In Denmark where I am from we speak one national language. I personally speak two and a half and I understand five. Here in South Africa the total number of official languages is 11.

The school of social constructivism teaches me to believe that language creates our realities. How it helps us understand and make sense of the relations and events that shape our lives and how language is the foundation for the narratives we create for ourselves. That is a whole lot of realities in one country.

We have a saying in Danish that goes ‘Lige børn leger bedst’. ‘Equal children play best’. My good friend Aske once took the liberty of changing this, in my opinion complete bullshit, into; ”Equal children doesn’t always play best”. He wrote it on a napkin somewhere in Europe in the summer of 2009 and sitting here in Africa five years later I remember it because he was right.

 

I grew up in a small commune on the countryside with my parents and most of their friends. There, we shared houses and gardens and families and no one ever locked their doors. Parts of this city are like that, though most of those houses have no locks, let alone doors. Other parts have houses surrounded by fences, nine feet tall, and most of them will either shock you or make you bleed. Some to keep baboons out, some to keep people out. I am from the country of which we have been hailed as the happiest people on earth. A homogeneous country where I look to my neighbour and see an equal and for this I feel deeply privileged. I grew up in a house where I was told I could be anything I wanted to be, yet in a society where idealism is nice just not for grown-ups and where core societal issues are often coated in alcohol, irony and populist politics.

 

‘Born frees’ is the term for South Africans born 1994 forward, post apartheid. I wouldn’t have been a born-free and it strikes me how some of the important people in my life would have never been part of my story had we been born here.

 

Here in Cape Town they wear idealism on their clothes. They dare question normality and to look change in the eye in search of new ways of talking about solutions in the aftermaths of apartheid. A history which’s complexity I can only try to begin to understand. Sadly it seems that idealism gets lost in a still highly visible segregation – a class system where nothing is for free and it is every man for himself. A city and country so determined to never let history repeat itself, yet lacking the ressources to be the change they want to see in a society where corruption, poverty and racism are still everyday terms.

 

However whilst reflecting on the context I come from as well as the context I am currently in, I cannot help to think that if happiness was to be measured in smiles and friendlyness I am pretty sure the South Africans would beat us Danes by miles.

 

I have a very strong sense of justice. Maybe because I am used to equality, maybe because we in Denmark have an unofficial constitution called janteloven, maybe because I grew up with a mentally ill and now late father. It comes in waves, engulfs me and disables me to leave pity behind. But who decides what happiness is? What can these people use my pity for? How has pity ever empowered anyone? A lecturer we had in our first week down here said something I don’t think I will ever forget; “The older I get, the younger I feel, the less I know”. One thing I do know is that I have never felt more appreciative and more humble than I do here in Cape Town.

 

I am here as an individual, as a student and as a member of an organisation. I am head of the Operations Department and this entails designing the organisational learning and reflection journey from beginning to end, by the means of the deliverables given to us by our school. We are here to learn, to co-create and to make change and create impact.

 

But how do you measure impact? Is it by calculating the ressources we put into our work, plus the results of this, minus an estimate of what would have happened anyway? Is it by continuously reflecting upon relevancy for our school, our clients and not least Cape Town? Or is it in the relations we build with the people, the organisations and the city, bridging our work to future Kaospilots coming to Cape Town for at least three more years from now?

 

I believe that learning and impact happen in many ways, though only through reflection and understanding do they truly manifest.

 

Daniel, a team member and friend of mine said in his welcome speech when we had just arrived; “If we can leave with fragments of an understanding of this city and country’s complexity and history and a feeling that the initiatives we have co-created in it will stay after we have gone, I am going to be a very proud little man”.

 

And I agree with him – to create impact requires deep understanding of the realities that surrounds us. However to walk in someone elses shoes, shoes being the hot topic in my community these days, is a tricky task in a country where many of the children are barefeet and with skin much thicker than mine.

 

In the first chapters of Out of Africa Karen Blixen claims that the city you are in inevitably impacts you. For now I am left with the feeling that no tools or measurements can help me create an impact on the city anywhere near the impact it has already left in me. However I think exactly this humbleness is a pretty good place to start – only with that can I begin to co-create and give back.

 

If we can manage to balance what we give and take, in terms of change and evolvement for the city as well as ourselves, I think Cape Town and I will have a good understanding of one another. And that would make me a very proud little woman.