Homeward Bound

4 06 2010

Wow, folks. We’re in the home stretch. In two hours, we’ll be in a New York State of Mind, flying high in the friendly skies. We’re going back and forth between being excited to see everyone and sad to leave our little home, dogs and life behind. And we’re trying to figure out how to say goodbye to this year of travel.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to represent South Africa to people back home. I’m torn. First of all, it’s such a complicated, multi-layered place and I still don’t really know how to explain it. Secondly, there are so many different ways of looking at this country. As many ways as there are citizens, perhaps.

I’ll tell you one way I won’t describe it. It’s something that has bothered me since I arrived–how some South Africans talk about South Africa.

“Cape Town’s not Africa,” some say with pride. It’s as if to say, “We’re not part of all that Africa implies.”

I found myself saying it in the beginning, too. “It’s not Africa Africa,” I explained to my parents on the phone, trying to help them prepare for their visits.

I caught myself. Why was I trying to distinguish this country from a wonderful continent, one I have visited several times, lived in, and loved? What was I trying to say about Cape Town? About Africa?

Even more offensive were the other moments. When some violent crime happened on our block, our neighbor’s first response was, “Welcome to Africa.”

When university bureaucracy drove me crazy, people commented, “What do you expect, it’s Africa?”

Of course, we’ve met many people who don’t talk this way, both in Cape Town and in our last two weeks of travel. We just spent two plus weeks seeing the country, and I’m happy to say that we were surrounded by many other perspectives. Perhaps most notable was our four day hike through villages on the border of Lesotho. We stayed in huts run by local families, where we ate better than we have almost anywhere else. We also saw the rural South Africa that so many of the teenagers we’ve met in Cape Town come from. There was a quiet pride in each host that we encountered, a pride in South Africa that was different than the pride I’ve witnessed during our daily Cape Town life.

We’ll come home with some of that pride, and a mix of other emotions as well. Relief will be one. I’ve never lived somewhere where I’ve felt so, as Michael Scott might say, vincible. Part of that was paranoia propaganda, and part of that was, unfortunately, a reality that life is a bit unpredictable and nothing is entirely stable. While it’s true for any society, Sunny and I could feel an underlying anger bubbling over in daily life, and sometimes it did show itself in destructive ways. Make no mistake: crime is not the core problem; something else—the inequity, the history, the lack of moral education, the continued racism–is.

Our last goodbye was with the first person we met in South Africa, the woman who ran our guest house and was like a mother and best friend to us when we felt so alone in a new place. She served us breakfast and asked us, “So. After all these months, what do you think? What do you think of our little ever-evolving country? Do you have hope for us?”

The truth is, we do. I don’t completely know why. There are plenty of reasons to feel nervous about South Africa’s future. I won’t be surprised if the pot on the stove eventually boils over. There’s still too much inequity, and the former perpetrators haven’t comprised enough–in money, land, or even in philosophy. And I’m concerned by how few students take history or study democracy in any depth. These are not good indicators for the country’s future.

And yet, through all that, I’m really impressed with South Africa. I feel like they are tackling, or trying to tackle, issues that our country as a whole never became mature enough to acknowledge. I see so much resilience. I respect the people I’ve met. I’m rooting for South Africa–in the World Cup, for starters, but beyond. I’m rooting for them, all of them, to succeed.

We can’t wait to see all of you in person…we’ll be in touch soon! Thanks for tuning in!