Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Farewell, Cape Town.

This final blog post is dedicated to the fifteen people with whom I have lived for the past five months, and also to Angela and Ronel, who are largely responsible for making this program possible. On Thursday evening at our “Closing the Circle” reflection session, I opted not to share my final thoughts right then and indicated that I would prefer to share my thoughts in written form. This, bhutis and sisis, is for you. This is for each of one you.

There are many things that I am good at, but saying goodbye has never been one of them. In all of the summer camps and programs and teams that I’ve ever been a part of, I dread the anticipation of separating yet again from human beings with whom I have woven some sort of web connecting the two of us within some larger entanglement with humanity. Perhaps this is part of the reason that, prior to arriving in South Africa, I had consciously prepared myself for the fact that these were temporary relationships I would be forming, and that maintaining some distance between those with whom I could potentially form relationships would make it easier to leave at the end.

Well, on Saturday I discovered that this is impossible, that forming relationships with people is something that happens despite even our greatest efforts to prevent this very thing from occurring. This is what my tears from Saturday taught me. Each of you has revealed to me something about the hidden mysteries of life. Many of you have shown me parts of me that I did not know existed; others of you confirmed for me things that I did know and, for this, I thank you.

More than anything else, for me, this semester has been one of personal growth and self-discovery. I am not the same person as when I arrived in Cape Town in January. Many things about me are the same – I still don’t enjoy going out to clubs or bars (they really are all the same to me), I still like to go to bed before midnight and to wake up early in the morning, and I still like to have a clean room and kitchen. But many things have also changed. As an individual I have grown more confident in myself and my own authority to make decisions, even when those decisions – whether that decision be to not go to Long Street with the masses, or to hop a flight to India – do not seem reasonable or rational to others; they make sense to me, and at the end of the day, it is me to whom I have to answer and who holds myself accountable for my decisions and actions. Many of you have supported me and encouraged me to have the strength to make and follow through with these decisions, particularly regarding the latter (India).

Naturally, I became closer with some of you than others; but know that each of you has played a significant role in shaping the person I am becoming, whether by challenging my own beliefs and attitudes or through the friendship we have formed over the past few months. I will not make “shout outs” here – you know who you are. Regardless of whether or not we ever have the privilege of meeting again, I will hold you dear to my heart indefinitely and am glad that you were able to join me during this portion of my life journey.

Aside from my personal development, there is also my experience of Africa. I was guilty of falling victim to the belief that Africa was in need of saving. Many of you will recall my enthusiasm to teach in South Africa; perhaps this was the way I had envisioned “saving” the children here. But after a few visits at Mannenberg and Masiyile, I felt that doing service at those schools would be emotionally and physically draining – not to mention that it would have been virtually impossible for me to maintain distance from those children. For this reason, and also because I have had quite a bit of experience working in school settings, I opted to work with Equal Education, which I imagined would allow me to further my experience in the area of education but through a different approach than ever I had taken before. (You all have heard more than enough about our experiences at Equal Education, so I will not belabor it here. I am glad for the experiences I had with EE and do not regret it, but if I had to choose all over again, I would have stayed with my gut instinct to go to Mannenberg and I would have immersed myself with those kids to the point that leaving them in June would have been almost impossible.) To Betsy and Laurie, I really admire your dedication to those kids and all of the efforts you made for them.

The point that I was trying to come to in the previous paragraph is one that I mentioned in an earlier blog post, namely that Africa is not in need of being saved. She does need our charity, or our missionaries, or any other kind of aid. And if She does, She knows where to find us. Yes, there are many problems in South Africa, most if not all of which are lingering legacies of Apartheid. But what country is without problems? When people hear “South Africa” they think of crime, Apartheid, murder, injustice, corruption, destitute poverty, Nelson Mandela, and Jacob Zuma’s denial of a link between HIV and AIDS. When I think of South Africa – and especially of Cape Town – I think of a microcosm of many worlds where injustice has been done yet life continues; a diaspora of skin colours and languages and income levels; a country with little hope for the future yet which does have a hopeful future.

At the moment I am safe and sound in India, where I have again found myself dropped into a country so different from anything I have ever known that it seems surreal.

And so here I say farewell to my blog. Thanks to all who have been accompanying me on my journey.

All is van die beste. Sayonara. Namaste.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting Closer

I officially have only one day left in Cape Town, a fact that really hit me for the first time when we were driving home from Khayelitsha two nights ago. It is only a fraction of my life that I have been here, but in that small fraction, this place has also become my home. I have carved out a small space for myself here. I have a temporary home, I can cross the roads with ease, and I can use public transportation. I can speak a few words in Afrikaans, and fewer in Xhosa. On a few occasions I have even been mistaken for South African and asked for directions. In many ways I feel I have been absorbed into Cape Town, in its spoken dialects, body language, elocution, and mannerisms. I can eat (though less gracefully than true South Africans) without utensils, and though I still enjoy my personal space, my bubble has gotten smaller.

In many ways though, I’m still very American, and I’m sure I will realize this even more after I return home. I miss being able to wash my hands with soap whenever I use a public restroom. I enjoy being able to use the restroom without first having to purchase toilet paper by the square. I miss being able to walk outside at night, alone even, without heightened senses. I like when my milk can last longer than 3 or 4 days before spoiling. I like the orderliness of traffic and when people abide by the traffic light signals even when there is no one else around (this usually happens here, but not always). I like that teachers should have less than 30 students per class, and that libraries should not be luxuries in schools. I like that, though there are socioeconomic disparities in the US, they are less so along racial lines (though we still have a long way to go in this matter).

Though my time here is nearing its end, our program matters will not end until we get to the airport. Last evening I gave my final presentation on the factors affecting quality teaching and learning in South Africa, and I now all I have left is to complete my final research report on the same topic, which I anticipate accomplishing later today. And finally, one last trip to the market in town. Then all that is left is packing my suitcase, deciding what to take with and what to leave behind, and understanding how these last five months of people, challenges, and experiences are going to impact the rest of my life; and the latter is not something that can be stuffed in a suitcase.