Saturday, March 19, 2011

A long South African tale

The first time I went to South Africa I knew only the basics of the history. Of course I knew of apartheid and of the huge divide between nit only the races but the classes as well. I had the opportunity to visit Capetown and Johannesburg. Although on that first trip it was winter it was still much warmenr than it gets in NYC. So I was able to spend some time on the beach in Camps Bay and to take a beautiful hike up Lions Head, a small mountain that overlooks much of Cape Town and into the Atlantic Ocean. The clouds that day rolling over Table Mountain honor clung the top making me understand why they called it a table cloth.

In Joburg I went with a fellow Jivamukti teacher Sarah Bentz, downtown to find a place called arts on main. We were in the completely the wrong place and never found it. I did find a place to get my hair braided. Although it took some time. Every place we went to was charging way too much for what I wanted. I suspected it was because the person I was with Sarah, was the only white person we had seen in a while.

I was speaking with the woman who braided my hair about where I was from and where she was from. She spoke 3 or 4 languages and was originally from Cameroon. There was a man who kept hovering about but did not say anything. The barber shop was not unlike the ones in the neighborhood I grew up in. A few seats, about half empty and the ones filled got a haircut and an update on the daily gossip. As my conversation subsided I could understand parts of a song that was playing over the radio. It was a christian song and the only words I could hear clearly were Jesus loves me. So I sang along out loud. The man who had been hovering was not excited and he immediately came over and asked me what I know about Jesus. The woman braiding my hair replied that in the United States there are many churches and of course I knew about Jesus. The man seemed intrigued and asked where in the U.S. I was from. I looked over and said New York. He brightened up giving me a big smile and said "New York? What's up my nigga, what's up. I love New York" I could not help but smiling just as big as I responded in kind. He knew about different hip hop artist and wanted to use his knowledge about it to find some common ground. I on the other hand had no real knowledge of South Africa, the music and recent history let alone the music and history of where he was originally from, Nigeria. I knew nothing of the intense violence that had just happened against non-south african blacks or the current political climate. Wen I left the barber shop that day I had a yearning to learn much more about where I had been. It actually set the trend for me that whenever I go somewhere I try to know as much as possible of the people, the culture and the history; either by reading, planning trips to culture heritage spots or if possible taking long walks to just be around local people.

On my way back to the states from South Africa I read the book A long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela's autobiography which was not only incredible but really put into perspective the ways in which America treats it's political dissidents. It lead me to want to know more about Oliver Tambo another leading figure in the movement to end apartheid.

On this trip I had the immense pleasure to work with Africa Yoga Project as I wrote about in the last blog. I left out one of the most amazing experiences though. The very first day we went to Kenyas largest maximum security prison for woman. Many of the woman were HIV positive and were incarcerated for some form of theft. Many were also there with their children. In Kenya if a single woman is incarcerated they children live with them until the age of 5. I am not sure what happens after that age however.

AYP has a bi-weekly yoga class with them but since the group is so large they split it in half with some doing asana and others writing or drawing. Since they already had a yoga teacher and the person who was in charge of the writing was not able to come in made me the person in charge of it. I had one night to figure out what to do. When I worked in the city with young people at a place called The Door it was in conjunction with an amazing woman Ashley Dorr, no relation to the space. she is an art therapist and I was able to pick up a few tricks from her. I also picked up some amazing work ideas from David Life and the work he has done with some students.

We started with writing about a time in life that we had made a decision that we really felt was the right one even though it caused hardship and might have been a difficult to choose. We ended with writing our own obituaries as if we had died many years in the future, writing them as we would want to be remembered, one who fed the poor or became a politician or president or whatever. Afterwards we thought about the different things that were holding us back from becoming that person and then we pulled the car up as close the space were using as we could and blasted some Bob Marley and the whole thing turned into a dance party. It was a beautiful thing.

When I made my way back to SA after the trip to Kenya I really wanted to visit Robben Island to make a further connection. I was staying with another amazing teacher in Muzienburg, Jill King. Her husband is a scientist working on a new tuberculosis vaccine and neither had been to Robben Island before. I taught one class in Cape Town a Chakra Tunning class that people really seemed to enjoy. With only two days left in CT we tried to make it out to Robben Island but it was not possible we got there just a few minutes after the last boat had left the port. I was sad not to be able to make it but we did so many other things in CT that we almost made up for it. I also got to meet many students in CT and Joburg on this trip that were interested in coming to the Jivamukti TT. In fact it looks like a mini SA invasion of the TT will be happening thanks in large part to Cherryl Duncan in Joburg. She is doing amazing things not only for yoga but for the animals as well in SA.

Thank you Cherryl, Jill and everyone else who made this such an amazing trip. I am looking forward to seeing you in TT and if not there maybe on my next trip back.

Peace, Love and Vegetables


Bjutiegibtswoandast said...
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Evelyn said...

What helped me most IN Capetown to find access to the local people was actually something quite shallow: wearing a Nelson Mandela shirt. Any time I wore that one, I found people were suddenly much more open and approachable and interested in conversation.
Thank you for reminding us how much people appreciate if you know a bit about their habits, culture and history and thank you for sharing your experiences!

What a nice blog! :)