As I wrote yesterday, I just returned from a trip to South Africa with my two sons. I wish I could do it over again, not to change anything or do it differently, but because I still want to be there. So today I’m bringing back Africa again.
First I’m bringing back tolerance for myself for sending out an old, outdated email last evening to you, my readers, by mistake. The email was to be an introduction to this web post but instead it announced my Dreamers book launch of last month. I’m sorry! The forgiveness I’m intending for myself goes beyond this incident, this small self-involvement. I’m really talking about, bringing back if you will, the tolerance–the forgiveness–shown by South Africans I met, a freedom and lightness I saw in their eyes. It was everywhere–in the malls we stopped at, the restaurants we ate at, in the small stores in Ladysmith and Durban. Often I was asked where I came from. When I answered “United States” or “California”, I was asked if I minded being hugged. Of course not! I love being hugged! “If I could only put my foot in America once,” I heard one young grocery clerk say.
It was amazing to see so much faith and tolerance in light of South Africa’s legacy of apartheid, colonization, imperialism, and slave trafficking by people of every color and background. And this terrible legacy is amplified by the present AIDS/HIV epidemic.
I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, a work of art and monument to Life by Skin Color, a different life for each. As you enter the museum, you randomly pick a ticket that identifies you as white, colored or black. Then you go through the door that matches your ticket. Even though I had shown the movie, Invictus, when I taught English Composition to college students a few years ago, this one visit to the Apartheid Museum taught me so much more–how the Africans and their wise leaders like Nelson Mandela stood up over and over again, evolving into tolerance and inclusion–democracy–over the last century and how they stand tall today in forgiveness for the past injustices.
I’m bringing back Peace too from Africa–the peace that happens when you have nothing you have to do except watch a hippo slowly walk across the sand, one huge foot at a time, and slowly lower itself into the Letaba River. The hippo will stay submerged in the cool water like this all day with only its two round humps of eyes showing and you can stay too, just watching, just being there. Or wherever you are right now, watching hippo eyes.
I’m bringing Happiness, the feeling you had as a child, the kind that makes you laugh at anything, like when you turn the corner and come upon a group of six young African maids in crisp, laundered uniforms at the foot of the stairs in a Polokwane hotel. They laugh aloud when you tell them they look pretty, and say you look pretty too, making tears come to your own eyes then and whenever you remember that hot morning, that corner of the stairs, those lovely dark faces laughing with you.
And Awe, the majestic sensation of watching a pride of lions saunter by in a line. You count them one-by-one, ten lions in all, pacing intentionally and very slowly along a grassy ridge at dusk. “They’re hunting,” says the expert Kruger Park guide. “The females are taking the young males out for their first hunt.” You realize you aren’t breathing and make yourself take a breath. You can do it now. Just breathe.
Of course, Gratitude, the abject gratefulness of a privileged American, getting what Africans have in their bones, their acceptance of life, of how close we are, all of us, to each other and to the animals. How amazing to realize we both love and protect our offspring. You know that when you repeatedly see adult elephants, giraffes, and white rhinos in the bush hover over those fabulous curious babies of theirs. You watch the adults stay close to their young, guiding them away from the road and you, sitting in rented cars, jeeps and SUVs, exclaiming and holding out your cameras or cell phones, attempting to capture it all forever.
If only I could experience the whole epic adventure again..and again..and again. Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. How fortunate I am it was mine.