The E-report from Johannesburg

or "Dreamland"

or "Full Moon over the Indian Ocean"

or "Four Months, One Bag"

or "The Ballad of Joe & Angie"

 

Friends and of course the FAM --

 

Well, here I am back in beautiful Cape Town once again -- except for the

fact that this time around it is wet and freezing. It's been foggy and

raining for practically my entire time here, but despite the nasty weather

(and the fact that we can't see the beauteous Table Mountain) it's beginning

to feel a bit like home -- depending on how I define home, of course. Being

a product of more than 30 years spent by the water -- the Hudson &

Connecticut Rivers and the San Francisco Bay, to be specific -- what could

be more natural than to chill on a small body of land amidst two oceans? It

does make me wonder why I hated water for so much of my life...

 

This is becoming a bit redundant, but I must once again express thanks to

all of you for the generous outpouring of responses to my muddling,

meandering prose. After I sent off that last blast, I cursed myself for

having spent much of it in a dreary series of reports on meetings with

religious muckety-mucks, rather than a more descriptive analogue of what I

was seeing and feeling. But I received so much wonderful feedback that it's

apparent that for many of you the challenges here to the churches and nation

have struck chords I don't think that I imagined. This chapter will attempt

to offer more of a balanced series of reflections on both the visuals as

well as the essential issues facing this country and its peoples. If youíve

missed either of the first two long emails, and want to revisit them, you

can go to a special home page created by my main man Eric "Flapper"Apgar on

his awesome site at http://apgar.net/chillye - and check out the funky

graphic of me as a beat poet (and no, I havenít taken up smoking, it just

goes with the look).

 

And as another quick aside, a quick plea - to all those of you who have been

generously taking time to send me those nice responses: PLEASE don't include

the original text message that I send to you! I know this may seem stupid,

given the fact that *I* am the one overloading your email initially... but

Hotmail only allows me to have a certain size Inbox. So when 20 of you

write back within a couple days, most of whom include my original message of

30-50K, it almost crashes my account! So, if you remember, please delete

the text of my big report before you send a response. Now enough of my

boring intros, on to the show (and apologies to those who've found many of

my paragraphs, not to mention the sentences, too long -- a brief amount of

time on borrowed computers does not make for the best editing).

 

At last report, you heard that I had spent a few days in beautiful downtown

Umtata, fighting the crowds in that burgeoning metropolis, and was preparing

to head southward by bus to East London. A few more words are worth sharing

about my time with the McConnachie family and the African Medical Mission

before we head onward in my journey. One image has remained in my mind from

my first day there, which brought me back in a certain way to childhood. As

I sat down to do a bit of diary writing -- the pen kind, not this version --

I saw about a 100 feet away in the road a kid kicking a tennis ball against

one of the neighbor's fences. This brought immediately back to mind

something my parents would probably long to forget, the fact that I spent

the better part of my youth with a tennis ball in hand, though usually it

was tossing it somewhere instead of kicking it (despite a mostly lifelong

love for soccer, I hadn't advanced that far). I have vivid memories from

throughout my years -- from grade school up through high school -- of

walking along the street bouncing a small ball, throwing one in gym class,

bouncing it against my schools' outside walls during lunchtime recess, and

most memorably constantly throwing them against my family's front steps and

garage door (one of the reasons my parents would probably prefer to not be

reminded of this -- what must have been an incessant series of banging

noises -- the other being the fact that I must have gone through several

hundred balls: or mountains of "yellow fuzz," as Coach Duke Snyder would

note!).

 

While this is perhaps a seemingly inconsequential side note, suffice it to

say that it was significant to me for two reasons. First, as we should see

further in this report, it started to bring back for me aspects of my life

that preceded my college and working years, the latter of which to date had

been the most influential connections toward my visit here. And second, it

provided for me a very tangible way to connect between my American,

increasingly grey-haired, English-speaking background and the simple fun

game of a 15-year old kid whose first language is Xhosa. We had a common

bond. And so for just a moment I got out of my "box," and went and grabbed

my Lotto soccer flats (making me glad I had brought them as my second pair

of shoes) and my orange nerf Nike NYC mini-basketball (the award for getting

to the finals, I think, of the 3v3 Nike NYC tourney back in around '95 --

all praise due to my potnahs in the Brooklyn champion crew of EZ-Lee,

Sake-One, and Dex, the 3 of whom had really gotten us that far). And I went

out into the road and kicked my ball to Dumisane. We ended up spending

about 90 minutes kicking a ball back and forth, and talking. I doubt he'll

ever make South Africa's Premier Soccer League, much less the Columbus Crew

(which he's not only heard of but apparently roots for, because Doctor

Khumalo played for them!), because he has a weak left foot... but hey, it

made for good conversation. In that light, I must say that I have gotten

many inquisitive looks over the past several weeks by people who wonder why

this guy is walking along the street, bouncing or kicking this orange ball

in front of him -- but you know, it keeps me occupied.

 

Speaking of games, another choice memory from my time close to the "Wild

Coast" was playing a bit of "separated at birth" -- though it isn't quite as

much fun if you don't have someone to play it with. In meeting another one

of the U.S. doctors who come regularly through the AMM volunteer ranks, I

have to admit that I never thought I would meet Tom Arnold in person -- but

that in the body of Dr. Ken German I met his double, if not actually

Roseanne's ex-husband. Similarly I found out that former high school class

clown/ senior class president Rich Dama has been re-born in the face and

personality of young Bonga McConnachie (while Rich may not be as well known

as that other comedian, those of you in the Poughkeepsie know will likely

attest that it's doubtful if the world is ready for a second Drama Dama).

 

On the more serious side of things, Umtata provided my "first" glimpse at

what one local ex-patriate referred to more than once as "Black South

Africa." Having just left Johannesburg, where the Central Business District

seemed as "black" as any community could possibly be in Africa, I was both

bemused and confused as to this distinction. But after a couple days it

made more sense. The rural-dominated former Transkei is indeed

overwhelmingly black -- and even many urban centers like Umtata have a

miniscule number of whites -- without the suburbs or other mostly segregated

white enclaves that characterize cities like Jo'Burg.

 

With the bouncing ball, the mark-of-the-tourist backpack, and my height

foremost among my distinguishing physical features, I almost always stick

out in an overseas crowd. As I began my tour of the Eastern Cape province

it brought to mind my trip to the Philippines back in about '92. A trip to

the local department store with a couple of my fellow members of the

Anglican Peace and Justice Network brought long looks at most of us

(purple-shirted bishops deserve that, in my estimation) but especially long

stares (or so it felt) to me, the guy that several of the kids kept greeting

as "Hey, Joe!" Why am I Joe? Who is this Joe fellow they were confusing me

with? Ohhhhh: "Hey Joe! Hey Joe! Joe, GI Joe, hey!" Anyway, as I

wandered into the store, I found that not only did I look over the populace,

but I looked over the entire store! I was able to survey the whole place as

I stood above all the display shelves. I was quite surprised here in the

Eastern Cape to similarly stand well above almost everyone I meet.

 

Besides the fact that Mr. Irish-German-Durch-English descent feels taller

than most people he is meeting, how else to characterize the people

throughout the streets of the Eastern Cape? The kids are often wearing

school uniforms, as these "kits" are the norm in both public and private

schools throughout the country. Young people out of school often seem to be

inclined to wear the same clothes we might expect back home. The older men,

on the other hand, I see wearing big woollen winter hats (like the football

ones), and usually wear both a sweater and a sport-jacket-style coat (often

a woollen one, like the type you'd see a college professor wearing) over

their shirt. Missing teeth are unfortunately the norm, a testimony to the

lack of decent dental care and the poor diet in this country. [It's clearly

an issue as I've seen a couple articles in the newspaper on the issue of

better dental practices. And on that tangent, speaking of newspapers, I

NEVER thought I would pine for the San Francisco Chronicle... until I had to

deal with most of the journals here - they're terrible!! The majority of

the dailies compare more to the New York Post than the Washington Post,

devoting pages of their front section to cricket and rugby, affairs between

government ministers and other players in society, and other yawn-inducing

tidbits... the best daily I've come across thus far is the Sowetan, and it's

NOT just because it's more attentive to soccer than the other

English-language papers.] Older women invariably contrast their diverse

skirt-and-sweater outfits with colorful headwraps. Layers upon layers.

These people KNOW how cold it can get, which brings to mind the classic

quote from early in the month by one of those kooky musical personalities I

wrote about previously. NYC native DJ Len expressed mass confusion at the

weather in South Africa: "I thought it was supposed to be 'Africa Hot'

here!" exlaimed a perplexed Len, echoing the sentiments of many a North

American. [Fortunately, he had been forced by MC What What? to bring more

than just t-shirts (!).] "I'm gonna start saying it's 'Africa COLD' down

here, %^@$!^#!!" finished Len with a shiver.

 

Speaking of Africa stereotypes, the concept of "Africa Time" has come to the

fore. And now I know why. While in the cities of Cape Town and Jo'Burg, I

was surprised to see that people kept appointments tight to the schedule --

honestly, I had personally expected most people here to be fairly loose

about time. But that was definitely NOT the case (although it was never as

anal as the Grace Cathedral 11am worship service, which starts EXACTLY as

the bells are striking 11) -- witness the Easter services at St. George's

Cathedral, which began within 5-10 minutes of the right time, good enough by

my estimation. Anyway, now I know the major reason why time is a relative

concept in this area. Transit is impossible -- if available at all.

Everywhere, people walking. Walking, walking, walking. How far do they

live from where I see them? Usually it is many miles. While I have not yet

seen evidence to match what my brother Rowan has reported from his 6-month

visit to central China -- to whit: "I swear some of the students DO have to

walk uphill in BOTH directions here!" (HOW is that possible, bro?) --

nevertheless, people walk forever. Seeing people walking throughout my

visit through the Eastern Cape also made it clear why so many people die

each week due to vehicular accidents. With old cars and unstable big trucks

and buses zooming aroung the roadways, most of whom are commendeered by

impatient drivers, the safety of any pedestrian on the roadside is

constantly at risk -- particularly at night, when the lack of extra light on

the highways accentuates the invisibility of humans and other mammals that

wander around the roadways. It's frightening.

 

I left Umtata all too soon, to try to zoom through 4 other key communities

in the Eastern Cape in a way-too-brief 8 days. First up was a trip to East

London, where I stayed with the Rev. Lulama Ntshingwe, an extraordinary man

who heads the Eastern Cape Council of Churches. "Rev.," as he is known to

almost all, including his granddaughter, who lives with him and his wife

Nomhle (who in the "small world" scheme of things, discovered that she and I

used to work two floors away from one another for the same organization in

NYC for almost 3 years!), is coordinating some incredibly significant work

on land reform in the rural part of the country. For the past 2 months, the

subject of Zimbabwe and Land Redistribution has dominated the headlines

here. While almost everyone I've spoken to (black, white, brown, etc.) has

essentially called Zimbabwean President Mugabe a fool for pursuing this

issue the autocratic way he has (supporting land invasions and driving

almost all remaining capital out of their country) and there is little

sympathy for his party at this point, at the same time there is widespread

recognition that the issue of land reform is a priority for the entire

region of southern Africa. One surprising fact that I began to learn in

East London is that the Christian church(es) own a large amount of land, and

that the corporate church is having to face up to its own history of

oppression and domination in the process of changing the society as a whole.

 

"Rev." is realistic about the challenges facing the country, especially in

the context of the ongoing racism, but workaholic that he is I drew from him

a strong belief that change is happening and transformation is possible. He

was especially insistent that the church can and will have an essential role

to play in this process -- he advocates that people in this nation still

*believe* in the church, so it has the ability to affect the broader

community. Still, his comments about issues of racism in the church drew me

back to my own nation. He spoke about the question of "deployment" (where

clergy people are placed), and noted that blacks are rarely appointed to

white congregations, but no one blinks an eye when a white clergy person

becomes pastor at a black church -- sound a bit too familiar, U.S. church

friends? He spoke candidly about the dominance of whites in other

leadership positions in the church -- finance positions, property trust

roles, and other decision-making bodies -- despite the fact that this church

is much more an integrated church, statistically, than our U.S. church,

which faces the same challenges. When I asked him about the question of

international relationships, he went even further by noting that many

foreigners don't trust black South Africans to hold these key positions,

perpetuating the problem. He said that hisotically money has been the

determining factor of who holds the power in a so-called "partnership" that

has never actually been equal -- and it will only be when we accept all the

gifts that are brought to the table (time, skills, and experience, as well

as the ever-present money) that we will truly become equal partners.

 

This theme was echoed in my fascinating conversation with Margaret

........., director of the NGO Coalition, and Nondobego Moletsane, head of

the Initiative for Partnership Development (IPD). These two organizations

are dedicated to capacity building in the nonprofit sector -- enhancing the

abilities of a diversity of organizations to do their work, and to do so in

collaboration with the government sector, funders, and one another. These

two outspoken women condemned the decisions made in the past 6 years by

international funders to dramatically cut back -- in many cases, to withdraw

completely -- their funding from a wide range of NGO and nonprofit

organizations throughout South Africa, in many cases redirecting those

monies toward government agencies in the new "democratic" government. They

noted that some or even many of those decisions may be correct ones, but

that they were made almost entirely *without* consulting the local

communities -- making decisions "on behalf of" the affected communities.

Moreover, while they admitted that the government has an important, indeed

essential role to play in dealing with all of the issues their membership

organizations deal with, they said that the macro-economic policies adopted

by the ANC government -- done at the demand of international agencies

(especially the IMF/ World Bank) -- are directly opposing the work of many

of these NGO organizations.

 

We delved deeper into the issue of international funders in two ways. First

was their pinpointing the fundamental program for their member groups of the

uncertainty of financing -- noting that those people were no longer able to

take part in long-term goals of coordinating with one another (despite the

fact that those very organizations have prioritized that issue as a top

priority for their work) since they are all dealing with the

bread-and-butter topic of short-term survival now. Also race emerged as a

key issue, just like in my conversation with Lulama, in this case with their

perspective that many of the country's NGOs are still led by whites because

the funders (who likewise are almost all run by whites) want to relate to

whites. The suggestion was raised that these agencies, serving primarily

black African constituencies, might need to create different contracts in

the coming years with respect to representation -- a provocative idea.

 

From East London I motivated northward a couple hours to Queenstown, home of

the Rev. Suzanne Peterson, an Episcopal missionary from the Diocese of Iowa

and a friend through the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Suzanne is serving her

second tour of duty in South Africa, after spending a three-year stint in

the same Diocese of Grahamstown back in the eaarly 90s. As many of you

know, that was the time of intense change in the society, but also in the

church -- when she first came here, this part of the Anglican (aka

Episcopal) Communion did not ordain women... so as a clergy person back in

the U.S., her status here was a bit ?? Nevertheless, her ministry was well

accepted, and she ended up being in the midst of this church's debate on

that topic, which eventually (and thankfully) led to them also deciding to

welcome women to the priesthood. Suzanne is a wonderful storyteller -- I

must admit that all three of the women clergy I've met here thus far have

been incredible oral historians of this nation's struggles (also Vivian

Harber & Vanessa MacKenzie) -- and I really enjoyed my time with her in a

town that my Rough Guide (thanks Laura!) describes thusly: "There is

absolutely no reason to visit Queenstown" (!!!!). I beg to differ! Go

visit Suzanne and the Anglican community there... and even beyond that, I've

got to say that I found the pentagram shaping of the central city

fascinating from a sort of urban-planning point of view.

 

Anyway, while it's true that there is not that much to do in Queenstown, I

really had a great time with her on the Sunday I was in town when I got to

experience a bit of what it's like to be a rural priest. Suzanne and Rudy,

the rector of her parish, St. Michael's (?), divide up with a couple other

ordained folks in the general area the task of covering several different

congregations each week. Here's an example. On Friday night, after I

arrived, I joined her for a Bible study (the 2nd time I'd been at Bible

study that week, infinitely more than my normal amount) with an Asian Indian

community. Then early on Sunday morning, we left her huge beautiful home,

located right next to the parish -- with a garden on one side, and the

rector's three loud barking dogs on the other -- and headed off to St.

David's, a church in the formerly Colored township of Victoria. The

community there was absolutely wonderful, welcoming me whole-heartedly to

the 7:30am service. I was very sad that we had to run out the door while

the closing hymn was still going, to get on the road to our next

appointment.

 

Well over an hour later, we arrived in Montero, a small town in the middle

of... well, country. It sort of reminded me of the year my family started

off on our 1984 six-week National Lampoon Summer Vacation, by heading up

through western New York. That was the summer going into my senior year of

high school (and my sister Krista's sophomore year), so my parents decided

to visit a few colleges during our trip to give us a sense of our options.

The first one was Colgate University, which if I remember correctly is in

Hamilton NY (of course, that's not where Hamilton College is -- a bit

confusing, though not nearly as bad a misnomer as Manhattan College, where

my sister Yolanda went, which is in the Bronx, not in Manhattan!). And

Hamilton NY is -- I hope no one will take offense -- Nowheresville. I mean

there are literally miles upon miles of cows and farms around it, and

nothing else. Frankly, that is even better than Montero, in the Eastern

Cape. There really isn't much of anything around it at all. The reason

Montero exists is that many years ago it was one of the first places that

coal was discovered in South Africa. Eventually, a better grade of coal was

discovered up north, making Montero's only industry inconsequential. For a

while it tried to survive on sheep farming, but eventually the bottom

dropped out of the wool market, and now it's simply poor.

 

Still, people live there, though the difference between its two communities

is as striking an example of the split in this country as any. There are

less than 900 whites, and about 23,000 blacks. We first went to service at

the old Anglican church in town, and the congregation was about 20 people --

15 whites, none of whom were under the age of 50, a family of 4 blacks, and

me -- and when the organ broke down in the middle of a sung version of the

Lord's Prayer, it seemed a fitting metaphor for the dying church. They were

nice though, and welcomed Suzanne well in her first visit there (in what I

am sure was the first time any woman had celebrated the Eucharist in their

church). From there we went approximately 1 kilometer to the Anglican

church in the black township, which was: full, young, vibrant, and of course

in Xhosa (the click language). I followed along in the Xhosa prayer book as

best I could (it helped that I had already gone through that same worship

service twice that day, though the other two were in English), and was like

that community duly impressed with Suzanne's command of their tough

language. It was a great way to end a day filled with prayer.

 

Perhaps it was the range of spiritual experiences that I was priviliged to

join over the previous week that had led me into a "dream state" in the

Eastern Cape. As a few of you know, I have long said that I hardly ever

dream -- or at least I can't remember them. Yet practically as soon as I

got to Umtata, I started waking up each morning recalling parts of weird

dreams, that didn't seem to have relationship to my travels, or even to one

another (I think a bike showed up a couple days in a row, but aside from

that, I don't know of any connections). Even the people who I recall being

in the dreams were people that I don't know all that well, and haven't been

in my thoughts much less my life in a long time. Hmmmn. Interpretations,

amateur psychologists? And the sidebar is that once I've returned to the

big cities, the dreaming (or at least the memory of them) has stopped.

Maybe it's related to the number of animals in the road, or something.

 

From Queenstown it was down to King William's Town, appropriately enough.

Fortunately, I got a ride there with Suzanne, so I didn't have to pay a

"prince-ly" sum to get there. HA! Oooh, I've been slaying people with

terrible puns of late: the worst was at a group dinner recently, when my man

Gershwin gave all the lovely ladies at the table roses - our friend Sunshine

was seated to my right, and one of the petals fell off, and she was trying

to decide what to do with it - at which point I encouraged her to place it

on her silverware, or.... ready?... to "put the petal to the metal!!!!!"

Ouch. Sorry. You can send a Flad 15,000 miles away, but you can't kill his

terrible humor.

 

The reason I was psyched to be in "King," as they call it here, was that it

was the birthplace of Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness

movement and martyr to the anti-apartheid cause (and minor character in the

Cry Freedom movie, supposedly about him...). I walked a few kilometers to

his gravesite, which is in a modest cemetary with but a few words on his

tomb. That was a powerful moment. Aside from that, King was unremarkable,

save for the museum which featured the story of Humberta the Hippo, a

massive mammal (originally thought to be male, and was dubbed "Humbert"

until its corpse revealed otherwise) who achieved national fame in the early

part of the 20th century for a two-year trek down the eastern coast of the

country, scaring unsuspecting migrant laborers all along the way and

eventually falling to the gun of an Indian fellow who didn't know this was a

harmless creature just on tourism.

 

From there it was further south toward the ocean again, to the college

community of Grahamstown (unbelievably it has about 80 higher educational

institutions in its small city environment... which brings to mind the

famous line from Spinal Tap about Boston, "Don't worry; it's not a college

town."). I wish I had been able to stay longer than the one night I was

there, at the home of the lovely family of John and Nommso Stubbs (thanks

Khutaza, Nell, Erika, and Robert!). He is the dean of the cathedral there,

and she is a doctor at one of the best hospitals in the region, and they

offered me wonderful hospitality in my brief visit - highlighted by a dinner

of Kudu (a large deer/ antelope indigenous to southern Africa, and an

excellent meal, much less "gamey" than venison). Hopefully I will get to

return and see more of that area. Luckily, I did manage to go with the dean

to the beautiful Umaria monastery of the Order of Holy Cross (thanks Mary

and many others!), an idyllic setting located in the hills above the city.

We met with Brothers Andrew and John (Brother Timothy, the prior, was out of

town) for about an hour, discovering more and more connections the longer we

talked, so I'll have to get back and visit them again. Then we attended

vespers in their beautiful chapel with windows looking down into the valley

(think of a tiny Mocon dining hall, for those in the know): and with

Andrew's brogue leading the service, and a thick fog enveloping the chapel

and the green hillside, I couldnít help but feel I was in Scotland, for a

few minutes.

 

A couple hours later I was on another bus, headed back to Cape Town once

again. When I arrived, having a couple hours to clean myself and prepare

for my next group experience, the issue of how I'd managed to last to that

point came to the fore. As I write this now I'm actually back in

Johannesburg, getting ready for another major move - it's been two months to

the day, and tomorrow I leave for Zimbabwe (a country in the midst of

political turmoil, but hey, what's that to anyone who's lived in San

Francisco, right?). So anyway, I've lived for 2 months with one medium

suitcase and a backpack. I'm not the worst clothes horse in the world, but

this is pretty darn unusual. My possessions - 3 pairs pants, 2 pairs

shorts, 3 t-shirts, 3 shirts (one a guayabera, of course), one (Wes)

sweatshirt, a fleece vest, a jacket (thank you NorthFace), 1 pair hiking

shoes, 1 pair soccer flats (darn right), various medical stuff, books...

pretty much it. Except for the fantastic Sierra Designs crushable water

bottle - thanks Howie! Oh my. Everything has seemed to survive thus far,

but ya gotta wonder. The real question is how much longer I can live

without a haircut - the shape-up Bobbito "the Barber" gave me before my

departure is definitely starting to suffer... and speaking of Bob, he also

supplied me with 4 tapes that have gotten much use thus far, as has the rest

of my excellent musical selection: Les Nubians' Princesses Nubians b/w

Ledisi's Soulsinger, clearly two of the best soul music albums of the year

(thanks Lovely Leslie!); Dilated Peoples' The Platform, possibly the best

hip-hop album of 2000, b/w the ABB Records compilation (all praise due DJ

Beni B, check him out at http://www.bahhc.com ); and the Mos Def album

(thanks Kofi for the sneak preview back in '99). Sorry to put you through

all that, but hey, what you just read above is basically my sum existence

for several months.

 

So to move on to a quick (is that possible with me?) re-capsule of the past

3 weeks, where I took part in the "Spirit, Soil, and Voice" peacemaking

pilgrimage organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a Christian

environmental organization called Target Earth International. Let me say

first that I had a certain amount of mixed sentiments going into this trip,

which really only related to the fact that no one I had spoken to in the

faith-based environmental movement had ever heard of Target Earth: and as a

few of you know, for a few years I served as the primary staff point person

at the Episcopal Church Center for environmental stewardship and ecological

justice concerns, working together with other religious contacts around the

U.S. on these issues. Well, what I'll say now is that I hope a lot of my

colleagues back in the States get to meet the president of this

organization, Gordon Aeschliman. Born in South Africa, and raised here for

much of his youth, and then an exile in the U.S. for many years, he is an

incredible man (with a wicked sense of humor) with many gifts - and I hope

that some of my friends in that community get to know him as I've had a

brief opportunity to do. Gordon was complemented (if rarely complimented)

by two other outstanding team leaders: Teri Bulicek (an extraordinary

pastoral presence, and a peacemaker by profession, for which I am deeply

grateful, in Arizona - Mary, a great contact for EPF??!!); and Gershwin

Sandberg, a young (hey, I can say that now that I'm into my 30s) South

African who is, to use a word frequently offered by on member of our trip,

AWESOME, and is probably going to be the best-dressed/looking pastor

whenever he gets ordained.

 

They were a demanding group of leaders, I soon found out, as basically the

first thing they did with us was dropping us off in hectic downtown Cape

Town with a sort of treasure hunt list of things to do in small groups of

2-3. Now, I'd been in C.T. previously for about 17 days, so I was not a

newcomer to the city... but some of these tasks I'd never done, and had no

intention of doing (in my 'box' world). For instance, take a public bus.

Buy a curry-filled sandwich at an open vendor down in the crazy public

market. And most fearfully, I'd have to say, get in a 'combie' van for a

ride. These are the vans that are about 99% black, and are omnipresent in

this country. I'd been in S.A. for almost 6 weeks, but had never gotten in

one of them: and they were forcing me to do so right away. Well, the combie

that my two partners Therese (from Kentucky) and Carolyn (from L.A. and

Taiwan) and I stuffed ourselves into was indeed an experience: we were 3 of

20 people in a vehicle literally designed to fit 12 people; Theresa was

shoved in between me and the black Santa Claus, an older man with a whitened

beard and a red woolen cap with a shaggy ball on top; and most of all, what

then took place. Our combie and another one tried to move into the same

lane of the highway, no surprise (hey at least they have lanes here, unlike

Cairo, right M?), they then started screaming at one another - and I do NOT

lie when I say as our van got the spot and drove in front of the other one

our driver opened his door, while driving, and leaned two-thirds of the way

out of the car, while driving (I repeat), and turned facing backwards to

yell for another 10 seconds at the bastard who'd tried to get that same

spot (did I mention this was while STILL driving??). Triple-yikes.

 

Also getting me out of the box was the time we spent over the next several

days pursuing artistic inclinations. Now, never an artist, I was quite

uncomfortable with this theme, as directed to us by some of our very

creative team leaders. But I tried to play along, and was certainly (in my

rational-style mind) interested in the role that art had played in the

apartheid years as a historical form of struggle for voice. But we were

pushed beyond just that form of listening into doing, especially in our

visits with the Community Arts Project, an organization that was started in

1976 partly as a form of peacebuilding during that chaotic time of the

struggle. It has been dedicated for 25 years to raising up the arts within

a society that for years censored much of that community, as well as only

defined "arts" under certain rubrics (CAP still struggles with a government

that directs about 90% of its funding to Western classical forms of

expression, like the symphony and opera). The majority of their work is now

to support efforts to bring forth voices from disadvantaged communities, and

in that context they continue to face the challenge of the debate about the

"Artist as Cultural Worker," a theme many nations faced throughout the Cold

War. In summary, I've got to say it's amazing what CAP manages to do on an

annual budget of less than $130,000 (yep). As you might imagine, their

skeleton staff includes some volunteers, one of whom is my new friend Sara

Schneckloth (thanks again Sarita!). Sara was one of several presenters to

us in the three morning visits we made there, and led us through both a

great dialogue of "art versus craft" as well as an opportunity to try to

create something within 20 minutes that could be sold for profit on the

streets, using just wire, newspaper, and "found objects" off the street,

mostly glass and buttons, and which would somehow appear unique amd would

evoke the sense that it related to the region where it was made. My

half-decent submission was a light switch cover, made of wire (the outside

rim), newspaper (specifically a photograph of an elephant, which seemed to

me to be as "Africa" as a tourist could want), and chewing gum (to hold the

paper together, thanks to Katie). Nobody bought it though...

 

At the end of our week in Cape Town, we took advantage of CAP's facilities

to create a giant brown-paper mural that spoke to our individual and

collective senses of what we'd experienced in South Africa to that point.

It was a hilarious exercise, and I owe my two small group partners, Bungee

(yes, you read right) and Katie, a huge debt for finding a way to bring

together our cornucopia of themes into a creative, shall we say, masterpiece

(!?) - one part of the whole mural, a source of much pride for us all that

day.

 

Other highlights of our time in Cape Town included the following: a visit to

the Taal Momument, a soaring structure located in the wine country region,

which was erected as a symbol to the Afrikaner language and its victory over

all the other languages/cultures in this country (if not the world) - at

which I broke my camera while climbing one of the rocks that looked over the

gorgeous countryside and the distant Drakensburg Mountain Range, which while

quite depressing (seeing how I've only been able to take a few photos since

then, using a disposable camera) seemed a fitting metaphor to that

oppressive structure; a visit to another living example of the nation's

apartheid past, the "Mother Church" of the Dutch Reformed Church, located

just a block from the Parliament building and the church that basically

anyone who "was anyone" in the apartheid government attended (and ironically

just two blocks from St. George's Anglican Cathedral, a centerpoint of much

of the religious community's anti-apartheid resistance); and a day and a

half spent with college students from the University of Cape Town and the

University of Stellenbosch's Anglican student federations. The latter was a

highlight for all of us, as we spent this time together talking about

cross-cultural understandings and conflict resolution; I was privileged to

have a long discussion with two young folks from Stellenbosch named Deidre

and Ulrich, and to talk with them about their impressions about being

"colored" in South Africa. The fast friends we made during that short time

together led several of us to head out together on Saturday night to a big

Kwaito concert. We were bummed, however, to find that the two headliners -

Bongo Maffin (a world music-influenced kwaito group who put on a great show)

and Thebe (who one of our hosts called the Tupac of South Africa, which he

meant as a compliment, so take it as you wish) - did not draw enough people

to pay the large fee of 45 rand (about $6-7, which is a big amount to a lot

of the young people who follow kwaito) to fill even one-tenth of the massive

event stadium they performed in. So the concert lost a bit in terms of

crowd energy...

 

One other highlight sticks out from our many experiences in Cape Town:

visits to the former townships of Khayelitsha and Langa (both of which I'd

been to the previous month with my Grace Cathedral crowd). Going to those

two communities was more tense this time around, because as you may or may

not have heard there was, basically, a war going on at that point. It is a

war that continues to be fought over providing transportation for the

thousands upon thousands of people in those communities who must commute

into the city every day, and is being fought between the "combie" vans and

the bus companies. While this is an issue that is affecting more than one

city in this country, it is especially fierce in the Cape region, where the

gangs that dominate some of the communities in the Cape Flats have put

themselves in the midst of this conflict. At least three drivers have been

killed, ambushes have been set by opposing forces, busses have been burned,

it's crazy. So the day that we went there was the day before the Minister

of Transport was going to basically shut down almost all of the vans for

their provoking role in this conflict - and therefore the fact that our

group was going to drive into Khayelitsha, the center of this whole mess, in

two combie vans (!) was a source of serious concern for me and at least a

couple others in our party. Needless to say, we survived: and admittedly

the very visible presence of both military and police helped.

 

So while there is much more to write about Cape Town, I will move onward in

our Spirit journey. As we head to the next location, the eastern region of

KwaZulu-Natal, I want to share at least a couple words about each of my

fellow team members - seeing how I've written about the leaders, and since

two of them (Gordon and Teri) had to return to the U.S. at that point - an

incredibly spiritual group of people, all of whom have instilled in me an

awe of the active role faith plays in their lives. The aforementioned

Therese and Bungee were two of four group members hailing from the great

state of Kentucky, but the Diocese of Lexington (NOT the much less important

Diocese of Kentucky, thank you very much), along with Justin and Matt.

Therese is perhaps the most outspoken member of the group... nay, the entire

team, always willing to provide needed commentary in the midst of our

weirdest moments. My life is too quiet already without her around. Bungee

is every church's dream youth group leader, at almost my height and even

skinnier (I lie not) he is literally like a bungee-cord, bouncing around

with any group of kids that shows up. A great memory was the Bung-arama

gathering a group of kids in Khayelitsha into a circle and leading them

through a bunch of songs and fun movement activities, without any of them

really understanding a thing he was saying. Justin is a musically gifted

young man at the University of Sewanee, who had possibly the best laugh in

our comedic group (harder to get than most, but when it came it was awesome)

and who brought out his guitar almost every day for some songs. And Matt is

a hip-hop loving (along with many other forms of music) collegiate who was

never afraid to put out an opinion when we met in the large group, and

others of us may have felt too worried about saying the "wrong" thing. That

card-playing foursome and I were joined by two other west coasters: Brian,

who coordinates the work of almost 60 Presbyterian churches in the northern

California region, and the lone pastor among our membership (though several

others are clearly on the way in the next few years); and the extremely

photogenic Carolyn, who will soon end (at least temporarily) her years of

living on the Pacific Rim to head to an international relations graduate

program at Georgetown this fall, and who in some ways I connected with the

most age-wise and life experience-wise. The last three group members

brought other geographic backgrounds to our mix. Katie from the University

of Florida (go Gators!) was my Celtic cheerleader (Ethan the Irishman is now

my nickname, I've learned), and offered some of the most profound comments

on the relationships between what we were experiencing and our U.S.-based

lives (surrounded by a host of likes, and you knows, but the point always

got across, like, you know?). Sunshine, the aptly-named smiler from

Phoenix, offered a force of positive personality that was barely diminished

by a flu-like cold she had to deal with for several days, plus the terrible

loss of her journal (they should tie these diaries around our waists). And

Fran from Chicago, heading to Seabury-Northwestern Seminary in the fall,

always kept us on course in terms of time and program focus... and was the

widely-acknowledged group leader in purchasing gifts (Fran's Kiosk became

the title for her bag of goodies).

 

So we flew to Durban, and began what would be a seemingly endless week of

U-turns. Gershwin is the U-turn god! [Mac, Mitch, and other Wes pals who

went on the England soccer trip may well recall the now-infamous Slade-O

induced challenge to Coach Terry, "T, what are you pulliní? Another U-ee!"

Well, this trip had about 10 times that number of U-turns...] We had two

major meetings in Durban, by the shores of the still-fabulous Indian Ocean.

Our first was with representatives of an organization called People's

Dialogue (and its partner agency, the South African Homeless People's

Federation). This national group operates with very few staff, despite

working with about 80,000 families around the country - for instance, only 3

staff people work with about 30,000 families in the region we were visiting.

That is because People's Dialogue is basically run by the communities

themselves, as their support base for focussing on the land and shelter

issues they've prioritized. Our two hosts brought us out to a new

developing community called Newlands West, on the border of the former

township of KwaMasha, where the group of women representing that community

gave us a rousing greeting with song and dance upon our arrival. What a

welcome! This formerly homeless group of people, which seemed to mirror

People's Dialogue's gendered membership (about 80% women), builds about 3

houses per week (!!), a total of 54 houses to the point of our arrival, with

another 100 to be completed by the end of the year. They took us into the

homes they've already finished in the past few months, proudly sharing with

us the results of their hard labor... and then it was time for us to share

in the dirty work, at least briefly. Most of us got our feet muddy, getting

down into the sewage and water drainage ditch they were digging, and helping

out by taking over that task for a brief half-hour - which they seemed to

appreciate (more song and dance).

 

The next day we visited with Bobby Peek of GroundWorks, one of the nation's

leading voices for environmental justice (thanks Heetan!). He took us on a

"Toxic Tour" of greater Durban, driving through a number of the municipal

waste dumping grounds and by nasty-smelling manufacturing facilities located

less than a hundred meters from schools and children's playgrounds. It was

a horrid reminder of my visits to the Mexico border (and East St. Louis, and

Richmond, etc. etc.), and the same work those communities are doing to save

their coming generations from the health hazards spewed forth by

multinational corporate sites.

 

After a depressing morning we headed in an entirely different direction, in

terms of looking at God's creation. A three-hour drive north brought us

into a huge national game reserve called Umfolozi-Hluhlue, where we spent

the next three nights enjoying the sense of being in the wild. And it was.

Visitors to our tent site the first two nights included a hyena, who tore up

one of our cupboard doors and a garbage can (which he kindly deposited at

the screen door entrance to Fran's tent), a porcupine (who likewise managed

to find his way into our supplies, and a pair of warthogs who our group

named Joe & Angie (for a central theme of our time together, "Joe Mama,

Angie Daddy too!"). But those friendly creatures were just the tip of the

iceberg for our visit. Hundreds of antelope (impala, nyanga, water buck,

and the yummy kudu) and beautiful zebra (is anything so compelling?); dozens

of giraffe, including a female that was nicknamed "lion fodder" as she

unfortunately had a broken leg, and clearly was not going to last much

longer; wart hogs galore (is that an oxymoron?); wildebeest and huge

buffalo; baboons (whose bad tempers are no doubt due to years of being held

hostage in zoos worldwide, as rightly observed by the ever-conscious Anita)

and vervet monkeys; and then the biggies. Yeah, baby. Rhinos. Big, fat,

prehistoric-looking rhinos. Cheetahs, a completely unexpected look at two

of this very endangered animals laying in a field. And the winner, for

all-of-a-sudden-child-again-me: elephants. There is really nothing quite so

amazing to yours truly as 5 elephants walking in line through a river.

Except perhaps, amazingly, a second group of 7 elephants walking the next

morning near our roadside: one of whom was a tiny baby, being escorted along

by its mother. YEAH!

 

All too soon, our time was over in the unpronouncable game reserve (though

not before one night in what was dubbed the well-to-do "Bush-Carlton"

Hilltop sleeping site), and we were rushing frantically to catch our flight

to Johannesburg. I still donít know how we made that plane... and you've

already heard me ramble on about the positives and negatives about Jo'Burg,

so I'll just offer a couple new reflections. First, the other memorial to

Afrikanerdom (see previous Taal reference) is the imposing church/

synagogue-like structure, the Voortrekker Monument. It was a place I had no

desire to see, but once inside, was fascinated. A massive space that

depicts, in a brief series of 27 huge life-like plaster pictorials, the

history of the Afrikaner people in southern Africa. An altar in its

basement, onto which shines on a special day in December (the day of The Vow

of Blood River) sunlight that casts down from a tiny hole cut into the

ceiling about 100 meters above. You just have to visit.

 

The second memory of our time here is attending worship on Sunday morning at

a pentecostal church in Soweto, with our perfectly-named guide Peacemaker.

He and his colleague Lucky, two of the leaders of a wonderful evangelical (I

don;t think I've ever used those two words together before) ministry in the

Soweto neighborhood of Dube divided our group in half and took us to two

different congregations. I have never, ever, ever danced in church before -

at least not like I did last Sunday. We did a sort of Bus-Stop-like line

dance, most memorably. And boy did we sing. Hey, I still like the Book of

Common Prayer, but I'll never forget that morning.

 

And last but certainly not least was the moment late last Friday night that

brought back to mind some of those terrible stereotypes that one constantly

hears about crime-ridden Johannesburg. I picked up my boy Dylan (the On the

Street video producer described in a prior email) and we drove into downtown

Jo'Burg (not something two white folks would do in the daytime, let alone at

night) to go to a dope spot named Metropolis. There we had a great evening

of Stevie Wonder tunes, spoken word poetry, and best of all an inspiring

performance by an incredible musical pair of singer/guitarists called Black

Sunshine. GET their CD, if you can... or actually better yet, hear them

live. Wow. So anyway, at about 1am I drove Dylan back to his pad, and then

continued on to get to the hotel where my Spirit group was staying. And

that's when I heard the sound of a flat tire. Possibly the scariest sound

in the world to a man who's driving in Jo'Burg for the first day of his

life, only partly sure where he's going, and who has heard a million stories

of carjackings and armed robberies in this city. I got back to the hotel,

somehow - what was left of the tire in the combie van I was driving was the

metal rim and about a half-inch of rubber surrounding it. It still makes my

heart thump right now just writing about it. But of course there was, once

again, no problem other than the tire - it's just all of what I/we have been

taught to fear about a place like this.

 

Well, as little as I want to - but to many of your immense happiness -- I

must end this edition, as I leave in a few hours for Zimbabwe, speaking of

places that the media is depicting as very violent. I'll probably be

off-line for at least a week, if not two, so don't despair if you don't hear

from me again for a while. Wish me luck (perhaps more against malaria than

the political violence they are dealing with). And keep in touch (but

remember, don't include this email in any response you might send!!!).

 

I also need to add a quote of the month section, as I was sent one that was

even better than DJ Len's "Africa Hot" comment above -- from Episcopal Peace

Fellowship pal Elizabeth Owens Wakefield, in preparation for her upcoming

trip to meet many of new husband Bill's relatives, who she expects to start

pressing the question of when they'll be having kids: "When Alan Greenspan

lowers the interest rate"!!!!!!!!!!!!! You go, Elizabeth!

 

And to close, I must add the obligatory birthday and anniversary section. I

think I missed a couple at the end of last month, so this is a bit long

(like the rest of this message). Happy belated to Laura F, Bertie (the

3rd), the Riss, Stef P, Alan (aka beloved roomie Yan), Jimmy Mitch, Jonah,

Reba, Maya, and Fro. Happy upcoming to Sung-Daddy, Mike S, Peter C,

Celeste, and most of all my beautiful, incredibly sister Krista. Happy

belated anniversary to Mary Kate and Jeff, Tania and John, Sneep and Lara,

Mike and Gwen; and happy upcoming to Aria and Ed, Rosy and Perry, and

especially Kris and Bonzman. A Happy Father's Day to my Dad and all the

rest of you proud papas out there. And a happy Youth Day, which is the

anniversary here tomorrow of the Soweto Uprising (June 16, 1976).

 

Peace, Love, and Courage, Ethan