On Saturday afternoon, having returned from South Africa that morning, I almost tweeted this: "Just washed Africa off of my feet….it was ingrained hard."
Fortunately my Twitter conscience stopped me pressing send… firstly because quite frankly it’s pretty gross to talk about my skanky feet, and secondly I had this philosophical sense I was actually saying something deeper.
Truth is you can’t just wash Africa off your feet (metaphorically speaking). Or maybe you can, but you shouldn’t.
I first went to South Africa in 2010 and although my time there was good, I didn’t fall in love with Africa. Over the last few years I’ve flirted with Africa a few times but still no love affair has been ignited. The last fortnight is quite possibly the closest it got though.
That’s exactly why I shouldn’t wash Africa off. I need Africa and Africa needs me. Let’s get back to my skanky feet for a second. I hate wearing shoes in summer and I honestly think it’s quite biblical to don that natural bare foot way, but the result of that is you end up with hard, crusty, dirty feet. Attractive, eh?
When young Jewish boys were in rabbi training (I’m sure there’s a more correct term for that!) they would follow their rabbi, learning everything they could from him. In recent years there’s been a lot of church talk around ‘walking in the rabbi’s dust’ based on an old rabbinic quote. The whole idea is that to truly become like someone you have to follow them closely, be influenced by them and remain close to them, so close that their dust covers you.
And that’s why I need the dust of Africa on my feet. Africa and its people have a lot to offer and teach us. You want to know what poverty really is… go to Africa. You want to know what pain feels like… go to Africa. You want to see joy in the midst of sadness… go to Africa. You need the dust of Africa on you. It might not feel nice, it might get dirty, but you have to go.
When Mother Teresa was asked about her work in Calcutta on how it was going or what it was like, she would answer with these three words:
“Come and see”
As for me, I will look forward to my next bare foot date with the African continent, and in the meantime you’ll find me with my feet in the foot spa and pumice stone in hand.
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Ashley is a Canadian volunteer in the Hands at Work office in South Africa. Feel free to contact her for more information.