Walking through an urban slum is an invasion of the senses- new sites, loud sounds and always interesting smells. It can be overwhelming at times. But I love it. I love the busyness. I love the life here. I love the resourcefulness and community participation. There is no such thing as independence here, you need to work together to survive. I don’t want to glamorize it. Make it seem like a slum is a wonderful place where we should all hope to live. That they have it right, living in community, and the rest the world has it wrong. The fact is, it’s a slum. The word depicts poverty, unsanitary conditions and hardship. These are all realities as well. I am not going to speak for people living in those areas, but from my small amount of experience in slums many people would rather not live like that. It doesn’t mean they want to live in luxury either, there can be a lot of wrong with that as well. But they want access to clean water for their family, education for their children, certainty of food for every meal. A clean house. A house with no leaks. A house.
There is a lot of beauty in the slum but there is a lot of brokenness as well. This is a reality everywhere. We live in a broken world. That does not mean that only parts- like slums or countries with extreme poverty- are broken. It means all of it. From the best living conditions and quality of life to the worst. Brokenness invades it all. But, there is beauty too. There is beauty because we live in a world created by a beautiful Creator. A master artist. A perfect Deity. Holy and glorious and incapable of ugliness. I see that in the slum. The hand of God. The dichotomy of beauty and brokenness. In some ways, the brokenness is what fosters beauty. The fact that resources are so limited creates a space for people to be innovative, to work together and to build resilience that I have rarely seen at home. And I think this is where we can learn, and where I have been learning.
As I walk through the slums of Lilongwe, Malawi and Kabwe, Zambia the parts of me that don’t understand, that are gripped with fear and filled with pride make me thankful I don’t live like that. What an arrogant and condescending way to think. Of course, I am thankful for receiving a good education, for always having a secure place to come home to, and to have a healthy life. But there is a difference between being thankful for those things, and being thankful that I don’t come from a situation that someone else does. Then there is the part of me that embraces what is around me as I walk along those dirt paths. Where I welcome the sights, sounds and smells, as wild as they can be. Where I am grateful to be in a community so different than my own. And quickly, and consciously, those thoughts and feelings take over the ones of pride and fear. I allow myself to sink into the current environment, to process the things I am told and the sites that I see. To allow this new place and different lifestyle to open my eyes to other ways of living. To allow my worldview to be challenged. To break out of the bubble I had been unconsciously floating in. To accept that they may have some things right and I had some things wrong. To learn.
In the slum, there is a lot of brokenness and but there is a lot of beauty as well. And when we put down our own ideas, opinions and assumptions we allow God to work in us through His people, experiences, and places despite the broken parts. Or maybe in the midst of them.
Amanda Geleynse, Communications Coordinator for WOW