Before I start my story let me tell you where I come from. It's a sunny warm spot at the base of Africa. It has a sordid history and rampant poverty. In this environment, the 'Haves' skirt past the 'Have-nots' every day. Like most places, we pretend it's all roses and stardust.
The day I learned to look people in the eye was a pretty standard city day. I jumped in my car, late for my next appointment (as usual). Rushed through the insane gauntlet that is driving in Johannesburg. Being cut off, sworn at and narrowly missing my own death on a few occasions. It's a fairly stressful activity, although you learn to live with it (sort-of).
My destination? The Johannesburg licensing department. A government institution that does not inspire much faith or trust.
I haired into the parking lot where I was met by a man in a hi-viz vest. Another common Joburg experience. A self-appointed parking attendant is a person trying to make a bit of money by "keeping your car safe". Their services include showing you where to park, how to negotiate the parking lot and gesticulating you out of the parking bay. It is a service you sign up for, whether you want to or not.
By the time I met said man, the stress of the journey had reached boiling point and like a mid-tantrum toddler I screamed past him and found a parking as far away from him as I could muster. I climbed out of my car, head down and headed for the building.
Behind me, a deep voice said "What's wrong with you white people? Why are you always so angry?”
And I looked up…
I looked up for probably the first time in my life. Right into the face of the hi-viz man. A man who was rather frightening looking. Bald, scar across his cheek. For once I wasn’t afraid. I looked into his eyes and actually saw him. Just a man, trying to make a living. In that instant, we connected. I started laughing and apologising all at once. Before I knew it we were holding hands (yes… this really happened – cheesy as it sounds).
In that moment he changed my life. He made me realise that you have to look people in the eye. To make yourself a bit vulnerable. To connect. There… that’s where the magic happens. I learned more that day about joy and connection from a man in ripped pants than I ever have from any book or lecture.
Since that moment, I make it my purpose to look people in the face and to ask them their names. I have more than once been left with a warm heart and a smile. It’s something so simple and yet to me… it has become everything.
EVERYONE HAS A STORY TO TELL