Tuesday, February 26, 2008

1 month already!!????

Because I can’t distill 4 weeks of life in Durban into a palatable blog—especially with the number of hours I’ve slept in the past week—I’ll just give you some random thoughts this 5th Tuesday of mine in South Africa.

Last Wednesday, Sarah, Drew, Valerie and I (the 4 current Rotary Scholars studying in Durban) went to Cape Town for our Rotary Orientation. There, we met with about 20 other scholars from the SA to build community, see Cape Town, learn about Rotary in SA, and to get the lowdown on our Rotary commitments for the year. Day 1, we piled into a bus and made our way outside the city centre to a primary school in an impoverished urban dwelling on the periphery (development term)called a “township.” I can’t remember how many of Cape Town’s 4 million residents live in the townships, but the number is astronomical.

So naturally, the students on my bus were more than apprehensive; we were doubtful of our Rotary sponsors’ judgment in bringing group of, let’s be honest here, mostly white semi-tourists—educated and privileged enough to be on full international bursary—into the child’s heart of a resource-poor place we knew very little about. Nevertheless, we got off the bus at MVula, smiled big at the children, and proceeded to have a wonderful, complicated, and at least for me, inspiring and troubling time. After the principal and the head administrator spoke passionately about their 862 children, the stunning choir and knock-you-on-your-ass-you-never-knew-kids-could-be-such-artfully-disciplined-and-soul-moving dancers (accompanied by a young girl, about eleven, on the drums) performed on their cement block stage. I wanted to dance, too--I started twitching shakira style--but instead just teared up a little bit for all the ways the experience fit and didn’t fit my prejudices (think sally struthers type images) about “Africa” with a capital “A.”

After the performances, and after school had ended for the day, we wandered around, talking to teachers, playing with kids. Wonderful, alive, happy kids. I met mPula, a 2nd grade teacher who was understandably suspicious of my motives in being "in AFRICA", who was glad to hear I love to work, love the church, and want to have a family some day, and who looked questioningly at my low-cut shirt. She asked incisive questions about not just my life but my studies. I was so glad. Strong women used to give me a scare, but now I aspire to grow stronger. She told me all about her classroom and her family.

I learned how to say “Xhosa” with the click (click it like your urge a horse to trot and then suck in the “o”). I squirmed with self and social consciousness and YES! broke joyfully into the moment. I sat back and watched my fellow scholars do the same. The kids carried on, shook our hands, laughed and petted our hair, asking if they could have a hair product to make theirs like ours. At first I thought that was just awful, but then I remembered it’s not so different from the way I look at some African women’s behinds and wish I had a product (Bloussant, anyone?) to make mine like theirs.

It was a strange afternoon. Our next visit, back in the City Centre to the Chamber of Commerce’s posh conference room, was strange. Disjointed and strange. When our host told us she rejoices at the sight of a crane because it means development, I wanted to raise my hand and ask, “Development for Whom?” but I didn’t. Besides being a wuss, I’m learning in my studies that that question and its answers are a lot more complicated than I would like them to be. Isn’t it ALL more complicated than we’d like? Thank God that God is not as lazy as I am, and that God creates richness and beauty and even simplicity out of complexity. If God were like me, this world would be a bore.

In Durban, where I live, the townships are not far outside the city, but interspersed within. There is such diversity. There is such perceived (and perhaps (therefore) real) animosity between classes and races. Security systems and barbed wire sales must constitute a large part of the local economic activity. I don’t know if the danger is all it’s cracked up to be, but I do know that just as the feeling of danger is pervasive, so is my sense of community. Just like everywhere else, people smile and greet each other. Ladies laugh at me when I mix up “Sawubona” with “Sanibonani,” which I think mean “Hi, you,” and “Hi, y’all” respectively.

Well, that’s probably enough random thinking for the day. Life is hard here, and it’s good. As to be expected for this homebody, I ask myself pretty often, “and what am I doing here????” I can’t necessarily answer the question now, besides by saying I trust the answers are revealed in a way that’s always surprising, humbling, and more graciously miraculous than I can imagine.

Next time round—and I promise it will be sooner rather than later—I’ll put up some pictures. I love you all, dearly. Oh and by the way, I made a 70% on my first think piece. This grade is noteworthy in 2 ways: I am so much more accepting of my limitations than I used to be!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND there ain’t so much grade inflation here, so 70% is really almost perfect : )