The Rhythm of Life
(or lack therof)
August 25, 2004
“In this world there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time… The first is unyielding, predetermined. The second makes up its mind as it goes along… Many are convinced that mechanical time does not exist… They do not keep clocks in their houses. Instead, they listen to their heartbeats. They feel the rhythms of their moods and desires… Then there are those who don’t think their bodies exist. They live by mechanical time. They rise at seven o’clock in the morning. They eat their lunch at noon and their supper at six. They arrive at their appointments on time, precisely by the clock… In short, the body is a machine, subject to the same laws of electricity and mechanics as an electron or clock… Where the two times meet, desperation. Where the two times go their separate ways, contentment… Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.” Alan Lightman –Einstein’s Dreams, pages 23-27
The two times have met and I am trying to trek my way through the desperation. The people of Africa give me the rhythm that all people should feel at some point in their life. The rhythm of life. This rhythm changes my perspective of work and play. It guides my moods and my energy. When I fall out of the rhythm of life I feel like I am the one person clapping on the off-beat. I have trouble staying in conversations, my eyes continually wonder to my watch, and I soon realize that I am lost. I am fortunate to have people that grab my hands and guide me back to the beat of African life. The rhythm is great when you have the beat. It’s like getting in your car after work on a beautiful Friday and hearing your favorite song the second the radio turns on. It’s like finishing a great book only to realize it is 5am.
Then there are times when the rhythm of life is my worst enemy. For example, when I wake up after four hours of sleep to go out with friends and they show up two and a half hours after the time I was told to be ready. When I am told to skip lunch because dinner is at 6pm and I take my first bite of food at 10pm. When I am not in rhythm it is a social nightmare. When I am out of rhythm I must wait till 2am to leave a party when I was ready to leave at 10pm. This is when I am frustrated that watches are mere ornaments. Uzofika sikhathisini? Ukuphi? Ngobani isikhathi? and Yisikhathi sini? These were the first Zulu phrases I learned which mean: What time are you coming? Where are you? At what time? and What time is it? Right now I am experiencing the frustrations of the African rhythm of life. It is 5:40pm and I am still at the office waiting for my 5:00pm ride.
At times the rhythm of life loses its importance. This occurs when I yearn for what it no longer at my fingertips. When I am reminded that the people my heart beats in time with are absent. The pulsing of my heart is hollow rather than whole, the beat drifts into a throb and the melodious vibrations that were once the force of life feel more like a hammer pounding a nail through my soul. Until now I have been unable to comprehend the powerful feelings that accompany life when the ones I love are absent. The feeling of absence is vastly different than the feeling of homesickness. Homesickness occurs when you miss something or someone. My closest friends and those I truly love are the sources of such pain. The absence of such a person was once described to me much more eloquently than I could ever write:
“You’re an intangible force in the rhythms of my life. You keep the rhythm, play the melody, and sing the music in a way that I thought I always could alone.”
In retrospect, I prefer feeling this pain rather than never feeling joyful, content, loved and even complete.
Knowing if I have the rhythm is simple. I can feel it in my step and in the pattern of my breath. I often catch myself being pulled out of rhythm when I am recalling a memory. I wasn’t in rhythm when the memory I am describing occurred- how can I convey it as if I was? I easily detect this change by how I identify the memory. When I am pulled out of rhythm I describe the event by when it occurred. For example, “This was my favorite song in the fall of the 8 th grade” (Shoop, Salt and Peppa). But when I am able to stay in the rhythm I describe the memory by identifying an event. So I would say, “This was my favorite song when my AAU team was playing in the finals of the state tournament”. In the past month it has been a rare occasion to hear someone identifying a memory with time. It is always an event or a feeling.
This makes calculating time very complicated. I am not sure why my time here is passing so quickly. Is it because I am having the time of my life? Or is it because I never have any clue what time or even day it actually is?
Then there are periods of time that simply do not move. These times can only be described as times of fear. When it is 4am and I wake up to a pounding noise on the window a few feet from my bed, time stands still. The fear is often misplaced, in this case it was 4 cats fighting on my window ledge, but it was fear. Fear when I am alone and in a foreign place is much different than Sunny barking in the middle of the night, or the house alarm going off when I am home alone. Both are real but vastly different. If I could name the two types of fear I would call one “comfortable fear” and the other “uncomfortable fear”. This may seem like a paradox, to be comfortable with fear, but to me the difference is obvious when I feel fearful.
It is now 6:15 and my 5:00pm ride is not here. I was in the rhythm of life all day, but I am slipping out of the groove. Breaking habits and undoing personal traits is not an easy task. The phone just rang, time to leave.
August 30, 2004
Wrapping up the Week, Month, & My Time at CSVR
View of Spectacular Meal Cooked by James (in Titans Jersey) for Saturday Evening Dinner Party
When I was instant messenging with my father this afternoon he asked me a difficult but thought provoking question: In 20 words or less what are the most important things you have learned in the past month?
My reply: hmmm... I have learned more about me than anything else: I adjust well and become a vastly different person if I need to, I am happier when I am in social environments (not always the case at home), I love learning about and experiencing different cultures...and more than anything else....there are people all around the world that are like my friends and family at home and are becoming some of the best freinds I have ever had (a little over 20 words)
This week is my last week at CSVR. Time has been flying by. I have enjoyed my time here and in the little bit of research I was able to accomplish I gained an understanding of the differences between US and South Africa law regarding sexual offences. I am currently creating several webpage’s for the Gender Programme. I feel unqualified for the job, being that I learned how to design a webpage a month ago. My knowledge is very basic. But with this project I feel as if I am doing something the organization really needs and it will definitely aid women who are looking for assistance online. Creating the webpage has also helped me develop an understanding for all of the projects the Gender Programme is currently running. I am impressed with the amount of projects the programme has and the diversity among the projects. The employees who work for the gender programme are incredibly hard working and truly enjoy what they are doing. Lisa’s energy and vast knowledge of the issues surrounding women always amazes me.
On Saturday I accomplished many errands that I needed to do weeks ago. I dropped off dry cleaning, getting groceries, and getting pictures printed. Biko and I ended up eating at Wimpy’s. Wimpy’s is South Africa’s version of Steak and Shake. We walked up to the hostess stand and waited to be seated. A waitress came and asked Biko how many and he replied, "Two”. She asked him where the other person was, and he turned and motioned to me and said “Right here”. She said, “No really, where is the other person, I don’t have time for this I am at work” Biko, again said, “Right here”. Then she passed him and came directly over to me and said, “Are you with him?” I said yes and she just started laughing. On the way to the table she said to Biko in Zulu, “You know you can always come home.” This is something that people have said to him on multiple occasions when he has been with me. Ironically we aren’t together there is usually several feel between us, but it is still problematic that we are friends.
After we left Wimpy’s we headed to Woolworths. Two men continued to follow me for several minutes in Woolworths. I told one of the men to back off, I knew something was up. Biko returned after several minutes of looking for Biltong. I turned to tell him about the men and as I did a woman passing by said, “Excuse me Miss, this man just stole your cell phone out of your bag.” As she said this the man threw my phone on a shelf and piled products around it. It was one of the two men who had been following me. I was not shocked or surprised, just incredibly angry. And I was not the only one. Biko confronted the man and got my cell phone back- as he was fighting with the man, the woman came over and asked where my phone was. I told her that Biko had it. She was confused because she thought he was with the people who stole the phone (because I was white and he and the two thieves were black). Soon, the security guards arrived and began speaking to Biko and the thief (in Zulu). The thief mistakenly told the security guard that his brother was with him, which forced them to apprehend him as well. I continued shopping alone while Biko went to make a statement on the incident. Apparently the man said that he had no money to get a cab and they were going to sell the phone for this purpose. Amusingly, Biko noticed that the men had two baskets of food and inquired as to how they were going to pay for the food. This is when the man said, "Look, I would not have stolen her phone had I known she was with you.” This made Biko even angrier. As if he was suppose to have compassion for this man because he was black and would have not targeted him if he had not been with a white person. The wonderful woman who saw the incident and was brave enough to say something bought me some chocolate and gave it to me while I was in line to check out. There are some things that are universal around the world- chocolate is comforting. Soon after leaving Woolworths Conor called. Hearing a voice from home, especially his, was exactly what I needed. Between the chocolate and hearing Conor's voice, I recovered quite quickly and went on to have a spectacular evening.
Saturday evening James threw a magnificent party. He invited several of his MBA friends over for a dinner party. It was a blast. The kitchen counter was covered with all sorts of good food. He cooked two large lamb fillets which fed at least eleven people. After dinner there was wine, crackers, and brie. As luck would have it one of James’s MBA friends is from Belle Meade, Tennessee. His brother went to Vanderbilt, which gave us a lot to talk about. It is comforting to speak to someone who has a similar background and can relate to your past. However, it was strange being called a “Vandy Girl” on the other side of the world. There are some stereotypes that are impossible to shake.
Culture differences appear at the strangest times and often become evident in the most peculiar situations. As dinner was served, I instantly noted how perfect the lamb was cooked. Meat is a very important dish to me and I was looking forward to a succulent piece of lamb. Differences in cuisine are one of the most difficult adjustments to make when abroad, and this meal felt familiar. A few moments into the meal Biko announced his confusion, “the lamb was bleeding.” There was no way he could eat meat that was still alive. It was more than amusing to me, it was hysterical. Being the only black person at the party the question quickly became, “Is this a cultural difference or personal preference”. In the end it was decided that is was a cultural difference. I don’t know if this difference exists in the US. After the discussion I recalled how many times in the past month I have thought to myself, “this meat is way overdone”. Then I realized this was the first time a white person had cooked a meal for me since I had arrived.
Sunday was a spectacular day. I went shopping for Paul and Sunny’s birthday presents at Rosebank, a local flea market. I can't report what I bought Paul because he is certain to read this, but Sunshine got a leather dog collar that was decorated with beautifully hand painted African Animals. The collar was about $8.50 which was a great deal. However, the dollar has dropped significantly. When I was here two years ago I bought the same collar for the same amount of Rands (South Africa's currency) and at the time I was spending about $3.80. After the flea market I met friends for dinner at the Waterfront. My memories from my last trip to South Africa are vivid; so vivid it is bizarre. At the flea market I was looking at animal skins at a booth. I remembered talking to the owner of the booth two years ago when I visited. I asked her how her daughter in Manhattan was doing and she was shocked. I remembered that her daughter was running a camp in Manhattan for children with HIV. Then when I arrived at the Waterfront it was as if I had been there yesterday. I remembered walking into a bowling alley there while kids were Glow Bowling and then spilling my Coke Light on Lee (Dr. Berger, Wits professor) when we were getting pizza. All in all it was a great weekend and last night I slept. What a difference it makes.
The Not So Itsy Bitsy Spider
August 25, 2004
None but a coward dares to boast that he has never known fear.
- Ferdinand Foch
There are some things you cannot prepare yourself for. I have bungee jumped. I have walked alone under the African sky, carefully monitoring the animal eyes that shine in the not to distant brush. I have been cornered on a trail by an angry deer. For a brief period Paul and I had a pet snake. I have held a tarantula in my hands. I am traveling Africa solo. Panic does not come easily. Until I see a spider over one foot long, nearly two feet from my bed. I thought it was a joke similar to the one Conor played last time we were in Africa. He bought fake insects and put them in our friends’ sleeping bags. I immediately went to James and asked if it he was playing a horrific joke on me. He wasn’t. I refused to return to my room and forced James to assess the situation and report back. It was real. James disposed of the spider and I sat in the living room composing myself for several minutes. Finally, I headed back to the bathroom in order to brush my teeth. I approached the bathroom with great caution, fearing for the worst. And the worst happened. There was another spider, exactly the same as the first. I panicked. I couldn’t breathe. How could this be happening? In Kampala or Lusaka I would have been prepared but not in the middle of an extraordinarily nice house in Johannesburg. There is little worse than feeling frightened. If I were in the park nature center I could have held the beast. However, the situation was tipped in his favor. He not only caught me off guard, but he was also on my turf-only a few feet from my bed!
The rest of the night was a blur. Currently, sleep is a precious commodity that I can’t seem to find. I am thankful when the hours total up to four. The spider has significantly diminished my chances of reaching that goal. I sleep in long pants, socks, and a long sleeved shirt, with my head under the comforter (I might as well be sleeping in the oven). However, to make light of the situation, I will be prepared for the upcoming months in Uganda and Zambia.
After note- After circulating the pictures to friends and co-workers we have come to the conclusion that it is a type of baboon spider, Americans call it a Tarantula.
August 22, 2004
Lost in Translation
“Some experiences simply do not translate you have to go to know”- Kobi Yamada
I find no words that can adequately describe what I am experiencing. The distance and differences in cultures makes it difficult to relay the intricacies of life. This agitates me because I long to share my emotions, exhaustion, and expereince. This only intensifies my frustration in the lack of communication I am experience on a day to day basis. Communication has been the biggest hurdle I have faced thus far. People show up at wrong times, places, or don't even show up at all. People have conversations in languages I don't speak and then expect me to know the plan they just mapped out in Zulu. I hope my expereince doesn't get lost in translation like everything else in Africa.
I am extremely busy at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. I am writing letters to the chair of a Parliament committee regarding a Sexual Offences Bill that will be discussed in the upcoming months. I am also making an extensive table in the changes that have been made as the bill has progressed through the different stages of the bill making process. I will add this table to my website soon. Working at the District Attorney's Office in Nashville last summer was an invaluable expereince. I gained a limited understanding of the sexual offences laws in the United States which has been extremely useful in my work at CSVR. I only have 2 more weeks at CSVR before I move to a Women's Center just outside of Soweto. I will be living with an Indian family who has 2 little boys and one little girl.
Last week I began wondering why I haven't gotten homesick yet and then I realized that I have not had one free second. Literally I have had something planned from the second I wake up until the second I go to sleep. I hope my entries convey how busy and Happy I am.
Friday I went to another taping of a South African reality show. Always very interesting. At least I wasn’t in the audience this time! Friday evening I had to ride with several South Africa musicians to their home in Pretoria. They had performed on the show and needed transport home. I have the opportunity to do so many things that I don’t even consider doing in the US. For example, when I was with the musicians waiting for their ride to arrive I was taught a short rap in Zulu.
Saturday morning I hitched a ride to Sandton, a very nice area of Jo’burg. I had decided to take a break from my routine and relax- which meant hitting a mall. I realized while I was shopping that for the first time on my trip I was by myself (outside of the bus on the way to work, and walking to get food at lunch). I had a few hours of time to think and shop and felt great when I left. James, my housemate, had a party for the tri-nations rugby tournament on Saturday afternoon. The tri-nations rugby tournament is comparable to the NCAA basketball tournament. South Africa won for the first time in several years. After the game we went to several pubs. I imagine the celebrations were similar to what the Dukies reading this site expereinced after winning the tournament. The streets were closed and people of all ages were waving South African flags and singing the National Anthem. It was quite an experience. I spent the rest of the evening with James and his friends. At the end of the night I was exhausted. I had been engaged in conversation for 12 hours with new friends. I realized I am less tried after spending the same amount of time with my black South African friends because I have time to process the events while the group is speaking different languages. However, it is nice to know what is going on! James took me to a nice restaurant/bar at the end of the evening. This was the first place I have been in South Africa were blacks and whites were mixing. Although the culture, dress, and music was more similar to the white culture, it was still hopeful to learn that such a place exists.
Sunday was a spectacular day. The Ngcobo Family planned an extravagant surprise party for their mother and my close friend, Fikile. It was her 60th birthday and on her birthday last year her house burnt down. In celebration of her life they invited family and friends to a surprise party. Biko (who is her son) and I were responsible for getting her to the party. Before we picked her up two interesting events occurred-
1. First we went to a car wash in Soweto. I am nearly certain I am the first white person to hang out at this car wash. Once again I met people who have never spoken to or touched a white person before. This happened last week and I wrote a lengthy story about it in a journal entry that is posted on this site. Often when I am speaking to someone for the first time (males and females of all ages) they will just stare at me in the strangest way. Then- they ask me if my eyes are really that light or if I have contacts. They say they have never actually looked at eyes the color of mine. This is amusing to me but forces people to look at me in the eyes when talking.
2. When Biko rounded the corner onto a freeway a cop was standing in the road and motioned him over. We had no idea what was going on. He walked up to the window and made Biko get out of the car and walk away. They were speaking Zulu so I didn’t know what had been said. The cop got in the driver seat and shut the door. He began asking me questions like- what type of relationship to you have with this man, where do you live, what do you do, etc. In situations such as this one I have learned to say that I still live in Soweto (where I lived at the beginning of the trip). I then must prove that I know the area by answering a series of questions but it changes the tone of the conversation significantly. For those of you who don’t know, Soweto is an all black township outside of Jo’burg where the Anti-Apartheid movement began. I wasn’t nervous just very confused. He left the car and went to speak to Biko. The cop had no reason to pull us over and probably did because I was white. The cop said he motioned Biko over because he had a tail light out but the cop was standing in front of the car and was definitely not aware of the tail light at the time. He told Biko he wouldn’t give him a ticket if he paid him. Neither of us had cash on us but the cop didn’t believe it because I was white. He kept saying in Zulu- “you have a white chick with you, I know you have money!!” We eventually made it away without paying the “fine”.
When we finally arrived at the party with Fikile everyone was standing and dancing and singing. There were several presentations given by her children. It reminded me of the fellowship that occurs within the Fleschner Family. The party resembled the “Celebration of Life” the Fleschner’s had this summer for my great aunts and uncles. There were so many peopls there and the energy was similar to what I feel at my family functions. I have never met another family that has so many similarities to my own- it is so strange that I found one on the other side of the world! Although, the food is much different than Indiana cooking- it is amazing (Grandma-nothing compares to your noodles). I look forward to sharing their recipes when I return. The Ngcobo boys (little ones ages 2-5) have adopted me as their surrogate mother which makes things very interesting since many of them are just beginning to learn English and I am just beginning to learn Zulu. I quickly learned that a little one holding up two fingers does not mean you are getting the peace sign- it means they have to go number 2!!
August 17, 2004
The value of experince and the Vanderbilt education
Today was an insightful day. Everything makes much more sense. The Gender Based Violence Program had a strategic planning meeting today. I wish that it would have been scheduled on the day I started work. The day began with Graeme Simpson, co-founder of CSVR, discussing the organization’s vision. Challenging the way the organization and public view peace is integral in developing a vision for the organization that addresses gender issues. The current discourse around peace focuses on warring nations but rarely addresses issues such as violence against women. However, the world can not live in peace until the issue of violence against women is addressed.
South Africa has been a democratic nation for 10 years. It is important to identify the groups that continue to be marginalized within the formal democratic system of South Africa. By identifying these groups CSVR hopes to then identify the risks for future violence in South Africa. CSVR has identified 3 ways to build sustainable peace: Reconciliation: Rebuilding Relationships, Institutional Transformation and Social Justice.
CSVR also strives to keep a connection with the community, rather than becoming an NGO that solely performs research. CSVR not only hopes to maintain a local connection to the communities in South Africa but hopes to expand their research and programs into the global sphere.
The benefits of HOD were very obvious today. I was familiar with every stage of the strategic planning session. We completed a SWOT analysis of the organization and I understood the process and was able to participate. HOD is applicable to every organization, corporation, etc.
The SWOT analysis illustrated the differences in structural development between the US and South Africa. A reoccurring issue CSVR faces is technology. Simple things such as having a mail merge on Microsoft Word would make the entire organization more productive and functional. CSVR as an organization with approximately 65 employees has one fax modem that rarely functions. Again, the lack of an effective communication framework hinders the success of many organizations. This is extremely frustrating when the ideas, projects, and research of the CSVR are groundbreaking. Furthermore, the equipment is readily available in South Africa. There is not an understanding of how technology would enhance the quality of work and effectiveness of the organization.
It will be interesting to see how the Gender Based Violence Program of CSVR transitions into the new role they have designed.
August 18, 2004
"Traveling alone is not lonely, it's an extremely powerful feeling, very similar to love-it's that kind of strength. It's partly the joy of total aloneness- not loneliness-of being part of the land, as far as you can see.."
-Christina Dodwell, Travels with Pegasus
I have learned more about myself in the past 3 weeks than I have learned in years. I thrive in hectic, unfamiliar environments. The unfamiliarity exhausts me but I am truly myself and extraordinarily happy when I am forced to live on the edge. This explains so many things- wanting to travel alone through Africa and missing life in the heart of Soweto! My heart is light and every breath I breathe is deep, easily filling my lungs with the African air. The African air gives me energy and happiness by teaching me about what I live for and what I love. I love going to different social functions with my new friends. It forces me to stretch my mind to its limit and test myself. I love having to learn the tiniest but most important details of life that make every culture unique. This is what fascinates me. I like finding out why someone is laughing at me, and then teaching them about my culture. I love sharing my experiences and trying to convey the importance of understanding other cultures. I love wondering if I am watching a movie of someone else’s life. My experience is surreal and following a routine is no longer a comfort.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Initiated into the South African Culture
Work always interferes with life; especially when you are passionate about your work. On Saturday I sat with Kevin (a friend introduced us last week) out on the balcony of his office to watch the New Zealand vs. South Africa rugby match. Kevin began asking me why I was in South Africa. I explained the type of work that I am doing and told him that my main interest is rape. The next 35 minutes were incredible. For the first time in my life someone has openly and honestly discussed rape with me. No matter how mad the conversation made me I am glad it happened.
After I explained my research Kevin stated that he didn't really believe in rape. I couldn't respond, my heart froze. I wish that I could take him to a shelter or a hospital or a crisis center so he could see what rape is and what it does. After a few minutes of debate he conceded that gang rape and rape when someone is abducted is real rape but unwanted sex between boyfriends and girlfriends, friends, or husbands and wives should not be constituted as rape. I went through several different cases I encountered while working at the DA's office in Nashville but his stance was unmovable. I asked him how he would feel if his sister were raped. He responded, "if she had sex with the guy before then it's not rape". I then asked how he would feel if he were raped. His answer is not appropriate to publish but he basically said if he were abducted by several nasty women he would just go ahead and have sex with them. This was unbelievable to me. How could someone as intelligent as Kevin not believe in rape?
I couldn't compose myself. The rest of the day I was fighting anger and sadness. Later that eveing Biko and I went to a birthday party for one of his co-workers. On the way to the party we were stopped at a stop sign and a man in a truck sped past us, flipping us off. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that Biko was very angry and we began to follow the man. A few weeks earlier three men had been murdered because of road rage, so I was nervous. The man pulled into a gas station and Biko got out of the car and went to speak to him. The man (who was white) told him that he was in a hurry and Biko wasn't making up his mind at the stop sign. Fortunately Biko walked away and the argument ended there. The party was fun and once again interesting. Everyone is always very nice to me. I watched a gay man take a girls high heels, put them on, and dance around for hours. Everything that I have read so far suggests that gays are not accepted in Africa. Everyone was watching and laughing, but he was being very dramatic and enjoyed the attention. No one was hateful or mean to him. It was great to be at a place where all types of people were accepted (white and gay.)
I met Swazi at the party and enjoyed talking to him. He was nice and seemed like the type of person I would be friends with. I had talked to him several times on the phone that same day. When he arrived I heard someone yelling my name up and down the halls of the house. I turned the corner and said "hi". He said "do you know who Kristin is? I replied, "I am Kristin". Swazi said, "No way, you are white!" He actually thought that I was a black South African the entire time he had been on the phone with me! This made my day because most of the time people have such trouble understanding me when I talk. When I order water at a restaurant I usually have to say it at least four times before the waiter has any clue what I am asking for. Sometimes I have to change my order.
Yesterday I experienced a South African baby shower. Biko picked me up in the morning and I ran errands with him and his five year-old nephew Mpilo(Mplio means "life"). He is darling and I love spending time with him. First, we went to BabyCity, a place kind of like Toys R Us, to get a present for the shower. We picked out two stuffed animals. Shopping was very interesting. Everyone stared at us more than usual and we finally decided it was because we had Mpilo with us. We think that everyone thought that Biko and I were together and Mpilo was his child. Apparently it wouldn't be unacceptable to have a child with a black woman and then leave her for a white woman. Even though people treat each other respectfully there are still a lot of hidden rules.
After our shopping trip we began delivery invitations for Fikile's surprise birthday party. The Ngcobo House caught fire on Fikile's birthday last year. This year, they are throwing her a surprise party.
The baby shower was great! Fikile's daughter, Nomsa, is eight and a half months pregnant. Fikile invited me to the party earlier in the week. I had so much fun! Everyone seemed excited that I was there and they happily explained the shower traditions. They had painted Nomsa's face with baby powder. She had to guess every present before opening it. After she opened a present she had to drink a sip of a nasty concoction including raw eggs, baby powder, and baby food. There are always millions of kids running around the Ngcobo house. They sit on my lap, and ask me to help them eat and tie their shoes. It seems like they have known me forever. Wandi(which means "addition"), took a particular liking to me. He is quiet but very sweet. Mpilo and Kamo (which means "acceptance") got in an argument over a ball but made up by hugging and saying "I love you". Biko later told me that one of his sisters asked him to introduce Dusty (me). Dusty is a white girl in an African TV show. They all thought this was very funny and began laughing. I had no idea they were laughing at me!
Biko lives around the corner form the Hector Petersen Museum which is in Soweto. After Nomsa's baby shower, Biko and I walked to the Hector Peterson Museum. It was closed because it was Sunday afternoon, but there were still people on the streets outside the museum selling African art. On the way to the museum a man approached Biko and began speaking to him. I listened to their conversation, even though I had no idea what was going on. I was nervous because the man kept pointing at me. I was afraid that he was mad Biko was walking with a white person. After several minutes the man shook my hand and began speaking to me. He told me that the apartheid was over. Biko and I walking in the streets of Soweto was proof that the apartheid was over! He said that he has known Biko since he was a "little man" and that I should stay with him forever. The man went on talking about Biko for several minutes before leaving.
Biko translated the discussion for me after the man left. Apparently the man said that he had been trying to talk to another woman who was walking down the street. She refused to speak to him and kept walking away. He followed her and said "look at them (pointing to Biko and me), if a black guy and a white girl can walk together you should at least speak to a black man". The man wanted to tell us what happened and share his excitement with us. After telling his story he asked Biko several questions about me. He wanted to know who I was and where I was from. The man told Biko that he had never touched a white person before. Biko told him that he could kiss my hand if he wanted. The man told him he was too nervous to do that, but he wanted to shake my hand. After he shook my hand he told Biko he was so happy because he thought that he would die before he ever touched a white person. I am not sure if there are still places in the United States that are as segregated as parts of South Africa like Soweto. I am fortunate to have friends like James and Biko who share their lives with me. It is rare that a person simulatanously experiences two cultures that are usually very separated.
After the shower we went to hang out with some friends. This was yet another surreal experience. The house we went to in Soweto was magnificent. It was not only large but extremely nice on the inside. In the car Biko explained to me that the blatant differences in wealth and class in Soweto make it difficult for children. Biko's friends who were very poor stole his toys when he was little, and he had to be very selective of who he chose to be friends with. Even today he has trouble relating to some of his childhood friends.
Standing outside the house were 10 guys just hanging out and I realized that even in the US one white girl approaching 10 African-American guys would be uncommon. We walked into the house and upstairs to find another group of friends. They were sitting on leather couches, playing PlayStation on a flat screen TV. One of the guys ordered that the PlayStation game be put on hold because something needed to be straightened out. For the next half an hour the entire group made fun of Panza (which means "bottlecap") for a girl he liked. Some things remain contant no matter what continent you are on! During this discussion a huge tray of tender ribs and bread was brought to us. The tray fed all 15 guys who were hanging out.
Thursday,August 12, 2004
Tuesday morning Samar and I took a cab in to work. It was quite funny- the driver asked us if we were cross with each other because we weren’t talking- we were both so tired. CSVR hosted a mini-conference on rape as part of Women’s Week. There were several panels and I learned a lot. Police officers, researchers, and prosecutors spoke and shared their stories. None of the speakers denied that rape was a problem. It does appear that the different groups (governement, NGOs, and organizations) have trouble communicating and working together. During my 2 weeks in South Africa communication has been the biggest problem. When I say communication I don’t mean that people don’t talk, they ramble. They don’t get to the point and make goals and plans. When plans are finally made they are always completed but getting to that stage is incredibly difficult. I have asked several people about this problem and everyone knows that it exists. It would be easier for everyone if there was a mediator in every conversation who made sure the two people talking got to the point- obviously this is driving me nuts! Fortunately CSVR is very organized and I have not had to deal with this problem at work.
By the end of the conference it became apparent that children are more protected and supported in South African law than women. I understand the importance of having protection for children because they can’t protect themselves, but in my eyes a gang rape is a gang rape. Being a 35 year-old women should not be an excuse used by the government to explain the inequalities. There were so many stories of fathers who raped their children and were never convicted. The South African Court system is not flexible enough to consider the ability and emotional state of the victims or witnesses. For example, if a child is raped by her father she must testify against him, most often with him in the courtroom (occasionally videotaping works). If the victim cries, seems unstable, or changes her opinion throughout the testimony her statements are used against her and sometimes thrown out. Protective clauses must be passed to maintain the victims rights.
Tuesday evening was Samar’s last night. A group of us went to see African Footprints, it was great. The show illustrates the different types of dances and music throughout Africa. Maloti had such an amazing time and I am glad she was able to come. Maloti is a domestic worker and is extremely intelligent. She is bored with her work and is grateful for being included. When Africans find out that we bring her along, they are shocked. One person asked me if she had things at home to do!!! Tuesday evening James, Samar, and I went to 7 th street in Melville and got drinks. We were celebrating Samar’s amazing trip. I already miss Samar. We had such an amazing week and learned so much about ourselves and each other in the process. I wouldn’t be as comfortable and happy as I am now without her help.
Tuesday night was interesting. It was after 1am before I finally got ready to go to bed. It was my first night alone in James’ house. At 3:30am Conor called and told me that Patrick had died flying a mission. While I was talking to Conor the alarm in the house started to go off and continued to go off. I had to get off the phone with Conor and call James (I wasn’t about to leave my room and walk down the hall to his with the alarm sounding). We were able to get the alarm to stop going off but I was terrified the rest of the night. My entire room is windows and it would be easy to break into. After this happened James showed me where the panic button was in my room. The panic button is a small button in each room and when you press it you alarm the police and they arrive quickly. The idea of having a panic button in every room is very foreign to me and it reminds me of the dangers that exist. It is incredibly easy to feel safe after you have created a daily routine and you are familiar with the territory. Finding such comfort is unsafe in Johannesburg because personal safety is nearly always an issue.
I was up the rest of the night worrying about Conor, Conor’s family, and Ally. The accident seemed surreal at first as if it couldn’t have happened. They haven’t found the wreckage yet and don’t know the cause of the accident. The investigation is classified and they will not know more details for 6-8 months. Conor will be leaving this weekend for California and will be there for much of next week. It is strange how I cope when I am so many miles away. The last three times I have left home someone has died, this is not new for me. It is difficult to explain details to people you don't know well. The distance does not make anything easier.
Yesterday was a horrendous day. I hadn’t slept in so many days, I felt like I wasn’t part of my body. My body was going through the routine and my mind was just tagging along. It was the second day of the rape conference. At the beginning of the conference we had to stand and give a moment of silence for a young boy who died yesterday. He was attacked while herding sheep. Traditional healers believe that ears, hands, brains, and genitalia are very powerful parts of the body and use them in their practices. All of these body parts were removed so the motive of the killing was quite clear. This type of medicine is called Muthi.
Lisa, my boss, presented her research study on the Boksburg Courts. It was quite damning. She gave examples of secondary victimization at many levels and illustrated the aspects of the current law that is failing to protect victims. After Lisa’s presentation a prosecutor from the National Prosecuting Authority, spoke in response to Lisa’s presentation. Again, the problems were not denied by the prosecutor, she just gave an explanation as to why the problems existed. It makes more sense but is still not acceptable. Figuring out how to make changes in the system is a huge challenge.
I worked on my website at CSVR until 8pm last night. Kenny was here working on CSVR’s website and he was very helpful. At 8pm I called a cab and headed towards Melville. I was worried about waiting for a cab in the dark streets of Johannesburg. The security guard at the building where I work offered to stand outside with me. Everyone here is so helpful!
I finally met Robin, James’ girlfriend. She is very nice. They knew it had been a long day and invited me to eat dinner with them. They made an excellent pasta platter that reminded me of a dish Paul made for the family just before I left. After dinner Robin made me a malt drink that had sleeping powder in it. I am not sure what sleeping powder is but it works. It was mixed with milk and water and tasted just like grapenuts. I finally slept 7 hours without waking up- I feel like myself again this morning!
I decided to take the bus for the first time this morning. Taxis are so expensive here- much more expensive than they are in NYC. For example, a Taxi Ride from my house to work costs $8. On the bus it was $1, and the driver could tell I didn’t know what I was doing so he didn’t charge me. I didn’t know if it was the right bus or where I should get off because I couldn’t understand the driver. I think he was speaking English but I am not sure. A few stops after mine a woman sat down in the seat next to me. I asked her questions and it was obvious she was from America. She asked me where I was from and ironically she lives in Illinois, only 20 minutes from my house in Indiana. The world is so small.
The Sky is the Limit
August 7, 2004
Today was an amazing day. I anticipate it will be remembered as one of the most memorable, powerful days of my entire fellowship. I went to Sky Orphanage in Kliptown, Soweto. The day was planned in celebration of the upcoming Women’s Day to thank all of the women who have made the orphanage possible. Women’s Day is a public holiday in South Africa- just like Memorial Day or Labor Day in the United States. We arrived in a caravan of nice cars, including multiple Mercedes. The display of wealth was humiliating. Seeing the Mercedes parked next to the buildings at the orphanage illustrated the vast differences in classes. Even within the township of Soweto one can see million dollar homes next door to tin shacks. As we drove through the “streets” of Kliptown children were chasing the car yelling “SWEETS! SWEETS!”. I saw one man pick up a bag of trash near a dumpster, pull out a banana peel, and begin eating. Sadly, hunger is always present.
The orphanage is set in the middle of the Kliptown Township. It consists of four or five buildings painted decoratively. When we arrived there were children running around everywhere. The children ushered our group into the restaurant where everyone introduced themselves. This was quite inspiring, many of the women had been working with orphans for 35 years. One gogo (grandmother) was considered the mother of over 500 children. I spoke with her after lunch and she is going to call me because she has several sexually abused children living with her. She mentioned at least three children who had been raped by their fathers. One boys father had killed his mother and raped him on multiple ocassions. This man will be getting out of jail soon because the child’s testimony could not be used because he was crying and scared to speak in court with his father present.
The director of the Orphanage had prepared a special lunch for us which consisted of many foods you can only find in Kliptown.It was difficult to eat the meal because I knew food was so scarce and rationed carefully to the children. The director had told us that all children receive breakfast, but only the most ill childrenreceived dinner. The dinner was prepared from the leftover breakfast foods. Only recently had the orphange been able to send peanut butter sandwiches with the children to school for lunch. How could I indulge in food when I knew there might be children outside who needed it much more than me. I filled a small plate to show my appreciation for their hospitality to our group.
After lunch we headed to the yard to watch two performances. Two little boys between the ages of two and three who lived at the orphanage became very interested in my camera. I took a self portrait of myself with the boys and showed them the picture on the camera screen. They went crazy! I am unsure if they had ever really seen themselves- in pictures, or in a mirror. They followed me around for the rest of the afternoon grabbing my camera at every chance they got!
After everyone finished eating lunch the performances began. The first performance was given by 5 female orphans who danced. They were incredible! The next group was 5 boys who performed a dance. The boys wore gumboots and danced while slapping the plastic boots with their hands. I had never seen this type of dancing before. They were fantastic!
After the performances our group received a tour of Kliptown. I have always wanted to walk through a township and try to comprehend the life many people throughout the world live. I want to clarify the type of township I was in- it had no roads, there was 1 spout of water to every 5,000 people, very few outhouses (which are used by thousands and only emptied once a week causing many people to use buckets in their shacks as toilets), and virtually no yards. The people make light of every situation. Our guide explained to us that despite disease, and lack of sanitation, having one spout for an entire community was good because it was a meeting ground for locals. This is where friends were made.
The one-room homes are made of tin and rocks hold the top piece of tin (the roof) down. I am guessing the average size of the shacks was 10ft X 15ft. We walked through an entire section and saw several families sitting together, women doing laundry, and chickens running around. We witnessed one fight between the occupants of two shacks. They were fighting over 2 feet of dirt yard. One family had put up a new fence and emotions were running high. We quickly left the area. Before leaving, an elderly woman invited us into her shack. She was in her 70’s and she lived by herself. Her shack was very clean despite the lack of space. She had a small stove (obviously not electrical) a cot to sleep on, and a bucket for the toilet. Our tour guide, a man who lives in Kliptown, explained to us that the tin makes the temperature inside even more extreme than the temperature outside. He said “we don’t need to turn on the television to find out what the weather is”. One problem that is easily noticed in Kliptown is trash disposal. Trash is everywhere which encourages the spread of disease. The area does not have basic trash disposal even though they are in the city limits of Johannesburg. Making small changes, such as providing trash disposal would reduce pollution and create a sense of hope among the residents.
This has been one of the most powerful days of my life. It is easy to look at pictures of townships and say how horrible it is for people to have to live in places such as Kliptown. Holding an orphan in my arms who deals with such dire living conditions is not something I can forget. I can't lay the picture down and forget what I have experienced in the township. It is real and engraved in my mind.
One thing I must discuss is the issue of safety. Since I visited Johannesburg two years ago I have heard “never go to a township” more times than I can count. But I felt safe. They want us to share their story with the world they don’t have access to. The three year-old boy who was fascinated with my camera asked me who I was going to give the picture of him to. I told him that I would share it with my family and friends. He then asked if they would send him food after they saw his picture. I promised the little boy I would pass his picture along to many people to teach them about his life.