E-Update from Umtata

 

or "I shoulda brought my jar of peanut butter"

or "Excuse me, where's the submay?"

or "I can buy a condo for less than $15,000?!?"

or "Wait, you mean *I* am the keynote speaker?!"

 

Friends and Fam-a-lam,

 

Time for another update -- it's been a while, but I'm finding it

increasingly difficult to find Internet access (not to mention time to work

on my messages). I was in Johannesburg for over a week, and despite the

fact that it's a major international city and the main financial center in

this continent, nada 'Net pour moi. Anyway, y'all have shown me much love

over the past couple weeks in response to my first blast from beautiful Cape

Town, so I've gotta come through with the second journal entry. Thanks to

all of you who sent kind notes.

 

When last we heard, young Chilly Skywalker was awaiting the imminent arrival

in Cape Town of his amigo especial, the infamous Bobbito Garcia (aka DJ

Cucumber Slice), along with two musical compadres, DJ Mr. Len (of Company

Flow) and MC Jean Grae (aka What What? of Natural Elements). They did

arrive, albeuit belatedly on Saturday the 29th, and we expressed mutual

admiration with big hugs and inside handshakes confounding witnesses

(courtesy of the CM Family, for those in the know). They were then

introduced to four local hip-hop fellows who I'd met a bit earlier: the two

event organizers, Adam (aka the Go-To), and Denver (an MC as well as a

producer); and their two buddies Shrakri (sp?), an ill clothing designer who

splits his time between his native South Africa and London, where he works

most of the time, and ANOTHER Denver (yes, amazingly, I -- who had never

previously met a person named Denver -- hung out with not one but two for an

entire weekend), this one a dreadlocked photographer slashed legal activist

slashed everything. The latter Denver took the 3 guest artists and yours

truly to a dope meal at the Africa Cafe, a spot that I'd gone to just a

couple nights previously with several of my Grace Cathedral colleagues,

shortly before their departure. Then it was off to their hip-hop

extravaganza evening at Longkloof Studios, a television studio that doubles

as a big club, where they rocked the house until 5-something in the morning.

I was accompanied on the dance floor for the marvelous musical mixture by

University of Cape Town temporary student Phyllis Byars and some members of

her international posse, who you heard about in the last blast.

 

The next couple evenings were similarly spent enjoying the social aspects of

greater Cape Town. Highlights included dropping into a club that was

featuring the township quasi-house music Kwaito (where yours truly reverted

to a years-gone-by status of one-foot taller, ten years older, and mucho

shades lighter than all other clubgoers), going to a spot called the

Armchair Theater (sort of a combination of the Parkway Theater in Oakland

and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the East Village) for a night of dope rhymes

performed live over even better beats, and last but not least a fantastic

dinner in an incredible house in the fairly exclusive neighborhood of Camp

Bay, courtesy of a woman who's the neice of Albee Sacks (sp?), the

anti-apartheid activist-turned Supreme Court justice who was featured in the

Bill Moyers "Facing the Truth" film documentary about the Truth &

Reconciliation Commission. Unfortunately, in the latter destination I

didn't have the opportunity to talk with her about her role assisting him

with much of their subversive activities during much of that traumatic

period, as our group was caught up in watching the big heavyweight boxing

match (Lennox Lewis destroying what's-his-face Mr. formerly unbeaten). Oh

well, you can't always be doing the intellectual stuff.

 

I did get to do a couple mind-growing things before my departure, including

a half-hour discussion with the Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa, the

Most Reverend Njongonkulu Ndungane. While many of you will not have heard

his name until this point (much less pronounce it), suffice it to say he's

an important dude as he has taken over the position of the head of the

Episcopal/Anglican church here following Desmond Tutu's retirement a few

years ago. Archbishop Ndungane has achieved his most significant visibility

to date with his leading efforts to push the "Jubilee 2000" worldwide

initiative to cancel international debts, which are crippling many nations

in southern and central Africa (Mozambique being the most obvious example at

this particular point in time). He's also gotten some notoriety here in his

home nation for challenging the African National Congress-led government on

a couple of policy issues, especially issues regarding the increasing

poverty in this country at a time when the government is devoting a great

deal of monies to military purposes. In our chat, he reviewing with and

affirming for me several broad questions I had drafted as topics to raise

with religious leaders around the country over the coming weeks -- so you

will find several of the following themes in much of the email below,a s

well as in succeeding messages. We agreed that the topic of the role of the

church in a post-apartheid South Africa was a natural starter point.

Indeed, the churches were a two-headed beast during apartheid -- some of

them providing a psychological foundation for the apartheid system, by

theologically supporting the white government, while others offered some of

the most visible opposition to the regime (like the voices of Frank Chikane,

Desmond Tutu and Allan Boesak) -- and you see religious writers regularly in

the newspapers and other media. So the role of the church now can be a

significant one as it is not as separated from the state as it is back in

the U.S. Archbishop Ndungane also agreed that the issue of the

international community was an important theme -- both in the role of

governments and world economic bodies (as they relate to issues like Jubilee

2000), and also the churches overseas and their role in forming ongoing

partnerships. Finally, he supported my intention to ask these leaders about

some specific topics, such as violence, youth, and interfaith relations --

but especially the issue of racism, which is a subject of particular

interest to me, and seems to be increasingly in the news here. So I

certainly have a lot to work with!

 

Anyway, last Tuesday I finally departed Cape Town, after 2 and 1/2 weeks in

that beautiful albeit troubled locale, by train to Johannesburg. Much of my

26-hour ride was spent in the dark (and only part of that due to my language

difficulties here -- I have enough problems trying to understand the many

different accents speaking English, without having to understand any of the

other TEN national languages here), as nightfall arrives shortly after 5pm

and lasts until 7-something in the morning. My train compartment was shared

with an 83-year old Afrikaner former railway man named Adrian Van den Berg

and a 70-year old Frenchman named Dimitry (neither the club DJ nor the

hip-hop reviewer, music-minded folks). Well, after a couple hours the two

of them decided they didn't much care for one another -- basically, the

Afrikaner was trying to "save" both of us for Christ, and the Frenchman

simply wanted to talk, talk, talk about his travels around the world -- but

each seemed to get along well enough with me, so we had these three-person

conversations where the two of them wouldn't look at one another! An added

strain was their mutual opinions about "the Negro question" -- the best way

I can describe their decades-old less-than-human beliefs about blacks, both

in Africa and in the U.S. The best thing I can say is that I think it was

better having to deal with those sorry dynamics than having 2-3 folks who

didn't want to say anything at all, which would have made the day-long trip

endless. Fortunately, they did both need their beauty rest, so there was

also a 9-hour mostly-silent period when I was able to avoid all that

nuttiness. One of the main reasons I took the train (beside cost) was that

I was hoping to see a good part of the country, which I otherwise wouldn't

really see during my time here. I regret to say that much of the journey

was unremarkable to this untrained eye -- after a couple hours in their

acclaimed wine country (Napa-lovers eat your hearts out), we entered the

"Karoo," which comprises hundreds of miles of plains in the middle of the

country (much of it in what was known as the Transvaal region) -- and I

really didn't see much to remember (of course, a great deal of that was

during nighttime). Oh well.

 

Upon my arrival in Jo'Burg, I made my way to what I was told was the taxi

area, and was promptly accosted by several screaming cabbies. The short

version is that I did get to my destination, but at a cost which was

apparently 2-3 times what I should have been charged. Obviously, they too

have learned the fine internationally-acclaimed skill of pressing a separate

button on their meter for American tourist types. I landed in a

neighborhood called Rosebank, in the middle to upper-class northern suburbs

of Jo'Burg, at the offices of Letsema Consulting & Investments, a business

founded and run by a college friend, Isaac Shongwe (Wesleyan '87). My

former resident advisor, activist leader, and soccer buddy Isaac, and his

wonderful wife Batsi (short for Molebatsi, Wesleyan '94) hosted me for 3

nights at their marvelous home in the neighborhood of Emmerentia, along with

their gorgeous two children 'Siso (short for Sibusiso, which means

"blessing," just like the fellow I met in Cape Town who was nicknamed

"Sibs"), an 8-year old with a good head fake and vicious left foot (watch

out Bafana Bafana), and Mbali, a beautiful baby girl less than a year old,

who is destined to walk any day now. I had a great time playing with the

kids, and talking with the two senior Shongwe's about our Wes experiences

and old friends from there (hi to Apgar in particular from 'Zac). I'm

especially proud to say that Batsi is making it her personal crusade to get

two young college-age women into Wes in the next couple years, one of whom I

met and is an incredible person, so Cardinal comrades keep your fingers

crossed. In addition to their expanding family activities, the Shongwes are

deeply involved in a number of educational initiatives here in South Africa,

and it's obvious that both businesspersons are doing great works here, and

providing strong role models for young people here.

 

Two other Wesleyan connections happened while in Jo'Burg, I'm happy to

share. While at Isaac's I learned that he and Batsi stay in close touch

with Sipho Bavuma ('90?), and when I expressed delight at that news (as I'd

tried to locate Sipho before coming out here, to no avail) Isaac dialed him

up on his cell phone right away, and I spoke to the "ol' man" for a few

moments. Hopefully I will get to see him when I get to Pretoria next month.

Also I was able to have dinner with my other former soccer buddy (and

fellow back-of-the-frat-party bachelor, all too often), Kgoadi Thipe.

Kgoadi is similarly: happily married in the northern suburbs, though not to

a Wes grad (oh well, at least she's from Syracuse); parenting, with two cute

daughters (from their photos, as they were asleep when we got to his place)

who he prefers to call "the Brats," aged 3 and 5; and working 70-90 hour

weeks, doing IT computer consulting, as well as being co-owner of a

prepackaged foods store in the Jo'Burg International Airport, which he

opened 6 months ago and he hopes will take off soon (I had to gulp when he

told me the rent they were paying each month).

 

One of the most frustrating things about being in Jo'Burg was the even more

dramatic sense of isolation and security-consciousness than I'd experienced

in Cape Town. People were insistent that I not walk around on my own, and

so I developed this growing suspicion of everyone around me, and maintained

it throughout my stay there. Of course, my last full day there I did have

to rebel, and take a 45-minute walk along Jan Smuts Avenue, but that was

primarily in the northern suburbs without too much cause for fear. It

brought to mind a helpful anecdote offered by the Rev. Vanessa Mackenzie,

one of the first woman Anglican priests in this region, who I finally met my

last 24 hours here (thanks Nell!) and who I will definitely be hanging out

with on return trips to the area (she's an awesome feminist, and we clicked

on many levels). Vanessa told me a story of when she started working in a

predominately-white church in one of the northern suburbs, and how she was

supposed to meet with a family from the parish. They planned to come see

her at the church, and Vanessa said, "No way. That's not how we do it in my

culture -- we visit you in your home." So she drove off to find this

family's home, and got lost. In the black neighborhoods where she'd

previously served, this would never have been a problem, as she would have

simply asked one of the many people walking along the side of the road, or

standing outside, how she could find such and such street or family home.

But not in the white 'hood, where everyone was in their car, and no one was

walking anywhere. She finally had to start ringing doorbells, and it took

her about 4 tries before someone would open the door for this woman, and

help her by calling this family and having them come pick her up! Woof.

 

So I definitely felt boxed in there, as I always had to be transported

around from place to place in people's cars. Having spent the past 11 years

in NYC and San Francisco -- and prior to that in the small semi-urban

communities of Poughkeepsie, NY and Middletown, Connecticut -- I am

admittedly used to places where I can walk around and usually use public

transit. Not so here.

 

In addition to my brief discussions with Vanessa about the state of the

faith community here, I was fortunate to meet with several other religious

leaders (thanks Kelvin). My first such get-together was with the Rev.

Wesley Mabuza, who is currently the General Secretary of the Institute for

Contextual Theology (ICT). ICT is essentially a progressively-focused

theological think tank -- not a seminary, but an organization that many

forward-thinking Christian leaders are affiliated with, and holds regular

workshops and conferences on a range of issues facing the ecumenical

community. For those of you who've heard of the Rev. Frank Chikane (one of

the foremost religious leaders in the anti-apartheid community, now in the

government as something like a deputy president), he was theologically

"trained" in ICT back in 70s/80s, and wrote about its importance to his

consciousness-raising in his autobiography (he may also have served as its

staff for awhile, now that I think about it). Mabuza shared his primary

concern for the future of the Christian church community in South Africa

that they have not yet been "indigenized -- that the churches are still

operating within a missionary mentality." Mabuza interested me in that he

is willing to ask many different questions, and to look at the problems

facing the church and society from many different angles. On the one hand,

when we discussed the ongoing issue of racism he told me that he wants to

say to his white counterparts to not complain when black and others in South

Africa raise the issue of racism. He prays for the day when "we really look

upon one another as gifts." On the other hand, he indicated that he gets

tired of the "colonial" thing, and that black leaders need to be brutally

honest with one another, and that since they ARE created equal with their

fellow humans they need to ask hard questions like "what was wrong with US,

that we got colonized?" [Just as importantly, Batsi was convinced that

meeting with Wesley was an excellent sign for getting her friends into

Wesleyan!]

 

My next big religious personality was the brand-new Anglican bishop of

Johannesburg, the Right Rev. Brian Germond, who likewise proved a

fascinating interview, in his very first week in office. While many of

these people inferred the following point, Germond forcefully and directly

stated that he believes the church has quite significantly *failed* his

country in the previous 6 years, since the changeover to a democratic

society. He said the church community knew what they were fighting against

during apartheid, but not what they were fighting for -- and that therefore

in his opinion they had a "theology of struggle," but not a "theology of

liberation" as many had believed. At this time he feels the society is

still locked into a "for and against" model, and he believes the church must

lead the country forward into a new culture of "critical solidarity," where

people and organizations can be critical of government structures without

being seen as "disloyal." He was condematory of the declining social and

moral calues, and of the church's need to create a new ethical voice to help

the society move forward. Germond also reflected with me on his experience

in the U.S., where he did his doctorate in Chicago, and a comparison of some

similar issues within our two societies. He noted that people in the U.S.

were very eager to look at social justice problems abroad, especially

racism, but not those at home -- and suggested that the sheer difference of

statistics between our two cultures (his a predominately black one, the U.S.

a majority white one) makes his society a "very fortunate" one as they

simply *have* to face up to the racism in their society, whereas people back

in the U.S. can continue to try to ignore it. His most critical comments

also came in this area: "What I see at the moment is a slavish aping of the

U.S. We're caught in an idolatrous consumer culture, that I believe is

demonic. We're obsessed with materialism." (Whew.) In addition to

supporting the Archbishop's efforts to gain debt relief, Germond saw three

other areas for international solidarity in a post-apartheid era: first,

economic sanctions worked so well in the late 80s and early 90s that they in

fact devastated the South African economy. Germond believes it is the

appropriate role of global partners to press for Reinvestment, to help

rebuild a nation with a crippled economy. Second, churches and other NGO's

can provide critical assitance in offering "simple economic strategies that

work," in areas like job creation and micro-lending. And finally, he

highlighted the broad issue of the Global Economy, and said "It seems to me

the only ones who benefit from the G.E. are the developed nations." He said

it is time for academics and other experts in their fields to take a hard

look at the G.E., as it appears developing countries are losing rather than

gaining, despite the claims by leaders such as Clinton that all will

benefit.

 

Next came time with my second local host (P.I. = post-Isaac), the Very Rev.

Peter Lenkoe, dean of St. Mary's Cathedral, and members of his staff. My

chats with the cathedral folks brought to light even stronger concerns about

the declining ethical & moral values in the community. In particular, the

cathedral is working with other local churches to battle for a number of

what we would call "quality of life" issues in their immediate neighborhood

-- the fact that the Central Business District, in which they are situated,

has become a slovenly mess of garbage everywhere, street vendors on every

available bit of sidewalk, taxi vans crowding the streets ("a law unto

themselves," some of these taxi drivers have actually been telling the

members of the cathedral congregation that they are not allowed to park by

the church!), and of course the overriding concerns of crime and violence

(no police visibility whatsoever, lots of corruption, etc.). I hate to say

this, but where's Giuliani when you need him? I don't really mean that --

you won't ever count me as one of da Mayor's supporters, and from what I've

just heard about his current troubles they certainly don't need Rudy as

their role model -- but it is definitely intriguing that many people are

focusing on these smaller issues as symptomatic of the larger problems

affecting this society.

 

The next morning it was my honor to sit down for a half-hour with Bishop

Mvume Dandala, Presiding Bishop of the United Methodist Church in Southern

Africa, and current president of the board of the South African Council of

Churches. I must admit that it was only after that discussion that I

realized what an important person I'd spoken with -- he was a fairly

unassuming man, wearing a simple suit with the AIDS pin on his lapel, and

quite youthful-looking, as I would have guessed that he was only in his

mid-40s -- and that in having sat down with both him and Archbishop

Ndungane, I'd essentially met with two of the most significant spiritual

leaders in a very religious nation of about 40 million people. Bishop

Dandala likewise stressed with me that the top priority for his country is

"building the *character* of the nation" (this is beginning to sound like a

broken record). He indicated that apartheid nurtured a climate of supremacy

among some people and inferiority among others, and that it will take a

strong character to, in the case of the former group, own up to the

privilige that was gained during those decades, and in the case of the

latter group, to reject that which had been said for so long and to indeed

believe that one is an equal partner in a historically unequal society. He

said that one of the main challenges for the church is to spell out the

benefits for people to "walk" (with Christ) on a certain moral/ethical path.

Bishop Dandala also strongly addressed the church's need in southern

Africa to find its place in the collective memory of this nation. By that

he meant that the experiences of people in this land do not readily fit into

the "pre-packaged box" of how Christianity is usually described: "John

Wesley [the founder of Methodism] is important, but at the end of the day he

is an Englishman who changed *England*." Like Rev. Mabuza, Bishop Dandala

strongly articulated the need for the church community to develop its

indigenous African voice. After we spoke a bit about interfaith relations,

the drastic need to quickly improve public services, and issues of

corruption, we got to the racism... and he grabbed it. "If there is any one

topic that the churches have failed to deal with, it is racism. In my view

this is going to be THE most difficult issue for us [as a nation] to face,

*especially* the church. Dr. King's statement [in the U.S. back in the

1960's] that the Sunday morning is the most segregated hour is fast becoming

the same problem here." He suggested that it is practically impossible for

many people to be told that God is the path to come together across racial

lines, when it is in "the presence of God" that their culture has been most

segregated. He also indicated that it is those who have been in power

(read: whites) who have historically dictated "what non-racialism should

be," and that is a major stumbling block to actually getting to a point of

non-racialism.

 

Despite meeting with all these high-powered voices, I'll have to admit that

some of my most meaningful "church"-related time there was spent with two

different "average" laypersons. I connected with Judy Baffingthwaighte and

Jakobus Sauls, and had wonderful experiences with both. Judy works at the

Central Methodist Mission, which is basically akin to Glide Memorial

Methodist Church in San Francisco -- it is located right downtown, in the

heart of crazy Jo'Burg, and is involved with a great deal of direct social

outreach. For the past decade Judy has run a homeless ministry there, and

she spends most of her time going throughout the central city area, visiting

a number of homeless communities. On Saturday the 6th she took me along

with her daughter to a couple of those communities, and I saw the conditions

in which many of them live and talked to a few that were willing to speak

English. Then on Wednesday night the 10th I joined her program for their

weekly ministry: 30 of us split into two groups, and each visited about 5

homeless communities around the city, delivering bread, soup, medical aid,

and friendship. It was a wonderful opportunity to join in a meaningful

expression of partnership that affirms the human dignity of many of the

faceless "undesirables" out there on the streets.

 

Jakobus is one of my pal Pastor Sauls' elder siblings, and he is is the

distinguished principal of the Eldomaine Primary School in Eldorado Park, a

formerly "colored township" that is part of greater Soweto. Jakobus brought

me to his family's church on Sunday morning, where I was beckoned to the

front of the full congregation to share some words. I bid them greetings

from the U.S. on behalf of my buddy Kelvin, which was an honor -- local boy

makes good. Then I had lunch with the family and walked around the

neighborhood a bit, before Jakobus took me on a brief tour of the best-known

Soweto sights: the "Ubuntu Kraal," a former rubbish dump that has been

turned into a beautiful retreat center (truly!); the street on which both

Desmond Tutu and the Mandelas lived, and on which the Soweto 1976 students'

uprising began; and the former home of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, which is

now a museum.

 

But the real highlight of my time with Jakobus was a return trip to Eldorado

Park on Tuesday the 9th. He brought me first to his school, and I was

amazed that I was to be the "honored guest speaker" at the school-wide

assembly that morning! Here I was, standing in front of over 900 kids and

about 25 teachers, talking about the valuing your education... if they only

knew how I barely made it out of high school, not to mention my struggles in

college...whew, bad memories. And speaking of bad memories, simply going

into his office that morning brought back how much I used to hate going to

the principal's office! I told him that visiting him had broken my vow to

stay out of them for the rest of my life. Anyway, I hardly knew what to

say, but luckily this time I had at least scratched out a speech overnight.

Hopefully one or two kids got something of value from it. The honorific

status continued there for another hour, as I was called upon to draw a

raffle ticket for a computer; and then to present an award to a girl who had

sold the most raffle tickets (which Jakobus surprised me by asking if I had

100 Rand in my pocket to give her! -- of course I got my money back, but it

spun me for a quick loop); and finally I visited all of the classrooms. It

was amazing to see that the average class size was over 40 students,

especially coming from a state that is intent on getting public elementary

school class sizes down to around 22 students. The administrators are

teachers too -- both Mr. Sauls and his deputy principal Mrs. Naidoo, who

escorted me around, have to teach several classes. I also marveled at the

tri-lingual nature of the school (again, coming from a state that has now

banned even bilingual education) -- we walked from one Afrikaans-speaking

classroom that was learning English at that moment, next door to an

English-speaking class, which was of course practicing Afrikaans, and from

there next door to a third class learning Zulu (which is actually the first

language of about 80% of their students)! The biggest challenge for the

school -- aside from money, of course, a constant problem, especially when

you want to bring down class sizes to increase the educational standards,

and when about 25% of your kids' families can't afford to pay even the

annual tuition fee of 150 Rand, which is only about $25 -- is implementing a

brand-new program called Outcomes-Based Education (OBE), which is a new

initiative they and a few other schools are doing that draws on learning

curricula in several overseas countries, like the U.S., Canada, and

Australia. As I understand it, it is an attempt to start to move from a

memorization-based learning style to a more "critical thinking" style, but

that may well be oversimplifying the situation.

 

After my good time at the school, I was escorted by two leaders of the

Eldorado Women's Group to three interrelated projects in the area. South

Africa has one of the highest reported rates of domestic violence and sexual

abuse in the world, and things are only starting to change slightly now that

a new Domestic Violence Act was passed in late 1999. I visited their

shelter/ safehouse, which was just opened last year and currently houses 9

women and 17 children. We went to a retail & wholesale store that they are

opening this month, which will provide jobs to many of those women as well

as other members of the community. And we ended our mini-tour of Eldorado

Park at a Crisis Center they have created at the site of the local police

station. It was there that I learned that this community is considered the

"crime capital of South Africa," amazingly enough -- my time there had been

very family-oriented, and had made me feel like it was a struggling

quasi-suburb. In reality, it has one of the highest rates of violent crime

in this crime-ridden nation, which just goes to show you how you can feel

when you are NOT told bad things about an area (unlike several of the other

parts of Jo'Burg, where I've been so conscious of how bad the neighborhoods

are supposed to be). At any rate, the Crisis Center is an important step

forward for their community, as it has started for the first time to bring

together people in the community with their police and other representatives

of the system -- doctors, lawyers, psychologists and other professionals,

etc. -- to work hand in hand to solve their mutual problems. My best

conversations there were with: (1) members of their growing Youth Center,

who shared with me their work and challenges -- apparently (if you can

believe this) 60% (yes sixty) of the young people in that community are

known to be HIV-positive -- will there even be a next generation in Eldorado

Park? and (2) the police station commissioner, who is disgusted with all

the bureaucratic stuff he has to deal with, as it is keeping him from

interacting with the community and being a visible presence there -- he

noted that he is operating at less than two-thirds of staff capacity, which

means (for instance) that he is spending most of his time dealing with the

tons of paperwork they have to fill out. Depressing stuff, especially when

you see that the hearts and minds of many of the people there are willing to

work together to face their numerous issues.

 

Thankfully, I did get a bit of "down"-time from all this hard-core

education, during my time in Jo'Burg. Through friends I connected with some

young folks involved in the music scene, and especially hit it off with

Dylan, a dreadlocked filmmaker guy originally from Zimbabwe, and his close

friends Tooli, a featured film critic on the nationally-broadcast "Phat Joe

Show," and Maria, a binational (Lesotho andd England) who coordinates with

Tooli a web site that I think is http://www.rage.co.za -- visiting the three

of them a couple times in their apartment sitting on a hillside above the

supposedly youthful and fun (if drug-ridden) neighborhood of Yeoville. They

have an incredible view of the city, it's sort of like Twin Peaks without

the money. As I was leaving their building one of the evenings, I saw a

piece of paper posted in the lobby of someone urgently looking to sell their

2-bedroom flat for 99,000 Rand, supposedly 11,000 below what they had

originally paid for it. I did some quick calculation and was shocked to

realize that they were asking less than $15,000 for the place -- full

price!! What?! Maybe I should move here after all... My last night in

town Dylan and Tooli dropped me off at this club that had three different

rooms of music, plus a couple outside hang-out areas, and it was in the

hip-hop room that I saw some of the most incredible B-boying that I've ever

witnessed. Hopefully a couple of the photos that I tried to take will come

out -- oh for a video camera at moments like those. I must admit that what

I was really fiending for was the shirt one of the kids was wearing, a

dark-skinned dreadlocked breaker who was rocking a Bafana Bafana soccer

jersey that said "ANC Youth League supports the South Africa 2006 World Cup

Bid."

 

And then it was off to the Eastern Cape, by a 12-hour bus ride from Jo'Burg

to Umtata, the land of Nelson Mandela's birth. I've spent 5 days here, and

am getting ready to head southwest by bus to East London in just a short

while. My time is drawing short on this computer so I can only give a

couple highlights before running off. I've been staying in the home of the

McConnachies, a family that have served as medical missionaries here since

the early 1980s. Chris, an orthopedic doctor, and Jenny, a nurse, run a

series of projects out here doing heroic work in an impoverished rural

region -- even though Umtata supposedly has a population of 150,000 they

must be scattered far and wide in the surrounding region as there are only

about 10-20 main streets in town, and no delis. [Food aside: Have I

mentioned yet how much I've been fiending for peanut butter and jelly

sandwiches, not to mention a good turkey hero? I should have brought my jar

of Skippy from Cape Town with me to Jo'Burg and onward, as I've been

suffering from too much heavy meats (in the last city, particularly, not

here) and marmalade (which probably wouldn't go too well with the peanut

butter, but hey, when you crave it, what are you gonna do). And what's the

deal with the chocolate here, by the way -- doesn't anyone around here like

dark chocolate, or at least non-weird filling stuff? Sigh. I did manage to

find some Pringles yesterday to keep me going (Sean & Dale, thought you'd

appreciate that).] Anyway, they have 7 kids, the youngest of which, Bonga

-- one of their three adopted children -- is still living with them. 2 of

the daughters are here in Umtata, 2 of the sons in other parts of the

country, and a couple kids back in the U.S., where they lived for several

years -- though Chris is originally from Scotland (and calls me eh-than, not

ee-than, just like Bishop Hare Duke -- Brian you'll appreciate that), and

jenny is originally from England. Now the best part of the story is that on

Friday, my first day here, I was left to my own devices to rest up from the

ugly long bus ride (this tall frame didn't sleep much), and I spent some

time perusing their hall walls, which are filled with family photos. There

were a bunch of large wedding photos, and something about the groom looked

unique. As I got to the last one, I said, "wait a minute, it can't be!" and

went and found an old yellowed newspaper clipping that was posted amidst a

bunch of photos. It was, indeed. Of course their son-in-law is the

infamous MC Disagree, better known to most of the world as Dan Kealy,

carpenter-extraordinaire, former 3rd-Bass posse member like yours truly, and

most recently the furnisher of all the beautiful furniture in Bobbito

Garcia's living room. Further photo-seeking provided photos of John

(Sankeback, Reanimator) Merz, Pete Prime Minister) Nash, Christian

(Laettner) Martin, Big Pete, and other souls known best to those in the

know. It's way too small a world.

 

I've tried to earn my keep with the McConnachies: spending time at the

clinic Jenny runs in the community of Itipini (a shack-strewn, diseased

community of 2-3,000 that was built on a garbage dump) making small packages

of pills to be handed out by the nurses; fixing a flat tire on their

"bakkie" (pickup truck) and transporting a couple of amputees back and forth

to the hospital; and providing what one might call "TA" (technical

assistance) to them in the creation of a video for fundraising and other

promotional purposes. They were especially happy for my insights toward the

latter (thanks GraceCom), which helped them cut down what would have been a

half-hour piece to about 12 minutes.

 

There is so much more to write, but the next stages of my journey beckon. I

want to send two special greetings: first to Chris, who is graduating from

Columbia Law today (Bonzman, you da MAN!), and to Mom, in recognition of

Mother's Day just passed, as well as her upcoming birthday and my parents'

anniversary (and Dad too, of course!). Belated birthday greetings to Calvin

(again!), Kevin T and Douglas (M pass them on!), Scott G, and McKenzie (my

homegirl). Upcoming ones to Erika G (thanks for everything), Sue C (the

originator of the long update), Hlinko, Mary Kate, Mary Louise, Laura F,

Bertie (thanks for everything, and tell Fred that Bishop Germond remembers

him!), Stef P, and little Gregory. Other happy anniversaries to Greg and

Carolyn, Andrea and Dan, and MK & Jeff.

 

Until the next one --

peace, love, courage,

Ethan