Day 1: Cape Town – Splendor and Suffering

View out our hotel window

I’m finally here! After a total of 21 hours in the air not including layover time, I arrived in Cape Town last night around 11:00 pm. There were four other service learning students on my flight and after being warmly welcomed by several CIEE staff members, we all introduced ourselves and were vanned to the Cape Town Lodge, a beautiful hotel where we will spend the next couple of nights.

When I woke up in the morning and opened the blinds, I gasped in awe at the utter beauty that lay before us. Our hotel is nestled at the foot of Table Mountain and out our front window, vibrantly colored buildings covered the mountainside – some reflecting the recent renovations of modernity and others exposing the dilapidation of destitution. Though we are in an extremely privileged part of Cape Town at the moment, glimpses of disparity are everywhere. As I am exposed to this new place, I have a feeling that my reality – my lifestyle, relationships, and faith – will be radically transformed…and I can’t wait!

After several orientation sessions, we had a delicious lunch in the hotel and then went for a walk outside in the gorgeous eighty-degree summer weather. (Don’t worry Mom, we went with one of the CIEE staff members…it was completely safe!) We spent a majority of our time simply trying to locate an ATM that would successfully exchange our US dollars for South African rand.

As we made our way back to the hotel, a young boy no older than twelve approached us and held out a cup – only a few small coins rattled on the bottom. His face was scarred, and he wore filthy clothes and a tattered pink hat that barely fit on his head. His only words were, “Madam, please…to buy food.” He carried with him a small can of tuna – his most prized possession and only source of sustenance. With no means to open the can, he tapped on it and held it to his face. In both frustration and love, he desperately yearned for its succulent contents that were so near, yet impossible to reach.

I’ve always been taught to be somewhat apprehensive about giving money to beggars for various reasons. I think that in many situations, this may not be “wise;” however, this is so backward from what Jesus teaches! As we kept walking, I half-heartedly attempted to ignore his pleas, but couldn’t help notice that when we would pass a trash bin, he would pick up cups or fast food sacks and lightly shake them in hope of retrieving some small vestige of food.

I then asked him his name. He replied, “Tchusin” and as we talked, I found out that he lives on the street and is constantly scavenging for food. As we walked past a street vender selling fruit and chicken, he pleaded with me to buy him something…anything to satisfy his hunger. And my heart broke, not so much because of his need, but because of my disgustingly quick reaction to judge him. For several more blocks, he repeated, “Madam, please…” and pointed to shops that sold food. It was obvious that his hunger was not feigned.

Again, my first reaction was to think, “I wonder what the policy on feeding the poor is here?” So as my group wandered into an expensive clothing retailer, I told Tchusin to wait outside for a moment. I asked our guide if I could bring a few people with me to buy Tchusin some food. He dismissed my request, saying that we were leaving soon and wouldn’t have time to stop. My heart dropped as I watched the rest of the girls in my program admire designer clothing. How is it that I, a white person of privilege, have the ability to waltz into any store and shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars while a young boy outside doesn’t even have enough money for his next meal?

In that moment, I felt a sickening guilt wash over me – I belong to a rank of white privilege that perpetuates poverty across the globe…that voraciously maintains the disparate status quo…that causes God’s beautiful children to starve… However, I also felt an inspiring yet heart-wrenching responsibility, knowing that it is that very privilege that gives me the ability to do something about it!

After walking back out onto the street with the rest of the group, Tchusin pointed to another food store that was just a short distance down the street. He knew this would be his last attempt to reach out to a cold-hearted American who clearly had enough money to give him a feast. It was then that the Lord convicted my heart.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” – Matthew 25:35-36.

How could I really think there was an alternative “policy on feeding the poor?” Scripture is clear: we are to care for each and every one of God’s children as we would care for Jesus himself!

The Waterfront

We went to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront for dinner, an extravagantly beautiful shopping and dining mall next to the ocean…I couldn’t help but think of Tchusin and as I easily shelled out more than four times the amount I had given him earlier today. Why was it so easy to spend money to fill my already satisfied stomach and so difficult to part with the small amount it would take to completely fill his empty one? I have a feeling that this is only a small taste of what I will encounter this semester in Cape Town, South Africa – my home away from home for the next four and a half months…

*Dove’s kisses: As we walked back to the hotel today, there were two doves painted on a store window grasping olive branches in their beaks. As I passed, I couldn’t help but smile and thank God for the sweet touch of His presence.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dad
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 21:07:09

    Hi Hon, I really enjoyed reading about your first day. Our prayers are with you.

    Love Dad

    Reply

  2. Janet
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 04:41:30

    Wow! an incredible start to a great adventure 🙂 God will show you more than you have ever seen before – that is guaranteed!

    Reply

  3. Mom
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 14:21:11

    Thanks for telling us about Tchusin, makes me sad to think of him there so hungry…through your words I feel can feel his pain. I am certain God has a great many things in store for you Sunshine! AND so awesome about the Dove’s showing up, a little sign from above — God is so good!

    Reply

  4. Bobbie
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 14:45:53

    Thanks for your openness and vulnerability in sharing your stories!

    Reply

  5. Larissa
    Feb 02, 2011 @ 02:51:51

    Hey! Been thinking about you these last few days and am hoping that you’re taking in every breath that God has given you! What a story for your first day. Isn’t it strange how we are so blind to what’s going on around us every day? So happy to hear that your eyes were wide open to this young boy! Continue to be the hands and feet of God and you will make a difference in so many lives!!

    Reply

  6. Janet
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 15:46:56

    Hey Alyssa,

    I just read this verse from Luke 6:30 “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” We have all these ideas about why we shouldn’t give to the poor, but Jesus says that is doesn’t matter what they will do with what you give them. What matters is that you give to them freely.

    Keep Shining God’s Light 🙂

    Reply

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