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.

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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

The Wilderness

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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. 039 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.

Peace,

Suzanne

Who Am I?

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.

Peace,

Suzanne
(Photos to be added later when internet is faster)>

Craving Beauty

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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?

Peace,

Suzanne

Relationships

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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?

Peace,

Suzanne