Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The only sin was the color of my skin

It can be very intense here at times, and everyday seems to have its own moment of despair, sadness, silence, but also hope. Also, many of you wondered how I am "dealing." Yes, seeing the effects of poverty and HIV is having the residents of the townships is hard; seeing their commitment to community, to education, and to each other is inspiring..but in many ways I wonder, really what do I have to deal with? In truth, I leave everyday at 5:30 to go back to a city where everyone looks like me and lives in big houses. In two weeks I will be leaving the township and heading back again to Cape Town. And in seven months I will leave South Africa behind as I start another exciting chapter in life in the US...I can escape, I can turn a blind eye, I can live in my little bubble...so really, who is it that has to "deal?"

But I wanted to balance the previous email with one that is more uplifting. Again, with just the reality that I am facing and processing, there is something that I want to get off my chest first before I get to some of the good moments at MadAboutArt. As you can tell, I have been processing a lot about inequities surrounding race, gender, sexuality, economics...and this one newsstory symbolizes in many ways why I am angry and saddened by the world:

WHO: A black college student. Female. Mother of 2 children. Is an exotic dancer in order to make ends meet.
WHAT: Raped. Sodomized. Almost Strangled to Death. Beaten. Called Racial Slurs throughout.
HOW: By a gang of three white men.
WHEN: Two weeks ago.
WHY: Is there an answer to why such evil can happen? I have found none.
WHERE: Though I am in South Africa and there are probably hundreds such stories here, this particular one is not from South Africa. It is from my own home, Duke University, only one block away from where I lived last year.

There is so much to say about this story and why I write it in my South Africa Updates. And yet there are no words. I am in South Africa, less than fifteen years after the end of apartheid, where so much is still divided between race and economic status..and lest I forget that South Africa is not an exception to race relations, just one that is a bit more obvious and talked about. In fact, I am reading a book now, Country of My Skull, about the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, in which one of the black victims says, "My only sin was the color of my skin." And as the story above shows at Duke University- one of the top five universities of the US- that, very sadly, this woman's only sin was the color of her skin and the only way she could feed her children was to objectify her body for men. (Imagine, as my best friend said, if the tables were turned and a white Duke student was victimized by three Durham black men...which also brings me to another point that the one lacrosse team member whose DNA was not taken was black...perhaps one of the first times his skin color worked for him- he didn't match the profile)... Of all that I have seen here, I don't know which story is worse. And this story I HAVE to deal with, I cannot escape, it happened in our backyard.

OK- back to South Africa. I have loved getting to know the kids here. My favorite moments have been when we get to hang out on a more individual level a couple kids at a time. Perhaps my favorite afternoon so far has been this past Saturday, when Melanie, Siphewe, Omthombi, Ebby, and I left the township towards for a meeting on the water. Though it's a mere ten minute ride, it feels like a world apart (one which by the way I am much more used to) where white tourists come and have coffee overlooking one of the most beautiful sights of South Africa I have seen yet- think waves crashing on rocks of the rising mountains. But what made this my favorite afternoon was that the five of us brainstormed how I can teach film skills to the rest of the kids, and decided that they would actually make their own documentary about how MadAboutArt has changed their lives, educated them about HIV, and empowered them to teach others. For me, it is so exciting that I will be able to give them skills that will last way beyond my stay, and I can tell they are excited to learn. We start next week and I think it will be one of the true highlights of my experience here in South Africa.

Finally, I want to paint a picture of a moment for me yesterday morning: my friend (the same from last email)'s mom who is diabetic had dangerously low blood sugar and so Melanie (who is a trained paramedic) and I went to go see what we could do to help. As we waited for the ambulance to come- it took two calls, by the way, and incidentally they only came after Melanie called- I sat in the living room, listening to the painful cries of the mother in the other room. My friend came out, tears in her eyes, and said it was just all too much for her. That her monster (vocab taken from the hero book she made) was starting to overpower her, that she would maybe resign from MadAboutArt to help her family. Also from the Hero Book is the chapter that her mother is her hero, a strong woman who cares for her family and the community. I try to comfort her by saying that I know her mother has passed on her strength to her. No, she responds, her mom is the glue that holds the family together. My friend's year and a half year old adorable daughter can sense that something is not right in the house and holds on to her mother's legs. As we sit in the dark living room- decorated with photos, some African crafts, and a hanging that says "Hard Life"- still waiting for the ambulance, a commercial comes on the TV. It is for a gospel cd and at the end of the commercial the announcer says, "With Gospel, everything is okay." Still hearing the pained breathing of the mother, seeing the helpless face of my friend, and thinking about how this is just one problem from a list of dozens that this family has and will face. I cannot help but wonder if, really, it is gospel music that will make everything okay for my friends.


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