Brightly hued houses are dotted across the landscape. Minibus taxis honk incessantly as they pick up school children, young adults headed to work, and women going into town. Chickens scurry around, belonging to no one but coexisting with everyone. Clothing lines sag as school uniforms and brightly colored blankets hang drying in the sun.
This is Cato Manor – my home away from home in South Africa. Despite the butterflies in my stomach when I was first dropped off at Mama Ruby’s door step I have never felt so at home in such a foreign place.
I experienced a sense of community in every aspect of my life in Cato, from playing soccer after class with my classmates and the neighborhood kids and exploring the township with my host sister, Smu, to buying fried chips from the shack behind our neighbhor’s home or being invited into a stranger’s home after saying just a simple Sawubona (hello).
Each time I went for a jog, I was surrounded by children who wanted me to stop and play with them, or who insisted on running alongside me for as long as their bare feet would allow them. Each time I crossed paths with a neighbor, I was greeted with a warm Khamba Kanjani? (How’s it going?). I learned very quickly that it was not just polite, but customary, to greet a person whether you knew them or not.
On afternoons when I helped Smu with her homework, our back door rattled with a constant rhythm as neighborhood kids arrived. They flocked to our house, coming to buy small packets of broken cookies, or brokens as the children called them, that my Mama sold. Not to make a profit, as she would later tell me, “just to keep the money moving”.
At first overwhelmed, I soon came to love how full of life Cato seemed to be. Even more so, I appreciated how welcoming the community was to a bunch of mlungus (an endearing Zulu word for a white person) walking in their streets and playing with their children. Although I was very much an outsider, I never felt like one.
I learned many things during the six weeks that I spent living in Cato Manor – but at the root of the lessons I learned is that family is more than blood relations. It is about the connection you share with another human being. To this day, my host sister Smu is not just the girl I lived with – she is my sisi. And my host brothers Lungelo and Bhuwa are not just the boys who teased me – they are my bhutis. Fortunately enough, with the help of technology and smart phones, I still talk to them regularly.
Ubuntu, as I experienced living in Cato Manor, is not about race or the color of your skin. It is about the ties that bond, and the relationships we build with others. I know that I will always have a home in Cato Manor with Mama Ruby, a true testament to the spirit of Ubuntu.