There are few moments in your life that are truly, completely life changing. They come so few and far between that when they do happen, you have to take a moment to allow yourself to realize just how real they are. I will never forget the moment when I checked my email and saw “Congratulations!” in the subject line. A couple of months before that I had applied to Performing Arts Abroad, hoping to get a spot as an intern at the Casterbridge Music Development Academy in White River, South Africa. I got the spot!
Less than a week after graduating with my Masters in Percussion Performance, I hopped a plane to Johannesburg by way of London, then on to White River. To say that I was exhausted by the time I landed would be a very large understatement. But I came here to work, and work I did! Less than two hours after stepping off the plane, I was teaching djembe to a class of students at Uplands College. Over the next few days, I adjusted to life in South Africa and fell in love with an entire country in the process. The people, the food, the way of life-I felt at home.
It’s only been a little over 3 weeks, but I’ve already gotten to do more than I ever thought possible. Twice a week, Allison, my colleague, and I, go to the hubs to teach music to children in the Townships. Until last week, we were also going to Uplands College, a private school, twice a week. To understand the disparity between the two places, you really do have to experience it. In short, Uplands is rich-very rich. And the Townships are poor-very poor. So poor in fact that often times students would come to lessons with no shoes, in rooms with broken windows and dirty floors. At Uplands, the grass is finely trimmed and hot lunches are provided daily to students who wear their finely pressed school uniforms while walking between classes that will ensure them a spot in South Africa’s elite societies.
The beautiful thing about music is that it doesn’t see the differences in people. A few weekends ago I saw kids from Uplands sharing the stage with kids from the Townships, each and every one of them expressing themselves together, with their voices, their instruments, their presence. They put themselves out there in front of an audience and showed the world who they are. Differences disappeared.
With fewer than two weeks left, I’m starting to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable tears that will take place. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to go about doing this, but I can already feel the South African-shaped hole forming in me where I’ll keep the memories made and relationships created. You see, I wanted to come here to help people through music. Instead, I’ve found myself changed and constantly repeating the mantra that seems to be sitting above the CMDA office-Everything happens for a reason. Every experience that we have, or person that we meet along the way, changes who we are. In two weeks, I will leave a place and a people that I love as a much stronger person. But I will never say goodbye-only see you later.
Written by Hillary Engel
Performing Arts Abroad Music Intern in South Africa