Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Maital's Four(teen) Questions

Hello to everyone out there! I have officially been here in South
Africa for seven weeks, hard to believe! Though it has been amongst
the most intense experience that I have had abroad, it has also gone
by so far the quickest. Probably because it will be the longest I
will be gone, and so a few weeks ago I switched from thinking about
the length of time that I would be away from loved ones, I started to
think of this time here as an absolute privilege- I am constantly
processing, thinking, being challenged, and seeing both beautiful and
unfair parts of this country and really of the world.

As many of you know, this past week we Jews around the world observe
Passover, when we celebrate freedom- so much so that we eat matzah not
for one night but for seven! I am always amazed at how millions of
Jews gather around their tables, search for the afikoman, and
celebrate freedom, and that here I was thousands of miles away from
home but able to sing along. It was of course sad to be away from my
family, from our singing and my Ima's cooking, from our questions,
spilling wine over the table and each other. As if we Jews don't ask
enough questions as it is (if you know my mother and her sisters on a
tour you'd know exactly what I was talking about), Passover encourages
us to ask even more. Two stuck out for me this year: "Why is this
night different from all other nights?" And when I sat with my friend
Hayden's family at the Seder, I couldn't help but reflect on how
different this night, this year has been for me. And though I don't
wish to spend many holidays away from my family, in a way it was very
interesting to be away from anyone that I have known for more than
seven weeks, to have a chance to process both another world and-
because when I am outside of my comfort zone it is inevitable to
compare it with own previous comfort zone- to think of my own world.
On this seder night, I am beginning to see my surroundings in a new
way, to put a human face to a faceless virus and everything that comes
with that.

The second question that stuck out in my head this year, well I guess
it's actually not a question but a statement that leads to many of my
own questions: "During Passover we celebrate our freedom and vow that
we are not free unless everyone is free." And I wonder:

Do I understand anymore what freedom means, what it looks like?

Are my new friends in the township truly free? Yes, they have the
right to vote, but do they have the freedom to pursue what they want
in life? Do they have the freedom to access treatment? Do they have
the freedom to be educated for free, a right the UN has declared every
child must have? Yes apartheid is over and they certainly have more
freedoms (just as a small example when we went with Beaty to my
favorite spot on the water she said how blacks were not allowed to go
there…hard to imagine that was in the early nineties). But, why are
they still living in shacks, why is there still such an obvious divide
(it would be so easy by the way for me to stay in only white spaces,
except of course for the workers)? I am only now beginning to be able
to ask these questions, and yet the more I see, the less I understand,
the more questions I have…

I can't help but compare my own freedoms, as I said my own privilege
of being able to come here to South Africa and type these questions on
my mac laptop. But still, am I truly free, am I free to marry the
person of my choice? As a woman, am I free to walk alone after dark –
whether here in South Africa or in North Carolina?

Which brings me to another question, one that I have been asked
recently- What do I think of the recent news about the woman who was
raped at Duke (see previous email or google Duke lacrosse rape) and
how the DNA tests from the lacrosse players don't match up? (prepare
for a small rant that will hopefully make sense)…Now, I've only been
able to follow from readings online and haven't been there on campus
to get a better sense, but in my opinion a DNA match up would have
helped to prove guilt but it certainly doesn't preclude innocence, I
read a Duke student's editorial today- he is a white male- who was
trying to say that the prejudice that exists in the case of the rape
is against not the woman who has raped but the white lacrosse players,
that their reputations have been damaged. To me, that mentality is
ridiculous and dangerous. (A sidenote: this echoed in my head when I
spoke with an elderly white woman here who said how after apartheid it
has been much harder for whites to get into college, this being only
two days after I came from the townships where college is still an
almost unreachable dream)….But to this boy and also to this woman, I
want to say: bullshit and please open your eyes. Why would a woman
put herself through any of this if it were not true? As we can see
from the response at Duke, when a woman who accuses a man of rape she
herself must face as much hatred and judgment placed on her than on
the man, as if because she is an exotic dancer (in order, again, to
pay for college tuition and two children) that she had it coming, that
she deserved any of this? In a culture where 1 in 4 (the same rate of
HIV infection in the township by the way) women is sexually assaulted-
why are we so quick to point fingers at the victim when the reality is
that there is no benefit on her to make up a story. Now, I'm not
saying to throw any of the players in jail without a fair trial (which
I'm sure daddy will pay for the best lawyer…is that in it of itself
not a form of privilege)- but from what I can tell, this case has
opened a lot of wounds for women on campus, particularly from women of
color, on their past experiences, moments when their/our freedoms were
taken away by force, considered less than human, dehumanized and
disempowered. And to the women who have become survivors, inspired
others, had the courage to speak out and say, no it is not my fault
and I will speak out against this so that others don't have to face
what I have faced….to then continue to be silenced by people who are
too caught up defending themselves than looking at the deeper problem
(like this white male who wrote the article and said it should have
just been taken as a joke when a lacrosse player wrote in an email
that he wanted to invite strippers to his room and skin them)…I'm not
sure where I am going with this, it is hard to put into words, so I
will end with another question

And the last questions: Why are those who say, This is Not Male
Privilege, why are they all men? And why are those who say, This is
Not White Privilege, why are they all white? Why do we refuse to
listen to the women of color who say, "This is a case of White Male
and Economic Privilege, and it is not the only case as I have
experienced sexual assault also." To be blind to who holds the power
in these situations is to blind to so many people's reality… and I am
one white person who is trying hard, especially here in south Africa,
to open my eyes.

So, that was again a rant and I'm sorry, but I just had to get that
off my chest. There are many more examples of freedom, or lack
thereof, that come to mind, but these are the main ones I thought
about at the Seder…as an optimist and an idealist, it is sometimes
hard to confront all of the moments of inequity, ignorance,
unfairness, and un-freedomness (yes I just made that up) and to still
be hopeful about the world…but perhaps as in the Passover story, the
Jews had to wander the desert for forty years before they reached
freedom and yet there were still moments of hope, even enlightenment
(ie the Torah), and so perhaps we are still in those forty years in
some ways, and rather than Moses, it is only we who can lead one
another towards freedom…

Love to all,

p.s.I am returning this weekend to my friend Beaty's sister's funeral
with Melanie…thank you everyone for your kind words and thoughts, will
write more about that later!


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