Sometimes the little things in life mean the most ~ Ellen Hopkins
“Ons gaan” The tour guide yelled in language. She stood in the doorway off the bus waving at us. “Quickly now! We don’t have much time.” She added making the boy feel rushed. “Why couldn’t she just slow down? We are right here, can’t she just be a little more patient.” He thought to himself. He wore a Nikon camera around his shoulder attached to a leather strap in his left hand he held a spare lens and with his other hand he put away his phone into his pocket. His family quickly made their way to the bus. Their tour bus driver smiled at them. He was a native South African, born and raised in his beautiful country. He wore a simple blue and white checkered blouse, neatly tucked away in his pants. He was a joyful and at the same time shy person. Always laughing, but he didn’t speak that much. The tour guide on the other hand was just as joyful as he was. Her energy was ecstatic and contagious. Everyone sat down in the bus and the loud puffing noise of the doors closing silenced the group of tourists. The tour guide turned around on her seat scanning the bus. Her wrinkly lips slowly moved as her shaking and wrinkled hand-counted each of the people there. “Good, good.” She said into the microphone. “We are all here. ‘Ons gaan’” She once again said. This meant “We are going now.” It had become the call for both the tourists and the bus driver to know that she was ready to leave. The bus slowly moved away from the hotel just across from the boulevard.
The boy settled into his usual spot inside the bus. About halfway, so he didn’t get sick from sitting in the back, nor had to talk all the time with the social people sitting in the front. “So…” The tour guide said through the bus microphone. “Tonight we are going to visit the townships of Port Elizabeth.” The idea of visiting slums didn’t speak to the boy. As if the slums were some tourist attraction. He felt both guilty and annoyed. “On our way there we will pick up our guide through the townships. I know this is a bit of a weird thing to do.” The tour guide said in her usual high pitch and crackly voice. “But visiting these townships is an enriching experience. We are not simply going there to sightsee this isn’t something we go and say oh wow how awful. This isn’t an experience you are just going to walk away from. Most other groups I’ve guided through the country have said to me that this was a life-changing experience. You’ll soon enough discover why this is the case. For now, enjoy the view of modern Port Elizabeth.” She put down the microphone and he pressed play and placed his earphones into his ears. They often switched seats throughout the tour but this time his dad sat next to him. He always felt slightly annoyed when his dad sat next to him. He was continuously interrupting his music by pointing at things and saying how wonderful or extraordinary they were. He just wanted to listen to music and drown away in his thoughts. On the entire trip, the boy had been getting more and more frustrated by the ongoing chatter of the others in the bus. The moments when everyone tired out or when his music was drowning out every other sound around him were extraordinarily peaceful to him. “I hope these slums will allow me to get some great photos.” He thought to himself whilst one of the traditional South African taxi busses drove by. “Look at that!” His dad said pointing at the very same taxi bus. “I know dad I’ve seen it many million times now.” He replied closing his eyes and releasing a sigh of reluctance. His dad noticed the boy’s ungrateful and plain adolescent behavior. He had been acting like this the entire trip. His dad too was getting more and more frustrated that his son was trying to close off the moment he tried to get closer to him. He hoped that the boy would still have enjoyed this special, maybe even, once in a lifetime trip and simply ignored it. He didn’t want to start a fight during this special life event. It could completely ruin the holiday for all of them.
The bus stopped and the front door of the bus opened. A jolly black man entered the bus. He had chubby cheeks which made his face look extremely friendly and kind. He waved ecstatically to each one of the tourists in the bus and fist-bumped the driver. They knew each other from previous trips. The tour guide grabbed the microphone again and hugged the new arrival on the bus. The microphone switched on and she started to speak. “Okay everyone, this is our guide for tonight! I am not gonna say anything, I will hand over the microphone and let him do the talking. I’ll just sit back and relax from now on.” She said vigorously laughing like a child at her joke. The stranger grabbed the microphone and started speaking in a strange language none of them understood. He was making all these weird clicking noises with his tongue. Not a single word was similar to any language they spoke. He then stopped and laughed. “I am sorry.” He continued laughing. “You must have seen the look on you guy’s faces.” He and the tour guide both laughed out loud. The bus driver slightly moved up and down, indicating that he too was laughing at the new guide his joke. “That was Xhosa,” The guide said yet again making a weird click sound with his tongue. The boy hadn’t noticed any of this. He was still looking out the window until his dad roughly bumped his elbow into the young man his arm. The boy looked furiously at his dad but then realized that the new tour guide had entered the bus. So he quickly pulled the earbuds out of his ears and listened to what the man had to say. “So we are almost at the townships of Port Elizabeth. I’ve planned an amazing and extraordinary experience for you tonight. Showing you what life is like in the townships and hopefully transforming your lives with this experience.” There was something about this man that everyone seemed to like. The bus seemed to be filled with joy and laughter as he had entered. “Tonight we are going to visit both some families in the township as well as visiting a diner and I’ve arranged a special event for you there. I won’t say what it’s going to be but trust me you’ll like this!” He added to his story. “So, who wants to try this language I just spoke.” Some of the people in the front raised their hands like usual. “Great so recite this after me.” The guide started speaking in Xhosa again, so quickly that none of it could be recited. Some tried but it sounded awful. As if a child was just discovering that he could create clicking and popping sounds with his tongue. The guide laughed and continued trying to teach how to say some words in Xhosa. But the boy wasn’t interested. He looked out the window again, still imagining what kind of photos he would like to take at the townships.
A kid that had more than he could have ever wished for
The bus ride was long and tedious for the young boy. He was constantly harassing himself with doubt, negativity, and disgrace as he was thinking of his abilities as a photographer. He was rushed, not good enough, his images always carried flaws with them. The images of the big five he took were garbage, the landscape pictures he took only had one or two extraordinary ones the others were garbage too. So maybe the townships would bring some change. Some, well needed, improvement of his craft. But he doubted that this was going to happen. He had never been to a township before nor did he know what he could expect. Besides he couldn’t control any of the trips thus far. Which meant that he had to rush to get a good picture or didn’t even have time to shoot one or look for a great composition. It was more of a grab and go kind of situation. These thoughts continued for the entire trip as the township guide continued making jokes. The bus made a sharp turn to the right almost making the guide tip over down the stairs. The world of grey modernized buildings quickly changed into the hopeless colorful sight of small handmade huts and houses. Although it was nothing compared to what the people in that bus were used to calling home. A group of kids quickly spotted the bus and began running beside it and waving at the people next to the window. Even though the boy wasn’t really in the mood to wave at them he decided to still do it. The kids seemed to be so happy. Carrying a large smile on their faces was probably the only intact thing they carried with them. Their shoes had holes in them if they even wore shoes. Their shirts were dirty, wrinkled, and tearing down. The boy looked at himself and saw the camera in his lap. The camera he was carrying with the equipment he bought over the years was worth more than at least one entire neighborhood in these townships. “So I must be careful with it, that it won’t get stolen.” He thought to himself. The bus stopped and the doors opened. “Before you all get-up and leave I want to share something with you.” The township tour guide said. “Don’t be scared, don’t act like these people are going to steal your stuff. Because they ain’t. Some might but they will never do it in a circumstance like this. But be careful that none of your precious belongings break. These kids are extremely excited and might just pull your phone or camera from your hands and dropping it. And lastly, stay together, we are going for a small walk through this part of the township.” Everyone left the bus one by one and made their way into the small street leading into the township. The boy walked next to his mommy as the group of young kids that ran beside the bus came up to the group. From possible alleyways and roads, kids came rushing towards them. It was a scary yet beautiful experience. The kids were ecstatic and loved to see these strangers. Among them were some teenagers as well. About the same age as the boy himself. They too carried an amazing smile on their faces that delighted each one of the group members. One of the teenagers ran up to the township tour guide and talked to him. After a brief conversation, the tour guide yelled “Okay everyone, follow me now!” The man and the teenagers lead the group through a few of the muddy roads deeper into the township.
Not that far from where they started the guide stopped. The teenager pointed to a hut where an older woman was cooking. The hut was made out of stone bricks, and it was the only one as far as the eye could see. “Okay everyone” The tour guide spoke. This was his usual way to get the attention of the group. “In that small brick house over there you can buy some locally made jewelry. With that, you can support the locals here and help them build more of these stone houses so that they do not have to worry about the rain or bad weather anymore. Thanks in advance to everyone buying something.” A large portion of the group made their way inside the building but the boy stayed outside for a bit with a few others. The teenager that had just been talking to the tour guide was now coming up to the boy who was looking through his lens trying to grab a sneaky picture of him. The boy had noticed so he came up to him. “How are you?” He said politely. The boy was amazed by the fact that the boy spoke the same language. “I’m good thanks for asking. How are you?” He replied. “I am great too!” The African boy answered with much more excitement and joy in his voice than the boy himself had. “So what are you taking photos of?” The teenager asked out of pure curiosity. “Oh, nothing.” The boy replied. “Just taking picture of our trip through South Africa.” “Oh wow, you guys are touring through South Africa! That must be amazing. One day I wish to go up to Johannesburg and Cape Town. Have you guys been there yet?” He asked. “We landed in Johannesburg and will be going to Cape Town just after we have been to East London.” The boy replied. He thought of the little time they had to explore Johannesburg as he answered the African boy. “So would you like to check out my home? It’s just across the street.” The teenager asked. “Hmm sure.” The boy replied a bit hesitant. “Great! Come. Come.” The African boy gestured to follow him as he moved across the street. The tourist boy looked at the tour guide letting him know that he was following the boy. She nodded and then continued her conversation with one of the locals. A small hut made from clay and corrugated iron was being lit by the golden glow of daily sunlight. The African boy entered the hut. But the photographer wasn’t sure whether he should enter too. The African boy popped his head out of the hut and said. “Come in, you’re welcome here. Don’t worry I won’t do you any harm. I just want to show you all the cool toys I have created myself.” The African boy seemed to be genuine and trustworthy so the boy followed him inside.
Inside the boy was holding only a hand full of toys. A car made from some wood and rubber bands, a house carved from another block of scrap wood, and a catapult made from some sticks tightly bound together by rope and the sling was made from a few large rubber bands. “Look at these amazing toys!” He said excitedly. “Yeah they are…” the boy looked at his camera and then answer. “Great.” He was not sure what to say if it. “Have you created these yourself?” The tourist boy then asked. “Yes, I have! It took me some time to find all the parts I needed but now I got three amazing toys.” The young man replied. His eyes lit off from joy. It moved the tourist boy. He looked at everything he was wearing. Every product he owned. He carried a phone, a camera, a spare lens, jewelry, clothes, a wristwatch. All of which he didn’t even appreciate anymore. “Don’t you feel incredibly happy to have such a camera?” The African boy then asked. “Well, hmm.” The boy had to think for a moment. Was he grateful for it? “Yes, I am.” He answered, lying to the boy. “Well, you don’t seem to be that joyful with them?” The African boy pointed out brutally honest. Shit what harsh question to ask, thought the boy to himself. “Well, I am!” He answered as politely as he can. He then turned around. Thanked the boy and left the clay hut. “I am sorry, I’m sorry!” The African boy came rushing after him. “I didn’t want to offend you, sir.” He said politely. “But aren’t you grateful for the things you own?” The African boy asked. “I already told you. I am!” The boy was now getting annoyed by this young dude. What he even trying to do? “That’s great!” The African boy said. “Be grateful my friend. And the African boy raised his hand hoping that the boy would shake it. “I am.” The boy answered shaking the African boy’s hand. “Good, because you have a wonderful life. Just like I do.” He said. “Well maybe I don’t have such an amazing life compared to yours, but still there is a lot I can be happy for real. Don’t waste any of the gifts you receive by not appreciating them. It would be a waste if you weren’t enjoying such a gift as a camera to take a picture with! One day I will own one too so I can explore South Africa myself. Always remember to be grateful and joyful in life. It is one big adventure.” The African boy said as he ran off into the alleyways of the township. The boy was both annoyed and unsure. The young African boy he just met was rude, but the point he was making was right. He grabbed his camera and looked at it. Then he looked around and felt both a deep sense of guilt and gratitude at the same time. His heart tightened and his lip became too tremble. He bit it to keep it in. The rest of the group was now leaving the brick building and he didn’t want to cry right in from of them. His eyes teared up a bit, but he quickly wiped them clean so that his parents and sister wouldn’t notice as they came up to him. “Where have you been?” His sister asked. “I’ve bought you this!” She held up a beautiful bead bracelet made of brown, gold, and black beads. “That’s wonderful!” The boy said. Startling both his dad and his mom. He hadn’t expressed his gratitude and joy on the entire trip. So this was a pleasant surprise for them.
“Ons gaan!” The tour guide interrupted their moment and the boy quickly grabbed the bracelet out of his sister’s hands and thanked her once more. She too was flabbergasted by his response. All the boy did was smile. He still felt the guilt of not being grateful the entire trip and the gratitude of realizing this right here, right now. He followed the group back to the bus and made his way to his seat. “Next up. Dinner time!” The township tour guide said through the microphone as the bus doors closed and they took off. It was only a 5-minute drive before the bus stopped again and the doors opened. A splendid symphony of voices entered the bus and everyone stood up to see who created these wonderful sounds.
RISE WITH THE SUN
Join the email newsletter to start each day with a fresh start. You’ll receive a daily email that will encourage and inspire you. With motivation, appreciation, inspiration, growth, and living. Why would you skip on this? You can start your day and live a beautiful experience now!
A different set of eyes
A small group of men and women of all ages, sizes, and levels of excitement were joyfully dancing, singing, and clapping their hands just outside their bus. Together they formed a sort of guard of honor for them to pass through into, what looked like, a sized-down version of a high school canteen. In total there were three wooden picnic tables spread out throughout the small covered outside area. The area was fenced off on all sides with brick walls and on either side of the picnic tables was a small building with an iron gate. One building had a closed gate. The scents of different spices coming from inside made the entire group feel at home. On the other side of the picnic tables, a man opened the other building’s gate. Inside was a small shop filled with many different kinds of drinks for them to buy. Beer, cola, wine, water everything was there. The dining hall wasn’t much compared to the rest of the trip but everything there was filled the boy’s heart with more gratitude and joy than any other restaurant on that trip had ever done before. His camera dangled on his side and he didn’t touch it. He didn’t feel the need to capture this. He wasn’t even concerned about it. All he could feel was a change within himself, that was very sudden but very real. Each of them sat down after grabbing a drink and the African tour guide grabbed a microphone connected to a small battery charged speaker. “I hope you will enjoy tonight. I have arranged something special for you. I promised you that you would enjoy it and that the experience would change your life. Well, that experience is the entire township. We all hope to fill your hearts with joy, not by giving you anything of value, we can’t do that. But by giving you all our love and gratitude. Therefore I have asked a local gospel choir to come to sing for you tonight whilst you have your diner. I hope you will enjoy it!” The jolly man, that seemed to have tremendous amounts of jokes now seemed timid and laid back. He had a grateful and content look on his face as he sat down next to the bus driver. What followed next was an experience that the boy will never in his life forget.
The gospel choir filled the place with amazing prayers to God. Their songs not only reached them but the entire neighborhood came out to hear them sing from outside the brick walls. They filled the room with love and joy. Singing and clapping. Each one of the group members had smiles on their faces and the tour guide joyfully clapped along with the gospel choir. The boy laid down his camera and simply watched. His legs moving ever so slightly to the joyful songs. His sister sat next to him and looked at him. Within an instant, the two connected and got up. Never had he done something like this in his life. He stood up and danced. He danced with the gospel choir and with the other group members. He wasn’t embarrassed, he wasn’t scared. He simply lived. He was grateful for his life and didn’t care what anyone thought of him. His parents looked at them and quickly got up joining them on the dance floor. Soon almost every one of the group was dancing, stomping their feet on the ground, and clapping along with the music. The tour guide and the gospel choir smiled even more than they did before. They clapped louder than ever before and all of them seemed to get into a state of pure bliss. Each one of the group members forgets about any worry they had. They forget the sadness and pain around them and simply danced to the joyful songs of the choir. And when the last song ended they slowly but cheerfully made their way back to their seats. The boy and his sister sitting down last giving one another a hug. One of the gospel members made their way to the microphone and turned it on. “Thank you. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” He said. And the gospel choir joined on his expression of gratitude. “This was amazing, I don’t think I have to ask if you enjoyed it.” The man continued. All of the people in the group laughed. Their faces couldn’t be described. Their feelings didn’t match anything they had ever experienced before. This was a joy. This was a moment of awakening to the beauty of living.
“We want to thank you for coming and giving us this opportunity.” The man continued. But loud applause interrupted him. He placed a hand on his heart and smiled. At that moment the boy knew he must feel such a deep sense of joy and love that he couldn’t do anything but support his heart with his hand. “I wanted to share a story with you.” The man said trying to quiet down the group. “All of us were raised here. We were born in these townships and now call them our homes. We have experienced many seasons here and have learned to be thankful for little. To be honest we didn’t have an opportunity to make money here. To make anything of our lives. We didn’t have the educations you have. We didn’t have the wealth you have. We didn’t have the food and healthcare you have. All we had was this.” And he pointed to his heart. There was a silence. The boy scanned some of the faces and saw that the smiles had turned into sadness and compassion. He too felt guilty for all the ungrateful behavior he had shown this entire trip. He too felt sadness in his heart for these people and compassion for their circumstances. “A heart filled with love. A heart that was filled with joy. A heart that was filled with passion and motivation.” He then spoke loudly and the choir cheered, their hands moving up into the air with their fists raised. “We have not been handed a great deck of cards as you have. Yet it is just a matter of perspective whether or not the cards you hold in your hands are worthless or worthy. A man that has been dealt a great hand yet doesn’t understand how to play the game sees no value in his hand. Whereas a man that has been dealt a bad hand who knows how to play the game will know the opportunities he has to win the game. We all have cards in our hands. But it is our perspective on these cards that determine whether we live in a joyful and loving experience or a sad and depressing experience.” His words were inspiring and moving. Once more the boy’s lip started to shake. His eyes started to tear up. But this time he didn’t feel the need to hold it in. He cried. Cried out loud. He was deeply moved and saw clearly how he had been throwing away his experience of life. He saw how he had not made the most of the cards he was dealt. The man in front of the group looked at the boy. “Thank you.” He said meant for the boy and his sister. “Thank you for dancing and making this such a special night. What you did tonight is an act of courage and love. I see the tears in your eyes young man. Don’t be shy. I think your eyes have opened.” The man said with a compassionate and loving voice. “Living a joyful life is a matter of perspective. How you wish to look at it and live your life! Don’t ever forget that.” And the gospel choir sang their last song. The sun was setting and the sky turned pink and orange that very moment as the voices of both man and woman filled the heart of the boy with a new perspective. The experience of tonight had changed him. Moved him.
The final fundamental of joy
The group was clearly moved by the experience of that day. They all sat on the bus and were silent. They looked out of windows and waved and the gospel choir and the owner of the place that was standing next to his wife. They made their way out of the township as the sun passed behind the horizon. The kids ran after the bus one more time and then quickly spread out making their way back home before there was no way of finding home again in the darkness. They left the township behind in silence. The boy’s heart was filled with gratitude for the experience of that day. How realized how much a single event can change a human being. From a young boy stubborn and ungrateful of everything, he was gifted, to a man that realized this and decided to live differently. The township tour guide was still with them on that bus. He got up from the front row seat and grabbed the microphone again. “I want to say goodbye to you.” He began. “I want to thank you for tonight and everything you have done for the township. It might not seem like much but you helped tremendously. As you know I live here and so I will get off the bus now to make my way back home. As you might have seen tonight we don’t have much. But that doesn’t mean we will never have anything. I believe we have got the greatest blessings a man can have.” The tour guide wasn’t as jolly as he was before the trip. His tone was serious. “Hope is all we have had for many years. At first the hope for equal rights between all men and women of color and non-color and now the hope for us to move out of poverty. That hope for a better tomorrow is what makes us grateful for today. That gives us a perspective of growth and opportunities. Those three things are all you need. Hope, perspective and gratitude. If you can hope for a better tomorrow, see the opportunities of today to get there with a positive and joyful perspective, and be grateful for all you have right now life will be filled with joy for you. Enjoy the rest of your stay here in South Africa. I know your lovely tour guide will take great care of you! Bye, everyone!” The bus stopped at that very moment and opened the front door. Everyone clapped as he made his way down the small steps and onto the pavement. He waved at the bus as it drove away and left the group in complete silence. Each one of them stared out of the windows, looking at the life on the streets of Port Elizabeth.
A journal of change: 3 simple practices for expanding your joy of life
The bus drive back to the hotel seemed to be quicker than their drive that afternoon towards the townships. The boy was still looking out of the window but as his dad pointed out something he looked at it and smiled. He shared the joy of his dad and felt no need to push him away. He wasn’t annoyed by him anymore, nor was he ashamed of himself. He wasn’t thinking about his photos or the things he could do better. All he felt was gratitude for what had happened that night. The hotel appeared in the distance and the bus turned right making its way to the entrance that was on the other side. The bus driver stopped the bus opened all the doors and got out himself. Wishing each one of them a pleasant night. The boy made his way up to his room with his sister and wished his mom and dad good night. It was a long and intense day so they both decided to go to bed straight away. His sister took a nice warm shower as he sat down at the desk looking out over the sea. The moon had risen above it lighting reflecting its white light on the surface. The boy grabbed his notebook and wrote down three simple things.
On his bus ride back to the hotel he thought of three small things he wanted to do each day, to remind himself of this wonderful night. So in his notebook, he wrote down three simple questions.
- What three things are you grateful for?
He listed the African boy who showed him the meaning of gratitude. He listed dancing with the gospel choir. And he listed the moon saying goodnight to him. He then wrote down the second question.
- What is your hope for tomorrow and how will you make that come true even 1% percent?
He thought of the people living in the townships and how they made the best out of their circumstances. How the tour guide had shared with them that hope was the one thing that moved them forward into a joyful life. So the boy listed his hope to appreciate more of his trip that next day. As well as writing down how he was going to do that. By taking fewer photos and experiencing more of the beauty with his own eyes. He then wrote down the final question.
- Why aren’t you living a joyful life and how can you rewrite that narrative for yourself?
His answer was simple. I wasn’t appreciating everything I already had. All the gifts and moments I got to live. All the beauty I got to witness on this trip. I wasn’t appreciating my family, my mom, my dad, my sister. I simply wasn’t living. I will change that with a simple practice. To express my gratitude and joy to others. He closed his notebook and closed the curtains. Saying goodbye to the moon. Thanking the sun for another beautiful day.
His heart was filled with joy and gratitude for living. Life was truly a miracle to him and he was eager for the next day to begin.