Photo by [Adobe Stock]
In the Quran it is written, “Do they then not travel through the Earth, so that their minds gain wisdom, and their ears thus learn to hear? For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the minds which are in the foremost”.
Everywhere I’ve travelled I’ve always kept that verse in mind. What does it mean and what am I expected to learn from these places? I’d observe different people in South Africa, their cultures and traditions, their mannerisms and politeness. But beneath all our differences lived a core set of oneness, a shared experience of values and ideals.
This year I journeyed to a different part of the world, and like a billboard in lights, that verse stuck with me. Subconsciously I was determined to find its interpretation.
I had the privilege of travelling to Thailand and being of Malay heritage there was a sense of belonging in that part of Asia. There were many people that shared the same physical characteristics as my family members, and for a moment I thought I saw Boeta Faried and aunty Gieda.
But then I asked what wisdom am I meant to gain? South Africa was not much different. For instance, Quantums were transporting people, the water in some areas were not fit for drinking and the electricity connections definitely seemed illegal from the way the cables were wired. There were moments I thought I was home.
Although I must have been in a fantasy world because the Quantums were on the right side and obeying the rules of the road. Shocking, I know. Suddenly in my realisation, a sense of responsibility began to overwhelm me.
I travelled to developed and rural parts of the country observing people, the way they ate and engaged with one another. Everywhere I went, it was the same. The only difference was the clothing people wore in different areas.
Apart from our country, Thailand is as diverse as they come. People from across Asia were operating businesses and restaurants which definitely reminded me of Fordsburg, another similarity.
But what struck me was that South Africa has so much more than they do in terms of wealth and natural resources, yet we do not have enough to ease the levels of poverty in our country. Thailand, from my experience, has much less and much fewer people begging on the street.
There is a quote from a Roman philosopher which reads “, it’s not the man that has too little, that is poor”. A truth I have discovered.
This time of the year Thailand is such a popular tourist destination. Most days I’d find myself engaged in conversation with foreigners from Europe and the Americas.
It’s uncanny how many questions I got asked about South Africans living with animals. To humour some, I told them about my pet lion that I allow to sleep in the house and the giraffe in the yard.
What was interesting to me was their perception of people outside their own countries and I wondered if I was doing the same? Was I allowing my ignorance, my set of values and experiences to guide my observations? Perhaps I was.
It was not until I travelled to Koh Samui, an island in the east of Thailand. For the most part, the island is quite rural, apart from the beach lodges and modern infrastructural development.
There I began to immerse myself in the culture. For six days I walked amongst the locals, spoke to them and ate with them. It’s amazing how many shop owners were fond of Nelson Mandela, some even had family members working in South Africa and there was a lovely moment when someone greeted me with kunjani.
One thing was clear, I never met people who were so welcoming to foreigners. I’ve never been part of a society where women and children felt safe to walk the streets at night, and where people were happy with the little they had.
It was strange to live in a place where there were no political posters, the people only owed allegiance to themselves and each other. Having sewers fully operational, people treated the environment with respect and care, and a place where there was no fear of blackouts.
It was as if everyone knew their purpose and the importance of their roles in society. Women were working together mixing cement and laying bricks, men were beating iron and sowing crops, and children were helping wherever they could. It was a society where people took the responsibility to feed those that couldn’t help themselves.
Perhaps that was the wisdom I was meant to gain. The importance of self-determination and breaking free from the broken promises of politicians, to remember the role and responsibilities I have towards my family, and the safety and prosperity of community members, whether they’re South Africans or not.