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I hate being misunderstood. I guess we all do, but it goes with the territory. Sometimes the world having become so small, makes it feel so big. I think sometimes about how much simpler it must have been in some ways, when we lived in the same community all our lives, and didn’t really venture outside of our own context. Of course, there were disagreements and battles etc. But there was also a level of acceptance and pragmatism about what it takes to make a community work. As Polly put it, “the village has space even for the village idiot.”
I try and imagine who he is. On the surface he comes across to me as a grumpy and cynical old man. But he is also in love. This redeems him in my eyes. I am struck by the irony of his entry on colour-blindness. As you can see, sometimes colour-blindness is not all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes it’s useful to discuss colours… “What, you see red?! How extraordinary, I see green.” They are after all just words. But they’re all we’ve got. Let’s verify what we mean by them, before we assume, and collide at the intersection.
Fishrush to the rescue: “I'm told that when greeting someone in Japan, it's important to bow and keep one's eyes below the person you are meeting…Of course, in the USA it's custom to firmly shake hands and look into each others eyes when we greet one another -- even strangers. Now, assuming I am correct in my interpretation of the traditions, when the naïve American meets the naïve Asian, either may consider the other rude or alien, no?” Thanks funny -- and often wise and compassionate (the art of a true humorist, I believe) -- man. I’m glad you’re back!
Words are strange. I use one in particular, and he sees red. “Really? I see green”, I answer.
When I’m going to pee, I
“I’m going to pee”. I don’t say “I’m going to the bathroom”! Particularly not in the great African outdoors.
When I say cheers, I mean “to life”, or goodbye. When he says cheers he probably means thanks.
The difference is that my world includes a lot of his. I was raised on British literature and expressions, and then television. He on the other hand has little exposure to mine.
At least we talked. More words.
There is debate about whether we should be focusing on our sameness or our differences. “Of course we all want the same things…a home, a job, an education for our children”, says Karima, but it’s our differences that make us interesting.” Now children are learning comparative religion in schools, and Ann’s children know why they can’t swop ham sandwiches with their Jewish friends.
“The Catholics are funny”, says Danya.
“Why?”, asks Soli.
“They think the bread and wine really
the body and blood of Christ.”
“And what do we believe?”, Soli asks.
“We know it’s
She is eleven.
Bus Drivers can make a difference…
“Are you turning into…?”
He thinks I’m responding to something he’s just said: “I’m not talking to
”, he snaps.
“Perhaps you should wait until the question’s been asked, before you give the answer”, I respond.
On the way home, a chance to begin again…
“Woza (come) Mama”, says the new driver. “Uyaphi?” *
“All the way with me”, he smiles.
“…green green, I’m going away to where the grass is greener still”, come the Reggae sounds from his radio.
He makes the day a better place.
Where are you going?
I’m visiting my cousin. He is 60, and a musician. But times are tough for him now. His brother was shot dead in his drive-way while someone stole his car. And it’s hard for him to find work. “I am too white, now”, he says. He is not bitter, just saddened. In his day he had probably the most famous jazz club in Johannesburg.
... “The best little bootlegger in Bellevue” he called himself. He was known for breaking the law. His club was racially integrated long before it was allowed.
We talk of Bukowski, and music. Life in complex.
, and I imagine the pain of losing this newfound gift -- despite the misunderstandings that they can cause -- of words...
I have fads…they last a day, or a month, or a year…today it is Bukowski.
“there are worse things than
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it's too late
and there's nothing worse
I’m still trying to work out how this qualifies as poetry, rather than prose. Perhaps I should begin writing in a long thin string down the side of the page…
Dave Pelzer’s teachers tell how he would steal one sandwich from another child’s lunch, but leave the other, knowing that the other child, too, would be hungry. This child, starved and tortured by his own mother, now a beautiful grown man. Extraordinary what the human spirit can survive. I try and imagine what madness could prompt a mother to torture her own child. Better to abandon your child than this insane cruelty. And yet…what does it take? Sometimes it is as clear as day to me why I chose not to have children. At others, it is an unfortunate loss.
Don’t you hate it when someone writes about you, but changes a couple of letters in your name for anonymity? I have been both Mandy and Brandy. If you want to write about me, then write about me. And if you want to change my name, then
it, but as for this thinly veiled nonsense…Kevin becomes Tevin, Sandi is Zandy, Pippa, Zippa; Greta, Reta. At least Ilse is “the famous theatre director”. These are our lives Elliot. We are not cartoon characters. But then I guess you’ve turned yourself into one, so you’ve created us in your own image.
In an interview, Bukowski talks about why he lived in LA, and his sense of alienation in New York: “I’d go into a liquor store and the clerks were hostile. I don’t mind indifference…[but] to be glared at when you’re giving the guy a profit…” Familiar with many of the harsher sides of life, and yet apparently still quite pacific in nature. It seems that different things appear harsh to different people. I’d agree that “it is not words that make for bigotry, but attitudes. Some of the most bigoted people I have known always used the correct words.”
Let me say right now - I AM NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT. I don’t tip toe around terminology, and do what is accepted and fashionable, and when the going gets tough, leave the country. If you want an academic, emotionless thesis on racial dynamics in South Africa, you’ll have to go elsewhere (I can refer you). If, on the other hand, you want fragments of conversation, thoughts, dreams, memories…this’s the place. Fighting for change is easy. Living with change is hard. And we’re working with it – all of us… Black, Coloured, Indian and White citizens of SA. The kid are amazing.
Lenny -- “to is a preposition, come is a verb…did you come good?” -- Bruce said that if we used words often enough, they’d start to lose their negative connotations. There are certain words I’d never use, and couldn’t bring myself to, not out of political correctness, but because they’re invested with hate. But words like “whitey”, darkie” and “honky”, where I sit, are terms of endearment. I’d never use them on strangers, but amongst friends, they’re terms of affection and irony, because we’re “laughing, at ourselves, and each other, and close like the wetness, on the cold, stone steps”.
Thinking about it now,
introduced me to Lenny Bruce. I haven’t thought much about the influence that he had on my life lately. It’s so long ago and far away now. I still remember the first moment I saw him - wearing dungarees and sporting an afro. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t sensual. The antithesis of me. “You’re afraid of a puddy-tat” I mock snarled at him in the improv. (God was that really me?!) “You always knew what you wanted”, he once said. I just gave a good imitation. He introduced me to love…and Lenny.
Forgiveness is a strange thing. As someone once put it, using the Catholic context, “there can be no absolution without confession”. Why was it so important for me to hear him say, “I recognise that I hurt you, and I’m sorry”, before I could forgive? And yet it was. And then it was relatively easy. So often we spend so much time justifying our actions -- often justified or unavoidable -- when all it would take to mend a relationship is an “I’m sorry”. Something my father could never understand. I guess sometimes we just get stuck in the regret.
We are visiting friends of friends. There’s an unlikely combination at the dinner table, but it’s our only chance to coincide time, transport, places, while I’m on holiday. She’s about to get married, and regrets that she has never travelled. She’s tall and dark. I’m short and fair. “So where do you two know each other from?” Cairo asks, “from the theatre?” “No, I’m Andie’s sister”, Kim replies. She reads the dumbfoundedness in Cairo’s face. “What can I say…my line got a bit deviated!” she laughs. She has my father’s sense of humour, and his determined chin. So have I.
When I was in London, I realised how easy it is to be white there. Or perhaps, how easy it is to
be white. Of course, it
there, because it
matter. Easy to give a monthly cheque to Worldvision, and read about the latest chaos in Zimbabwe in the free rag on the tube, and never have to look overwhelming poverty and disease in the face. But when you live on the African continent, you’re very aware of being white. As Peter Schaffer put it, “It’s easy to be chaste if you haven’t got a cock.”
Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg’s back Dharma and Greg YAY!!
Zizek today: “…multiculturalist tolerance, or at least a certain type of it, generates a much deeper racism. As a rule, this type of tolerance relies on the distinction between
multiculturalists, and intolerant ethnic
, with the paradoxical result that anti-racism itself is used to dismiss
in a racist way
the other as a racist. Not to mention the fact that this kind of "tolerance" is as a rule patronizing. Its respect for the other cannot but remind us of the respect for naive children's beliefs: we leave them in their blessed ignorance so as not to hurt them...” Agreed.
The postmodernist argument ensues: “There is no such thing as race (all these arbitrary classifications!), it’s nothing but a social construct!”
“Ha! Well YOU never lived as a black person under apartheid! It was very REAL to ME!
The facilitator aims to mediate/translate for the rest of us: “Well yes, it
just a social construct. But one which has very real consequences for people.”
We are in a
As the Buddha once put it, “All we are is the result of what we thought.” Or in this case perhaps, the result of what Hendrik Verwoerd thought.
“The thing about the Dutch” says Gary, “is that they’re pragmatic”. They’re not politically correct -- call the prostitutes
, not sex workers, but tax them, and give them health care. They have a strong human rights culture.
Watching my father, I learned that talking about human rights and being a humanitarian (which he was) are not necessarily the same thing…
Some of the most humanitarian people I know, use politically incorrect terminology. Some of them are even Afrikaans. The Afrikaners are descendents of these transparent, curtainless Dutch. Sometimes I can see it... Today is Human Rights Day in SA.
“I want you to divide yourself up into your different race groups”, the facilitator says. He means the old South African race classification system. But of course he wants to see what we do with it. We end up with a group of
(including two ‘Indians’); an
group (including two ‘Whites’); a
group (two); and the
“Why did you not join the white group?” Thloki asks the Human Race.
“I don’t define myself by my race”, I reply.
“Ha! Wait till there’s a war over resources” he laughs, “then you’ll quickly pick a side!”
It’s a mixed blessing having a memory like an elephant. It’s a useful skill for an archivist, but has it’s downside, in a “won’t you ever let me forget that?!” kind of way. It makes forgiveness harder, too…
But it’s not just that I have a good memory. As Kate put it, “when you talk – she listens!” It’s true. Part of it is a control thing (a need to keep track of who’s who in the stories that you tell me), but I’m also genuinely interested in people, and the weave of how the threads of our different lives intersect.
At the diversity workshop, I realised how white South Africans get to take the rap here for the actions of white people on the planet. It’s not just the effects of apartheid that black South Africans are angry about, it’s also the effects of the global economy, that cause the rich to become richer, and the poor to become poorer. Oh sure, that’s not
an issue of race, but let’s be honest, what colour are the poorest on our planet, and where is the wealth concentrated? Perhaps I sound bitter. I’m really not. Just making sense of it all…
“It’s hard to explain to anyone” said Gary, “what it’s like living in a place where -- from the time you wake in the morning, till you close your eyes at night -- every breath you take is politicised.” (Even our soaps are politicised. Occasionally on public transport I’ll overhear bits of Zulu conversation, including “Brooke…Ridge…Thorne”. Even black South Africans watch
The Bold and the Beautiful
for light relief.) Gary left the country because he didn’t want to be conscripted to fight a war he didn’t believe in. He’s done well for himself in Europe. But I still miss him.
I did a Zulu course a few years ago. Didn’t learn much Zulu -- discovered I don’t have the tongue or an ear for African languages -- but I learnt a lot from the course nevertheless. “Tell us about an experience that you’ve had, that was a result of cultural misunderstandings” says the facilitator. “I spent much of my first year at University hungry” says Nhlanhla. “My white friends would offer me food when I was visiting, but I would refuse, because in our culture, if you ask you don’t really want to give. We just hand you a plate.”
Nombulelo tells of the time she went on a yoga retreat. She was confused when she started to undress openly in the dormitory, and got disapproving looks from the other woman. “Why?” she wondered, “we are all women together?” But these were Hindu women, whose sense of modesty was different from the openness of African women.
For us whiteys, the confusion often seems to come back to the issue of timekeeping. “African time” is often referred to. Though in London, I did hear talk of “Caribbean time”. The concept of being
seems to be a very Western one…
Listening to a child from Columbine High being interviewed after the tragedy, I was struck by what she said about, when you’re in the in-group, all you see is the in-group, but when you’re on the outside, you can see both. Yes, I can relate to that. The dominant group -- usually white/Western/male/rich, or a combination of these -- sees it’s point of reference as the one to which all else refers. But don’t let’s assume that our way of doing things is always the
way. If I don’t understand the method in your apparent madness, it’s my responsibility to ask.
Controversial South African artist, Beezy Bailey, has an alter ego… “The creation of Joyce was born of the frustration of “increasingly prevalent affirmative action”. Bailey submitted two artworks for a triennial exhibition. One was with the traditional 'Beezy Bailey' signature (rejected) the other signed 'Joyce Ntobe'! The latter now enjoys an honoured place in the SA National Gallery as part of its permanent collection. When the curator of the SA National Gallery wanted to work on a paper about three black women artists, Joyce Ntobe being one, Bailey let the cat out the bag which caused a huge media 'scandale'.”
I asked my father once, when he first became aware of racial prejudice. “I was about six years old”, he said. “I threw my ball out of the school grounds, and called to the black man outside: ‘Boy, please would you throw my ball to me?’ ‘I am not a boy’ he replied. ‘I’m old enough to be your grandfather.’”
I am thinking about the time in our lives before we become aware of race… A friend tells me a story about how her six-year-old daughter came home from school and asked, “Mommy, what’s a [racist-term-not-to-be-repeated]?” She’d been called that.
In the Buddhist tradition, the person who presses your buttons, is seen to be your greatest teacher. So in that sense, I guess I must thank you. I think your comments were superficial, but they did make me write more, and think even more. So thanks for the whack on the back of the head.
- “Much of human progress is the result of substituting one idea or thing for another: words for grunts, tools for fingers, money for goods. If you have ever created a knife out of a broken [mirror], you have this ability.”
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