Reconciliation Bartering

I am out in the country, having spent three days in the middle of nowhere with limited Internet access. I have walked the land, settled into my soul and slept more than I wanted but apparently not more than I needed. I am bringing this blog to a close today, I will start a new one here on WordPress in the days ahead but I must first write a final research paper on reconciliation and that will take most of my free time.

Today’s readings are a good reflection on reconciliation. In the first reading, Abraham barters with God as to how many good people can be save the city. I am reading “A Human Being Died That Night” by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. It is the story of a man who was known as Prime Evil during Apartheid. Eugene de Kock committed horrible atrocities during Apartheid and yet during the interviews, a human side is revealed to this monster. Is redemption possible for everyone? How does humanity recover from unspeakable acts of evil? Then as now, God’s mercy is supreme and unlimited. When we call upon God as the Psalm states, God answers.

The Gospel reading today is one of my favourites and has deep personal memories for me. Ask, seek, knock. With reconciliation, these acts must be done. Ask for forgiveness, mercy, peace, humility, joy, restoration, wonder, openness. Seek healing, peace, understanding, compassion. Knock on the door of the hardened heart, on the walls that divide, on the prejudices that remain.

Reconciliation is possible–for the multitudes and for individuals. Seek it now.

Peace,

Suzanne

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Choose the Better Part

Today’s readings are about hospitality, entertaining angels and the Son of God. Are you a Martha or a Mary when it comes to welcoming people? When I think of my experience in Africa, I think back to my first encounter in South Africa, being greeted by the Immigration officer. He asked me if I was in South Africa on business or for fun. I smiled widely and responded, “FUN!!” He handed me back my passport with a smile equally as large and said, “Welcome!”

The story of the angels and Abram and Jesus with Martha and Mary also points to the need for welcoming those who are different than us. How often do we meet someone and judge them by appearance or by behaviour? I cannot imagine what Abram and Sarai had running through their heads upon seeing the “men” arrive at their tent. What runs through our minds when we meet the Other, someone who is incredibly different than we are?

I saw a play last night at the Fringe Festival entitled, They Call Me Mister Fry. The actor was the real Grade 5 teacher whose first year at a school in South Central Los Angeles taught him valuable lessons about looking beyond tough exteriors. It is a redemptive story and it made me think of a sacred story that one of the group members in South Africa shared with me about her life one night when we roomed together. This encounter was one of the most profound experiences of my journey. I was so amazed by the inner strength and fortitude of this person.

South Africa holds many memories for me of resilient people. Some of these people would not be welcomed upon arrival, lacking limbs, bearing scars, and revealing a hard exterior. The pain is sometimes etched forever on the person’s face. Others seemed like the body of Christ, present in earthly form again. I hope that I can welcome the angels and Christ figures in my life with joy and comfort and not judgment and horror. Choosing the better part can be challenging but the rewards can be a blessing.

Peace,

Suzanne

Happy 95th Madiba!

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In preparing for this trip, Mandela featured prominently in the readings and documentaries. Coming to South Africa means coming to know Madiba’s soul. So many of his quotes inspire me. His goal for freedom for all people of South Africa is farsighted and merciful. His life is a light for many. Today as he celebrates 95 years of life, I am grateful. I join him in his famous dance of joy for all that he has given to this world. His has been a life well spent.

I have several images that come to mind over the duration of the trip. I do not have the photos to accompany any of them (unless they are in the post about Robben Island). Robben Island was a powerful visit for me, knowing that this was where Mandela had spent so many of his years and done much of his strategic planning for the new South Africa. His years imprisoned taught him a new way of seeing the world and himself. Everything is stripped away and you are left with the bare minimum of life. I remember during the Millennium celebrations watching him return to his cell and light a candle. This action of peace and grace remains with me today as a sign of hope to this world. The darkness does not get to win.

We also went to his home which at the time was surrounded by CNN reporters. Every morning for us we were news-hungry for how Madiba was faring. We would awake and wonder if he had died during the night. The world was watching. CNN was interviewing people on the street. I wondered what I would say about this icon and so now I can. There is no camera running but I think I would say how grateful I am to this man for showing us how to get it right. He reconciled himself with people that he did not have to, that he could have harboured grudges against, that deserved to be “punished.” He embodied a Christ-like persona in terms of forgiveness.

When we were at the Apartheid Museum, a special Mandela exhibit was showing. I walked around the pieces in awe of this mortal. Trouble maker, reconciler, boxer, lawyer, husband, father, president, negoiator, terrorist, leader, prisoner, and friend are just a few of the labels that identify him. Here was not only a truth-teller, but here was also a truth-maker. He set a new Truth for the nation and for the world. This is part of his legacy. May we all learn a lesson from Tata–he offers many. Find one that fits for you at this point in your life. As for me, I am going to spend some time thinking about reconciliation and forgiveness and what that means to me right now.

Peace,

Suzanne

Home is Where the Heart Is

983948_10151724243602743_773075651_nThe District 6 Museum lays out the truth of the past and the uncertainty of the future. Our guide Noor seemed to have a positive take on where the bulldozed roads to freedom have led, painting an idealistic picture of a former racially mixed and happy neighbourhood in District 6 and the dream for its future. He told us a tale of how during Apartheid a white man and a black dog could sit on a whites only bench, but a black person could not.
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He crowded us all into a replica of a room of a typical house in District 6 and said that a family of six would live in this space. I tried to imagine what family life would be like in such cramped quarters but he spoke so joyfully of it, that I knew I would not comprehend from my North American lens.

He shared how District 6 was a racially mixed area where people got along. He pointed out the streets signs from the original neighbourhood. My lost pictures had the map, tributes and poems that were spread out on the floor. He hopes for a time where people can live again in harmony, like before the forced removal.

His sad story about the homing pigeons that was posted on the wall remains with me. A newspaper story of how he raised homing pigeons was among the artifacts. He trained them to come to the new home, after the removals. One day he set them free. They never came back. Driving by the old home, he was startled to find them there. We dehumanize people when we destroy their homes; even the birds knew that home is a place forever engraved in one’s memory.

What value does home have for you? What would you do if your home was bulldozed and totally destroyed? Tonight I saw a prayer of gratitude for my home.

Peace,

Suzanne

Slave to What?

Day 4 – Late morning

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I was not really prepared to experience the Slave Lodge. The intense emotional impact it had on me was one of the “surprises” of the trip thus far. In the foyer was a reminder that slavery is not yet ended but it continues through the trafficking of humans. I appreciated this fact confronting us as we entered so that we could withhold judgment on what happened. How many of us fight slavery these days?

I began the tour with two of the South African students. In the replica of part of the slave ships, I looked over at their faces and wondered what was running through their minds. I walked on, sensing that they might appreciate doing the tour without me. They probably did not need this white woman hanging around as they encountered their history.

Two quotes from the museum percolated reactions deep within:

“They transported my body. But I wasn’t there. My memory has vomited these days when the screaming and the moaning mingled with the roaring of the sea.” (The Slave Caravan by Betani). Memory is tainted by so much. How can one remember the details of unspeakable horrors? Surely our bodies and minds are not meant to carry these terrors. They must be vomited out. Yet how then does this affect the testimonies given during the South AfricanTruth and Reconciliation Commission? The perpetrators who braaied bodies or “necklaced” snitches must have images burned on their minds forever—or buried deep. Either way, are details remembered accurate? Most people reconstruct their memories, I am sure.

“I’m not a Christian that accepts exploitation …I believe in Christianity that defends justice” ~Oliver Tambo. Tambo was clear about his faith and his responsibility. The exhibit honouring him was very enlightening. This museum allowed people to see the truth of a man whose faith inspired him to action but it begs the question as to how nations remember “controversial” figures. Today’s hero can be yesterday’s terrorist. What do we do with our judgments of people? How do we understand people in the big picture as well as the moment? There is so much to consider and I want to live in a way so that people will recognize my dependence on the Divine.

Peace,

Suzanne

Peace With Every Step

Day 4 – Morning only
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We visited St. George’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu presided and who was instrumental in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I wondered how many hours might he have prayed, rallying courage to continue and wisdom to lead? I have wondered what difference believing makes for me as I am confronted with the atrocities that humans inflict upon each other. I still hold on to hope in this mystery. We are not created for evil in my opinion. We are beings of the Light, of goodness, of joy.

1267_10151724240292743_16158434_nI walked the labyrinth; my mind focused on peace with each step I took. Tutu’s words come back to me: Without forgiveness, there is no future. Ubuntu means “My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.” “A person is a person through other persons.” This great man assisted in building a peaceful nation. He truly lived out the ubuntu spirit.

I wonder if I can understand this great mystery of being inextricably bound to the other, to the stranger, to the poor, to the least of these, to the perpetrator and the victim. I think of the Jesuit motto of being a person for others. It is the same essence really. Our lives are not our own.

What will the rest of this trip bring? This quiet time in the labyrinth and cathedral has been a blessing.

Peace…with every step.

Suzanne

Hero or Oppressor?

Standing at the Cecil Rhodes Monument, I had a stunning view of Cape Town, with the morning mist not yet burned off. The slums of Khayelitsha spread out for miles. Here was the evidence that I had read about in scholarly articles and Beverly Naidoo’s book of short stories about the devastation of the forced removals. As I stood in the beauty of this new day, I could see the scars of history, reminding me that this country was still emerging from a painful past. The present is not yet fully revisioned into reality. People still live in segregated areas, although more blacks and colours are becoming middle-class. The rider on the horse looks down on the city seemingly defiantly, almost as a reminder that the other does not belong here.

Marias led us through the history of Cecil John Rhodes, painting a picture of a sickly, yet ambitious, man. I did not know the history and legacy behind the man who left a prestigious scholarship for students. I had also not heard that the name had been changed to Mandela-Rhodes scholarship, once again showcasing the work of reconciliation that Mandela continued long after his release from prison. Rhodes’ greed and ethnocentric attitude is now balanced by Madiba’s generous spirit.

rhodesMarias went on to share his personal story which I found inspiring because it shows that one does not have to claim an identity that is handed down; one has choices. Three great Afrikaner families make up his ancestors. Rather than follow in the oppressive footsteps of his ancestors, Marius wrestled with the fact that “his” people had created apartheid. He discovered that he had to integrate different parts of his identity prior to transforming them. Marius went on to join the African National Conference (ANC) and spend his life educating people about apartheid and the freedom movement. He told a story that deeply resonated with me about coming home after a march after Chris Hani’s assassination and being confronted by a right-winged man who lived at the same dorm who began to lecture him about the dangers of black people and how he was a traitor for going to the march. His response of rage was familiar to me. He had hit the wall as an ally and I could relate to this in the work that I do in the Deaf community. We talked about it later, particularly the tension between the anger of the oppression witnessed and the sadness at reality. I think there comes a time when allies cannot be passive but must move to a place of hatred of their own kind who oppress the Other. This was valuable to hear in my own personal journey. In owning my identity regarding issues of race, language, culture, gender, sexual orientation, and the like, I can come to terms with the Other.

The message that I am taking away from Day Three of this trip is that one person’s hero can be another’s oppressor.

Peace,

Suzanne

First Day in Cape Town

I am adding to the blog beginning at Day One–June 15.

The day had finally arrived. We gathered at Cornerstone Institute to begin the journey across South Africa, exploring truth, memory and reconciliation. The reading, writing and discussions are more or less done and now we are to experience the learning firsthand. We are a group of 20+ students from South Africa and Canada. We are a quite diverse group: old and young, queer and straight, married and single, graduate and undergraduate, white, coloured (the term used here in Africa to mean mixed race), and black, men and women, Christian and not, South Africans and Canadians, French and English, Afrikaner and English, Afrikaner and a couple of the other African national languages, and city dweller and country folk.

Today’s session helped us build group norms and begin to establish some relationships with one another. The introduction to one another and even the ice-breaker games made me think of Jonathan Jansen’s story in Knowledge of the Blood of the bridge and how we must all promise to meet in the middle. These are the initial steps towards the bridge. The weeks ahead will reveal how far onto the bridge we get.

Marius and Tami then led us through some history and helpful language and cultural tips that will guide us along in the journey to the mid-point of that bridge. To understand the “other” one must know where they have come and so this was a valuable morning for me. Relationships are crucial, as Jansen illustrated a number of times in his book. The more we know of another’s history, the easier it is to try to move towards a common place.

This is the opposite of the story that Dean told today with the line: “Sowing confusion is my greatest joy.” There can be no meeting on the bridge in an environment of confusion and chaos—there is not enough room to maneuver. As I embark on this two-week trek across South Africa, I am praying that the seeds of confusion are not scattered in my heart. I want to struggle with hard questions, and I am not interested in getting final answers to them, but rather I hope to pack the experience in a tool kit that can be utilized as I grow into answers in the coming years. This should not be a time of judgment but rather one of openness. I hope that the trip changes me in significant ways.

Pure Delight

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I am returning to the first few days of the trip and explaining more of what occurred. I will actually start with Day 2 because I feel the need to write about beauty and delight tonight. This was the day the group set out to explore the breathtaking sights of the Cape. We began at a beach on the outskirts of Cape Town. It may have been winter but it did not stop us from kicking off our shoes and dipping our toes into the water. at beach
It was such a spectacular beach but the knowledge that at one point in history only whites could use this area was heartwrenching. I took such delight in finding jelly fish, thousands of sea shells, a perfect piece of sea glass, and so many other treasures that it seemed impossible to imagine that not everyone could rejoice in this space.

From there we went on to Cape Point and walked up the path to the light house. the view was amazing. How could this day get any better? capepointme

Little did we know that some of the best was yet to come. We trekked across an expansive land, filled with wild flowers and utterly gorgeous cliffs and beaches. We thought it was the most surreal sights we had seen in our lives and we had to keep pinching ourselves to ensure that it was not an incredible dream. me on the edge

We arrived at the Cape of Good Hope which is the most south western point of Africa (more or less) and the place where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans kiss. In reality, see how truth is hard to find, it is not here but another 150 kilometres east. Nonetheless, it is an amazing end to a hike across the land and the perfect place for a group photos. most southern point

From here we went on to lunch and then the penquins at Boulder Beach. penquin speckled
I have long had a dream of seeing penquins in Antarctica but I am so delighted to have checked off that to-do list in a much warmer climate!

We ended the day with ice cream–and sadly, a racist incident, when one of our group was questioned about whether she was really a member of the group or not. The woman who was dishing up the ice cream was subtle but the intent was not lost. Surely, you, coloured woman, are not with these white folks, sharing an ice cream.

There is no escaping the race card for those who are not white. A perfect day was marred by the incident and it foreshadowed what we would live in the next two weeks as we traveled together through a country so beautiful that it seemed I had died and gone to heaven. Racism is never easy to erase, even though great strides have been made in this country to turn the tide.

The perfect day–best.day.ever.–had this blemish on it but a reality check is a good thing from time to time. This was the Cape of Good Hope, and one can always hope that one day, there will be no racial blemishes on a perfect day.

Peace,

Suzanne

Home and Pensive

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I arrived safely home last night, with two disturbing incidents that made me think about how people handle the “other”. The first one took place after I had picked up my luggage in the Minneapolis airport. As I wheeled mine behind a non-white family, I overheard the customs officer making belittling remarks to them about not having their luggage. He made them feel stupid. As I stepped forward to hand my declaration form to him, I must have looked like I was going to say something but before I could, he shot out his routine question: “Do you have all your luggage?”

When I confirmed that I did, he made a snide remark about how easy that was, and he was sure that I had heard the instructions clearly so why did everyone else not? He dehumanized this family with his racist attitude. I collected my papers and moved on, ashamed for not saying anything, but aware that he had the power to withhold my papers and make me miss my connecting flight. I replayed this incident a number of times with a variety of endings but the reality is that I could not speak up because of the power he wielded. Ah truth! You are painful at times.

When we finally boarded the last plane of the day that would eventually take me home, we discovered that we were stuck on the plane, waiting for an engineer to arrive with parts for a plane which needed fixing in Winnipeg. The “nice” Canadian passengers got upset, one couple yelling obscenities. I was shocked as I collided into the sad, pathetic truth that Canadians can be not so nice. The pilot handed it very well but I was ashamed by the outburst by these passengers. More than anyone on that plane, I suspect, I wanted to home and in my own bed. I might have been equally as capable of creating a scene–though mine would have been to burst into tears. I was tired but patient.

The last few days in Johannesburg were marred by our room being broken into and my camera with all my photos, plus my computer with my journal assignment, stolen. We were up late on the Saturday night filling out police reports. A detective came by the next morning and interviewed us again. Finally a fingerprint specialist came by. My roommates and another friend also had electronics stolen. We laughed about it later, saying now we were old school, having to rely on others with phones and computers to communicate.

I have lots to ponder in the coming weeks and the robbery sure put a damper on the last days in South Africa. The truth is that I am a privileged white woman who could afford to bring into poverty a fancy camera and a netbook that tempted someone to commit a crime. I have been all over the emotional gamut with the event: sad, angry, blaming, fearful, and frustrated. I am still frustrated with losing my university assignment and many of my photos that I wanted to use for a new line of cards. However, I do not want the experience to taint the first leg of this amazing journey. This picture of Madiba doing what I have dubbed his joy dance reminded me that the perpetrators cannot win. I have the power to control my outcome and I can make the memory of my trip a positive event and not dwell on this one blip of the two-week journey.

I struggled to forgive the thieves for ruining our last weekend in South Africa. I cannot let it taint the entire trip though. I need to move to a space of reconciliation after these two weeks of witnessing others forgive for much more horrific atrocities. I will need to spend some time unpacking this experience as a whole.

Please join me as I will be writing missed passages and events here in the weeks ahead.

Peace,

Suzanne