Global Atlantic Fellows and Board Member (left to right) Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, Medha D. Makhlouf, Devon Carbado, Amanda Fononda, Joy Marie Lawrence, Rachael Galway and Mohammed-Anwar Sadat Adam during a hard-hat tour of Rhodes House. Photo credit: Lucy Mercer.
It has been two weeks since my return from the inaugural Fellow in Residence in Oxford. There is not a day that passes that I don’t have something or someone that reminds me of my time spent there. The reminders are everywhere, it could be what I decide to do or have done, what someone says, or an observation as I become more aware of what the purpose of me being part of this journey was.
When I applied for the inaugural fellows in residency programme last year I was conflicted with where my work and personal life was going. For sometime now, I had been sitting with what must I do next in my life. This was brought on by changes in my work, embarking on new studies and changes in my relationships and how I viewed myself and space in all of that.
I appreciated the inclusion and co-creation of the programme with the Atlantic Institute team. This somehow gave insight into what to expect and how one will be involved in the process for the two weeks. However, I must share that planning, doing, experiencing and reflecting are so different. The first surprise was the home, purchased by the Institute for Fellows visiting Oxford, Kopanong. I use the word ‘surprise’, because you see ‘home away home’ is words we use loosely, but being in Kopanong was indeed just that. Being the first people to live in Kopanong was such a beautiful experience. The name of our home was lived out. It was a gathering, connection, handled with care and love, fed and oh so comfortable. Have you ever been in a home that you felt carries your conversations, your thoughts? That is how Kopanong made me feel. It leaves me reflecting on what it means to walk into brick & mortar yet live and leave with such feelings of connectedness, words to express are not enough.
It is this connectedness that carried me throughout the days. Tough conversations were had on legacy of colonialism, racism and all the “isms” and being in a space that carried so much history of pain. Courageous conversations also happened that discussed how this same space was and is continuing to evolve and be part of change. How it is allowing people from all over the world meet to shape how they experience it each day and for how the next generations will find it. Using our lens of what we deem to be necessary to occupy every space we are at, and feeling right and deserving to be in it.
Yet the hopeful conversations touched me the most. The residency allowed for time to sit, listen, speak with a community of different voices that gave me a lens of how each person is really in a transition and navigating life the best way they know how. What I found hopeful was that every day was a day of learning from life experiences, using different methods to share knowledge and insight and most importantly the quiet time to sit and reflect it all before it starts all over again. I appreciated how conversations were cemented in discussing either a play by Shakespeare, poetry, case studies and challenging what I think is acceptable, misdirected and what I think should have been the next steps. This challenged me in being able to know that leadership is about owning up to all decisions that I make, and being able to know that my way will or will not be acceptable either to myself again or to others. That is why my reflection keeps moving backwards and forward because my transition keeps asking me to do so.
The residency helped me find questions I am still asking myself. Questions I now know do not have a timeline or deadline, for I am taking it one day a time. I am in a good space that allows me to know exactly that I can be able to sit with questions without feeling the need to always have an answer. I am left hungry to know more about myself and every person I encounter in my life. I walk away with deposits in my life of statements shared by the different people I have encountered, spaces I have visited and the excitement of the journey that lies ahead.
How will I keep this experience alive? How will I keep this memory? Well, I will keep going back to the many pages of notes that I have from the residency. They are notes filled with prompts that tugged at my spirit for each day spent with people. I will do what I can where I am. I will always contribute to what is meaningful to me and the people around me. I will connect with the world and know that each step taken is about showing up the best way I know how at that particular moment. And, I will celebrate small wins.
A heartfelt gratitude to my family of Atlantic Institute and Tekano. Ben Okri says that, “the most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and be greater than our suffering. Our future is greater than our past.”