Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dispatch: The New Year

Rosh Hashanah usually comes and goes for me. I enjoy the holiday, I celebrate, I pray, but I don’t normally breathe deep and take it as the beginning of a New Year. Tomorrow I am working from home to make my challah and this year I am taking advantage of a mid-September New Year. I am going to try to use it as it was meant to be, a time of introspection, a time to plan changes in life, to think about starting anew. An opportunity to make a new start -- despite this week’s rain, in the midst of the challenges of the editing process, and as I continue to sort out what it means for me to live in South Africa.

Why the last one? When I lived here in 2005, almost all of my days involved journeys out to Nyanga and Khayelitsha, teaching students or engaging in different spaces. For most of last year, while I wasn’t in the townships everyday, I was traveling regularly to new cities, sharing my work, engaging in debates about education, young people, this country’s future. And in the early part of this year, I continued as most of you read, in one of my favorite parts of my job – going from place to place, classroom to classroom and talking to over 200 young people about xenophobia, foreigners, feelings about their country, and everything in between. These days, my dialogue is between my head and my computer. Most days I find myself in my office, staring at a computer screen, turning hours of footage into a film. I am an inherently collaborative person but I do enjoy the editing process. It is a brilliant feeling to find just the right place for a shot or create the perfect sequence. But I am not deep in the South Africa I used to know. Sometimes people ooh and ahh that I live in “Africa.” “Deepest darkest Africa,” some people joke. Do you know many of my days start with the gym, move on to a cappuccino, sometimes some All Bran, sometimes a visit to my favorite café, work, making dinner, going out to dinner, seeing or renting a movie, spending time with friends. It is why, despite the fact that I like to write, I write fewer dispatches, for what should and can I write about? This life could be happening anywhere.

And yet I am here. In South Africa. Life ebbs and flows, I have been reminded, this too will take me through to next January or February and then who knows what a day will look like? But for now, I am renegotiating being here. I started reading Antjie Krog’s book A Change of Tongue a few days ago, to get out of the shell that can be my life and to remind myself of the richness of where I live. For those of you who don’t know Krog, she wrote an incredible book about the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings called Country of My Skull. She is Afrikaans and grew up in a small town in the Free State. This book is historical, sociological and also very personal. It is not always easy to get through but I find some sections so moving, so pronounced in their historical space. I read something so beautiful and profound the other day that I just stopped in my tracks. It is about watching the speech Mandela made in Cape Town on the day he was released from prison. Krog watched the speech on TV in her home, surrounded by friends and comrades. She writes:

“What Mandela says, or the fact that he has to borrow Winnie’s glasses to read his speech because he’s left his own behind at the prison, doesn’t filter through to us. We are suddenly so utterly aware, and linked as we have never been linked before. Each one with every one. He is of us. We could be the most beautiful colour of change the world has ever seen. The man is free and a new time has dawned.”

This is where I live. I live in a place with possibility and opportunity, also with frustration and sadness, that too. I live in a place where my friend Susan interviews Noluyanda yesterday for a job at her organization Students for a Better Future, and while Noluyanda doesn’t have the qualifications for a job, Susan believes in her and offers her a one month paid internship, a chance to gain new experiences and skills. A place where I cheer because Phila is starting her new job on November 1st as a clerk at Woolworth’s department store. Where I am holding my breath that she and Sithembele have successful auditions at New Africa Theatre in December and can start school next year. Where I have to say no when the aunt of someone in film asks to borrow 2,000 rand for her nephew’s male circumcision ceremony and worry which high school Siyabulela Mpaku will attend next year. My life may involve an office and a lot of time in front of a computer, but it also involves this.

On Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I will go spend time with Sipho’s brothers who I haven’t seen in almost four months. How that happened, so much time passed, I can’t tell you. I’ll look at Sunday as a new start for us in this New Year.

L’Shanah Tovah

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