort of benefit even if everything has been taken away from them. They didn’t choose to live they way that they do, and they can’t afford anything better. But instead of giving in, they decided to open their homes and offer them as learning opportunities for outsiders. The good thing about this is that not only do the visitors learn about their lives, but they learn about ours as well. They asked me and Alexa many, many questions about the way things work in both America and Mexico, the music we listen to, clothes, food, etc. I saw that as their chance to get real perspectives about where we come from as opposed to hearing other people talk about America/Mexico but not truly learning.
Lastly, one thing that was very prominent amongst this families and the other women on in the neighborhood was the concept of being family oriented and neighborly. The common example of this that I heard was “If I don’t have sugar, my neighbor will.” They believe in sharing with and uplifting each other, whether they’re blood related or not. I thought that was very interesting because it’s not like that in the United States. Most people are independent, and not all families are super close in that way. And since I didn’t grow up with that type of family intimacy, it was a nice experience, since I got to meet all the children and family members. I was surprised at how well I adapted to the togetherness of Busi’s home, because I grew up being extremely independent and was not at all used to being around my extended family. In essence, even though I was extremely hesitant about staying in a stranger’s home in South Africa, especially in the conditions they unfortunately have to live in, it ended up being a great learning experience that I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else.