How has your worldview changed as a result of study and travel away? When you return,how will you give voice to what you have learned while away?
As I sit down to write my last blog I am humbled that this month in SA has come and gone so quickly. This blog, although a bit inaccessible and even bothersome at times, has been an incredible outlet to share the thoughts and experiences of SA with myself and all of you! So once again, thank you all for your constant support and interest in our journey.
We have just returned to the Backpacker's Ritz for our final night of sleep. We visited the famous Market Theatre today and were fortunate enough to see the play "The Suitcase." We returned not an hour ago and the buzz from the show is still alive in the hearts and minds of all of us.
The show followed the life of a black couple trying to make it in the city, during apartheid during the 1960/70s. The joys and plight of the couple were equally shared with the audience in a little more than an hour. What struck me the most was the final theme shared by both the supporting actors. They reminded the audience that although the play has nothing short of a tragic ending that life moves on. This idea is a common theme thoroughout countless works of art and has been reiterated time and time again. This theme differed however. It suggested that we ought educate ourselves and one another with the stories of the past so we can learn, educate others and in essence come to peace with the injustice we feel life has dealt us.
As this South African adventure is coming to a close, I have asked myself what has happened following apartheid? What has changed here? Much has changed here. Although I will have countless stories for you about developed and Africa-stereotype defying the major cities are and how unique and glorious the native African communities remain...South Africa has undergone a social change in a way no other place has or will. They have this beautiful passion to share their story. As a people: white, black, coloured, poor, homeless, tour-guide or busdriver; they recognize their internal need to be with one another. Individuals want people at the center of their life not themselves. There is a recognition that sharing yourself, your life, your story with another is all you have. WE ARE NOT HERE ON THIS PLANET ALONE! American's glued to their palms, iPods, computers, XBOXs could take some notes.
This power of storytelling paves the way to peace. Peace with your self, ideas and being. The verbal and non-verbal sharing, communicating with other people opens the door for honesty with others and yourself. It can relax your shoulders, it can make life more enjoyable. I have found that SA is not perfect. There are years and years to go before the fallout of apartheid will fully discipate. However, they have changed. They have helped heal themselves and each other by sharing their feelings about the past, present and future. They love to talk, to walk through the wilderness, to watch the sunset, to have a braai or potjie and drink and have no expectation about what time you eat. Being with one another and sharing in one another's humanity is embraced.
It is so hard to put into words. That is the ultimate beauty of it. They talk of an idea, a morale: UBUNTU. "My humanity is unavoidably bound and interwoven in yours and all people." So much of the understanding this idea is just being. Sitting, listening, crying, smiling. The willingness to be open, honest and truthful with everyone is liberating to one's self and the world. As much as I have tried, you can't put it into words. You cannot teach this feeling. A feeling that urges your to challenge, question and explore life. This feeling that beckons you to forgive, to love and to create. You must learn it through experience, through the heart and through others.
This experience to SA has been a whirlwind of emotion. If you have made it this far in the blog and intend to hear of this trip when I get home, I ask of you only one thing. DO NOT ask me "how was it?" I will only look at you with a blank face. There has been too much. Avoid the pleasantry if you really actually CARE about my experience and what you can presume it meant. I ask for you patience and willingness to take a few moments to free your mind and I will tell you anything you want to hear.
I am so grateful for this group. As I type, they are emotionally sharing and unloading with one another. What an experience. This opportunity to share such life-changing day in and day out experiences with 20 of my peers is unbelieveable. I am so excited to see how these SA relationship manifest in and hopefully outside of the Lutedome. We have created a unique and strong web. I know I will give all I can to make sure these ties remain and provide a continual network for all of us.
Life changing experineces cannot be summed into words. Nonetheless, thank you for humoring me with this blog. I await our coffee dates, our dinners and our lives to share these moments with each other. Your hearts have been with me throughout this adventure and I hope my documentation has shown you a side of me changed by South Africa, changed by story-telling and changed by love.
Once again, thank you all for your patience and continual suppport. I will see you soon.
This is an entry from my journal, Tuesday, January 30th.
Today was a powerful and emotional day. It was also very busy.
We started in Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnship). In a lumbering, precarious tour bus, we eeked and squeezed trhough narrown township streets. But Soweto in not Khayitlisha (where Vicky's B$B was)--in the first part of our tour, we saw houses that were literally mansions crammed into township plots. IT's importnat to remember that Soweto was an epicenter of political activity--Mandela lived there, Tutu still lives there, and many famous demonstartions and events (tragedies) happened there. So, perhaps fittingly, Soweto has seen some of the greatest advancements. Interestingly, as many as 60 white people live there for social (marriage) or economic (lower taxes) reasons. Despite all this, some parts of Soweto are still downtrodden--some still await electrification.
Also today, we visited Mandela's old home and the Hector Pieterson memorial (dedicated to the Soweto uprisings).
Finally, we visited the apartheid museum. There were images that brought me nearly to tears--from the wounded and screaming children of Soweto, to the crippled old man, assisted by young men, who watched astonished as a ballot slipped out of his hand and into a voting box for the first time in his life.
And I think I will never forget the stones we cast at the end of the tour--they were there so that vistors could symbolize their comitement to never let apartheid happen ever again. One feels a sense of responsibility.
We don't slow down. Why would we? We are in South Africa. The Rainbow Nation, the land of Contrast, so much to see, learn and feel. AN experience of a lifetime.
Our day began around 8 am when we met our obnoxiously American and touristy VOLVO coach in the culdisac of the hostel. We met Joe our black tour guide who began by taking us to SOWETO (South-Western Townships). It is a city that has developed on the outskirts of Joburg and is often painted by the media as rows and rows of endless shacks and desparity. We were immediately shown something quite to the contrary. Homes with brick walls and BMWs outside. Communities developed and green grass in the yard. This area was by default SOWETO, but as the bus rounded the corner and we made our way further south, the sprawl of squatter camps began to take form.
Joe informed us, in his rather monotone chatter that we would have 15 minutes to stop and be led on a brief tour of a community so close to the freeway that the bright yellow clam of the SHELL sign was never out of sight. Immediately I was embarrassed. Here we are showing up in this terrible gas-guzzling bus and we were gonna do the "in and out, oh we feel sorry for you crap." Not to mention the fact that our entire group of 22 had stayed in various houses and shacks (for lack of a better term, excuse the connotation) while we were in the Cape Town black township Khayelitsha. We got off the bus and were led on a quick tour. We saw the power lines overhead that led to the city and provide NO electricity to the squatter homes. We saw the one water pump that supplies quite clean water for roughly 300 people for showers, cooking and drinking. We visited a home of some women doing laundry in the mid-morning sun and before we knew it we were back in the comfort of our safe (well lack of AC) bus.
This was the only time on this trip that I have felt like an ignorant, unempathetic tourist! What's more, we had no chance as a group to discuss these issues. As such, you are all getting it loud and clear on the blog.
Well the day did not get any lighter from there. We headed to the Regina Mundi Catholic church. On our tour we found out the church, which house two services of 2000 people each Sunday, was an HQ for anti-apartheid rallies in the 1970s. Because of strigent apartheid law, black, coloured and Indian people could not be seen walking with more than one other person because they could be arrested. As such, this church became one acceptable--somewhat under the radar--place people could organize to educate and form legitimate protests. On our tour we found out this was the case until the police wised up and began to come into the church during one such meetings and began firing live rounds. Let's just say, it was the first and I hope only bullet holes I have seen in a church. We saw the altar that is still in use that a police officer had smashed when he realized that Desmond Tutu was not preaching and in fact rallying black students against the terrors of the apartheid regime.
We were led upstairs and shown the photo exhibit of SOWETO uprising, massacre and general community life spanning the past 35 years. Since the exhibit has been on display multiple people had left their words of encouragement, wisdom and pride for the now free SA. Many of our group members, myself included, were brought to tears reading the words and being in such a powerful place. I was the last one out of the church and I stopped as I saw the little caraf of holy water before the door. I turned and looked back into the massive expanse of the stained glass, magnificent crucifiction and cluster of pews. My mind was taken back 30 years. Just before the SOWETO massacre in 1976, 4 to 5000 students were gathering in this place, risking their lives to stand up for their cause, their people and future generations of a land in which they still had hope. I just stood there and cried (as a I am now) as I thought of the fear and long nights these people endured because they were born into and part of the injustice of people who resisted and resented change. It was so freeing to think about all the people who had walked through the door that was now surrounding me. The people who made the choice to stand up for justice for democracy and yearned for democracy. I felt so insignificant. Yet these beautiful people's culture and spirit soon revived me as I thought of the idea of UBUNTU. Like Sabatha mentioned yesterday. The choices that I make will have an effect on all those around me. Just as the choices that those brave teens made 30 years ago are affecting me now! I was empowered because I now that all they ask of me is to tell their story.
Our emotional roller coaster did not stop there although I feel like I am running dry on sufficient words to describe it. We went to the Apartheid Museum after lunch. We saw history exhibits describing the SA women's movement and two different movie clips discussing the first era of apartheid legislation and one about the following years. It was apalling at times, it was triumphant at others. The patience that was born and bread into men and women like Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Steve Biko was mind blowing. I was not as surprised about ethnocentric white people creating something cruel and demented like apartheid as much as my confusion with the positive, courageous nature of the apartheid resistance. The beliefs of those men and women who stood up against oppression, against legislated mutilation and murder is courage and forgiveness I cannot yet begin to comprehend. The fact that Nelson Mandela could get out of 27 years of imprisonment and the one idea on his mind bringing the whole country together thorugh peace. Made me break down. Our tour concluded with the tour guide thanking us. She thanked us because we were willing to learn, willing to listen. She asked us to pick up a stone and toss it over to the mass heap of rocks if we agreed to share the story of apartheid and live a life to prevent anything like it every happening again. It was an incredible moving gesture at the end of a draining experience.
As I came out of the final turn of the museum the field that remains is full of high grass and trees. The sun was shining down through some of the first white fluffy clouds I have seen in Africa and I saw hope. I saw the simple beauty of nature. It is an image that can inspire people to recognize our insignificance as one person alone. More importantly the magnificent opportunity and necessity to work together as people. By recognizing our call as humans and destroying unneeded human-made instituions like apartheid we can move forward with awareness, patience and a relaxed sense of being and just live.
Thank you all for your patience and willingness to share this emotional experience and incredible journey with me. I love you all!
As I sit here on my last chunk of 30rand internet time, I find myself wondering what will life be like when we come home. Before traveling to South Africa I had never studied away before. I was excited to learn and to show how much I had already learned but I was completely unaware of how much changing I would do on this trip.
I have been challenged to try new things, to try and learn the customs of cultures that are completely different than mine, and to try and survive in a country that is extremely complex. The people of South Africa struggle to form a nation because of significant setbacks like the gap between the rich and the poor, and aids, and an education system that is superb in some respects and severly lacking in others. Learning about these struggles was intense at times but also helped put life into perspective. One of the things that really struck me was that education is definitely not free, and not guaranteed. There are certain subjects that are compulsory but thats only for children that can get into their closest school.
I also have always been relatively privleged my whole life in that I've never before had to bathe in water that is brown (but passed the test!), or cringe because the clean water I am drinking tastes absolutely horrible. I've never gone to a school where computers were nonexistent and where girls leave school to give birth to babies and then come back in two days.
This may be painting a picture of South Africa as a third world country but this is not necessarily the case. Here the affulent and the poverty-stricken live next door. This country is First and Third. Although this may sound incredibly sad i is not a depressing place, because the people who are living in townships (in shacks made of spare wood and tin), and those living in rural Xhosa villages have taught me so much about true happiness and community. These people have rich traditions and customs that they are willing to teach to anyone who cares to learn. They are warm and welcoming with overwhelming personalities and hearts.They will feed you, let you stay with them, dress in traditional clothes and perform for you, and most of all educate you.
So, now it is almost time to go home and leave the beautiful, welcoming country of South Africa. It is time to see exactly how much these challenges have changed us, I have learned so much from this experience and the people we have met here... I can't wait to come back!
Expression seems to be the human right that everyone demands; if it supressed, people cannot, or believe they cannot accurately and appropriately exist as humans.
Visiting Regina Mundi Church, the sight of protests in Soweto against apartheid, reinforced any idea I had about the essential human right being the freedom of speech. I was completely blown away by what the supression of that right ignites in a population. Students using their voices inspired a new level of involvement and awareness of the oppression of apartheid in the 1970s.
We visited the Hector Pietersen Museum today, also, which is dedicated to a single 13 year old boy who was victimized by the Soweto Massacre. I found myself asking why a museum was dedicated to a single 13 year old boy? Why not ANC leaders?
The only understanding that I could conclude is that children are the future. In 1976 when the White South African government supressed the expression of students, in a way, the government was destroying a hope for the black South Africans. The beauty of children, and especially students, is the innocent inquisition that dominates each of their minds.
The impact of June 16, 1976 still is obviously felt in South Africa as now it is commemorated as National Youth Day. This fervent passion that inspired revolt against apartheid is so important, the youth had and still have a voice; the power for change and self-expression lives within each one and it is simply breading that passion and expression that is important. As Nelson Mandela once said, and I paraphrase, you need education to know your rights and with that you can finally speak up for your rights. South Africa is teaching me this powerful lesson of education and our travels and experiences today simply reinforce the power of education and preservation of our voices to express our rights.
Fasting is a very old tradition within many faiths, including my own. Fast to cleanse the body and clear the mind, as an offering in times of mourning, in times of preparation--the forty days of fast before feasting. Physical hunger as a reminder of the finitude of this world--pains that bring one inward, to that space that would never be filled by the bread of humans. By depriving one's body, one's soul was able to focus on that which is beyond, the seventh chakra, God--to prepare for that celebration.
We as a culture are unfamiliar with such a ritual--willfull depravity? You don't see many ads that say, "Hey you really SHOULDN'T buy this product--go for a walk and meditate, why don't you?" That sort of attitude would be the death of the American Way of Life as we know it.
What could this possibly have to do with Ecuador, you wonder. A lot, from where I sit, in a comfortable home in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where all my needs and many more of my wants are taken care of, by virtue of my birth and very little of my own merit. I know how we are accustomed to live, and I have seen what it means for other parts of the world--Ecuador exports more oil to the U.S. than to any other nation. And I have seen what oil has left for the people of Ecuador--not 'development' as promised, not schools and hospitals and lives like those they see one satelite tv.
No, what they do have are roads covered in crude to keep the dust down, which wears out shoes and washes into the water table when it rains; and next to these roads are pipelines that suck out oil and hope and carry to the coast for export and sometimes they break because they are so old and because no amount of technology is 100% secure; and they have cancer rates that the director of the Association of the Hydorcarbon Industry of Ecuador blamed on the 'greasy, 3-meal-a-day diet' that westernization has brought and which representatives from the U.S. Embassy accredited to runoff from coca processing plants on the Colombian border. Not our fault, essentially.
And my question is, who's going to just buck up and take responsibility? Enough of this sidelining blame--it is unacceptable that a public health crisis is left to get worse while Texaco uses all its corporate prowess to get the class-action law-suit filed by 30,000 Ecuadorians more then a decade ago tried in Ecuador, where it keeps out of the eye of scrutinous (or not so) U.S. citizens.
But even more unacceptable is that MY petroleum-dependent lifestyle depends on, legitimizes, perpetuates situations like this--I use energy on the grid, plastic products are numerous among my belongings, I really like to travel. In the year 2006, I flew 13 times--Argentina, Chile, New Orleans, El Paso, Mexico City, Quito--I am so so grateful for these experiences. And I can recognize an area where I can do with less.
Now, I don't claim to be nor WANT to be an purist. In my own life, I feel that would be dangerous and ultimately unhelpful. But I CAN recognize ways I can contribute to building the world I want to see--my lifestyle matters, at a micro and macro level.
And so I come back to the idea of the FAST. I have thought about my habits over just the last year. I'm a vegetarian. I don't own a car. But I have been a fuel glutton when it comes to flying. If the whole world traveled like I did, we'd probably be in the next ice-age (or heat-age). So I'm starting a fast. It's a little out of order--the fast AFTER the feast--but still meaningful, I think. This is something I can do, some way I can respond to the despair that I saw in the Oriente. I'm going on a fuel fast. I'm going to be best friends with my bike and the Pierce County Transit. I'm going to think conciously about getting in a car. I'm making a promise not to fly for one year--which will be interesting, considering I already have plans to go to Arkansas over spring break. It's a 2 1/5 day bus ride. But a fast means giving something up and feeling it. That's why it wouldn't work for me to give up computer games for Lent. I wouldn't even notice. Besides, I kind of like the Greyhound--and it demands a certain compassion and patience that more convenient movement might not cultivate.
I know my fuel reduction won't cure Rita Maldonado's skin disease, or change at all the amount of crude being pumped from the Amazon basin. That's not my goal. Rather, for me, this is a spiritual journey, and exercise of an ancient ritual of awareness through solidarity with those with less. I fast to make space for others and for God, to CHOOSE who I will be and what effect I will have in this world, to not be passive. I fast now joyfully because I have feasted constantly and I am thankful for it--but for the people of the Oriente, I can wait at least a year to feast again.
He welcomed us to his home. We sat at the edges of a crowded prison cell, with cold steel bunks and an unforgiving concrete floor, and the man called it is home.
Modise, a former inmate of Robben Island, thanked our group for visiting and learning about the sorted history of the island and its inhabitants. He smiled to us. He prodded and joked because our mood was sombre and depressed. His explanation being that coming to work each day can be challenging in and of itself and that our negative expressions would not ease that burden.
We were brought into the world of prison life and the emotional and physical destruction of that world through personal accounts and stories. To the guide's surprise as well as ours, in our group stepped forward brothers whose uncle was incarcerated as a political prisoner. They retold their struggles of family members being able to visit for only a half hour each month and during that visit witnessing the slow degradation of their uncle. I have experienced nothing in my life that could bring me to a place in which I can relate to these men and the other family members affected in this way. I was so thankful that they chose to share their day of remembrance and reflection with the rest of the group. Their immense ability to forgive and let go of anger astounds me.
As we toured the prison grounds our leader told stories of the physical abuse enacted here. Being descriptive, but not overly detailed, he showed us how the white officers became monsterous and violently powerful. It frightened me to think that a man with a wife and children at home could come to work and slowly beat the life and dignity out of a fellow human being. And our guide made a point to ensure that we knew he does not think of the officers as monsters or creatures performing inhuman acts. Allowing these men to be seen as anything but human detracts from the reality that it was our fellow man that committed these crimes. If we believe that it takes a monster to perpetuate thsi type of oppression, it is not hard to see how this type of mass human rights violations could rise again.
I left Robben Island suprisingly calm. I left with a feeling of appreciation for the way this community has openly taught us about their past and their pain. And I left with the drive to grow in my own ability to forgive and move forward.
Well since I haven’t been bloged at all so far on this trip, I figured that I would on load all my thoughts and experiences thus far. What is there to say about South Africa other than amazing. There is beauty in every aspect of this country and it is nothing short of inspirational in its places, people, culture, and of course history. On our first day here in Cape Town our tour guide told us that South Africa is a country of contrast. Contrast in its culture, environment, and in its economy. The culture consists of all different kinds of diversity including foreign and native influences. You have European, Indian, Asian, American, and the native tribes still practicing their traditions. Contrast in environment, never have you seen such plant diversity, animal life, mountains, forests, beaches, and deserts. Contrast in economy, the rich and the poor living side by side.
Many of us are dealing with many questions and are becoming more and more aware of our influences as Americans. I believe one of the most important questions that are we are being asked is who is African? I think this is such an important concept because it is something that Americans also have to be asked. We are being completely immersed in the African history and still realizing that there is, what we have learned to call an Apartheid hangover. We are realizing how much time it takes to heal hearts and minds and move forward as a nation. There is so much one can learn from this country about forgiving and reconciliation that it becomes overwhelming, but above all motivational and inspirational.
The people here are all so welcoming and always willing to share their experiences and history and at the same time always willing and interested to learn ours. Everywhere you look you will find out that there is meaning and history given to it and it becomes a living, breathing part of their lives.
Our group is amazing and we are become so bonded together, all willing to listen to our worries, hopes, concerns, and excitements. Above all we are laughing, learning, crying, and hoping for the best for South Africa and America to make the right decisions. There is not enough time to share the adventures and stories we have all experienced together here in this country of contrast, but I believe we have all found a second place to call home and are all seeing with a wider view of the world.
Well, it's almost time to go home and we are all trying to absorb as much as we can in these last days here, but we all will be happy to come home and be in the arms of our friends and family. Cheers!
So this is my last blog, on the last day, after walking in the back streets one last time to get to the internet cafe. As I thought of which of the four questions I was going to answer I realized how much I am going to miss China. I have never wanted to leave, but the situation hit me as I walked by the Forbidden City at midnight last night with one of my classmates. While we were both in pain due to the freezing temperatures, I realized that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. It was not just because I was with a great friend that I found on this trip, but to me I feel strangely at home being away from home. For how weird that sounds coming from me (anyone who really understands me knows that I like living in the same area for extended periods of time), this trip I have been comfortable with constantly moving around China. With that sensation, plus the same kind of experience from my Ecuador trip last J-term, I have realized that I really want to spend some of my professional career traveling the world. This might not seem like a big revelation to most, but this trip has now shown me something that I thought I would never want to do.......
My worldview changed exactly like that of my father's did when he came back from Germany. Not much at all. In China, there are people, they live, they flirt, they marry, they reproduce, they work, they eat, they sleep and eventually they die. There are birds and plants in China, seasons change and there are movies and television. Most of them are cliqued and boring. People like drinking and sometimes they like drinking too much. Men usually like drinking more than women.
Of course, everyone speaks a different language and the food is different (like America its spicier in the South) but China's not that exotic or life changing. People are people and they do peoplish things.
Now I have been studying on this trip. Honest. I can write paragraphs upon paragraphs in the differences in art, culture, religion as well as the political and economic disparities between China and America. But really the information I find most relevant is that the food is spicier and better in Szchuan province but in Bejing they can make a decent cocktail.
Before I came to China, I thought of its religion, its philosophy and politics. I thought of the abstract ethereal China. One of ideas and arts. A culture without people; of vague unreal images. Now when I think of China I think of the taxi drivers that won't drive me where I need them to. I think of Bakeries on the street and the Baozas (dumplings) I eat when I don't have the time to go to a restaraunt. I think of the Jasmine tea I drunk every morning and night. China has ceased to be a world of ideas and dead history and instead it has become of country of people, and sights and sounds. All in all, I prefer the latter.