We are pleased to announce the winner of Umoja Writing Competition 2014 is Lauren Dionysius and her non-fiction entry ‘Simply Ubuntu’. Second place goes to Denise Cummins with her literary entry ‘Tumaini (hope)’. Congratulations to these writers and I’d like to thank everyone who entered. We hope next year we can raise needed funds for Umoja Orphanage again next year when we hold the second competition from January 2015.
Here’s the winning story:
Upon the sudden, disturbing realisation that my dream job was no longer my dream, I resigned, packed my bags and went to Africa. Sitting next to me on the plane was Gina, a wise South-African woman. She told me that Africa was about people, about community, and in her words it’s about “becoming more certainly human by connecting with and experiencing the humanity of others”. She scribbled the word “ubuntu” on a piece of newspaper, handed it to me, and told me to remember this during my time in Africa. In the months that followed I learned that ubuntu was simply what you experienced on African soil. It was what clawed its way deep into your bones and into the depths of your spirit. Once you have been there, you never forget. You never forget the people you met in the countries you saw, but until you can experience ubuntu for yourself, the phenomenon is difficult to recognise.
I saw ubuntu in the face of the elderly woman whose deep, leathery wrinkles captured a timeless wisdom acquired through decades of hardship. I heard it in her words as we swapped stories of contrasting, even colliding cultures. I saw it flicker through the dark unknown of her pupils as they reflected the fire’s flame before it flashed brightly through her glowing, white smile between missing front teeth. I felt her unconditional generosity as it flowed into the food she so proudly cooked in the simplest of kitchens and tasted it in the bean stew she served me in a little enamel bowl. I heard it in the joyful laughter of the village children as they ran around outside, playing bare-footed in the dirt. I loved that they could make such long-lasting fun out of whatever they could find, limited only by their collective imaginations. I reveled in their innocent curiosity. They wanted nothing more than to simply talk to me, touch my skin and my long, straight hair and to hold my hand or leap into my lap. I soon realised that no glass screens of any technological type had ever dulled their inquisitive minds. And for that I was incredibly grateful.
I felt ubuntu in this tiny village in rural Malawi where community life thrived on an intricate thread of hope that weaved a connection through every man, woman and child. As I helped the children collect water from the bore pump, I felt it in the vulnerability of the modest infrastructure with which they all lived, a harsh reality of Africa’s simple life.
The longer I spent in Africa, the more I learned that it was ubuntu that remained within me after leaving behind the stressful distractions of my life back in Australia. As a career-driven yet burned out city girl, I was so humbled by this poverty-stricken nation and its absolute belief in survival against all odds. By first world standards these people had “nothing” yet they had the warmest of hearts and the most generously grateful souls I’d ever met. There was no sense of stress or the pressure that accompanied daily life back home. I found myself surrounded by humans just being human, by living their lives in the best way they knew how. And for the first time ever, I was able to just take the time to truly listen to, learn from and connect with those around me. This is because in Africa, humanity, not wealth, defined people. Gina was right. Africa was all about people.
Ubuntu is what the developed world is missing. While we continue to chase bigger, stronger, faster, newer and more expensive, we will never be satisfied. We live in a country of excess. We have too much food, too much money, too many choices and too many “things”. Nothing will ever be good enough while we are always looking for “more”. While Australia tries to create strength through wealth and materialism, Africa creates strength of the heart through connections with other people. Possessions and “things” are simply irrelevant. It is for these reasons that Africa has so much to teach the rest of the world.
Ubuntu has been etched under my skin like a tattoo, a constant reminder of Africa’s beating heart. This is what beckons me every day to return to its shores and will therefore continue to be a part of me. For it’s the heart that is intertwined so deeply with that of ubuntu, that innate humanness that is within every one of us that craves connection with the people around us. Everyone can take a leaf or two out of Africa’s book. And these are the pages that I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.
The runner up story ‘Tumaini (hope)’ will be posted next week. So please come back to read it.