Few days ago I invested few hours of my free time completing an application to participate in a global debate on the value of diversity. I found it easy to share stories of culture differences, to find examples of integration, multiculturalism, multi-religion. But it took me a while to understand which could be the root cause of our diversity? How should we define people uniqueness?
It took me 9 hours standing in the queue at the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe to draw some clarity on my question. Could have I invested my time better? Probably yes. Would have I ever found a better answer? Probably not.
Travelling keeps on being the best way to look at the world with different eyes and put situations and beliefs under perspective.
We left Johannesburg, South Africa, heading to Victoria Falls on a high class African bus: double floors, large comfortable seats, nice food, toilet. My naïve European background caused me to expect a romantic trip across the African savanna, crossing 2000 km on a bus in 10 hours and 1000 km on a British colonial train in the for the following 12 hours. We should have reached Victoria Falls in the early morning 36 hours after departure.
Eventually, we arrived in Victoria Falls 48 hours later, after 24 hours bus trip, 9 hours on the border, 1 night in Bulawayo, some hours spent roaming around the 2nd biggest city in Zimbabwe, next to the Rhodes grieve.
The 1st answer to my wonders is that people are different because they grow up, and eventually live their life, in different environment, having access to different opportunities, being expose to different range of challenges.
Standing on the boarder for so long not only built a team out of 100 individuals who were strangers to each other.
Standing in the queue for so long showed me exemplary scenes of fraternity between generations, looking at a youngster handing her blanket to her grandma while the temperature was still lower than 10″C. It made me part of interesting conversation about safety in Johannesburg town, were a woman could be robbed for 200 ZAR. We are different, because many of us are forced to live on a salary for which that amount is 2 weeks food for the whole family, if not more.
We are different because we look different. I was one of the very few light skin person standing on that border.
I was surrounded by Zimbabweans going back home to spend their long weekend with family. They probably invested on that trip several months of savings. But still, they were standing, silently, patiently, waiting for their time to come. Following the South African law, which does not allow to have any other option than waiting to enter the small door of the immigration office, stamp their passport to be released.
We are different, and we show it. As soon as a group of white Southern African (some from Zim, some SA) arrived they went talking to the officials, to find their shortcut. It did not work. They tried to negotiate explaining their urge to pass the border. It did not work. They saw me. Their potential ally. After 4 hours in the queue, we were relatively close to end the agony on that side of the frontier. We engaged in a conversation, checking on each other’s origins. We established a connection beyond our similarity.
We are diverse, because when we pass hard times we can decide what to stand for. I stood for fairness, legality and honesty. My fellows in the queue taught me the value of patience and the reward of an ethical behavior. We become diverse when we decide to listen, learn, and we choose the hardest way not to compromise.
I made a conscious decision, to stand for equity, to value “our queue” as the experience that made my diversity being invisible. I did not reward the color of skin of someone else, and all of a sudden I really felt part of the team.
We are diverse because throughout the experiences of our everyday life we decide whom do we want to look alike.