Monday, April 7, 2008


Mbeki, the president (ZA), has sent emissaries into Zim to help with the situation and urge Mugabe to do right. Mbeki was also speaking before a London crowd (this weekend or today) saying Africans are ready to move forward and take their fate into their own hands. He spoke about Zimbabwe and the issues with the ANC in post-apartheid transition. Nothing eye-opening. He did however make the comment that I said about ANC being the liberation party and people still choosing it without it proving itself in governance. I didn’t realize others thought the same thing. I actually said it before I heard anyone say it. But it’s rather obvious.

I told you back in February of an actress one of the top three soap operas here. She died in a car accident. The reason it’s again relevant is that they have JUST gotten to the episodes they were filming when this happened. I thought maybe the writers would think it too sensitive to write her death in the show, but they did it. I believe this reflects the commonality of death here, moreso than in the US; remember this. It’s important to understanding the culture here.

I have to go and speak to some kids who get pregnant to receive money from the government. And you know this because I’ve said this before. But there are people who contract AIDS to get money from the government. Can you imagine? I mean, really, sit and think about what that means about the perception of AIDS and death here. AIDS is so strong and prevalent that it’s weakened, if you can understand the paradox. It’s the paradoxical paradigm from which we must construct an exit in dialogue, in counseling, in life. And it’s a day-to-day battle.

And so the tv show writers made the character of the dead actress take a sudden ski trip during which she died. Now, the best actors are ones who are not acting (pretending), they are being, doing, feeling. It’s a strange phenomenon to watch actors’ characters who are dealing with the death of a character AT THE SAME TIME the actual actors are dealing with the death of the actor who played the dead character. These people are not acting. It’s some of the best acting I’ve seen on the show. It has caused real drama without the writers’ intention. But it came at the cost of a price that would be quickly reversed if it could. It’s very strange and real. And though it may be inappropriate to say, the acting is magical—mesmerizing. Yeah, forget magical. It’s mesmerizing. Magical is inappropriate. The woman was super talented and a high class act who was actual different from her character. She was around my age.

There are claims of price fixing here in South Africa. It’s not the largest issue going on, but one that comes to mind is the illegal cigarette industry. You may not believe me, but 10 million cigarettes are sold illegally everyday. This represents about 20% of the SA cigarette industry. Police actually conduct raids on cigarette traders who bring counterfeit cigarettes into the country. Supposedly something like one out of every three exported cigarettes disappears into the illegal market. SA wants to tighten control at the entry points (borders and airports and ports) through Customs, but there simply isn’t enough manpower to check every box for counterfeit cigarettes. Can you tell if a cigarette is counterfeit?

One of the guys in my life group thinks are community is counterfeit. His experience at UCT coming from Venda-land in Limpopo has been interesting. If you go into one of the dorms and then go to the dining hall, you will see all the white students at their long table, then all the coloureds at their part of their table and Indians on the other part, and blacks on their table. He and his friends decided to try to mix it up the voluntary post-apartheid segregation, but when he did he was never really accepted by the whites. They would ignore him for a long time. Eventually one or two would talk to him (even though the rest of his black friends stopped trying the integration game). And really he had a connection with these guys since they were doing the same course (program, major) and he shared a class with another guy. He even joined their church (my church) though very countercultural from his Zionist church in SA. But they have never truly included him in jokes or deep vulnerable conversation. In fact when they decided to move out of the dorms for their 3rd or 4th years (depending on which one you are talking about—mixed group), they did not ask him. So he had to deal on his own. He went to Forest Hill where I was offered as a second temporary place. He latched on to me when I came because he thinks I’m interesting as a Black person and people he has considered his friends aren’t very friendly. So he has trouble with reaching out to people who do not reach back. And he asks me tough questions like “what should I do?”

It’s a sad story, and for brevity, I am not doing it justice. But I see this type of thing a lot. Perhaps it’s what people meant that I was actually depressed. When I am TA’ing I am saddened, saddened by the number of student totally underprepared for this course, the blatant flippancy with which the convenor honestly lays claim to the fact that many of the Blacks will fail, and the helplessness in the eyes of some. I want to help as many as I can. One girl pays me. Jeannie thought I should mention Haley in every other sentence because she thinks I’m flirtatious. I didn’t follow her advice at all, and it has been good. She has needed the help and there are many more.

I’m saddened by the fact that anyone can, in fact, have the audacity to say I live poorly. I live above the standard of the median-income person in South Africa. Yes, things here are cheaper when you translate it through the exchange rate. But in terms of purchasing power and the standard of living, most things here take a bigger chunk of the SA median monthly or yearly income then the chunk taken by the same item from the US average/mean monthly or yearly income. When I drive a car in SA, I’m an anomaly, though I forget about that. If it’s not nice, then it’s cool. But if it’s a nice car, something’s wrong. This is true for any car at UCT. The black students, on the whole, don’t have cars, while the white ones do. At my church, the white students and adults give lifts/rides to the black students and me. I don’t mind it. I appreciate it. But it’s laughable when someone says I’m poor. They don’t know South Africa nor my life.

So every moment I get to be with the people, living, talking, exploring—I embrace. I don’t mind walking, taking the taxi, taking the bus. I have many white people that ask me “so, what’s it like? . . . . .taking the bus or taking the taxi?” When I was first asked, I didn’t understand the question. Was it a super foreign, special experience that warranted explanation? Perhaps. Though once they know I’m American, I’m viewed differently. That’s why I don’t like to declare it or let it be known. Though I don’t do a fully South African accent. I actually let the accent happen naturally or transform naturally. So you can still hear the American twang sometimes. But the other day someone asked me a question and I said (without thinking) “Yeeee-eys” instead of “Y-eh-s.” It was very natural.

Ok, I’m rambling a bit. I want to tell you about the refugee situation here and the transforming view on Obama, but I will save it for another time. Right now, enjoy your Monday and I hope you have a restful sleep, as restful as the one I get from doing hot, sweaty yoga (bikram yoga). I didn’t know it can make you sore, but it works my body like a wringed-out towel. The sessions are good and nice, and I’m enjoying the student discounted trial period.

I’m going to try and find a friend who is in town. It’s strange, I haven’t had a friend come to CT to see me, but I have high movers and shakers who happen to be in town who try to see me while here. And another one, a really good friend, a little brother of mine, is here. He’s about to finish medical school!!! YAYyyyyy PHIL!!




No comments: