"Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness..." - John Ruskin

As some of you know, I recently traveled to my beloved Johannesburg, South Africa at the end of June.  I tend to go now every 3-4 months.  For this trip, I had two main reasons for my visit.  Firstly, I wanted to check on my projects in the shanty town community of Diepsloot and in Soweto and secondly, I had set up several meeting with influential leaders in the U.S. government, at several NGO's, and at foundations in hopes of establishing new and keeping past partners for Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service 2.   I was also finalizing paperwork to open a South African trust so that I can begin to fundraise in the country itself.   

I arrived on an early Thursday morning and went straight to work.  I visited my garden projects at three schools in Soweto and my garden on the grounds of a health center in Diepsloot.  The gardens had progressed since the program was launched and I was thrilled to see and hear about the impact they were already having in the two communities.  It was a great start to my trip.

The next day I went on to visit a some of the families in Diepsloot that I help to talk about how everything was going for them.   In particular, one granny had saved a little bit of the monthly we sent to help her raise and school her grandchildren and she had constructed a concrete house which she will move her family into shortly.  Needless to say, I can’t express how moved I was to see how hard she had worked at planning ahead to save up and build the new home.  She was moving from a small metal shack to a real home.  I also got to see Nobubele, an orphan we first met during the first Journey for Change trip and tell her that the Journey for Change participants kids had raised enough money to keep her in school for the rest of the year.  It was a privilege to be the messenger of such wonderful news.  It was another great day and I was feeling so proud of the positive impact that The Angelrock Project, my wonderful partners in South Africa, and the Journey For Change kids had made to help these beautiful families in need.

That night, I was back in my hotel room getting ready to go to dinner when I made an unsettling discovery.  While looking for something specific to use, I realized that one of my pieces of luggage was missing from the room.  After searching high and low, I had to call hotel security and the police, as my bag had been stolen from my room.  It’s important to point out that I was staying at a hotel that I have stayed at dozens of times before and really felt really comfortable at, even though the crime rate is very high in Johannesburg.  Additionally, I have recommended the hotel to a number of partners and friends to stay there as well, feeling that it was a nice, safe hotel which is also centrally located.  After numerous discussions with security, talking to hotel staff, and looking at video footage, I was informed that my luggage was stolen when the housekeeper was cleaning my room.  A man entered the room, looked through a few bags which he left messy, stole my bag and a video camera that was in another bag and left.  I felt to violated and really, really sad.  With my dinner plans ruined, I just sat there wondering why someone would steal from me while I was out in the shanty towns trying to do my part to heal a still fragile country life South Africa.  I mean, I am out in the field doing all that I can to make life better for others and someone came into my room and stole a suitcase from me.  On top of that, it happened to be an expensive bag -- a large Louis Vuitton suitcase that I had splurged on and traveled with for the past 3 years since I bought it.  Additionally, at the time, we thought all of the contents were stolen as well, though we found them dumped into another suitcase the next day thank goodness.

Needless to say at this point I faced an internal question:  Was I going to let this act get to me? Especially since I was later told that the man was a black African, the exact population that I was trying to help in post-apartheid South Africa, who was spotted on video casually leaving the hotel with my bag.  Was I going to let this get to me and leave me feeling down and defeated so early into my trip?  Was I going to obsess over a material possession no matter how much I liked it and used it. 

Well, I was determined that the answer would be no.  I immediately knew I had to look at this as one individual who obviously has his own demons and not allow his act to reflect on my work with the communities that I have learned to love.  I needed to let go of my bag and move on.  We live in such a consumer culture today.  There are images of what is supposed to be fabulous and expensive everywhere and as human beings, we often try very hard to obtain these possessions.   It's the same with the commercialization of holidays.  Christmas and birthdays have become about presents instead of spending time with those you love?  And I freely admit, I do love a nice bag and a nice shoe.  They are my vices and after working hard I do indeed treat myself to some nice pieces from time to time.  But the question I had to pose to myself was how attached I was to that bag and how long was I going to let it get me down.  I decided that I had to let it go and just pray for the individual.  Now I wanted him caught too, but I was going to pray for him at the same time. 
Additionally, as I see each and every time I am in South Africa or any third world country, there are so many people who have so few posessions but are much more grounded and happy than those of us with a lot of possessions.  Children play every day around this world, God-willing, they have the opportunity and most do so with their imagination and body than they do with a playroom full of toys.  Adults talk to each other, really talk to each other because they do not have the luxury of having television sets, telephones, or Ipods.  Their entertainment is conversation, and hence, they bond and have extremely tight families with a sense of respect and pride for the older members.

I'm reminded of one particular piece of footage from our Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service trip.  CNN has a teaser up on CNN.com on the Black In America 2 site where you will see a moving conversation with our Ambassador Imaan,  who was upset after one of the family visits.  She said "They're so happy, and they have so little.  I whine for most of the things I have, but what I didn't realize is that people have less than me and they're much happier with what they're given." Yes, Imaan, you are 100% correct.   

So while I’m disappointed about my bag, I am and always will be eternally grateful that no one was harmed and my family was safe during the incident, whose lives are of course, immeasurable compared to a bag.  I am determined to use this experience to only strengthen my dedication to Diepsloot and help break this cycle of poverty.  I will pray that the man who stole my bag was able to sell it for a decent amount of money and that he used it to help his family if they are indeed in need.  And I will no longer put so much emphasis on material possessions that I will ever let an incident like this get me down for more than second to say "boo hoo."  After that, I will move on, be grateful that I can pick up another bag, and keep doing my thing.
Peace and blessings,


By: Dwacon
On: 07/17/2009 10:26:58
Yes, bad things happen to good people -- even when those people are trying to help others. Look what happened to Jesus.
By: Kim
On: 07/17/2009 14:06:54
A very inspirational observation on possessions! I think that in America we have so much that we often forget to be grateful for Gods grace and mercy! For being in our right minds and having the activity of our limbs, and having meaningful relationships.

Possessions are just that - things that we didn't come into the world with, and things we can not take with us when we leave this world. Look at Michael Jackson and all the things/possessions he had - where are they now?

We have to remember that GOD is still in control, and just as he blessed Malaak to get that purse, he will bless her to get another, as he will with all of us!

Thanking God that she, nor her family was injured during this incident!
By: Indigo Ocean
On: 07/17/2009 15:51:31
I'm really glad I've found this blog. I think your take on what happened is spot on. Also, don't forget to appreciate that he actually dumped out the suitcase before taking it. I hazard to guess that many a thief, at least here in the U.S., would have done the dumping in the trash somewhere after stealing it even if the contents had no value to him. This thief clearly was intent on bettering himself or those he is responsible for, but had no desire to do harm to you. He probably believed his need for the bag to be greater than yours, and falsely believed that justified his taking it. Intent counts for a lot, though he of course is still responsible for his thievery.
By: nina
On: 07/17/2009 21:15:44
so much to learn from this incident. How many times do we covet material items, and then when we get what we want, we move on to wanting the next thing. Human connections are so much more satisfying. Thank you Malaak for all the lessons you share!
By: aaron el-amin
On: 07/17/2009 22:12:57
this is such a true point. What i am realizing as I talk to all of my dif. friends is that the primary thing that is important is what is in between your left ear and your right. It's all about keeping your mind right.
As JZ said, mo money-mo problems. With more, there is more to worry about. with less, there is less. Many of my richer friends have way more daily trivial complaints than the broke ones...

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