Procrastination Central

6 05 2010

Well, folks, time is running thin. I have two weeks left in Cape Town to finish my “work.” After that, we will spend two weeks traveling around South Africa. And then, can it be, we’re coming home! It doesn’t feel real, and yet, when we watched a movie today with characters eating thin, crispy, monster slices of New York pizza, I had to stop myself from pushing my hands through the screen to grab a piece.

However, before I can rightly claim my slice with mushroom and peppers, I actually have some things to complete. Specifically, by the end of these next weeks, I plan to have a curriculum unit written and a collection or oral histories compiled. I’ve told myself and Sunny I’m in “go mode,” but I find myself using all sorts of interesting procrastination techniques, such as writing this blog entry (because how can we keep our faithful readers waiting???); watching Iron Man, (for if I’m going to see Iron Man 2, I better understand the crucial backstory); and most excitingly, reading a story on gang life in Chicago’s public housing, because, hey, at one point in my life, I was fascinated with the Henry Horner and Robert Taylor homes.

Despite all my dawdling, I am getting somewhere, albeit very, very slowly. But, I’m getting there.

Last weekend, we had the true privilege of attending a graduation ceremony of a group of students that Sunny has been working with. The youth are all coming out of incarceration, and they were celebrating the end of a four month program, designed to help them transition back into the communities and make healthy choices in their futures. At the ceremony, students read poetry and sang songs, parents spoke of their joy at watching their child transform, and mentors spoke directly to the community and the students about the courage and excitement of a second chance.

It was all incredibly moving, but perhaps what I was most struck by was the ease in which people talked about how their personal identities affect them. One man, a board member, stood up and addressed the crowd saying, “As a white man here, I’ve come to acknowledge that things are messy. And the mess isn’t just over here, it’s also with me. Often, we white people think our role is to fix the mess “over there”, but I’m here to acknowledge that I’m part of the mess. I have to start transformation with me, and think of new ways to look at poverty, at crime, and at transformation.”

Much later, another man stood up and began talking about his own story of starting this program, and of being a black teenager in a township, trying to find the doorway into white communities. He talked about the dangers, for himself, of seeing white people as a kind of key to freedom or upward mobility.

These conversations are why I’m here in South Africa. I think they’re unique. Maybe they happen in pockets in the States, and they surely don’t happen all over this country either. However, I do think South Africa is slightly more adept at talking about messiness than we are, and I don’t think people in my communities are as able to talk about their own identity in such a comfortable and honest way. I mean, how able and willing are we white Americans to talk about our whiteness? Have we even acknowledged that there is a conversation to be had?

These moments are the reasons I’m here: a chance to witness and even participate in the conversations of a community that is comfortable stepping into the messiness. I am seeing this time and again as I interview teachers and community members about their pasts. They seem willing–if not anxious–to talk about their personal histories, not because they think they have a interesting story to tell, but because they feel the importance of telling any and all the stories.

So, on one hand, I’m procrastinating. On the other hand, I’m finally getting somewhere. Not a bad place to be.

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