Monday, 31 March 2008

At the risk of getting too political...

I've just finished a night of two movies, both of which I have seen before, that have had an even deeper meaning for me outside of the United States and, particularly, being on the continent of Africa. The first being Sicko and the second being Constant Gardener. While I know everyone reading is approaches politics and questions of world order from an almost infinite number of perspectives, I am going to try to attempt to not frame it in politics but simply in its implications for humanity, ultimately for me, you, and those we may not ever know.

"There are no murders in Africa, simply unfortunate deaths." This is one of the ending lines of the Constant Gardner which is about pharmaceutical testing of drugs in Africa, Kenya in this particular case. Jobs are produced in Wales, the government owes the pharmaceutical business a favor for not sending the jobs to France, and soon the British government is allowing, if not sponsoring the deaths of dozens of Kenyans in the slums of Nairobi after buying off Kenyan government officials in order to allow for the testing of drugs on medical deprived people. This idea of Africa as a testing ground is all too prominent. On my trip around South Africa last week (which a happy blog will follow this!...I promise) I went to a hospital in rural Kwazulu-Natal were 80%-90% of the patients were HIV positive. EIGHTY TO NINETY. Even after being there, it is too much to comprehend. For me, and my incredibly privileged life, it is hard to understand why some people are afforded healthcare and others not. Why is it that I can go and get done what needs to be done anytime, anywhere and others cannot? I know why, but I guess I don't know how, or really why I allow it?

On the other hand, there are many within America who have no health insurance or inadequate coverage. Furthermore, you have those with coverage who are terminated or refused treatment by the insurance companies. And yet the insurance companies have recorded record profits? Companies controlling people's bodies? Business principles determining who is treated and who is not? I just don't understand. I didn't understand in the States, and now that I am out and see a bruised and battered, yet vibrant, South Africa struggling to provide health coverage for all her people, I understand even less. People here don't understand how the wealthiest nation also has some of the largest income and health disparities in the world. And it is really hard to keep trying to give an answer...

How is it, my friends, that I/we have so quickly, comfortably and casually cashed in democratic principals? Democracy seems to have been defaced and disemboweled of its true essence; liberty, equality, brother/sisterhood. Democracy is not just a government system, it is a way of life. It is reflected in our institutions, the well-being of our people, and the respect of human rights. Instead of setting our end goals on true human development (not just economical) both at home and abroad, we have blindly submitted ourselves and those who we influence to the "market force." We hope and believe that this almost god-like essence of capitalism will somehow solve everyone's needs, and all of our wants. Then, once we have mastered the ability and skills of capital accumulation as nations, we force it upon others and ask how it is they are so underdeveloped. Yet we have set the standard so unbelievably high! So high that if everyone lived like me/us, the world wouldn't be able to support itself.

Relaxation is looked down upon. Pacifism is treated with contempt. Voicing yourself against the establishment is seen as rebel-rousing. Fighting for true equality is labeled as socialism. Instead we put ours and others lives into the hands of for-profit businesses and multi-national corporations assuming the best. Organizations completely unaccountable to the general public and free from the burdens of ballots, elections, and the voice of the poor or marginalized. In that world, money speaks, not principals.

But this isn't just America or the West, it is an epidemic which strikes th morality and conscience of the privileged. You see it between whites and blacks in this country, South Africans and refugees, Latin Americans of European decent and indigenous people groups, the Chinese government and Tibet. It seems to be all around, knowing no boundaries.

I feel sometimes like there are no words for the sometimes physical tension or anguish I feel in my heart here. And I'm sure that this attempt to look into two movies which some of us may not have seen seems pointless. But to me it's not. I don't know how to deal anymore with such stark contrasts here. The contrast within this society and what they represent on a global scale as well. Seriously, it is too much at times. It makes me want to get on a plane and leave, even though I really don't want to, or maybe know I shouldn't. But you can only drive through so many townships, shanty towns, beach resorts, and upscale waterfronts before it starts to seem as though you are living in two parallel realities. And perhaps I am. Maybe that's the problem. It is too painful, and way too confusing. Because those same places of material poverty are usually the places of most ardent celebration and deepest understanding of one's neighbor, alongside the world's fastest and most fatal epidemic (HIV) and most difficult living conditions.

I don't understand this city, country, continent or world. I really don't. I wish I could write about all of the joyful things, and there are so many (you'll see when I write about my trip)! But I also can't ignore these things, these frustrations. I hate it sometimes. Sometimes I wish so badly I didn't have to chose to think about it, didn't have to explain to anyone here or anyone outside. But I suppose you can't see true beauty without true pain as well, right? You have to know one to understand the other. I just want to be honest about what I am truly experiencing here, even though it can be painful (sorry!). So thanks, even if this doesn't make any sense or you think it's complete bullocks. It just feels good to have it down and outside of my own mind and heart...

Saturday, 08 March 2008

Anne Blackwill and Cornel West to the Rescue!

In my last blog it seems clear that I am struggling with what it means to be human, what that looks like outside of my own context and my presuppositions and assumptions. So, while I should be writing a paper today, I happened to fumble across two videos on my computer: Anne Blackwill's lecture "The Christian Self" and Cornel West's "Christ Matters."

Yesterday I was talking to a friend and she was telling me how she had put off reading a letter I wrote her for days and days for what seemed like no particular reason. But when she did read it, it was done at the most opportune and meaningful moment. When the words would not just be skimmed, but when they would have the opportunity to penetrate her soul. At a time when they would reach into her heart and allow for harmony between the words on the page and the struggles and perplexities of her own heart. And that, that reverberation with the perplexities of my soul and my mind, is the feeling I had after listening to these two great and inspirational minds (and a friend, in Dr. Blackwill's case...still waiting for Dr. West to call me back....for some reason he didn't respond to me stalking him while I was visiting Princeton for Thanksgiving...I don't understand). I specifically remember downloading Dr. Blackwill's speech months ago and watching it with my apartment mate, Annery. I was so excited! But then once I started watching it I just got kind of sleepy after a couple of minutes and went to bed. It is not that I didn't need to hear those words then, but the moment and circumstances in which I watched them now filled them with a meaning they wouldn't have possessed then.

What hit me and what began to explained to me the perplexities of my own heart, was the link between self, others, and God. Dr. Blackwill's lecture was about how do we begin to break down the ways in which the Enlightenment has trained our minds in Western societies? How it is trained us to compartmentalize and dichotomize. What is the connection between the natural and the supernatural, our bodies which she described as "egos wrapped in skin?" What are our concepts of space? And she said that that space is the capacity for connection. She says that the Enlightenment has made it difficult for us to not try to control the world from threatening our individual and unrealistic realities. I suppose my last post was about the realization of that space for me here. The space, the "capacity for connection." You know? Ugggh, this difficult to explain!

Dr. West continued to help me link the two. The understanding of ourselves existentially (apart from others), and our understanding of ourselves being inextricably linked with others. How do I balance that? For him, Socrates is indispensable. "An unexamined life is not worth living" and then Malcom X saying "But the examined life is painful." That...that is where I find myself! In the middle of those two. That is where humanity finds itself. But it is the Socratic approach to life, an approach of intellectual humility (I know I am the wisest man alive simply because I know I know nothing), where we are willing to take off the mask and look at ourselves unabashedly in mirror, that allows us to accept our own humanity. Love provides the armor for our journey "from womb to tomb." How do I truly know myself, know humanity, while at the same time not distancing myself or allowing myself to slip into an observer mentality? Dr. West says:

That is an acknowledgment that self-mastery, autonomy and self-control are overrated. They are all over rated. There is dependency, interdependency, an acknowledgment of finitude. A call for community, a need for connection. That is how the Hebrew Scriptures end. Oppressed people calling for help. The cries of the various prophets, from Amos all the way through Micah. And, of course, Jesus comes out of that prophetic Judaism. What I'm talking about building on is this trail of tears. Because the trail of tears has something to do with the hypersensitivity of other peoples' sufferings, but more importantly the centrality of love...steadfast loving kindness.

And for me, that is where Christ enters the scene. When talking about the humanity of this life, and of what it means to be human, you cannot simply leave it at that. At least I cannot. I cannot leave it at knowing we are all the same. Knowing our humanity is interlinked. As crucial and as important as tolerance is, tolerance without love will in time simply beget only more intolerance. Why should you tolerate someone or something you hate or are indifferent to? Perhaps out of utilitarian principles, but what if those don't last? It's unsustainable. But when love is brought in, the picture changes. When one dips into the well of love that feeds one's own intimate love of self and begins to apply that love with others, that is transformative. Once you begin to equate the pain of your own humanity and your search for wisdom with that of others, you step closer to love. How is that we can mess up only one commandment to the degree in which we have? To love God and to love others with an intimate love that we would normally only reserve for ourselves?

So, yes, it is about humanity, but it is about something deeper as well. The link between myself and my sister/brother is not always visible from the surface. It is rooted in this trail of tears Dr. West talks about. I would also say it is rooted in a trail of joy as well! Dr. Blackwill says that "Primarily when God comes into history, he comes to give himself." To give of God's own personal well of love! To us! God sets the example! Our sin does not simply pull us away from God, but also from one another. And all of it is interlinked. Anne says that just in the same way that a good book tugs in multiple directions, so do our lives, so do questions of morality and humanity.

I hope I continue to feel that tugging in my life here. That tension. And not so that I can know we are all human, but to know that that realization is simply a stopping point on the way to learning how to love.

Monday, 03 March 2008


It seems to me (now, in this moment at least) that one of the most difficult things in this world to learn is two fold: what it actually means to be human...and then realizing you fit into that category as well. To many of our Western minds (sorry to any of those who are reading who maybe don't fit that category, I'd love to know if you agree), things that are exceedingly human are a little too much for us. For example, I have a theory regarding Greek philosophy/mythology and Country Music. Yes, that is correct. Greek and Country. OBVIOUSLY. Ha! For me, those two phenomenas are the definition of humanity (just bear with me). Or at least they were. I mean, just think about it. Greek mythology is full of beautiful stories of love, hope, searching for our other half, etc, etc. In the same way, Country music is about families, riding in the back of pickup trucks, open fields, and simplicity. But both are sprinkled with certain parts of humanity we'd rather not makes us cringe a bit. Love affairs gone bad, wars and treason, revenge, hate, patriarchy and chauvinism gone wild. They both just lay it all out! There's a part of us that reacts quickly to it...or maybe embraces it. But either way, it's because it is all there in us, somewhere.

I've begun to notice that since being here. I've begun to notice humanity, what it truly is about. This past weekend was a full weekend of the arts here in Cape Town. Good art always shoves humanity right up in your face doesn't it? It's like you can hear, smell it, taste it, feel it. To me, at least, that is good art. It gives a face and/or words to ideas and beliefs that beforehand had simply been wondering through people's minds or growing in their hearts.

Anyway, on Friday night I went to three artistic venues around town, all a bit on the spur of the moment. The first was a poetry reading at the Slave Lodge with poetry written by a former slave who had been lodged there, Ansella van de Caab. At first there was a moment of deep disappointment when I found out that the reading was going to be done in Afrikaans. "Booo!" I thought. But afterwards, there was time for readings and performances by local poets, most of them young (my age or below). And they were outstanding! There were pleads to "Mother Africa," asking her why she has stayed so quiet in the face of such injustices against her. You couldn't help but to think of a strong, life-giving and sustaining woman who had been brutalized, abused, even raped. All the while, her children cry out for her to take her rightful place again as a source of strength, nurturing, nourishment, wisdom, and humble power. And then to realize my own part, my country's part in that brutalization and injustice. Ouch. There was a woman who stood up and recited a poem about her and her connection to her past. So much of it unknown, except for the fact that she is descended from slaves...from the very people who were in that very room centuries ago. Humanity.

The second venue I went to with my friend, Annika, when we thought we were going to meet my friends Jan and Frithjof at an experimental jazz concert. Ends up we go to a theatre production that was out of this world. Seriously, folks, it is almost impossible to describe here. I still don't know what happened. All is know is that the story revolved around a young South African black student who is visited by his ancestors in a dream. Not only do they take him away, but they also took the whole audience away. The acting was unbelievable. We were lead by one of his ancestors out into a courtyard area with fires and dancing and dreams. But first we were lead through 4 different areas, each with an ancestor who was sobbing. A woman washing clothes, a young girl shaking, crying and throwing herself at members of the audience violently, and more. By the time I made it to the courtyard I was totally confused, and the fact that there was no English and only Xhosa did not help. Even once we got into the courtyard and the stories/poems were displayed in English as the actors spoke, danced, and fought...I was still so confused! It ended with a ring of fire, peopling washing themselves and one another with water (actors and audience), and everyone dancing around the flames. We heard perhaps it was an ancient cleansing ritual? Seriously, you now know as much as I do. But how I wish I understood! An understanding that would allow full participation, full knowledge. Humanity.

Lastly, we finally met up with Jan and some other friends I had met last weekend at the "experimental jazz" concert. And it was most definitely experimental. No beat. But what was lacking in beat, was made up with passion. As I watched the 60 year old man beat away on the drums there was something beautiful about it, even though it was something completely strange. And the saxophonist! He literally played that thing so hard I thought he was going to collapse on stage, multiple times. One time he just was blowing air through the sax because he had nothing more to give...he was totally and completely spent, with sweat pouring over his bald head and face. And I thought to myself, "Hell's bells...I wish I put that much passion and energy into what I loved and did!" Can you imagine!? Humanity.

Maybe its the fact that I am away, that I'm surrounded by the unfamiliar. Perhaps that is where my new eyes are coming from. But does that mean it isn't truth? That it isn't real just because I wouldn't have seen it in Saint Louis, Boston, New York, or even Europe? I think things there are just too pretty. The people are too pretty. And we, those people, want the pretty. Why would we want the ugly? Why would we want the numbers of dead soldiers? The pictures of terrorist attacks? The stories of hunger, malnutrition, corporate greed? Our own history, our sins against one another? Who wants to encounter see it? Not many. I think we, and I, would much rather prefer to take the world and humanity to the gift wrapping station at our local mall and watch the nice elderly woman from the Humane Society with her cat Sugar cut the wrapping paper perfectly and then tie a wonderful little bow around top. Ah! How nice!

Plus, it is one thing to talk about the injustice of the world, but it is an entirely different thing to address the world's differences, our seemingly incompatible ways of living, learning, and/or loving. Ancestors? Dancing? Fire? Mother Africa? Jazz with no beat? A sweaty saxophone with no sound? Poetry in a foreign language? Our responses could range from "weird" to "freaky" to "back that shit up." Ha! Excuse my French, but you know what I'm saying?! And let me tell you, it's a lot easier to take out your list of labels and start sticking them to everything you see. Weird. Bizarre. Wrong. Patriarchal. Racist. Demonic. Unsophisticated. Out-dated. Stupid. Liberal. Conservative. Heathen. Religious. Close-minded. Dangerous. It doesn't take all the uneasiness away, but it doesn't leave you with many lingering feelings or questions. It others it instantly. That's not me, it's them/that/it. But what if we are forced to open up? What if we choose to lower those walls? Put the quick-fix labels away? What if we begin to see it as human? To begin to see ourselves through another's eyes? What would they think if they were with you, looking into your life, your culture, your beliefs, your religion? What if?

Humanity. How uncomfortable. How deep and intricately woven. How bruised, battered, and painful. How beautiful, loving, and good. How dichotomous. How needy. But we should not be fooled into thinking it is only experienced in art. It is in the taxi rides here, smashed together with 21 other people a van hurdling down a two lane city street. It is on the streets with the beggars. It is in the encounters with my clients and friends at the Scalabrini Centre. It is sharing the burdens of friends and loved ones. But it is hard to see, let alone encounter, from a 10-lane highway. It is difficult to feel in our foolishly pretty societies. Pretty for whom? For me? For my neighbor? It is there, we may even see it, even in our pretty lives and neighborhoods, but there is a safe distance. A wall. A label. A perceived sin that enforces separation. A mistrust. An othering.

I want to leave you with a quote by Mother Theresa, perhaps one of the few people of our time who truly knew humanity and chose to encounter it. "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. "

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

An Unlikely Friend

Yesterday was a full day for me. I went from classes at UWC (which were are usually somewhat frustrating unfortunately) to my internship interview at the Scalabrini Centre for refugees in town. Recently I was starting to feel like maybe I should be doing something else, you know? Maybe it was time for me to work with an organization that didn't have anything to do with refugees or immigrants, perhaps something in peace or conflict resolution. But after going to the centre and meeting with Guilia, my supervisor, I realized again just how much I love refugee work! There is so much to be learned and so much that needs to be done, both in advocacy and assistance. Plus, she is basically going to be leading me in my thesis research while I am here as well as asking me to work towards implementing an employment division at the Centre. Exciting!

Afterwards I was feeling good about life. I felt like it was beginning to take a holistic shape here. I had my school, my job/internship, a church family, etc. So I decided to walk down to St. George's Cathedral to pray for my time here, my heart, my mind, and all the different people I would be encountering here. As I was kneeling, I realized that there was a young woman sitting across the church who was crying. Before anyone thinks I'm holier than I am, I began to wish that she would stop. I was trying to pray! Hello? And then God and my conscience brought to my attention the fact that I was being a complete ass. But, actually, she did begin to quiet down and I finished praying just as she began to sob again. So I went over, feeling somewhat guilty about my own thoughts, and asked if she was okay. She (I will call her Mary) explained that, in fact, she was not okay. She found herself both homeless and without money, and her family would have nothing to do with her because she was addicted to drugs. So I asked if she would like to join me for dinner. She acted a bit surprised, but then went to wash up and we were headed towards St. George's Mall for bite to eat.

Of course, I wished so much that I could pretend as if I was walking down the Mall with anyone, but I was very much aware of the circumstances. I was with a drug addict in Cape Town, South Africa. Then I began to think, "Good job, Dave! If it wasn't for you, she wouldn't have had any food. Plus, you are totally stretching yourself here. Great job." Embarrassing, but true.

Eventually, I came to find out that Mary was thirty years old and a photographer. She was actually mostly involved with documentaries, particularly one she did in a rural, inland area at a hospital for children with Aids. Soon, we found ourselves sitting on the Mall, eating, and sharing our lives with one another. But not forced, rather a genuine interaction.

My time with Mary ended up being one of the most genuine and soul searching moments here so far. She told me of how she started heroine, of its extremely addictive nature, how she had attempted to stop in the past, but would always start again. But there was something incredibly disarming about the whole experience. I was struck by how much of myself I saw in her. She talked about how easy it is to be drawn in, and how quickly our new found freedoms can go to our head. Yet there was no self-pitty in her. Rather a deep sense of who she truly was. "Dave," she said, "I know that my soul is not addicted, it is only my body. It is my soul and my God that are my truest self." She felt as if she was different than the others who talked about stopping, or her past failed attempts. For her, she was embarking on a spiritual quest for healing. She said she felt things in a different way. The drugs had taken so much from her, but she had not been stripped of her ability to feel. In fact, it had been made stronger.

Mary also said another important thing to me that was most definitely a paradigm shift. She said that being addicted to heroine is not for the weak, it is for the strong. It is only the strong who can even attempt to muster the will to quit, to seek help and humble themselves. When she was clean for a year, Mary realizes now how self-righteous she was, and the weakness and vulnerability that came with that.

We departed with me doing everything I have been told not to do. Do not give money. Do not give your phone number. Do not, do not, do not. I suppose I shouldn't take advice or self-reflect based on the words of a heroine addict either.

Literally the day before my time at Scalabrini and with Mary, I had emailed Sara telling her my second thoughts and also revealing to her my own selfishness. It is only when we are removed from ourselves, our normative worlds, and our loved ones that our true self is actually able to be seen and exposed. South Africa's most painful and beautiful confrontation so far has been with myself. I realized how much of my "confidence" and "self-awareness" actually had little to do with me, my true self and soul, as much as it did my ego and my ego's need to be feed and comforted. I wrote to Sara and Hannah:

I suppose that this time is as much for me to reacquaint myself with me as it is for me to start understanding and learning about this region, city, country and world. We get so proud so quick, or at least I do. And the scary thing is, you don’t even know it. I’ve been so blind to my own pride. It is the subtle and subconscious pride that is most dangerous, because it is totally undetectable to both yourself and others.

So, as it turns out, the person I have been most truthful with, most open with is a homeless drug addict. It is a "societal casteaway" that has given me the lens and the gift (even if painful) to look at myself raw and uncensored. Are we not all addicted to something/s? It is she who has stripped away my facades and ripped my ego out, so that all that is left is simply me. Yet Mary is just that, herself. Yes, she is a drug addict, but if that is all one sees then they miss her true spirit.

As we parted ways, we both had tears in our eyes. We hugged and promised to meet at church again this Sunday before she checks herself into detox on Tuesday. Some may say I was had...I might as well have burnt my R100. But that time and money were not wasted because they were not mine. Those few minutes were shared, jointly owned by the two of us. Perhaps I will not see her again. Perhaps I won't get a phone call before she goes into detox and when she comes out. But if life is always a calculated measure, where's our time to dance? To create? To be vulnerable? To actually risk? To love? To know our true selves?

I feel like this doesn't do my time with Mary justly, or my thought process and soul searching in her wake. No, actually I know it doesn't. I left to go to my flat with my food, bed, and my bank cards, while she wondered alone. There is so much more than can be examined and dissected, but what if I just let it be? What if I let myself care, worry, invest in a person and not just an idea?

Friday, 15 February 2008

De Saber a Conocer...

Before I start, let me just say that these blog entries are from the heart. I will learn, I will grow, and views and opinions will change (hopefully. So I just ask for your grace as I learn, grow and live over the next few months. Thanks!

One thing about English (and all languages have their downfalls) is that sometimes you can have too few word choices. One thing about me (most definitely a downfall!), is that I don't know Spanish very well...therefore the title of this may be heinous to some of you Spanish speakers out there. But what it should translate to (or what I want it to translate to) is "from to know to to know." Yes, that correct. Moving from knowing to knowing. Hmmmmm. Ya, okay Dave. But let me explain. While in Honduras (which was surprisingly only a few short weeks ago), our host explained to us that in Spanish there are two ways to express to someone that you "know" something, saber and conocer. The first, saber, is to know in your mind. You've read about it, heard it, or had someone explain it to you know the facts. The second, conocer, is to know from experience or to know personally, such as how you know a friend. To have your "knowing" move from your mind to your is a deeper and more intimate way of knowing.

In my life, and all of our lives perhaps, we have those moments where something we knew or something we read suddenly makes more sense, you can almost feel it in yourself. The new knowledge can be heavy, freeing, painful, joyful, or a mix of any or all emotions, but you realize that your knowledge has gone deeper than is no longer simply an act of the mind. Maybe it is when you first know what it means to love, either yourself, God or another person. Maybe it is when you encounter suffering, sickness, or material poverty. Maybe it is when you realize your own poverty of the mind or soul. Maybe it is when you realize your prejudices, biases, or worldview. Perhaps it is when you encounter a deep love of another person towards yourself. Perhaps it is when you experience the love of God. It seems in the past few years, whether I realized how to explain it at the time or not, that I have had these conocer moments in my life. Today was one of them.

When you enter the Slave Lodge in the heart of old Cape Town, you encounter a building that is graced with chandeliers, a lovely cobbled courtyard, and other seemingly misplaced items. Yet as you proceed through the museum dedicated to the history of slavery in Cape Town, you encounter the very different Slave Lodge of the times during the rule of the Dutch East Indian Company. From a young age, white American children (for the most part) are taught about slavery in America through the lens of the Civil War. North against South. Abolitionists against plantation owners. Lincoln against Lee. We may even learn parts of the Emancipation Proclamation or the Gettysburg Address. But do our children, or ourselves, actually attempt to view the horrors of slavery from the vantage point of the millions of slaves that were extorted everywhere from Massachusetts to Mississippi? Have I ever acknowledged my own part in it, my own benefits as a white American? Have I learned about the history of the global slave trade? I could go on with questions, but in my mind I can answer yes to all of these question and more. Yes, I know my mind acknowledges my benefits, my privilege, slaves' pain, and America's deepest wound.

Yet as I walked through this museum, read the walls, touched the names of those who were imprisoned there, were tortured there, and died there, I began to "know" in a new way. It was a way that brought deep hurt and pain. It was in the mind and soul, very spiritual. One spoken word section of the museum had you enter into a model of a slave boat where the voice of a slave women was reading the following poem:
If this journey ever ends, if ever
If we ever feel the land and know we breathe
and see the sun
Still, still the time must come
when we will die
and they will be born
Through each other, through each one
we will live
Through each one we will live,
our souls retrieved
I do believe, will you?
Will you believe?
Believe. Believe...

And it challenged me, do I believe that healing can truly come among us, a healing that is not glossy or founded on naïveté and ignorance? Can I acknowledge my role, yet be forgiven? Can we live through one another, even those in history who our ancestors or societies have wronged? How powerful if that is true. How life changing if that is true. How humbling if that is true. Just as in the way that I believe the church is a mystical communion of the saints of the past, those of the present and those of the future, are we as humans not all connected even if not in body? By walking through the halls of the very same building that dehumanized and defamed my brothers and sisters, can I begin to understand (even if only a little) their pain and their humanity? A pain that hurt them so many years ago and penetrates our societies still today.

I think this is what will motivate me during my stay here in Cape Town. Like I said in a letter to a friend, South Africa is no different than anywhere else in the world in that it has the same issues, joys and struggles. But for some reason, life here is magnified and amplified. Life is all up in your face! While you can choose to push it away or blind yourself to it with Dollars, Euros and Rand, it will always be there. But, unlike my last post, I don't want to sit back and wait. Yes, I want to be attentive and self-aware, but I have to encounter life. Life in the present and the lives of those before me. Our lives and our humanity are wrapped up together. There is redemption in our pain, but that pain must be shared. Pain is never isolated it seems, but rather it seeps out and penetrates the world around us. We must confront it, or it will confront us in its own time.

So I challenge both myself and all of those reading (particularly us students and academics), are we living life to saber it or to conocer it? What gates and walls have we erected to guard ourselves from our own lives, the lives of others, and how those interconnect? Can we honor the pain of the past by living lives that value the present and future? Will we, collectively and individually, choose to see the light in one another while still acknowledging both our capacity to do wrong and those wrongs which we have already committed? I believe that we can. I hope and pray that I can myself.

Monday, 11 February 2008

First Two Weeks

It has been cloudy over the last couple of days here in Cape Town and it has given me some time to think and reflect on my first two weeks here in South Africa. It feels like I have been here for such a short time. I find myself in that gap time of being here, knowing that I am living here, going to school here, finding a church here, making friends here, but not yet really having a life here. It is strange and I'm unable to really express how I feel about it. Almost apathetic, but excited? But perhaps that is just because of the weather and the fact I haven't had classes yet.

To be honest, I'm not used to being some place where I don't know someone who has a life there already. Yes I've traveled to a lot of places, but when I arrive there is already a way for me to kind of plug in. But here, what do I plug into? Do I plug into my neighborhood? I could, but I can only be "plugged-in" for a certain amount of time before it's too dangerous for me to be plugged-in (around 7pm). Do I plug into my school? I could, but it is an hour away and I'm kind of pissed at it because of the heinous amount of time I spent there trying to figure out their registration system (ummm...ya...about 1.5 weeks and many many hours in line later). Do I plug-in with other ex-pats living here? I could, but that seems a bit too easy, doesn't it? So basically I'm a little lost and a little confused but, amazingly, still loving it! Perhaps, I know it will get better and it just needs time...

There is something about this place that is infectious though. Anyone who's been here probably knows what I'm talking about. Have they got all of their stuff together? Not exactly (but who does these days?). Are they forging their own path to democracy? HECK YES! And it is quite the path, if I do say. On Tuesday of last week I attended the pancake dinner at St. George's Cathedral (the main Anglican church in Cape Town) and at the end the hysterical entertainer, Alvan, sang a song dedicated to South Africa and immediately the smiles and laughter turned into tears and a sense of deep love and commitment. "Hmmmm.." I wondered. It began to hit me that freedom and democracy that is taken, fought for, acquired on one's own is far more fitting and far more meaningful then one that is given or imposed. South Africa is creating herself out of a painful past...she and her people are choosing their destiny and their means of achievement. Friday was then the opening of Parliament with SO much to be discussed (just read up on some current issues in is INTENSE): HIV/AIDs, power shortages, ANC leadership rifts, land reform, immigration (with 25% of Zimbabweans now living in SA), the economy, etc, etc. But as the camera broke away from the sweating and flustered President Mbeki, the room was filled with MPs listening intently. There was white and black, male and female, urban and rural...all represented, all looking to move this country forward (at least for the most part). And they celebrated their differences! Embraced them! Women MPs embracing their femininity by wearing dresses, hats, and traditional dress instead of masculinized Western dress suits. Mrs. Mbeki was even wearing an Indian sari, so as to include the Indians of the country. There is just a sense here that everyone belongs, everyone has a voice, everyone's concern is legitimate and worth listening to.

Okay, so I know that seems a bit romanticized and perhaps it is. Is everyone jumping for joy in the streets? No. Ask those who are infected with HIV (the most infections of any country in the world) who lack access to ARVs or even simply adequate nutrition. Did they feel the same emotions or have the same thought processes as I? Maybe, maybe not. But I can tell you that this country is theirs just as much as anyone else...and they are fighting for it. It is the overall sense of hope, a hope that leads to results and reform (however so slowly). A hope that puts Jewish, Catholic and Moslem school children in the same classrooms and teaches them to pray and fast with the other. Maybe it is that stirring hope that gives me the patience to wait for the good, for a full life here even though it seems too much right now. But I still have to remember that it is now my turn to sit, to listen, and to learn. South Africa belongs to her people, the whole lot of them, and like so many countries around the world it has had its full share of American and Western opinions and analysis. So with wine, cheese and bread, I sit here to let South Africa quiet me, stir me, and prepare me for what lies ahead in the next 5 months.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Finally here!

Good Morning from the beautiful, wonderful, vibrant, gorgeous city of Cape Town!

As some of you may or may not know, I am in Cape Town for the semester studying at the University of Western Cape. I’ll be here until the end of June and I’ve decided (like so many others) to send out a large group email to keep everyone up to date on how things are going and what I am experiencing and learning while here. So, please don’t be offended by its largeness or broadness, just know that I am doing the best I can with limited email access (I guess it’s more like expensive email access) and the craziness of being someplace so new. But please email me back because I’d love to know how things are going with you (even if it has been a LONG time since we last communicated...I’m not so good at that...I seem to be getting progressively worse, actually). Oh, and if you think that there is anyone I missed who may want to see this, please feel free to forward it ahead.

So, after about 36 hours of flying and layovers, my group and I finally made it to Cape Town yesterday morning at 5am! At first I felt like I was about the only person who wasn’t excited when we landed. I just wanted to get off of the blasted plane and landing at airports has unfortunately lost its luster with me a bit. But after I came out of security and met our absolutely wonderful program director, Claire Collins, and saw the blue Cape sky I decided I never wanted to leave. Ha! When I say that Cape Town is beautiful, it is almost beyond description. I’ve had a few friends who have gone before and I’ve seen pictures, but it is not until you are here with the people, looking over the water, looking up at Table Mountain, and feeling the fresh breeze that you can fully appreciate just how incredibly and uniquely beautiful this place is. Uggh...its AMAZING!

When we got to our apartment, I got even more excited for the upcoming months. We are staying the neighborhood of Woodstock which is a great mix of people that is kind of on the up and up. The building we are staying in was a bought by a gracious man named Anwar a year or so ago and he has been working to transform it from a centre of neighborhood crime into an unbelievably lovely mix of a restaurant, a couple of businesses and then about 6 small apartments. Our rooms are all furnished with great antique furniture, tile floors, great windows, and views of Table Mountain behind us. Plus, the community here is great. Anwar’s parents are wonderful and we got the privilege of having dinner with his family last night. They are a great Muslim family with two kids and they have been so gracious with us.

This week is going to be full of firsts as we go to campus and register, as well as finishing up our orientation with Claire. I am most definitely nervous, but so excited as well! This is a country which has experienced deep pain and trauma because of apartheid, and it is kind of overwhelming to think about stepping into that even after a decade of democracy. But I know that this place has so much to teach my mind and my soul. My friend, Sara, challenged me to go into this semester with eyes open, ready to learn. I’m a person who loves to talk (I know, I know...surprising), and I think my time here will challenge me to shut my mouth and just learn. To love readily and be ready to be loved. To understand without having to know everything. I’m excited and I trust that my experience here has much more to offer than I can even fathom right now.

Well, I must go meet the local librarian to learn about the history of the Cape and Woodstock. Hopefully I won’t fall asleep and smash my head into a window like I did yesterday when the police were driving us around to show us what areas were safe and which were not...incredibly embarrassing.

I miss and love you all,