Friday is our first full day in Africa - our only day in South Africa before we head to Swasiland.
I tell Kersti later that it wouldn't have been my worst idea to research all these locations before I left. I've turned into a very much go-with-the-flow person - come-what-may-and-just-see-what-happens. Favorite phrase being, "It's all part of the adventure." Which is evident in the way I get myself into such ridiculous situations. Like Julie and I camping on the side of the road in Moab before one of our races with a boy I met once before at a park a few months back. Or the time my carless self tried walking all the way home from work barefoot, but I ended up sitting just yards down the road on the corner of the busiest intersection with black charred blistered feet, completely at peace talking to my friend Jacy while I waited for another idea to come to mind. Then I remembered Jamba Juice around the corner. Life always works itself out into such a treat if you just let it flow.
But, if I HAD planned a bit ahead, then I would have been aware of the cold weather, and also that South Africa is it's OWN COUNTRY, not just everyone referencing the southern region of the continent. And I would have had some degree of knowledge about the extensive oppression and revolutions that completely define South Africa.
Luckily, this day we spend the entire day in museums and historical sites, and I come to learn all about the history, feeling deeply affected by it all. Nothing makes my heart ache like human rights movements, specifically related to black oppression and white supremacy. As a matter of fact, later in the trip I tell Josh that I've only cried in a handful of movies, and as I list them, I realize they all have to do with black mistreatment. No doubt I would have been a Freedom Rider. Actually on the plane ride home, I will watch a movie called The Butler, occurring during the area of black uprising in the States. And in the movie, a white man throws a cup of scalding coffee in the black son's face, and as he shrieks and cries from the searing pain, I have to turn it off. I can't stand it.
Anyway, we begin by traveling to the Hector Petersen museum. Hector Petersen was a 13 year-old boy who was shot and killed on the corner of his school street by police when they become fearful of the uprising of young boys in the school. The uprising was call the Soweto Revolt. Story being - a white supremacist group had been trying to force students to study in a different language. Students scores were declining because of the shift, and these kids were losing the respect of their parents and elders as they saw them laying low to resist confrontation with this injustice. So, these young school boys decided to step beyond them and fight for their honor and their rights. I can't imagine my 6th grade self having to step in front of my parents and elders and fight for my own protection. I was still drooling in my headgear and wearing floral stretch pants. Well, one fateful day, Hector Peterson, just a child, stepped in front of the crowd and was killed.
Despite that the museum had a NO PICTURES sign every two feet, I somehow ended up with ten photos of the museum on my phone....
I just wanted to remember the pieces that really impacted me. Human mistreatment really matters to me. Here's why - the Soweto Revolt was described as a political and social experience about "pride, commitment, growing up, anger, truth, suffering, sacrifice, forgiveness, and retribution... evidence of the human texture." All of those feelings and principles included in THEIR story are included in MY story. Doesn't that entirely bridge the gap between us? Realizing that in all of our stories - black, white, young, free, forgotten, blessed, or beaten - each of us is trying to overcome the same "human texture," the same human experience. Maybe different in details. But not different in the feebleness behind all of our eyes. How could you not look at a person and believe they are just as much HUMAN as you?
I finish looking around the museum, and I sit down on a bench in the sun. I'm thinking about everything I just read, trying to ingest it all, when I see a small African boy squatting over a large puddle of his own vomit. I take him to the bathroom and right as we enter, he leans over and starts puking some more. A woman pushes him over the sink, and he just keeps throwing up. No emotion in his face, no seize and lurch of the body, just endless vomit. I head back to the front desk to notify them of all the clean-up. I check on the boy and his teacher who has joined him in the bathroom. Then I sit down to wait for my group, no longer high fiving every child that walks by me. Feeling all sorts of turmoil inside me. And a bit queasy.
Audrey, another volunteer who I later become close with, exclaims after seeing all the children: "I want to marry all of them! I mean... ADOPT them." We never let her live that one down.
Next, we stop at Nelson Mendela's home, just blocks from the shooting of Hector Petersen. The women giving us the tour had a really heavy accent that I can't understand, so I trust the information she is sharing is very interesting. Later, we'll stop at the Apartheid Museum, which will catch me up on Nelson Mendela.
We stop for sandwiches in the park, and then go to Desmond Tutu's church down the road. The only place in the world that two Nobel Peace Prize winners lived just down the street from each other. The pulpit area is grand and has a real-looking statue of Christ on the cross. Powerful to me. The woman giving us the tour is young and vibrant, explaining the meaning behind all the paintings and statues.
Then we head upstairs to a room of many white walls and pictures of the South African revolution. People have scribbled their signatures all over the walls, and a couple members of our group write their own. I point to a signature on the wall and tell everyone I just signed mine. It reads: "Justin Bieber lives." I thought it'd be an apparent joke, until I observe their confused faces. I just assume my fibs are so obvious they don't need correcting...
We finish our day at the Apartheid Museum. I watch a video about Nelson Mendela that really inspires me. His calm demeanor and kind sense of humor. Gentle and wise, even after spending 27 years in prison because of his activist work. While in prison, his eldest son was killed in a car crash, and Nelson was so overcome with sadness that he'd pull a blanket tight around him and lay in his bed for days to hold in the pain. The grief that great souls must go through.
I then wander into the actually Apartheid part of the museum. Because up to that point, I really had no idea what the word meant. I read about the oppression of the blacks, observing pictures of their horrible circumstances. Onward, I enter their journey of uprising, revolt, and ultimate revolution. I enter an empty theater, streaming live footage. Many brutal fights of white police on black men. I watch them being thrown, punched, and repeatedly kicked. I can't handle it. But I stay and keeps my eyes open because I want to know. It is the most gruesome and real-life beatings I've ever observed.
After I finish watching and step back into the hallways of the museum, I can't read any other signs or process any more pictures. Feel too heavy inside. I proceed quickly through the remaining hallways, finally reaching the point of peaceful resolve, lots of influence from Nelson Mendela. And then I exit the museum from the side door, basically gasping for fresh air. Hard for me to observe such sad things and not be able to do anything.
I head towards my group, all waiting for the final people to finish. No one is speaking about what they just saw, and I don't even know where to begin, so I say something oddly light, "that museum, huh?" Then I join in the games of my new friends. I comfort myself by thinking of my sister Nora, who I know I can speak about all of this with when I return home.
We play a made-up game with handful of rocks from the ground. Picking a category "Things you Love" "Things you Hate" "What do you fear" - and then selecting someone to list an answer for each rock we drop from our hand. A couple people are listing their fears, matching the numbers of rocks in another's hand. They are general, "snakes, spiders, sharks." And then I'm asked to go, and for some reason, mine come out horribly specific. "Being gouged in the eye with a fork, having my legs intensely scratched up by a raccoon, someone pouring Nair lotion all over my head, being kidnapped and sold into a sex-trafficking ring." Everyone's eyes are wide and staring at me. "I feel graphic and strange right now."
We move on to two truths and a lie. I still feel overwhelmed inside, and I end up exaggerating both my truths into lies, so the game becomes "Just Three Lies" for me. But I don't mention that when they all think they've figured me out.
Finally the remaining volunteers come out of the museum, and we head back to the guest houses. We finish the evening by cuddling up with each other on the couch to watch the World Cup while dinner is prepared. Then after dinner, a delicious meal of whole foods, we have our first group discussion about our intent for being on this trip. I sit by the fire, listening to many share their desire to understand other cultures and learn about Africa. I share that I just want to love and connect, African or American, no matter. Just love as human to human.
Then I climb into another scorching hot bath to thaw out my frozen toes and cuddle into my bed to rest up for our trek to Swasiland tomorrow.
What a day.
I allowed it to flood me, all that I witnessed sadly washing through me. Because I like to be honest about the messy reality of the world. But I remind myself to balance back in the present now. Because aching over the past may ignite me to emit more good, but the best gift I can promise all those people is live my absolute best life now. So I promise them.
The best is coming, because I choose to make it so.
Then I accidentally fall asleep to Kelli telling me a really poignant story. Mace will remember this well from the Philippines. I apologize to every human who ever has a sleepover with me in advance.
Upward and onward,