Many, many times in the last 14 years I have flown the thirty-some hour passage between Portland, Oregon and the Limpopo province of South Africa and I did it again Tuesday. Always the vast difference between the two worlds startles me as I wander about in a jet-lag haze. Arriving at PDX at noon (10pm in S.A) I clutched onto the illusion that a nutrition filled smoothie would wake my head up.
The bright, spring, well-watered greens of my N.E. Portland neighborhood and the moist air were shocking after being in the late summer world of the drought stricken Lowveld. As I walked towards the entrance of the neighborhood Whole Foods Market I was struck by the orderly visual of neatly stacked pots of small daffodils and bikes, dogs carefully tethered outside the store.
There are no work boots, no shirtwaist dresses, no sun-brellas and no goats wandering about.
Entering the store the difference in pace and attitude was even more palpable. Here people are friendly, mostly polite and rather distracted.
I miss the laughter.
It is different in the village of Rooiboklaagte. There things move slowly. Friendly greetings abound. There is always an eagerness just beneath the surface to be surprised and delighted at any moment.
The grannies and the toddlers and everyone in between seem to be just waiting for an opportunity to laugh. I’ve made people double over laughing for years when I pull out my ragged Tsonga (one of the eleven official languages in South Africa) and say simply, “Good day. How are you?” I used to wonder if the laughter came because I mangled the words or was it simply the fact of a white granny trying to speak Tsonga?
Now I understand better, it is that ever present undercurrent of ‘ready to be delighted.’
I sat on the porch of the Mapusha studio last week with Gertrude as she prepared her wool for the weaving of a commissioned rug. Sounds of little children in the creche (nursery school) across the New Dawn lawn filled the air and Gertrude started laughing. “They are fighting,” she told me as she continued to listen and to chuckle. Angy and Lizbeth came out of the studio and joined in the laughter.
I smiled at the ease of laughter in their friendly world and wondered if it is a quality of faith or a more simple acceptance of what is. Maybe they are just more quiet, more willing to have the empty space within to watch and listen closely to the world around them.
I calculate that Gertrude probably laughs out loud at least 30 or 40 times a day. Scanning my North American clan the only person remotely close on the laugh index is two year old Marian.
Later that night I streamed the Republican debate and blearily watched the depressing scenario unfold. It sickened me to hear the fear mongering and judgements being slung about in such self-righteous rants. Feeling myself beginning to get caught in my own loop of fear, anger, judgement—I remembered the laughter of Gertrude on the Mapusha porch.
It struck me that I would have to work to hold my own open space of spacious acceptance. I don’t want to be filled with dark fears and righteous anger in this crazed election cycle. Instead, I will try to emulate the South African’s shining readiness to laugh, to be surprised and delighted.