South Africa..

"They tell me that our brothers over there refuse to work in the mines, They may not get the news but they need to know we're on their side. Now sometimes distance brings misunderstanding, but deep in my heart I'm demanding; Somebody tell me what's the word? Sister/woman have you heard 'bout Johannesburg? What's the word? Tell me brother, have you heard from Johannesburg? " - Johannesburg - Gil Scott Heron __________ "Please don’t change your uniform And start to mourn the thousands dead. And please wear what you’ve always worn, And don’t be drawn by what I’ve said." - Johannesburg - Housemartins __________ Well.. I'm finally here.. I've dreamed of coming here my whole life. There are many places in Africa I dream of seeing, The Ivory Coast, Egypt, Somalia (the place where people ask constantly if I am from), but South Africa has always been #1 on my list. This longing is probably an extension of my mother and grandmothers dream that was passed down to me (both of whom were African Studies majors, enthralled with African culture). When you dream of something, the real life experience rarely ends up being like your dreams. I've read a lot about Africa especially South Africa. I've seen many films. I wrote a blog some months back (Jan, I think) about Oprahs new school which got me thinking a lot about South Africa, but nothing really prepares you. I am sad to say it is has been a very sobering experience and sometimes difficult to digest everything I've seen. There are many forces at work here. I am in what must be a 4 or 5 star hotel, and I am speaking of old world charm with all the amenities and then some. Pure english butler type service, which is lavish and a treat to the senses. In fact, all of the accomodations, service and treatment on this tour have been excellent, it's just that when it's in such stark contrast to such abject poverty, the kind you commonly see in South Africa, it stings, and it is heartbreaking to say the least. It leaves you spent to pass some of the poorer places where there are nothing but shantytowns (row upon row of tin shacks). I'm only here for about 5 days and there is so much to see and take in, on the other hand there's only so much you can absorb in the way of subtlety in 5 days. I can't help myself, I just have to ask my people (at least that's how I feel about them) what it's like to live here in the aftermath of apartheid, hotel workers, restaurant staff, maids (not many in managerial or executive positons, although this aspect did seem better in Jo-burg). Many were very friendly but shy about answering such questions, but who would know better? A few just smiled with a hollow look like "why do you ask, what can you do?" The ones that do answer tell me they are instructed not to discuss such things but speak honestly and say that nothing has changed really, racism is rampant, which I have the opportunity to witness firsthand when a white South Afrikaan skips ahead of me in line at a hotel. When I inform him that I was ahead of him in line, he speaks with such authority and condescension, "You were not", without even looking in my direction. You know the attitude, entitlement, birth right, that sort of thing. Of course, being one to never back down, he got a piece of me and was put firmly in line. Overall, they seem to still be operating on a caste system here (though I'll bet the South African gov't would deny this) so I'm sure the 'gentleman' thought I was African. They run Human Rights public announcements regularly on television so that should tell you something. I tried to post this e-mail while I was there and it was censored so THAT should tell you something else. Against all of this, you have the magnificent backdrop of the South African countryside whispering to you. It is overwhelming and majestic and...simply breathtaking. Hills and mountains for as far as the eye can see.. I feel blessed to have the chance to be here and have to thank God for giving me this incredible opportunity. I feel as though I visit the land of my forefathers. It is sentimental, I know, but it's how I really feel. We went on safari and had elephants walk right up to our caravan, so close you could reach out and touch them and I know within myself at moments like this, there is a God. I want to ask him why in the midst of such beauty do we have atrocities like Rwanda and Darfur, and aids and apartheid. The BBC reports that by the year 2000, half the world's poor were in Africa. Deep huh? They continue on to say it is the only continent to have become poorer in the past 25 years and list the following reasons: -Borrowing money -Growing cash crops -Dictatorship -Fighting -Population growth -Land ownership -Climate change -Dirty water My friends say we have racism and extreme poverty in America and it is true, we do, and never more evidenced than in the aftermath of Katrina, but somehow, this is worse, much worse. It's dismal.. And the most awful part seems to me, to be treated as a second class citizen in your own country which is very different from racism in America. Though America belongs to all its citizens, America did not belong to my ancestors, they were taken to America. Africa BELONGS to black African people and it has always been so. To see South Africa ruled by white Afrikaans is just wrong, and that is not a racist comment it is just a hard truth. I feel like I need to do something, to get involved, to help make it better. I will think on this. Still, I wouldn't trade this experience ever, the people here are beautiful, truly beautiful. Graceful and dignified. I hope to come back soon, again and again. The following is a poem by my Grandmother, she never got here, I am here in her stead 'Mama said music can change the world' look mama, music took me all the way to South Africa... Thank you for reading ________ Oh Africa.. Oh Africa, most ancient land where pyramids were built by strong black hands in your dense and mysterious jungles I yearn to be for mother nature over there has beckoned unto me Remember how they snatched our kings and queens and deliberately scattered all of our dreams? Why, they treated our people like cattle, it's true and dared us to become homesick for you, Some day I plan to return to you, the land of milk and honey where our forefathers grew can't you see the ship drifting in? Even the animals shall greet us and say 'where have you been?' The Queen of Sheba may rise from her grave and whisper 'dear children you have been brave' Vivian Cora Albright Sessoms