HaMakuya: A Family Within a Community

By Abby Blumenthal

My whole outlook on community relationships and the way I present myself to others changed when I came to HaMakuya. To preface this, everywhere we’ve been in rural South Africa people are always waving and smiling at us. The people have always been friendly and happy to see us, even though they don’t know us. When we got to our homestays it almost instantly felt like home. I have never been greeted so warmly in my life. Everyone was so kind to us and interested in getting to know us even though it was the first time we were meeting them. The more I talked to people the more I realized that everyone knows everyone in the Domboni. I have never been surrounded by a community that felt like one big family.

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago was completely different; relationships with the people in my neighborhood were nonexistent. I couldn’t tell you about any of my neighbors, not even their names. Everyone felt very separate from one another except when it came to how we presented ourselves. I always felt like I was being judged no matter what I did. People watched what you did and it was really important to put out the best version of yourself. If people laughed at you or talked about you it typically wasn’t in a nice way. It wasn’t a community of people who cared for and looked after one another. People looked out for themselves and were constantly thinking about how they were seen in the public eye. This mentality is something that unfortunately has followed me in my own life. I have never felt comfortable being laughed at in a public space or by people I didn’t know.

Being laughed at and not knowing how to do certain dances or games was something I was very nervous for coming to the homestay. Our teachers told us to expect to be asked to do things like traditional dances and I didn’t think I would feel comfortable doing anything like that. That feeling of nervousness and self- consciousness was washed away when I saw how comfortable everyone was with each other. I started dancing and doing things I would never do at home because of my own personal fears. Our friends there did laugh when I would dance or anyone else in my group would dance but it didn’t feel the same as it does back in the States. It wasn’t malicious, they were happy to see us try to be a part of their community. It felt like we were a part of their family. I will never forget that feeling of family and community going hand in hand. I felt more comfortable with a community I knew for two days than my community at home. For these reasons, I will forever associate the people HaMakuya and Domboni as family.

Natalie Miller