May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

South Africa Johannesburg Revolution

November 29—Early morning flight to Nairobi, then a delayed flight to Johannesburg brought us into fully booked rental car offices.  After 5 we started to get nervous, but found one that had a brand new medium sized car for us.  I was super surprised to find out that it was standard shift in my LEFT HAND!  (Thank goodness the clutch was on my familiar side.)  I had psyched myself up for driving in Africa on the left….  On the highway, I noticed traffic is not chaotic like in Tanzania, and I relaxed. 

OWLA door
We only had to backtrack once on the way to the Opera Winfrey Leadership Academy where we were met heartily by Ann Van Zyl, the head of school.  Tomorrow is the last day of school, and it must be the most hectic time of year for her, but she graciously invited us into her office, then guided us to our accommodation in a 4-star guesthouse and agreed to join us for dinner! 

Village Guesthouse

Joan and cute dogs Mini (bulldog) and Flap Jack (Jack Russell) enthusiastically greeted us and we moved into a place with an enormous comfy bed, shower with steaming water, a lovely garden on 5 acres, electricity that doesn’t go out every day and weather that doesn’t make me break out in a sweat constantly.  South Africa in luxury!  Les and poured over the newsletter that boasted about the girls’ achievements in model UN, dance company tour, scores in maths, and lots of huge accomplishments in only their fifth year of existence.  I helped Joan with dinner and had a lovely conversation and soon we were sitting with Ann, a glass of wine, a parrot named Paula in the next room making dog sounds, whistles and small phrases, and sharing stories about travel and commonalities. 
November 30—I sat in a corner by Paula the parrot, and eventually she “caught” my cough.  It was funny to hear my hacking reflected back at me through her voice. 

Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls
marimba band
We arrived in time to go to the awards ceremony.  We struck up a conversation with girls next to us, and poised, polite, enthusiastic and articulate tenth-grade girls told us what it was like to go to this school.  

I was so impressed with the full, powerful sounds of the choir.  They were exuding pride, happiness, and self-assurance.  Ms. Van Zyl cordially addressed the audience, and the dean of academics called out the African names for a plethora of awards with only one snafu.  Impressive!  The girl beside me won an academic award and an award for greatest contribution to the school community. 

After the ceremony, two fascinating and remarkable girls guided us on a tour.  They told us about their goals to continue to break the cycle of poverty in their communities and how they believed in this process that will change their culture’s views about how important and valuable is educating girls.  All of them board.  They all start in 7th grade with no newcomers and very low attrition.  They took us down the street of learning and showed us the tree of living, pointed out “Ma Oprah’s” home and peeked in the bright dance studio while we watched the art studios get cleaned and the tuck shop (snacks) close up on our stroll.  One thing that I loved is how much the staff is all one.  Teachers are staff, as is the maintenance, grounds and kitchen crews.  The girls get to know them all—maybe because they originate from a poor class.  In fact in order to be eligible, you must be poor.  Imagine that.          We went back to our accommodations to see if we could make plans for our next few nights couch surfing, and a walk in the garden before coming back for the DANCE CONCERT!  This time we sat next to a girl who won a few awards, including the theater award, who was delightful and generous in engaging us in conversation. 
The dance concert was wonderful.  The first piece was rich and thick with color, spirit, choreographic complexity, stylistic yumminess that reminded me of Ron Brown’s, and well-rehearsed. 

The music was a cover of Lennon’s “Imagine,” and the lighting was sensational with saturated color for backlight and fog to bring out the patterns of the gobos.  Word had it that the Dwanna, the teacher, designed and made many of the costumes.  The concert featured the dance company and was supported by the classes.  Well done!  The audience response was surprisingly cool, and I asked our “learner” friend (they call students “learners” here) if she was taught how to respond at this dance concert or if this is normal.  She said that because it’s a formal concert the girls would give it a more polite response than if they were in the street.  During the final bow, Dwanna asked for a more enthusiastic response to acknowledge the hard work the performers did.  Afterwards I caught her to express my support, and she said the company was going to the US next year.  Maybe we can host them for an assembly?  She was sure glad that she was done after today, as I can imagine. 

Sam Blake saw us out the door with a couple good stories and we were off to our new couch hosts: Adrian and Louise with daughter Siobhan and dogs Crackle and Oskar. 

Unbelievably, they offered to make us a delicious lasagna dinner!  We finally snuggled into an incredibly comfortable bed, in a beautiful home with a pool and nice yard, in a great neighborhood.

1—Louise made me an egg on toast, and we had a good time swapping stories until we took off with their GPS unit to Soweto. 

The student revolutionaries never made it to the stadium
We first went to the Hector Pieterson memorial where we poured through text, video, voice and photos of the fight to keep the learning language in the schools English, rather than change all classes to Afrikaanss like the government mandated.  It was the last straw that exploded into the anti-apartheid movement. 

We walked down the street with Audrey, an old woman going to church who asked us all about where we were going, how we were getting there, where was our car, where are we from, and all that, and then she told us she lives across the street from the Mandela home.  Now I kick myself for not asking HER tons of questions about life here during her time!

Meanwhile, a little boy asked her if he could sing us a song for money, and we saw another boy clinging onto the back of a city bus for a ride. 

Mandela Home
We arrived at the Mandela house with a hankering for coffee and stopped at the little diner across the street.  I loved seeing Mandela’s home and feeling what size it was for a family or even more than one family.  The kitchen was really small, but they had two ample bedrooms with all kinds of awards and honors (Sugar Ray Leonard’s Championship Belt), memorabilia and inspirational quotes. It’s hard to fathom the depth of this man’s maturity and wisdom.  I so admire him and wish that I were more involved with his cause when I was in high school.  I liked that they have a tree in their yard under which they buried all the children’s umbilical cords to connect them to the earth.
We passed by Rev. Tutu’s home. I thought I might knock on his door and tell him a little about Emma Willard, but decided it was too audacious of me.  

Back at home we rallied to go to a place where I got to have rabbit!  Suddenly I felt my energy come back, my cough wane and I felt like dancing!  Who knew!  I loved hearing stories about how Adrian and Louise dodged danger as police officers, and how her 6-week training changed her from a cowering victim to a problem-solver.  I wonder if police training would be good for Emma Willard girls?

December 2—On our way to the Apartheid Museum, we stopped for a few groceries and I looked at a phone.  It seemed like a good one, but I had to think about it.  Les got a SIM card for his and hopefully now we won’t be paying thousands of dollars on his international roaming.  
Johannesburg city from the museum

We spent a very long time at the Mandela exhibit, that shed light on his incarcerations, his family history, his transition to a deeper thinker, the negotiations he made, and the miracle of reconciliation that made South Africa transform out of the apartheid era.

Astounding!  As we were finishing there, we found that the museum was going to close in 30 minutes.  Impossible!  We’ll have to come back if we want to see it properly. 

The education of the last two days has me thinking about the US culture and how isolated the middle class people are from one another in general.  Adrian said that it’s common in Africa that the less one has, the more generous they are with what they have.  The people with more guard it and fear losing it.  I’m so fortunate to have a community at the school where I live.  It’s unfortunate that our culture is so litigious that we have to question our acts of kindness to see if any harm could possibly come of it before we proceed.  Risk taking in acts of kindness—hmmmm.  Couch Surfing is one of those risks that have been totally worth every bit.  Such richness has come from these interactions.  Adrian asked me if there’s a way to connect with the poor people around where I live, and it got me thinking about homestays for the girls through couch surfing in Albany.  Too risky for our school, but maybe there’s some deeper connection that could happen through Girl Scouts.  I do think we should figure out a way to bridge the socio-economic gap in some substantive/somatic way.
We went back to the store, bought supplies to cook dinner tomorrow, and I did end up buying a Nokia smart phone for about $100.  I hope it was a good choice.
Siobhan in School Uniform
December 3— …yoga by the poolside, with golden “weaver” birds making nests above is a fantastic way to start the day!  Apparently the males make a round basket on the end of a branch, and if the female thinks it’s not safe enough to bear eggs and young, she tears it apart and he must begin again. 
The chef

Drinking a cup of coffee lead to Les beginning his preparations for wheat free tamale pie. 

It was afternoon by the time we left for the healers market, and after the GPS circled us around and around, I got frustrated enough to go back to the home.

We turned to the good old-fashioned map, and Les found the Kwa Mai Mai market!  It looked like a performance had just happened with people in traditional costume and pigment on the skin.  Women were gathered together with straw mats, and men looked like they were having a meeting.  The market was over, we think; so we drove back.

Gold Tailings: Gold is what brought people here
I must say that driving through the very center of Johannesburg was interesting.  There were lots of linen and drapery shops, people carrying humungous bags of what looked like empty plastic bottles, people crowding me on one side and the bus lane on the other, neighborhoods without electricity, the bustle of a traditional market on modern streets.  I ended up taking back the phone.  Now that Les knows his takes a local SIM card, it's just extra weight. 

Back at home Siobhan was getting ready for a big birthday party.  The parents went to socialize a bit while we finished dinner.  At night’s end, we saw travel photos of Mozambique, Victoria Falls, and other magical places.

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