Today, I found out that Girl has a name. It turns out in Zulu culture, it is quite common for male children to have the nickname ‘Boy’, and a set of twins can be affectionately named “Boy and She.’ Yet it turns out, Girl’s ‘real’ name is Kwanel(e).
When I found that out, a peace settled over me. I had initially thought she had ben called Girl because she was unwanted in her parents eyes. Perhaps she had been an unforeseen pregnancy, and out of bitterness she hadn’t been given a ‘real’ name. Or, maybe her parents had thought Girl was exotic, because it was English, and didn’t realize it literally meant girl.
The discovery that Girl was also named Kwanel(e), was the start of a new experience for me. As I drove through and around downtown Pietermaritzburg I had the muted revelation that my colleagues were real people. It sounds absurd, perhaps even patronizing, but I had looked at this month working with Ithemba Projects as my experience. Seeing things through my eyes, how did it affect me. In doing so, everyone else had become like a prop in the play, or, as DiCaprio expertly explains in Inception, a projection of my mind. My colleagues were real people, yes, but their existence and presence only lasted for as long as I was concerned. I had never really looked at them and imagined their pasts, imagined their fears, their dreams. Never thought that when I was hungry, lonely or tired, they were too. That just as I was meeting people and having community interactions, they also were breathing the same air, struggling up the same hills, creating and loosing friends, acquaintances. The flesh that sat beside me in the car wasn’t just a projection, it had a history, and also a future.
Often, I think in retrospect, we are so focused in channelling our experience of life through our own two pupils, we miss the people who are moving within our irises. Looking through my photos, I was struck by the notion, that when I return home, people will ask me: How did you find it, what was it like, how do you feel now your back? They’ll wonder – who’s that man singing, or that person smiling next to you?
And those extra shadows in my memory will continue to live an exist in the world. They will continue to have a present, a future and a past. And I will have been a tiny speck of dust plopping into the vast ocean of their life streams. We will have crossed paths briefly, for a short instance, in what may be lifetimes stretching beyond sixty years.
Surely, one can’t form relationships, invest, share memories, moments, fears, hopes and dreams with projections? Surely, we must build on these experiences, as they have changed us. It chills me to think, that when I show friends and maybe even my own children in the future, this blog, or these images, and they ask me – so what is so-and-so doing now, i’ll not have the foggiest idea.
So, I find myself, as i’m supposed to turn my gaze homeward, trying to find away somewhere on that London-bound horizon, back here. To make an investment. To remember a promise, that could have been made a long time ago, in a half remembered dream. To come back.