Going into the wilderness is an amazing experience. I have spent the last few days in Pilanesberg National Park, along with rambunctious baboons that ransacked the other women’s cabin and impala that delight the heart as they scamper across the plains. I have stood out in the starry night, gazing at the Southern Cross and Milky Way, gobsmacked at the wonder of it all.
We arose at a godly hour (because God really is the only one awake and joyful at that hour) and went on a game drive. The lion’s roar had been our alarm clock that day. Much different than a rooster, a lion coaxes even the deepest sleeper out of their beds. Within a brief time of being on the road, we saw the male lion, strong and beautiful and on the move. Everyone in the vehicle was excited. This day was off to a very good start.
We managed to see a number of animals. The giraffes are one of my favourites. I love the elephants, rhinos and just about any other creature though. We saw hippos and wildebeest. A black jackal was a treat.
In the afternoon, we did an exercise on mindfulness and after I completed it I took a walk along the fence that separated us from the wild animals. As I rounded a bend and came out from behind a shrub I stopped in my tracks, startled, staring deep into the eyes of a hyena. Equally as surprised it held the gaze for just a moment before dashing off into the bush. I was so grateful for the encounter. I was the only one to see a hyena during our stay and I look forward to finding out the meaning of that gift. I strongly believe it had a message for me that I am still uncovering.
Now that I am back in the concrete jungle of Johannesburg I will have more internet access. Tomorrow I am off to the Cradle of Humankind. I want to live into each moment here. Time is slipping away and I want to embrace all that is.
In today’s gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, who do you say that I am? In this field course we have had many discussions about identity. We are a mixed 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, and city dweller and country folk. There are many more lines that could be drawn. The issue of us and them is often drawn by such distinctions.
In whatever camp one stands in at the moment, there is always the “other”. Who am I right at this moment? How do others perceive me? Who do they say that I am in this given situation? At times we can be chameleons but in our real essence it is hard to deny ourselves. We cannot change the colour of our skin. We might be able to learn another language, move locations, and even change our gender, but some things are unchangeable. We can walk away from our childhood values that no longer fit but ultimately we cannot change some things.
We spent part of the day in Bloemfontein at the Boer Museum. The actual museum was closed but we walked around looking at the other monuments honouring those who died in the war, especially the women and children confined to concentration camp. What does remembering mean? How do we remember? Why do we remember? Is remembering a good thing or not? Why do we remember things differently than other people do sometimes? Does remembering heal or continue to draw divisons?
Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him today. Some days that cross seems heavier than others.
(Photos to be added later when internet is faster)>
We had an early morning start so the day started with beauty, as we caught the sunrise in the mountains as we left Cape Town. My soul always craves beauty as if to balance the ugliness that this world throws at people. I breathed in the spectacular light peeping out from behind the mountain peaks, splashes of red and yellow. Most people say this is an ungodly hour but I always say it is a Godly hour as God is usually one of the few creative Beings at that time of day, delighting to play with colour and light while the rest of the world pulls the covers back over our heads and snuggle deeper into the dreams that threaten to slip away from us.
We arrived in Koroo National Park around lunch time, catching sight of a few creatures such as zebras and hartebeest prior to pulling up at the picnic areas. It was marvelous to be out and celebrate creation and the wonder of life rather than the atrocities of it. I am appreciating this balance as these days fly by.
The bus ride gave me time to process some of this first week, both some of the learnings and the group dynamics. In one conversation, we discussed the privilege of the room allocations this week in Cape Town. One of the other students swung by my room last night and was amazed at the size of it. Enough to sleep five , three of us were sharing but the actual room space was plentiful in comparison to what she was in. The cramped quarters in my mind were a sharp contrast to the hostel room and the District Six Museum replication of the house that had been demolished. We don’t know what we don’t know sometimes. I thought about the story again that Dean told and how the man did not once reflect on how his wife sought out a lover because of his own inability to provide for her needs. Even in the room situation, most of us knew what we knew. Like the township kids who as Richard suggested would not be able to explain life outside of the township, we all have our blind spots.
Have you thought about your blind spots lately?
Our last class at Cornerstone took place this morning. Our professor told a story about forgiveness and how our hearts turn hard bit by bit until we are bent over with grief and anger and cannot move forward. We discussed the concept of forgiveness in small groups and then he lead us through a relationship cycle that I liked.
We have been talking about identity and forgiveness a lot on our journey. The cycle showed how when you are in a relationship and a hurt occurs, we can move quickly to hate/blame/anger/grief. We then tend to withdraw, either physically or emotionally, to do some self-reflection before making a decision. That decision will lead to the relationship again, most often in new ways, or it will bring the sojourner on to a new path, away from the relationship.
This rang so true to me. I had just experienced this process before coming to South Africa. Looking at it from a collective perspective was an interesting experience, too, but tonight I returned to a question that is haunting me a bit this trip. In the self-reflection part, the other prof suggested we ponder grounding questions like who am I?, what do I need from this relationship?, and why do I remain in relationship with this person?
These are very powerful questions.
Tonight, in my truth-seeking, I return to something that Fr. Lapsley asked us: At the end of the journey, what did I contribute? In tonight’s debrief, I said I am re-examining this question but with the lens of one person’s hero is another person’s oppressor. I think of Cecil Rhodes or Alexander Graham Bell who much of the world hail as heroes and know that they oppressed many people. How do I know that when I arrive at the end of my journey that I will be welcomed with “well done, good and faithful servant” as opposed to weeping watching my life through God’s eyes? Our values shape our journey and sometimes those values can hurt other people. The truth is not easily found or embraced but it will give me reason to strive to be open to what is reflected back to me.
What will you contribute this day?
Some days you meet someone and realize that wisdom lives deeply in that person. Fr. Michael Lapsley was an Anglican priest who was living in exile when he opened a letter bomb which blew off both of his hands and injured his eye. He went on to found the Institute for Healing of Memories, with the goal of healing the world one story at a time. We caught a glimpse of what it means that every story needs a listener as we went around the circle. I have a sense of a deep caring for each moment of story shared, that each truth was honoured, each question received respectfully, and each person accepted for where they were on the journey.
He left us with some good questions to contemplate:
What are we for?
What are we against?
At the end of the journey, did we make our contribution?
From the Institute we continued on to Langa township where we had lunch prepared by a mama in her home. Richard then toured us around the township on foot. We went to the single hostels where 18 men used to live, separated from their families during apartheid. Afterwards, families moved in to rooms where 5-7 people lived in a room and shared bathroom facilities with the other families. The room would be equal in space to most Canadian living rooms. This would be the entire space a family would have. The walk through the township is done only with a local guide and not recommended to do on your own. I am not sure exactly how I feel about the experience except that we have been tasked with the idea of sharing what we saw with the rest of the world.
We stopped by a memorial for the Gugulethu 7 who were murdered by the security police during apartheid and is one of the most heart-wrenching testimonies to watch during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was appalled to see that the memorial had been tagged with graffiti until Richard explained that the artist was not local and that the memorial would not have been disrespected had it been created by a local.
We drove a little further and saw the Amy Biehl memorial, a simple cross beside a colourful tile mosaic. This one touched me after reading Mother to Mother, a poignant tale about the mother of one of the murderers to the mother of the young American killed in a mob attack. The story is based on Amy Biehl’s murder.
There is so much to process daily here. My mind feels like it is expanding and my heart alternates between breaking and embracing. The journey to truth is raw and bumpy. There is no easy way there. Today though I saw a glimpse of a gentle road, one that requires a desire to look deep inside ourselves and acknowledge our own ability to be both oppressor and oppressed, victim and victimizer in order that we may all be free. We need to embrace both sides of our own truth in order to move forward. Each story counts. Each person is worthy. Each story needs a listener. Will you tell yours?
Today we went to Robben Island where Mandela was jailed for 18 of his 27 years.
After reading Mandela’s autobiography prior to leaving, setting foot on the island was a powerful experience. We drove around the island and ended up at the jail. We were escorted by a former prisoner, a man who participated in the youth uprising and was jailed for five years. We went to Mandiba’s jail cell. I imagined him growing his garden, working in the quarry, conspiring for freedom, and singing with the other freedom fighters.
The boat ride over was a little wild but it was nothing compared to being chained in the bottom of the boat where the rough waters made people sick. Our crossing took about 45 minutes I think and we had a moderately rough ride but at least we were up on the top deck with a wind that helped with any motion sickness. This photo is one of the boats that the prisoners were taken in.
We made a stop at the quarry where there was a pile of rocks that Mandela, Sisulu and others brought back with them when they returned after their release. This was the altar that they built to recognize that they had been given a gift by not being separated. Often they would dream and plan what democracy and life in South Africa would look like as they did the hard labour. They were grateful because in the end it took only three years to transition and no civil war erupted. As I looked at that pile of stones, that sacred pile of rocks, I sensed the power those men had despite the determination to keep them down. They rose above their conditions and persevered. Theirs was a huge gift to their people and to the rest of us–a shining example of what can be done when eyes are kept on the final destination.
There is so much to say in this blog but so little time and the internet access is poor. The long days are tiring both physically and emotionally. I find that this long walk to freedom is changing me ever so slightly, pushing at core belief systems, nudging me to be a better person, challenging me to find my truth in the stories I hear.
There is much more to say but for now I must head to bed.
The first day in Cape Town was amazing. We met at Cornerstone, did some team building, set group norms, listened to a brilliant lecture on South African history, and then walked home. Some of us stopped along the way for dessert and then headed back to the guest house for supper.
There are some interesting conversations buzzing around me as I type this. I look forward to tomorrow. The jet lag is settling in so I am off to bed. My last thought: the Cape is very beautiful. Tomorrow I am off to the Cape to see penguins.