Sunday, February 17, 2008

I pledge allegiance...

South Africa is in a national debate over whether or not to instate a Pledge of Allegiance in schools.

I admittedly have only thought a total of about 5 minutes about the United States pledge of allegiance - something I said every single morning for all of the formative years of my life, and then again for two years as a teacher. The debate here of the past weeks has made me go back and reconsider those words and what saying them every day as a child truly signifies.

In short, some South Africans feel that the pledge would foster a feeling of guilt among white South African students for the actions of the past regime. Others feel that the pledge would be a unifying symbol of what it means to be a South African in the "new" South Africa. Still others, including my roommates, feel that it is an unnecessary indoctrination of young children, before they have the chance to decide for themselves where exactly their allegiance lies.

Here is the pledge as it would stand:

"We the youth of South Africa, recognising the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered and sacrificed for justice and freedom.
We will respect and protect the dignity of each person, and stand up for justice. We sincerely declare that we shall uphold the rights and values of our Constitution and promise to act in accordance with the duties and responsibilities that flow from these rights."

Read more about this here.

On the other hand, the national anthem of South Africa is absolutely the most beautiful national anthem I have ever heard, and it brings me to tears every time I hear it sung. It is written in 4 different languages, representing all of the major language groups of the country. Click here to listen to the national anthem.

South Africa's national anthem

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa la matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika - South Afrika.

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

The isiXhosa and isiZulu of the first stanza, the Sesotho of the second stanza and the Afrikaans of the third stanza translate into English as follows:

    Lord, bless Africa
    May her spirit rise high up
    Hear thou our prayers
    Lord bless us.

    Lord, bless Africa
    Banish wars and strife
    Lord, bless our nation
    Of South Africa.

    Ringing out from our blue heavens
    From our deep seas breaking round
    Over everlasting mountains
    Where the echoing crags resound ...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

on Fear and Crime

A common question I was asked before I came to South Africa is "are you afraid?" The most common comment given to me was "be careful, it is very dangerous." This didn't stop when I arrived in the country. I spent the better half of my conversations with people telling me where not to go, what not to do, etc. etc. along with graphic descriptions of rape, murder, car jacking, house robbery, and so on. I am not a naturally afraid person (ask my mom), so though I heeded warnings, I did not let it deter me from choosing South Africa in the first place, nor adventuring out of my house once I arrived. However, the barrage of worry has taken a bit of its toll on me. I have been noticing myself a bit jumpy wherever we go, naturally clamping my arms like a death grip over my purse if ANYONE walks up behind me, and the final straw was a couple of weeks ago, as a very pleasant looking man walked past me in broad daylight on a well-populated sidewalk in the safe section of town, I had a literal vision of him suddenly clamping his hands over my throat and strangling me. That is when I decided enough was enough.

Now don't get me wrong, I am all about taking precautions. I look at it like this: it is stupid to get in your car and not put on your seatbelt, but it is more stupid to be so afraid of getting in a car wreck that you never get in the car in the first place, or that you get in the car but you are so jumpy that you slam on your breaks constantly or become so scared that you become a more dangerous driver than you would have been initially.

An interesting example of this was the family that Jeannie and I rented a flat from in Cape Town. They lived in one of the most beautiful places in the city - perched on Table Mountain, overlooking the city bowl and ocean. Their neighborhood was filled with beautifully architectured modern multi-level homes with the mountain as their backyard and the ocean as their front yard. Just beautiful. But the security precaution was unnerving for me. High electric fences, guard dog, signs on the front of their house warning of tear gas, security alarm system on all windows and doors, spotlight out the back door, and, to top things off, they had an alarmed gate that fit over the top of their stairs that they closed and locked each night when they went to bed so that if someone made it in to the house, they would not be able to have access to the upstairs bedrooms. I was a bit shocked when I saw all of this. But it was definitely not unique. Every home in the neighborhood took the same precautionary measures.

This country is essentially at war with itself - which is the title of a book I am reading about the current crisis of crime. In a way, fear is building upon itself and perpetuating what is going on - security fences get higher, more electrified, guard dogs get meaner, alarm systems louder, and potential robbers are coming in more laden down with arms to fight through all of these precautionary measures. I am not going to pretend like I see the real cause or solution to this issue, but I am trying to learn. What I do know is that in the last 3 months, there has been a 450% increase in the number of people immigrating out of the country. As I become more and more settled here, that fact weighs heavily on my heart.

For all of those who love me - know that I take careful precautions - I don't walk alone hardly ever, never at night.. I don't flaunt money or jewelry, I try not to draw attention to the fact I am not a local, etc. etc. And, for all that it matters, I am on the safest campus in South Africa. I wear my seatbelt, if you will. I am working at not feeling jittery about the crime statistics, because that does not help anything. And I refuse to not connect with people because of what part of town they live in. As I understand the situation more thoroughly, I will be sure to update. For now, I refuse to be afraid.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dedicated to L. Pears :)

Eish! Celine Dion keeps promise to Mandela
Johannesburg, South Africa
12 February 2008 06:26
After a five year contract that kept her in Las Vegas, pop diva Celine Dion is keeping a promise she made to former South African president Nelson Mandela by kicking off her world tour in South Africa, she said at a press conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

"Eish! Why not start in South Africa?" she said. "It was not possible and it was kind of at the end of the world.

"But two years ago Mr Mandela called to invite us and we were committed to be in Las Vegas for five years. René [Angélil, her husband] and I promised each other and Mr Mandela that we would start [the next tour] in South Africa.

"I am more than thrilled to be here. Jozi people are lekker," said Dion.

Dion is the biggest selling female artist in South Africa and her 12-month tour is named after her latest album, Taking Chances.

The Grammy-award winning Canadian said that Las Vegas was something that slowed down her career, giving her stability and time to focus on her family.

"But this [new] album means I am coming back. It's something that I am most proud of. We took a chance and we recorded something that was a little bit different from before.

"It was almost like going back to my childhood and my influence from my brothers and sisters -- it’s more grounded and a little bit edgier, but it is still the same Celine."

Dion recorded her first single written by her mother when she was 12. They sent the demo tape to Angélil, a producer who would later become her husband and would mortgage his house to help pay for her first album.

Celine and her siblings sent the tape in and did not receive a reply.

"My brother called him and said, 'Mr Angélil, you did not listen to the tape and we know that you did not listen to it because otherwise you would have called us'."

Dion was welcomed to the press conference by the Soweto Gospel Choir, who on Sunday night won their second Grammy award.

Dion said "Eish ...", and then smiled and expressed her admiration for choir's performance.

The choir will be a supporting act for her first performance on Valentine's Day along with pop icon Danny K and Idols winner Jody Williams.

Dion will kick off the 35-country Taking Chances tour at the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg on Valentine's Day.

She will stay in South Africa for three weeks, perform in Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, and give an additional show in Johannesburg on March 1 before flying to Europe.

The singer has taken members of her family with her on the tour. They are her 80-year-old mother, her seven-year-old-son, and her husband and manager.

"There is no other way for me right now. I would not consider to do anything without my family. It will be very powerful to discover the world through my son's eyes." - Sapa

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Update Email #2

Hello at long last!
I am now a week in to being settled in to my new home for the year: Grahamstown, South Africa.
I am still reeling a bit after a heartbreaking departure from Cape Town. The city kind of took me by surprise, and captured my heart in all sorts of ways. For the first week and a half or so I played hard-core tourist, reveling in penguins, baboons, etc. etc. Then I started to really listen to people. This nation is phenomenal.

The story of this country is just unbelievable - there is the story of their struggle to overcome an oppressive and unfair regime, but even more phenomenal, there is the story of their reconciliation and forgiveness. Apartheid was in place in this nation for over 50 years - that's fifty years of complete segregation, forced removals of millions of people from urban areas, inhumane social policies, and on and on... and then in 1994, when the tides were turned, and the majority had their voice again, instead of revolution and violence, there was forgiveness. I don't understand it even a little bit, but I know that there is something very very amazing to learn in this country.

My 2nd weekend in Cape Town, Wezi, (my Xhosa teacher) took Jeannie, Victor and me to Khayletshia, the largest township in Cape Town (a township is an area where the black population was forced to live during apartheid - incredibly run down, the areas we are "not supposed to go") The occasion was an umgidi - a coming of age ceremony for a Xhosa boy. The cultural experience was amazing in itself (for pictures and such see but even more amazing was how we were treated. Jeannie and I were the ONLY white people we saw all day long. Cape Town is still essentially segregated, and the township is definitely, definitely segregated. People stopped dead in their tracks as we drove towards the party, heads turning, etc. etc. I was admittedly nervous (they like to pump you full of stories about Amy Biel, an American woman who was murdered there in 1993) But it was a calculated risk, and one that I wasn't willing not to take. I was tired of the stories. I mean, let's put this in perspective - that was 15 years ago, JUST after apartheid ended. The fear factor here is ridiculous about that one story - but I digress.

So I was a nervous. For about 5 seconds. The second we stepped out of the car, women surrounded us, clapping, cheering and yelling, pulled us inside, pushed a few other women off of chairs so that we could sit, and stuck some food on our laps. Soon they were singing and dancing at the top of their lungs, and I was right in there with them, dancing like a fool and pretending like I was singing. It was lovely.

After I had eaten my fill, I started trying to talk to people a bit. After a while an older lady dressed in dark blue (traditional color) and with an apron tied around her waist (signaling that she is married) plopped herself at my feet. People here aren't too shy about sitting on your feet, or your lap, really. She ate and drank and danced and sang and kept coming back to where we were sitting to rest and such. After a while of this, she looked right up at Jeannie and I, and in Xhosa (Wezi translated for us) she said something to this effect. "Things were really, really hard during apartheid, but that was the past. Now we all have to be together. My heart is in your chest and your heart is in my chest, and we understand each other. The past is behind us and now we have love."

I was floored. There was no way that this woman didn't know that Jeannie and I were not South African - the same people who had oppressed her people for decades. Jeannie, Wezi and I were of course all tearing up, as was the woman. We held hands for a bit and then she went on with her drinking and dancing and eating. Less than an hour later, an old man snuck into the women's room (where we were), walked right up to us and said something to the effect of: "In the past things were really hard, but now we are together. The past is gone and so now we have to go forward together and forgive one another." Then he was yanked out of the room. Wezi turned to us and said - "this is very special, see, this is our country."

That changed my experience in South Africa, honestly. It seemed like I didn't go a day after that in Cape Town without someone sitting next to me and talking to me about apartheid, the struggle for freedom, and forgiveness.

The last week of Xhosa lessons Jeannie and I essentially stopped learning Xhosa. Instead, we spent the hours talking with Wezi about her life in a township, her experiences pre and post-apartheid, her hopes and dreams for the future. She truly became a dear, dear friend. During the course of our studies, she shared with us a project that she is working on. Children in the townships in general enter school completely unprepared - not school-ready. The literacy and numeracy rates are shocking. They are set up - for failure. Wezi has been a primary school teacher for over ten years (which makes a GREAT language teacher by the way - I highly recommend learning a new language from someone who is used to dealing with 5 year olds) so she has seen this problem play out first hand. And she's tired of it. Her goal now is to create a program designed to ready kids for school, so that by the time that they enter grade 1, they are set up for success rather than failure. You would think that kindergarden would be the answer to this, but kindergarden in South Africa is not sanctioned by the state as part of the school system, and therefore has little or no funding at all. Wezi took Jeannie and I to look at a couple of schools in one of the townships so that we could see first hand the problem with the kindergardens - it is shocking. No desks, no carpet, no real classroom (more like closets or halls), no school supplies, 50-60 kids in a classroom, etc. Sometimes the kindergarden teachers don't even get paid. Anyway, her project proposal is amazing. Jeannie and I spent a lot of time with her talking over the logistics and encouraging her to write up a formal proposal. Hopefully within this year we will see her implement her project and that many more kids will be school ready. It is our first potential "Rotary" project.

It broke my heart to leave it behind in Cape Town, and to leave the experience there, in general. But leave it I did--- on February 4th I headed to my new home in Grahamstown.

This is getting ridiculously lengthly, so I'll save Grahamstown news for later, but just for update sake:
  • I am settled in to a house - I live with 5 South African post-graduate students who are really, really wonderful, I'll update more about them soon.
  • I am enrolled in classes and just started today, actually.
  • I met with the Center on AIDS development and I am formulating my thesis proposal, which I am very excited about
  • I walked over to a school that is run for street children here in Grahamstown this afternoon. I am planning on volunteering there 1 day a week and hopefully teaching a class.
  • My Rotary community here is wonderful - they are very, very active in the community and welcomed me with open arms. I look forward to working with them this year.
  • The other Rotary scholars in my town are fabulous! They have helped make the transition here so smooth. It is nice to go through this with someone else. They are also AMAZING people with amazing stories and passions.

This country is the most inspirational place I've ever been. I have never met people like this before - the nation is still undergoing the transition that will make or break its future. I am so incredibly blessed to be here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


There are highly subtle differences in South African English and American English, which can cause incredible confusion. Take for example, "now."

In the United States of America, when we say "now" we mean something along the lines of this very moment. In South Africa, now means something to the effect of "in a little bit." You would think this would not be that hard to figure out - but somehow it is a daily struggle for me. For instance, I went in to the Student Fee office to pay my tuition today (the amazing cheapness of tuition will be covered later). I walked up to the desk, smiled my best smile, said how are you, its a beautiful day, etc. (pleasantries are HIGHLY important here), and then told the secretary I was there to pay my fees. She pointed to the door and said that the woman would see me... now. So I trotted over to the door, smiled my best smile, and waited. Occasionally she would look up and say something like I'll be with you.... now now.

Which brings me to the next level of waiting. The now now. Now now means something to the effect of "later than now" and if we remember, now means in a little bit. If you get a now now that means you'll be waiting maybe a few minutes.

So I was ok with that, I had time. Then.... she stepped away from the desk and threw at me the "manana" of South Africa. "Just now." She said she'd be back.. just now. While in America, just now means it happened a few moments ago, in South Africa, just now means AFTER now now... or maybe not.... maybe tomorrow. Or next week. Or maybe not at all. Luckily for me, today just now meant in about 10 minutes, not too bad.

Unfortunately however, I called my house warden this morning. I still don't have internet in my house, and they said it was supposed to be in by the end of this week. I asked if that was still on schedule, and they told me, its coming just now. So if I don't reply to emails, I'm waiting on just now. :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Safe and Sound

I've made it to Grahamstown... safe and sound.
I don't have internet in my room until next week, so the posts may be scant for a bit. I have so much to share from the last two weeks - they have been fabulous.

Leaving Cape Town was bittersweet. I was so excited to get to Grahamstown and see my new home, but very, very sad to leave behind such a wonderful experience with such wonderful people in Cape Town.

Grahamstown is lovely - its very small and nestled between wooded hills.... and there are elephants. And rhinos. Watch out.

I am living in a house with 5 other "post-graduate" (aka graduate) women - they have certainly taken me under their wing and love my accent. AND, when I accidentally break a rule (there are a lot), they just think its because I'm American and let me off the hook. I hope that card holds out.

Anyway, more later. Happy Super Tuesday. (I am currently the resident US coorespondent to all of my hall at Rhodes so I have to stay abreast of these things as everyone expects me to know exactly what's going on and what it means for the future of global relations -- its a lot of pressure.