E-Update from Capetown

 

or "How I learned to stop worrying and love Ubuntu"

or "yes, well, I suppose Flad could be an Afrikaner name"

 

Family, friends, and frequent Flad-nosticators --

 

I've survived two weeks in Africa. More than some had predicted, no? I've

learned a great deal about this wonderful place already, that's for sure.

Herein I will try to share some choice reflections on the beginning of my

extensive journey to southern Africa. First, however, a few important words

of introduction.

 

For a better look at what's being discussed here over the past few

years, I highly recommend either Desmond Tutu's "No Future Without

Forgiveness" or Antjie Krog's "Country of My Skull," which both take an

in-depth look at this country's Truth & Reconciliation Commission (hereafter

known as the TRC). [Teri & Fran, from the latter book I would especially

recommend to the members of our respective groups the chapter on

Reconciliation at around p.130.]

 

Now for a look at the two weeks in review. I should first say what brought

me here, since not all of you know. I came to Cape Town with a group from

Grace (Episcopal) Cathedral, San Francisco CA for a sort of "Holy Week

pilgrimage" from April 15-26, at the invitation of the dean of Anglican (aka

Episcopal) cathedral here, St. George's. The dean is named Rowan Smith, a

wonderful gentleman who carries my brother's unique name, and who has

visited our Grace Cathedral 3 times in recent years, to much mutual

admiration. So a big group of 16 of us nutcases from the SF Bay Area have

been out here together, trooping around like the kooky tourists that we

can't help but be.

 

I should have known that it would be a major experience when I read a couple

things on the flights here. "Paper" magazine gave me a glimpse when I read

my horoscope (not something I normally do, but when a cool old Indian dude

with his thumb-up is named Bejan Daruwalla, you gotta represent): "Very hard

work is required, even staying up and working all hours of the night to

complete what you've taken on. Your own health as well as your family could

be in danger of great neglect -- and that's not good. Meditation and rest

will be necessary; in fact, you'll work better that way. Joint finances,

loans and funds take on a new dimension." Ouch! Well, now that I think of

it, that was an exact description of this PAST month of hectic-ness. And I

think I got this magazine a few weeks ago, and saved it for the trip... so

maybe I just didn't read it at the right time. Anyone have the latest

Paper, and can tell me what to look out for THIS month? The other

interesting reading came from an article called "The Nightmare from Which We

are Trying to Awake," which was sent to me in preparation for a second group

trip next month (thanks Teri). I was supposed to reflect on its discussion

of the concept of truth, in the context of South Africa's TRC (see above).

The author reflects on some of James Joyce's works, and finds that "Joyce's

writing is a long rebuke to versions of history as heritage, as roots and

belonging, as comfort, refuge, and home. His was the opposite claim: You

could be yourself only if you escaped home, if you struggled awake from the

dreams of your ancestors... To awake was to come to yourself, to force a

separation between what the tribe told you to be and what you truly were."

I'm not trying to get too deep on y'all right here at the beginning of this

journal, but suffice it to say that these words gave me a certain unexpected

context for starting the trip.

 

We arrived on a Saturday, which was unfortunately a bit of an amazing feat

for yours truly, as I took a separate route from the rest of the crowd. You

see, it was only the 9th of this month that I quit my job at Grace Cathedral

(don't worry, I'd given 10 months notice), where I'd worked for the past 3 &

1/2 years. The reason was so that I could travel in southern Africa for an

unknown period of time (it appears that it will end up being 3-4 months).

My flight pattern took me through NY, where I briefly visited for a couple

days seeing my family and a few great friends, and then London. Since I'd

only been to England once, with my Wesleyan soccer team during my frosh year

back in spring break '86 (remember that, Mitch, Mac, Howie, 'Zac, etc.?),

and I had about 8 hours to kill between my flights, I decided to head into

town. I had a wonderful lunch with old family friend Ben Fortna, who

teaches at the Univ. of London, and wandered around a bit in the afternoon.

[So WHY do they call it a circus??] I headed back to Heathrow in plenty of

time to prepare for my 9pm flight, picking up my luggage from Terminal 3 at

6:30pm, and heading off to Terminal 4 where the baggage person told me all

British Airways flights depart from. Since 4 is a ways from the other 3

terminals, I had to take a train, but still got there OK. Now when I got

there, and found out from a BA person that "Oh, the Cape Town flight leaves

from Terminal 3, you're in the wrong place!" -- that's when things started

to get hairy. Another stupid train ride, and a run to the check-in later, I

was told at about 7:05 that "I'm sorry, we've closed the flight to Cape

Town." Say what?? Luckily, some pleading moments later got me back onto my

flight... but in the meanwhile they'd given up the aisle seat I had so

carefully reserved and re-confirmed twice for the 12-hour flight.

Aaaarggggh! Did you ever see the movie, "Shaft"? [Sean & Dale-- bring

back any memories?]

 

Arrival in South Africa also had a bit of drama. The customs agent was not

at all pleased that I did not have a return ticket. I have an open-ended

ticket, which quite basically ignored what my guide book says about the fact

that you must have a return booked. Fortunately, I was able to indicate

that I do plan to leave the country within the 90-day maximum stay period,

as I've been invited to a gathering of Episcopal missionaries up in Zimbabwe

in late June. [We're told that it won't be affected by the current

political situation that many of you have read about in that struggling

nation, as the meeting is in the eastern region, which is a far different

part of the country than where the land-appropriation conflict is taking

place.] So I did manage to get here.

 

My first impressions of the city were very powerful and mostly warm --

despite driving past much poverty on the way from the airport -- and they've

grown in their positivity throughout our stay. In brief, South Africa

generally and C.T. specifically have struggled a great deal of late with

their status as both a Developed and Developing Nation (read: "1st and 3rd

World"), and though C.T. had always had a multi-national, -lingual,

-cultural status, the apartheid era did an unfortunately "good" job of

breaking down its historic intermingling of communities. So the 20-minute

highway drive that zooms between several of the major township areas (most

of which sit in the so-called "Cape Flats" area) is contrasted starkly with

the extraordinarly beautiful city that sits on the ocean side of Table

Mountain, a stunning plateau that rightly has many world travelers calling

this city the most beautiful in the world (or at least right up there with

Rio de J. and our own lovely S.F.). Our group of cathedral pilgrims was

staying in a modestly upscale neighborhood within the central city called

Oranjezicht (say that 10 times fast... or even once, for that matter), in a

house with three "flats" for rent, all of which we've occupied. The garden

within the gates contains 12 different fruit trees, huge aloe plants,

bougenvillas (sp?) and other lovely flowers (still present as they head into

their mid-fall), a small pond with a fountain and large goldfish, and

occasionally three miniature Maltese terrior dogs who some of my colleagues

insist on fawning over. Outside the fence sits daily a young fellow named

"Monte Carlo," who I call "The Whistler" as he spends the entire day

warbling at passing cars, trying to get them to park in one of the spots on

the block, close to a nearby shopping center (or "centre" as they call it

here...). Most days there have also been a group of friendly Rastas, led by

"Moses," who sell various wares that no one seems to purchase, and from

where a decidedly pungent odor regularly wafts into the garden... and beyond

them, security galore in the surrounding 'hood. In addition to the

intricate iron-grilled gates that dot the area, accentuated in many places

by the more industrial barbed-wire enhancement, the phrase "armed response"

are apparently the two most common words. Much more could be said about

this immediate area and our presence within it, but I haven't even gotten to

what we've done!

 

After spending time with the local cathedral community over the Palm Sunday

weekend -- highlighted by a reception at the dean's home, where I was

thoroughly entertained by two of the church wardens, and was according to

the dean one of only two Grace pilgrims to make a "passing grade" (all the

others "failed his family's test" as they didn't stay past 8pm!) -- we

started off the work week with a bang by heading directly into two of the

townships on Monday. In the first one, Khayelitsha, we visited an area of

it called Harare where an Episcopal community has started a successful craft

market and a huge primary school. While everyone else went shopping in the

craft market, I hung around these two young guys playing marimbas outside,

and they then invited me to join them! Naturally, I got the easy part, but

for the most part I didn't make mistakes (Ramon Garcia would have been

proud), and our 3-part harmony sounded quite nice. A definite highlight.

We then drove to Langa, an older township, and visited a couple different

projects, including a food preparation and training school called Eziko

(sort of a low budget Culinary Institute) which served us an excellent

lunch. The highlight there was meeting the mother of my friend Dumile

Vokwana, who drove from Guguletu, an adjoining township, to meet me there,

so I could deliver to her a big bag of gifts from her Bay Area son. I've

always liked being the bearer of good tidings...

 

The next day we did some more social outreach stuff, visiting first a

national AIDS awareness program, which has developed some wonderful

advertising campaigns for the annual World AIDS Day -- my favorite was

"Calling All Freedom Fighters" posters (using famous B&W photos of folks

like Bob Marley, a young Mandela, Christ, and many others, and placing a

bright red ribbon on their chest). [Mom, you'll be happy to know that I

delivered your present to this good organization.] Then we went to a street

kids group called The Homestead, which is mostly noteworthy because up on

the wall there was a chart of a soccer field with each position being

outlined (for my footballer friends, they're being taught a 4-3-3). I had a

quick urge to run out and find the field (?) where the kids were playing at

that very point to join them.

 

That afternoon we had our first major touristy highlight, which was going up

Table Mountain. Simply spectacular. Try to imagine taking a cable car from

just above sea level practically straight up in the air to a height of 1100

meters (about 3500 feet, I think) to a magnificent plateau that looks miles

in each direction. I, of course, almost managed to screw up the occasion.

We had about 90 minutes to hang out up there, and while most of our group

wanted to sit down for lunch, I'd made myself my almost-daily staple of a

PBJ sandwich (for which I was regularly roasted), and I was much more intent

on walking around this incredible hiking spot. Well, it only took me 15

minutes to come to the end of the main plateau, and spotting a short climb

to another plateau, I decided to meander over there and walk for a bit on

this gorgeous afternoon. I got lost, naturally. You're never supposed to

walk alone up there... and now I know why. It really wouldn't have been

that much of an issue, in the sense that I definitely could have found my

way back if given enough time -- but we had agreed to all meet at a time

specific. So I found myself running along a multitude of paths, some

literally on the cliff's edge (DOH!!) trying to find my way back to that

first plateau. Somehow, I found it in time, and made it back to the group

within 2 minutes of the appropriate time... proof that God is in fact

looking out for me. Hopefully sometime before I leave this country I will

hike up the side of the mountain (WITH others, this time), as it is really

just marvelous. It's amazing the different biodiversity that exists up on

top of the mountain, and I can only imagine what's on the side.

 

That night we went to a special interfaith service at Cape Town's new

Holocaust Memorial Center. I've never been to either the one in Washington

DC or the one in Israel, so this was a slightly new experience for me, and I

was sorry to not have enough time to soak in the whole exhibit. I was

intent on reading everything... and in so doing of course got through only

half the material. It was interesting how they did make certain comparisons

between apartheid here in S.A. and the Nazi regime. It did not appear that

they shared much of anything about the role of the Jewish community against

apartheid here (much less those military connections that have been made

between the former apartheid and Israeli governments). So while it taught

me a great deal, it also seemed to miss out on some important opportunities.

The highlight of the evening was by chance... a woman who runs their

Educational programming was our main speaker, and right before her

presentation began her cell phone rang -- with the wonderful news from her

son-in-law that her first grandchild had just been born! So there was this

incredible high (the whole audience clapping enthusiastically for her as she

gasped with delight) before the sobering program began.

 

The next day we left for the Cape Flats to a low- to middle-income

neighborhood called Hanover Park, where an unbelievable Catholic nun of

Indian descent named Sister Marina greeted us with her staff at the Maryland

Literacy Project. We soon learned that this quasi-Mother Theresa-like

figure was a ball of fire, and that her program was far too modestly titled.

Basically they are a community organizing center, using the process of

adult literacy to help people to find their voice, and to speak out on what

affects them & their communities. Four adults who have been going through

the literacy project read to us from the personal stories they'd written,

and we heard from a proud ANC (African National Congress, for the

uninitiated) member, a woman who was dedicated to her religious convictions,

a Zairian political refugee who had traveled through several countries to

get here, and a man fighting animal abuse and other forms of violence. Then

two women who lead a grassroots AIDS education program spoke to us, and even

though their contricted in some of their work by their Roman Catholic

sponsorship, they are obviously doing heroic work in schools, prisons, and

other affected areas within a nation where the "official" published AIDS

rate is approaching 25% of the population (and whose president has recently

announced he doesn't believe that HIV leads to AIDS!). Our group left

singing a rousing version of Amazing Grace. That evening I experienced my

first Passover Seder, organized by one of our group (thanks Cristin), and

learned about this holy day & how it connects closely with our own Christian

Holy Week experience.

 

Thursday we went to the (in-)famous Robben Island, the first of two trips

I've already made to the spot where Nelson Mandela and countless other top

political leaders (Govan Mbeki, father of the current president, ANC

co-founder Walter Sisulu, Robert Subukwe, founder of the Pan-Africanist

Congress, etc etc) were imprisoned for decades. It was a bit unfulfilling,

as I didn't really get to spend the amount of time in the prison itself as I

would have liked. There is one wing of the prison where they have put words

and mementoes from former political prisoners in each of the cells, and I

wanted to sit and learn about each one of these amazing individuals. But

our tour guide, Speech -- no, not the lead singer of Arrested Development,

he's a former political prisoner who lived there for almost 15 years --

pressed us onward to the next building. Luckily, I will get to go back at

least once more.

 

Colleen A, Mary M, Mike Y, Sharon M, and some others will be interested to

know that my second visit there, a week later, was for an Interfaith Prayer

Service for Mumia Abu-Jamal! A local activist-extraordinaire named Terry

Crawford-Browne (many know his wife Lavinia as Desmond Tutu's personal

assistant for many years) organized this wonderful ceremony, which brought

together a couple former political prisoners with local/national religious

leaders (a Muslim Imam, a Hindu Guru, the regional Methodist bishop, and

others). The two highlights -- aside from simply being able to attend this

great event, held in the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, otherwise

known as the "Leper's Church" on Robben Island) were the beautiful music

offered by the University of Cape Town's Choir for Africa, and the keynote

address delivered by the Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa, the Most

Reverend Njongonkulu Ndungane. [If you're interested in a copy of it, let

me know, and I'll see if I can get an electronic version of it to email you.

If I get the time, I might try to write a news release on it in the next

few days.]

 

Much of the end of last week was spent at St. George's Cathedral, in Holy

Week services. One significant exception was a visit I was priviliged to

make to the home of Glenda Wildschut, who was one of the 17 members of the

TRC. She was one of only 2-4 women on it, I believe, and as a health worker

who had served as a leader in Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the

ANC, she had a significant perspective to its work in the late 90's. I was

interested to see that she was decidedly positive about the "legacy" of its

work (which continues, as many of the Amnesty applications are still to be

determined, and the process of Reparations has been completely stalled).

There have been many critics of what has happened, but she cast for a small

group of us an initially positive light on it. Glenda also shared with us

some thoughts about the gender dynamics of the TRC, as well as what were

perceived as racial conflicts -- her personal background as a so-called

"Coloured" or "Brown" (what some in the U.S. think of as "Mixed-Race"

ancestry) providing some of her analysis of these issues. I was looking

forward to exploring several of these topics more with Glenda during our

second week, when she was supposed to have met with the rest of the group

later; but it did not happen as that very afternoon her house was

burglarized, a sad reminder of the ongoing crime issues worrying most South

Africans. [Hopefully I will get to see her again in a month as a group I'll

be joining in May might get to connect with her -- though she also might be

in San Francisco at that very time!]

 

The other major departure last weekend from the wonderful world of worship

was our Saturday excursion down the Cape Peninsula. We spent a fantastic

day (how many superlatives can I come up with in one email?!) driving around

in a fairly touristy context, seeing jackass penguins (yes, that's what

they're called), ostriches, babboons (who are clearly related to a few of

you, and you know who you are), and other wildlife in the midst of

spectacular scenery on both the Atlantic Ocean and the False Bay, which

empties into the Indian Ocean. We traveled all the way south to the Cape

Point -- once thought to be the southernmost point in Africa, but is

actually the southwesternmost point. In Hout Bay three of us hardy souls

took a boat ride out to so-called Seal Island (a bunch of rocks with a whole

mess of seals, and our skillful captain practically put our boat up on the

rocks); even this anti-water-boy (no Adam Sandler, I) was tempted to jump

out and join the playful seal pups as they cavorted around our boat. We

feasted on great food in Simon's Town, at a place called Bertha's, which

boasts some of the best homemade bread I've had (since 115 Academy, of

course), and stuffed me full of an incredible Zuppa di Pesce and Cape Malay

Lamb Curry (sorry Bill, no recipes available).

 

But the clear highlight of that day was our guide. Alan Petersen was

"simply" a person who'd been assigned to our group, but he turned out to be

much more than an excellent professional at his craft. He invited us to ask

him personal questions as well as those related to the sites, and in the

late morning something led to him sharing with us some of his amazing story.

His family is an example of the marvelous mixture of peoples in this

region: his ancestry claims KhoiSan (indigenous peoples from southern

Africa), Scottish, Swahili (central African tribe), Malay, and a Zanzibar

ethnic group; he's of Muslim and Christian backgrounds, as well as

indigenous religions. Of course, in South Africa's tradition, like Glenda

he was designated as "Coloured," though like many in the struggle Alan

self-identified as black for much of his life. His family was forcibly

moved out of Cape Town, like many, in the re-settlements of the 60's and

70's. And most powerfully, his older brother, Glynn -- his only sibling --

was killed in late 1976 by the South African police, simply walking home

from work. Alan shared that he in fact was the second person to testify

before the TRC's Cape Town hearings. And as he related this story to a

small group of us listening wide-eyed as we walked back to the bus, he

pointed at me and said "I used to hate whites, for the legacy of oppression

that his family has suffered. But the Truth Commission helped me to come to

terms with my past, and to move past this hatred." He spoke of members of

his family and other people he knows well who did not have that opportunity

to bring forth the stories that they have suppressed through the past

half-century (he had not talked about his brother's death until he spoke to

the TRC); and his belief that if they could do so they would be able to

similarly to let go, in some ways. Obviously the issues are more

complicated than that, but his personal witness was a powerful witness to

what the TRC has been able to do thus far. The story was brought full

circle the next morning, Easter, when Alan surprised all of us by showing up

at the cathedral, and joined our group in the pews -- and after the sermon,

delivered by our own Vice-Dean, Fran Tornquist, he told all of us how we had

in fact helped him to continue his healing process. Many tears were shed.

 

I enjoyed a bit of an "off" day, during which I got to see some super-cool

temporary ex-pats of my age (yay!) -- namely Phyllis Byars (thanks Aaron!),

and Sara & Erik (thanks Sarita!) -- and the day was topped off by hanging

out at Phyllis' fly flat with two kings and a blessing -- more specifically

her Zimbabwean pals Kingdom (yep), Roy (or Roi, or King), and a Pretorian

named Sibs (Blessing), plus her similarly beautiful Trinidadian friend

Sipho, all of us yelling idiotic answers to some crazy board game named

Outburst.

 

Then this Tuesday it was back to the hard stuff. Since several of our folks

had headed in different directions at this point, about half of us went to

see the Rev. Michael Lapsley, one of the most motivating people you will

ever meet. Michael was bombed in the spring of 1990, while he was living in

exile in "Zim" (Zimbabwe) -- in the midst of the negotiation process. The

letter-bomb he received blew off parts of both arms, destroyed one eye and

some of his hearing. Yet, rather than operating from a point of anger and

revenge, he has turned the hatred of those who sought his death against

them, creating a program called the Institute for the Healing of Memory --

an outgrowth of his previous work with the Trauma Center (which works with

victims of torture and other forms of violence). Amidst a background of

photos of him with Mandela, Castro, and other international revolutionary

leaders, we watched a video where a young woman expressed fear at taking his

workshop, as she'd heard this white Anglican priest "eats white people for

lunch," but that she had an excellent experience. It reminded me a great

deal of the work of the People's Institute for Survival & Beyond, and the

Challenging White Supremacy workshop, and some other major anti-racism

training efforts back in the States. [Actually, Yvette & TRI posse, there

are a couple of your booklets I'd like to have sent to him -- specifically

the one on the Vietnam widows, which seems to directly connect with a piece

of his work he discussed.]

 

I unfortunately need to bring this first email to an end, because this is

costing me massive bucks (Rands are also called "bucks," just like our

dollars -- and actually they have a better reason to do so, since their

version of deer, Springboks, appear on many of the coins for which we use

that slang terminology. So I hope this first long note will convince many

of you who offered gifts that they're being put to good use. Much more has

happened, but I need to save a few Rand to get to the next spot on my

journey (Jo'Burg, then hopefully Umtata, Queenstown, and Grahamstown, with

perhaps a few other stopovers in between, for those of you who know the

country).

 

Tonight I'll be dancing the night away, as my best buddy Bobbito the Barber

(aka Bobby Nice, for those of you Wes folks who preceded his current

moniker) will be DJing here in Cape Town (that's right!) after an apparently

great night up in Johannesburg, together with DJ Len (Company Flow) and Jean

Grae (aka What What?). For more info on Bob's upcoming international

destinations, which apparently include Denmark and Bogota, Colombia, check

him out at http://www.cucumberslice.com at your convenience -- there's also

music and other good stuff there.

 

But as I close, I want to send out some special greetings. Happy belated

birthdays go out to Selisse, SheilaBean, StephDol (yeah, babe), Carolyn C,

Ange, Ashley, Shar-Ski (still love ya!), and Bill Y. In advance I wish the

same to former roomie Greg, Sucio (Ball of Confusion), Serch (Siz), Chilly

D, and WillStrick. Similarly, joyous anniversaries to my brother Bertie and

the lovely Marcia, my beloved June & Andy, and a happy wedding day to Craig

& Christy!!!

 

And one final note -- THANK YOU. So many of you contacted me in a range of

ways prior to my departure from the States last week, to express your

encouragement and offer various forms of support toward my trip. I am

deeply, deeply grateful. I have thought of many of you in the past few

days, so you are on my mind and in my heart. Thanks especially to a few of

you who inspired and led me on this path, in particular my family, my former

cathedral colleagues, and the following faithful folks: David, Nell, Bob,

Brian, Kelvin, Diane, Earl, Donna, Mary, Michael, and Rick.

 

For those of you who've found this initial diary way too much to deal with,

don't worry, future reports will be less lengthy. But despite the cost in

time and bucks to craft this first blast, it's worth it. I'll be less

verbose in the coming weeks.

 

Happy belated Easter and Passover to you, and Happy early May Day (they

celebrate Worker's Day here!).

 

peace, love, courage, Ethan