In my first year of studies at U.C.T., I had this course called “Text in Context”. I remember having a discussion in one of the first days of class. We were all trying to wrap our heads around this concept of “texts in context”, and the professor seemed to be taking it to the next level of “deepness”. Of course as first year students, eager to impress, we were all trying to show how deep we could also think and express. I am sure we were real impressive. Anyways, I guess the general idea was that contexts can be changed by texts…or was it texts are changed by contexts? Ok, obviously it did not really stick with me, but that doesn’t really matter. The discussion that day in class got me thinking about “contexts” and how we (the texts) change them.
For instance, I thought about the place I would go every Tuesday and Thursday night, at that time, to do boxing training. It was actually a church hall in an old Methodist church. Some nights it was used for boxing, other nights Tai Kwan Do, some days it was used for yoga, Sundays it was used for “children’s church”, and other days it was used for NA meetings. The building didn’t ever change, but the context did depending on who was in it and what they were doing in it. A heroin addict who has been clean for three years knows it as a place of accountability and safety, a little boy knows it as a place where he draws different pictures and plays with clay while his parents are in church, and I know it as a place where I exercised until I worked up disgusting amounts of sweat and punched a punching bag until my knuckles bled. So the building never changed, but depending on what day of the week, the people actually changed the context of the meaning the building has.
Where am I going with this?
Ok, so back to today. I was just overwhelmed with change in all different ways. I had the opportunity to show a couple of American girls around Cape Town a bit today. I got to town early so I went to check my email. I went to the same internet café that I went to every day during my 16 days on the streets. It was really weird. The place was exactly the same. It looked the same. It smelled the same. It was the same temperature. I even sat at the same computer that I usually sat at. Everything was pretty much the same but it felt so different! I had changed. I was not dirty, or self conscious of my smell and worried that the other customers might complain, or desperately needing to make use of the toilet, or craving one of the Cokes that sat in the ice cold refrigerator but not able to buy it. I was showered, didn’t need the toilet, and had just drank a wonderful, expensive latte on the way to town. The place was the same but I had changed, which changed my experience of the place.
I met the two American girls, Blanca and Liz, and we drank some coffee and then went to Crippie. Again, it was the same building that I ate in for 16 days, every single morning. It was the same place that provided a very important meal in my daily schedule. And within it was the same stew that I loved so dear during those 16 days! I remember standing in line and looking at the stew being served to other people in front of me in the line and my mouth would water. So when I walked in today, many of the people excitedly greeted me and said, “Ryan! It’s stew!!”. I hadn’t eaten this morning, but knowing that I could easily obtain a meal elsewhere, the stew did not seem as appetizing as it did during the 16 days. That made me sad! Crippie had not changed, the stew had not changed (except I think they may have added some noodles), but I had…and it was weird!
I took Liz and Blanca around town a bit after that and then we decided to go out and visit Town Two, Khayelitsha (a community that I worked in for a few years). I already felt a bit of guilt in going out there because I had not visited in a LONG time! And of course, when I got there, what was I confronted with but…change. The kids all seemed three feet taller, my favorite spaza shop is going under because the owner is sick, and many of the kids that were in the programs we had running are now standing on the street corners and getting into trouble; one of them was arrested over the holiday season and he was one of our star boxers in our sports program just a few years ago! The community, as in structure, had not changed all that much; a little bit here in there. But the kids had, and I have too. It was kind of eerie. It was really sad to see some of the kids that had so much potential making absolutely nothing of their lives and just getting into trouble because of lack of support structures.
That is when I realized…
They are being changed by the “context” around them. And until that context sees serious change, it will continue to impact the youth in a negative way. It is unreasonable for us as adults to expect young people not to be changed by the context in which they find themselves in. But it is our responsibility to teach them how to interact with the different contexts, bringing positive change, when needed, both within the contexts and in they themselves.
I don’t know if this makes since. I questioned even writing this blog. It is kind of profound, but might not even be. It is late, and I have alot running through my head! I hope you managed to grasp some sort of concrete thought from this!