Donating to REALISTIC

31 08 2010

REALISTIC

We learned about REALISTIC (Rebuilding and Life Skills Training Centre) when we worked with schools in South Africa. Sunny had the good fortune to work with them several times during our time in Cape Town. You can read below to learn more about the program or visit this link.

To make a donation to REALISTIC by check (preferred):
1. Make the check out to “South Africa Partners.”
2. In the memo line write: “For REALISTIC, in honor of Stanton/Pai.
3. Be sure your correct name and address are on the check so you can receive a tax write-off letter and we can properly thank you.
4. Send to South Africa Partners, 89 South Street, Suite 701, Boston, MA 02111.

Why is this preferred? Because credit card companies charge a 5-7% processing fee on every purchase. This is why smaller businesses sometimes require a minimum charge to use a credit card for purchases. If you donate via credit card, just know that 5-7% never makes it to South Africa Partners or Realistic. However, because credit cards can be so much easier…

To make a donation to REALISTIC on-line by credit card:
1. Go to http://www.sapartners.org and click “Donate to SA Partners Now.”
2. Next to “How should we use your donation” click “Other” and list “REALISTIC.”
3. Scroll down to “Donation Dedication – I’d like to make this donation on behalf of” and enter “Jocelyn Stanton and Sung-Joon Pai.”

MORE ABOUT REALISTIC

Twice a year, REALISTIC enrolls a cohort of 20-25 young men and women between the ages of 13 and 25. These “Realists” are all attempting to re-integrate into society after serving time in prison. They participate in a four-month program that meets daily. As part of the program, they meet in circles led by amazing facilitators, some of whom are older parolees themselves and live in the same community as the youth. In these circles, Realists discuss their lives, the pressures they face in the townships where they live, and the decisions they made that led them down a pathway to prison. They support each other to make better choices.

Realists also take a variety of courses – ranging from AIDS/HIV awareness to pottery to computer skills. They also participate in outdoor retreats, taking advantage of South Africa’s incredible natural beauty, on hiking and camping trips. Staff help Realists plan their new lives, which may be returning to school, starting a new job, or enrolling in a job-training program.

Realistic was founded in 2004 by Solomon Madikane, who worked as a prison warden for ten years. Solomon was discouraged by the lack of support for prisoners and troubled by the tendency for parolees to be repeat offenders. Today, as they begin their eleventh cohort, Solomon reports that they have had less than five repeat offenders among their Realists.

We were incredibly inspired by the work happening at Realistic, and learned many lessons that we hope to bring with us to Boston Public Schools.

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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!





As beautiful as she is, it’s because of her mother….

9 05 2010

Yesterday, Sunny and I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to celebrate a young woman’s twenty-first birthday. As we now know, the 21st birthday is a big deal in South Africa. This is not for the same reasons as in the States. Instead, 21 is seen as the beginning of adulthood, a time to take stock on where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The party was everything that our birthday parties should be, but never are. Well, not everything. We arrived at 1, the program started at 3, and by 5, we were still waiting to be served lunch. So, there was some room for improvement.

However, what I loved was the way the community gathered around this young woman to tell her stories. Older aunties and neighbors reminded her of what was she like when she was a child. A pastor talked about the kind of person she is to the church community. Her work colleagues spoke of her character. And each and every person got up to contribute their evidence for the claim, “This young woman is ours, we know her, and we can speak about the woman she is becoming!”

One of my favorite parts of the Xhosa tradition is the singing. Sunny and I have been to several events now where singing is treated almost as punctuation. When you’re ready to speak, you start a song and walk to the front. When someone makes a powerful point, the crowds responds in harmony.

Early on in the birthday celebration, a woman gave a lovely speech about this young woman. She spoke of her pride that Amanda has made it to the age of 21, an achievement that is not a given in this community. She praised her for not “falling pregnant,” which is a true victory in her context. And she went on to speak of her identity as an honest, confident and no-nonsense young woman, who has managed to not only make it through, but flourish in the midst of sometimes tenuous surroundings.

After her speech, a different woman stood up and said it was time for a song. For the benefit of us Westerners, she translated the words before we sang it, and then taught us to sing the Xhosa. The song is simple. It goes, “As beautiful as she is, it’s because of her mother.”

It was not only a lovely song, but a simple, huge truth. Maybe not for all of us literally, but at least metaphorically. For me, I’m lucky to have quite literally, a ideal mother. At the same time, I have a variety of metaphorical “mothers,” and I imagine everyone does. It’s the people in our pasts that inform who we each have been able to become.

When I think of all the celebrations we have at home-the birthdays, the times we land some job, win this Fulbright award, find a fantastic life partner, or what ever, maybe I need to start saying, at least to myself, but perhaps also publicly:

As beautiful as this is, it’s because of my mother.

Happy Mother’s Day.





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.





A Lizard with no Legs

15 04 2010

There are many things
that Sunny and I love about Cape Town.
The hikes,
the sunshine,
the calamari,
the views of Table Mountain
which never ever
underwhelm me.

I also love living in the midst of transition,
or at least living in a society,
that acknowledges the hiccups, snares and complete mistakes
of transition to democracy.
Life is messy here,
and most of the time,
people admit it.

But one thing we miss
are genuine friends.
People are nice enough,
sort of.
And we’ve made some friends,
sort of.
But all of it feels just like that:
sort of.

After being here a few weeks,
someone asked,
“Have you experienced it yet?
The Cape Town way?
We over promise and under deliver.
Sure, we’ll invite you to a braai,
and we’ll even really want to have you over,
but we’re all busy,
we think we’re so busy,
and consequently,
no one follows through.
It’s just the way we are.”

I smiled at the accurate description of my experiences,
yet also found it interesting
that this friend of mine,
who was on the one hand so self-aware,
didn’t see that he could ,
in fact
both invite me and have me over for dinner
simple as pie.

There’s more to it than the busyness.
I feel a hesitation, a carefulness, an almost
stand-offishness
to get to know strangers.
People are so used to their tall walls and electric fences.
For some of the white population,
I think they’re not sure how much more newness they want to let in.
For some others,
they might not even be able to imagine
that we would want to enter into their lives,
see their homes,
eat their food.

And to be fair,
Americans are a dime a dozen here,
and our track record for being
compassionate, non-judgmental and honest global neighbors
is not fantastic.

On Sunday,
we went hiking.
As I was crossing some rocks,
I saw a slither in the crevice
and I jumped and hopped,
leaving Sunny on the other side.

“A snake! A snake!”
I yelled as I tigger-jumped
away from the site.

“Where?” he asked.

“It’s there! It’s there!!”

He managed to cross
and we kept going.
But halfway to the top,
I saw another set of eyes
peering out from under a rock.

“Another one!” I squealed.
“Watch out!”

On our way down,
I saw a woman about my age
stopped on the trail,
staring at the ground.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. A snake.” she said.

“Is it bad?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I’m never sure which one is what.”

“Do you think I can cross?” I asked.

“Probably,” she said, not moving, “but I’m going to wait.” she said.

Just then her husband and kids approached,
and she apprised him of the situation.

“Let’s take a look!” he exclaimed,
and bent down to where the snake rested.

“A ha! I see! It’s not a snake at all.
It’s just a lizard with no legs!
Here, let me show you.”

He invited us down to watch it squirm up the trail
and he pointed out its little stubs of legs
that must have fallen off
and were just beginning to re-grow.

“You see, it moves like a lizard, not a snake.
Not a snake at all.
It’s just trying to find its legs.”

“By the way, I’m Jeff!”
he exclaimed,
sticking out his hand.

As we walked away,
Sunny and I widened our eyes at each other.

“Wow.” he said.

“Wow.” I said. “They were so nice to us!”

It felt by far
the friendliest interaction we’ve had,
and I think it had something to do with names.

No one asks us our names here.
They ask all about my grant
and where we live
but they don’t ask our names.
It’s almost like,
by that omission,
they’re admitting
that they aren’t planning to see us again,
or they’re not going to invest
in the trouble
of committing a name to memory.

At the end of class yesterday,
I loudly (and perhaps too forcefully)
challenged an American student
to re-phrase his question.
He asked all sixty of us
why people keep talking about current injustice
when they don’t have solutions to fix things.
“The argument is getting tiring,” he said,

“Tiring for who?” I asked accusingly,
trying to restrain myself,
as I thought,
how dare this twenty year-old kid
complain that after three months of studying abroad,
he’s tired of hearing about the legacies of apartheid.

Everyone else in class was silent
or nervously laughing,
and I realized,
I’m unleashing maybe too much of my anger
on this student,
whose name I haven’t bothered to learn.

A woman followed me out,
the only South African in the class.
“Thanks for saying something.” She began.
“I wanted to, but…I don’t know.
By the way, I’m Raksha.”

Today,
someone invited Sunny and me to a braai.
I don’t know if he’ll follow through,
But I think I’m going to believe that he will.

I’m beginning to wonder
if the secret to all these South African interactions
is being able to see through the rocks,
and recognize the lizards
who are just trying to find their legs.





Yesteryear

3 04 2010

I feel immensely grateful
to have grown up in a different age
than the one I’m currently in.

I’m just glad to know the difference
between traveling with
and without computers,
and how to make plans
without a cell phone back up.

However,
I must admit
that the internet is a key theme of our life
both because it’s our link to home
and because it’s there
there
always right there
just a click away.

As our homeward bound nears,
we’ve started getting job listings
and house listings,
and it’s tempting to spend day after day
looking at each one,
Sunny analyzing the kitchen in each picture.
We get excited,
and then spend way too much time
trying to coordinate our next employment
over Skype.

There is a sticker on Sunny’s computer
that reads
“Live In The Present.”

An interesting slogan
for a machine
that helps us live in
nowhere land;
the land of status updates,
future plans,
and imaginary lives
of walking our new dog
around Jamaica Pond,
which is only a
hop, skip, and a jump
from our little yard,
our fancy kitchen,
and our
“keep your fingers crossed”
garage.

But maybe because of that sticker,
we have instituted something
that I hope becomes
a permanent fixture in our life.

We call it
NES
No Electronic Sundays
(though because it’s an “S”,
you can also make it Saturdays.
You see, it’s not only smart,
it’s also quite flexible.)

For one whole day each week,
we don’t touch any electronic,
and I have to say,
while some of you may think it’s basic and easy,
it’s surprisingly difficult.
It also feels fantastic.

Not only because it makes me realize
how very dependent
and automatic
checking email
and nytimes.com
and a dozen of so other sites
has become,
and how unimportant
it really is.

It’s also a reminder
of what it felt like
to live in a world
where there was no internet.

Life slows down.

On NES days,
we might play a few more backgammon games,
or take a longer walk.
But really, we do nothing different.
We just don’t know anything
but that what is right before us.

I picture myself in ten years time,
giving NES seminars to people in their early twenties
who can’t even picture life without
email
internet
cell phones
Skype
and the like.

I already feel pity for these folks,
though perhaps they’ll pay me
to teach them a few things
about how to make life feel more present
by making the virtual less.

Until then,
and despite the fact that this is a web-log,
I’ll start by sharing our strategy with you,
in case you’re interested in joining us
as we try
to really
in reality
like in real time
3-D
live in the present
or rather
live in the olden days
of 1995.





The Wicket in Cricket

27 03 2010

“Is this experience what you expected it to be?”
is the most common question I get asked,
and the hardest one to answer.

First of all,
I don’t know what I expected.
And second of all,
the answer is no.

Probably my biggest learning
is quite simple:
studying the legacies of apartheid is not linear.

It’s like the difference between baseball and cricket.

Have you watched a cricket game?
A player stands in the center of a circle,
the circle being the field,
and when the ball is “bowled,”
he hits it any which way.

Picture someone standing in the middle of a circle
and hitting a ball
in any direction.
Including behind them.

Doesn’t really work for your American linear brain,
does it?
It’s confusing.

I can sit through a cricket match,
but I still can’t get my brain around the concept of the game.

It’s a new definition of linear.
And most of the time, I am just struggling to watch,
keep score,
figure out who’s out,
who’s up,
who’s batting when,
and what the heck a wicket is.

But there are moments,
in a conversation with a teacher,
or an interaction with a student,
where I feel almost ready to walk onto the field,
play an “over,”
or at least pick up a ball
and give it a bowl.

In short,
my definitions are growing,
my idea of linear is evolving,
and no,
there is no way to leave here with anything resembling
some neat and tidy package
of understanding
about post-apartheid history education.

Maybe instead,
my goal is to leave
with a big
messy
every which way
beautiful
treasure chest.

Or,
maybe my goal is simply to figure out
the purpose
of a wicket.