My Own Worst Critic, Part II.

by Chris Kamalski

Not entirely proud of this entry, but I said I would post it.  My unfinished thoughts about my Submerging Experience this past week: 

How are you supposed to encompass such a profound experience within the context of a few scripted words?  A more apt question might be how I am even able to tap into the wide range of emotions that I felt days after this experience, particularly in light of the fact that I tap out these sentences in the comfort of a local House of Coffees in the midst of a bustling shopping mall on an early autumn Saturday.  I feel so removed–already!–from the raw emotions that sweeped through my soul during our Submerging Experience in Soshanguve.  And yet, that’s how life must be lived, is it not?  We are unable to remain within the crucible of an emotional experience, whether we wish to or not.  This inability actually creates the beautiful longing that allows us to fully enjoy what we are experiencing, for longing (some may say, hope deferred) builds the anticipation of what may be coming at any unexpected moment.

A short rabbit trail may illustrate this.  The story of Susan Boyle, a 47 year-old British woman who wowed Simon Cowell and co. on “Britain’s Got Talent”, went viral on the web this week after her stunning rendition of a Les Miserables song blew everyone away.  As she began to sing through the audience’s derisive whistles and laughter at her outward appearance, scorn was transformed into unabashed joy (and a standing ovation!) as she continued to belt her lungs out. The point is simple: Would we tear at the sound of her voice if we expected it?  The beauty is found in its unexpected nature, and emotion wells within our souls as we welcome what was never anticipated: joy.

Poor attempt to illustrate aside, this is the sort of experience that I had living in Soshanguve, the local township about 20 minutes outside of Pretoria North, this week.  I fail even now to adequately sum up the emotions I felt.  Even listing them feels sterile, yet possibly hopeful in helping me continue to type.  

I felt:

  • welcomed as family into a stranger’s home; 
  • overwhelmed by the lack of boundary and possession (All of Lawrence’s possessions were mine, down to the sharing of his twin bed, and yet I deliberately left things at Pangani that I didn’t want abused); 
  • mind-numbingly bored (to the point of an exhausted stupor much of the day) at the lack of ‘things to do,’ especially for boys/men within this community who were not working; 
  • forced into a time warp of gender roles that I was uncomfortable to act within (as men, we were to stay outside of the house, unable to participate in chores, cooking, or cleaning); 
  • helpless at the sight of poverty becoming personal (“the poor” is no longer an economical classification to me; rather, I have friends who are poor now, over which I feel a mixture of happiness, guilt, pity, and self-condemnation for the previous feelings).