Lalela: Zimamele — a place for listening to yourself

Ndingangakhe ndisithele
Kwimpazamo zonke
Ndibe nemizuzu ndedwa ekuthandazeni

I didn’t know how to write about Lalela and my experience of visiting this place until I read a chapter from bell hook’s Belonging: a culture of place. My friend and her partner live on a farm in Magaliesburg. They named the farm Lalela and opened it up for friends to visit and experience life differently from city life. I have been here for almost three weeks and I came with the sole purpose of finding some peace and quiet. And I have experienced it in abundance.

In her chapter “Touching the earth” bell reflects on the relationship she has with the earth. I had read this essay when I first read the book but the essay reads differently now that I have experienced what bell writes about beyond the initial reading and understanding. Here are a few extracts from the essay which resonate with what I have experienced at Lalela as well as what has emerged in the conversations I’ve had with other people who have been at the farm over the past few weeks:

When we love the earth, we are able to love ourselves more fully.

Sharing the reverence for the earth, black and red people helped one another remember that, despite the white’s man’s ways, the land belonged to everyone.

Living in modern society, without a sense of history, it has been easy for folks to forget that black people were first and foremost a people of the land, farmers.

Living close to nature, black folks were able to cultivate a spirit of wonder and reverence for life. Growing food to sustain life and flowers to please the soul, they were able to make a connection with the earth that was ongoing and life-affirming. They were witness to beauty.

For many years, and even now, generations of black folks who migrated north to escape life in the south, returned down home in search of a spiritual nourishment, a healing, that was fundamentally connected to reaffirming one’s connection to nature, to a contemplative life where one could take time, sit on the porch, walk, fish and catch lightening bugs.

And we can know that when we talk about healing that psyche we must also speak about restoring our connection to the natural world. Wherever black folks live we can restore our relationship to the natural world by taking the time to commune with nature, to appreciate the other creatures who share this planet with humans.

In modern society, there is also a tendency to see no correlation between the struggle for collective black self-recovery and ecological movements that seek to restore balance to the planet by changing our relationship to nature and to natural resources.

… black people must reclaim a spiritual legacy where we connect our well-being to the well-being of the earth. This is a necessary dimension of healing.

At the risk of rewriting the rest of the essay, I should make a connection between these extracts and the experience I have had during the December break. Each extract speaks to the reflections about what it has meant to be away from my regular life in order to live according to a different pace. I haven’t driven my car, I haven’t been shopping to spend money on things I don’t need, I have been listening to myself. I have been allowing new ideas and ways of being to emerge. I have been confronted with the ugly parts of who I am. I have been practicing silent prayer and I have been alive to the sounds around me and the healing parts of being in nature.

I shouldn’t have to experience this way of being as part of a retreat; this should be my normal but I have made the uneasy decision of living in the city. I will return to Joburg with a heavy heart but also in a better place because of the healing that has taken place simply by being here. Nothing radical happened while I was here. I did what was easy for my body to do: I was still and listened to myself and those around me. I kept telling friends ndisehlathini which has connotations of being away (literally a forest). Growing up my mom spoke about imfukamo where she was secluded for a few days while she was going through ukuthwasa. Imfukamo meant a different diet and a place where spiritual work happens. I’ve heard people refer to this as ukuqiniswa, to be strengthened. It feels as though this stint at Lalela has been a version of imfukamo where I walk away feeling more strengthened in order to deal with myself as I navigate 2018.

Much of what I have been listening to and emerging in this time will influence much of what I want to do and write about as the year unfolds. The most important part about this experience is what it means going to my ‘normal’ life which I see differently. While I recognise that Joburg is not an easy place to be for me, how will I live with the knowledge that my inner world must be cultivated in order for me to be my best self.

The words at the beginning of this post are from a Methodist hymn I grew up hearing which speaks to the importance of hiding away from the everyday noise and have a few moments in prayer. Lalela has been a moment of prayer. While waiting for midnight on New Year’s Eve one of the new friends I made at Lalela read the poem “Love after Love” by Derek Walcott and it seems apt as a way to end this reflection. It captures what I think I have been doing while here but also what I hope for the rest of the year as my life unfolds in Joburg:

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life. 


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