8:53 am – seven minutes to get to work. It was only day one, and Maryam, Chiara, and I found ourselves nearly sprinting to make it to the Sonke Gender Justice office on time. As we raced down Long Street, I was consumed by nerves and anxiety. I felt an immense pressure to arrive on time and make a good first impression. As the seconds ticked by, my stress level rose. Yet, all it took was a glimpse into a homeless man’s life for the mounting pressure to melt away.
The man stood on the sidewalk wearing a tattered blanket and an empty stare. The smell of human waste and garbage hung in the air as he rummaged through a trash can, presumably for food. In an instant, I realized that my problems were not real problems at all. My greatest concern was being a few minutes late to work while other people struggled to find a scrap of food or a stretch of sidewalk to sleep on. There are more important things to worry about than being late to work and, ironically, the office I was so hastily headed toward seeks to address a few of those key social issues.
We arrived at work four minutes late, yet the Sonke staff welcomed us warmly and paid no mind to our minor tardiness. The office operates according to the conclusion I came to that morning. People at Sonke don’t sweat the small stuff, like arbitrary start times and schedules. Rather, they work with a purpose and a passion, and it is from this benevolence and altruism that their efforts come to fruition. Employees at Sonke do their best because they are doing what they believe in.
This mindset seems to be widely espoused in Cape Town. People value genuine human interaction and will pause their day to have a meaningful conversation with others. Coming from a hectic, fast-paced Duke lifestyle in which every second of each day is carefully scheduled and managed, this mentality is jarring, yet refreshing.
Working at Sonke this past week and becoming ever closer with its staff has helped me to acclimate to the relaxed pace of life in Cape Town. I have begun to grasp the value of time—not to adhere to a rigid schedule, but to make the most out of every second in the day. Four minutes may be insignificant, but four moments in which I am learning, meeting new people, or working toward something I believe in are invaluable.