This morning I find myself reminiscing about my trip to Africa in 2008. What a glorious, beautiful time it was.
The zebra stretches its patterned neck into the sky,
while the giraffe meets its friends across the water.
I think that it is an illusion, as I sip my coffee on the verandah,
and watch its long neck grace the sun. And then it takes off,
oh what a run: both elegant and clumsy –
this animal was not meant to run.
TIA, they say – “This is Africa”
When the power goes out, and the city is
a blanket of darkness, and
students study for exams by candlelight late into the night,
knowing that the show must go on.
We walk through the slums of Soweto,
and our guide comments on how the kids should be
in school but many are not. I glimpse a hot-blooded
black man eye me down, and I tremble as I think of the
prevalence of rape and how anything can happen even in
broad daylight. I do not feel safe here.
But it is here I meet my soul sister, who has the same birthday as
mine, and the same joy and vibrancy,
along with intense desire and a dark side, that
we both feel at ease to express. I have no idea that our
friendship will endure.
We visit a clinic. There is one with line-ups for blocks, people waiting to receive their AIDS treatments,
women with babies on their hips. Barred windows, and old white doctors that have given up the chance of an easy life, and for some
saintly reason have chosen the public healthcare system.
On the other side of the street is a private clinic,
where peacocks roam the courtyard,
and not a single person stands in line.
I choose the peacocks.
Around dinner tables, we discuss politics.
How apartheid ended, and rightly so, but that what
happened next was all wrong. The smart ones were ripped
from power, while those with no experience at all
were given the reigns. And now look where we are, they say.
You can’t teach a monkey to rule.
My eyes widen in shock,
But I cannot say anything, because I am a guest.
They talk about blind loyalty to the ANC which once stood for
something, and had the spirit of Mandela,
but now just makes promises that no one
intends to keep. Sometimes the discussions are useful,
And I am happy to learn something and talk about a hopeful
future, agreeing that it will take time for things to change.
But I hope that they will hurry up.
We visit orphanages with the cutest children that God ever made,
that peer at us from behind the wall, with their big eyes and big smiles,
and let us join in their dance. Our hearts are forever changed.
We walk down from the ferry and onto
Robben Island where Mandela spent eighteen years,
blinded by the limestone as he worked in the sun,
Not holding onto any hatred in his heart,
but forgiving his captors, and dreaming of
a better way. I feel chills as I stand in his prison cell,
trying to also reach deep into my heart and be grateful
for men like him that have shown us what humanity
is capable of.
The kindness of strangers,
The ones that offered us a place to stay,
to watch the springbok run alongside us.
the traditional Braais, not barbeques, that
we grew to love.
The warmth of the people, the colours, the history,
And the stories. The choir that sang on the plane
As it landed in Johannesburg.
The townships, the injustice, the crime, and the trauma,
The contrast of the rich and poor, on one side of the fence to the other.
TIA they say. THIS IS AFRICA.
There is nothing like it.