After visiting the Masiyile High School on Thursday, I’m fairly certain that this is where I want to do my service project. In the upcoming week we will have needs analysis meetings to determine where our help is most needed, and I should also know for sure by the end of this week where I will be placed. Actual service should begin by the following Monday, two weeks from now.
In other news, I’m becoming more and more aware of what it means to be an American. And for the first time in my life, I know how it feels to be referred to as “you people.” Last evening I was having a chat with one of our security persons. One topic of our discussion: Nelson Mandela. In America, we have this image of Mandela as a nation-changer, a transformer, a hero. He is all of these things, for sure. But why does Mandela need so many houses, one in several towns, while so many people are still suffering? Nopi’s point was clear. At the end of the day, even Mandela is only human.
We also talked about Oprah’s school for girls in Johannesburg. In Nopi’s opinion, the school was like a prison. The girls aren’t allowed to have cell phones or laptops or any connection with the outside world. This is the thing about education, especially in Africa. Education is both liberating and imprisoning. Most parents wish for their children to be more educated than they were. This wish is motivated by the idea that if they are more educated, they will have better lives. But education can also tear people away from their families. Like this school, for instance (and there are many others doing the same thing). I don’t think it’s all bad. I just think that, along with educating our children, we need to instill in them a sense of connection and respect for where they come from so that they may one day return to the towns and villages and schools they were raised in and return something to the communities that helped socialize them.
You know, I am beginning to increasingly admire people like Nopi, people with strong opinions. I am not talking about people who are simply stubborn. I am talking about people who have legitimate reasons for believing what they believe - people who are not easily swayed by things or ideas that contradict their personal values and beliefs. People who are willing to analyze opposing viewpoints and amend their own viewpoints if, after considering the opposing argument, they believe that certain opposing viewpoints could actually enhance their personal codes of conduct and help them live a happier, more purposeful, and more fulfilling life.
Nopi is proud to be South African. He says he wouldn’t leave his country for anything. He has South African pride. He would visit other countries, yes – first Manchester United’s stadium in England, then the U.S. and Spain and Italy, but he could never live there. And you know what is one of the biggest reasons why he couldn’t leave South Africa? What would he eat?! Where would he get his pap? “You people eat these… lettuce and call it a meal. That’s not a meal! I’m talking about soul food. I have to keep this big belly of mine or I would get thin as this (he holds up his pinky finger).”
After going to the grocery store today, I realized how much I have been viewing South Africa from a sociological perspective. Some people have been especially kind to us foreigners, others not so much. But it is nothing we should take personally. There is a whole legacy of apartheid which we have walked into here. My skin is the color of the class of oppressors. To many, that makes me one of them. It is not my fault that some might view me grudgingly or interact with me with bitterness. It is because they have suffered, or their families have suffered, and in fact they continue to suffer because of apartheid – this ideology that the color of skin determines the value of a person. But I did not choose to be born in the country I was born. I did not choose the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, or the family that I have. All of this was decided for me. And until we can recognize that we are not personally responsible for our history, until we can accept the fact that no one’s living conditions are because of them but because of society, we cannot begin to change the future.
7 years ago