Koreans dropped their guard

2013-12-07 00:00

I THOUGHT Christmas would be the day this month that I really missed home, but it wasn’t; it was Friday. I woke up to a text message breaking the news.

Being so far from home, I thought technology — the Internet and my phone — would be my only way to share this loss while revelling in the marvel Madiba was.

A Facebook feed brimming with inspiring quotes, poignant portraits and personal life lessons learnt from the father of my homeland hinted that I might be right.

But, at 9 am the fifth grade English teacher, a 60-something Korean man who has never come close to showing me any physical affection, walked into my classroom, wrapped his arm around me and said, “I have respected Nelson Mandela for a very long time, he was a great man and I’m so sorry for your country”.

Not 10 minutes later three more teachers popped in to offer their condolences and laud the man who changed a country on the other side of the globe for the benefit of the world.

This is a big deal. My South Korean co-workers are painfully shy, and will at almost any cost avoid having to speak English. But today, they were moved to drop their guard, and I know the driving force behind this was the greatness and courage of one man.

While I stream SAFM during gaps between classes, I have been reading through a multitude of posts on the “South Africans in Korea” Facebook page.

Usually used as a place to find out how to send parcels home or where to find the best rooibos tea, today this online community has come together to not only mourn but to celebrate a life of incomparable importance.

Binding together as a smaller rainbow in a distant land, the South African expat community here has speckled this sad day with feelings of pride and patriotism.

Being so far away from home has amplified the realisation that we are one exceptionally blessed nation. And we have Madiba to thank for that.

• Remy Raitt, who was an intern at The Witness, is teaching in South Korea at present.

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