Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Lion Farm, a post from June in South Africa (when I had no internet)

June 15,  Glen Garriff Lion Farm near Harrisburg on the way to Barberton.

We drove through four locked gates, and in the first lion pen, we were this close...see this big guy reflected in the car?

The next day began with the pleasant sound of lions roaring at about 4 a.m. it was certainly loud enough to wake us all, and let me tell you, lying on a snug bed in Africa with the sound of lions roaring in close proximity to the guesthouse where you are staying is an experience.

I drifted back to sleep and was wakened by my alarm at 7.

One of the interesting tidbits of traveling off the beaten path is not knowing protocol and plunging ahead anyway. The bathroom which had been assigned as mine had a taxidermied  blesbok  (I think it was...it might have been a springbok or an bontebok, but it as something very small with horns), a bathtub with a spray shower that shot water every direction except straight through the nozzle, a toilet back in a corner, and louvered glass doors through which anyone outside can see in-- and see everything but the tiniest details that goes on within.

Hence was my confusion about protocol. Should I hang a towel over the door and window? Rush through the fastest shower in history and hope nobody happens past the door? Rising at seven and heading straight to the shower seemed like the best plan. As it turned out, investigating while nobody else was awake, I discovered an exterior door that closed off the entire end of the house where my taxidermic bathroom was located. Case solved. If anyone watched me, I was blissfully unaware. It was awkward anyway, trying to steer the water over my head and body instead of all over the room, so the sooner I was finished, the better.

After breakfast and coffee, Scott, Ann, and I walked with Andi Rive, the lion farm manager, on a walking tour to see eight-week old cubs with their mom Sabrina, and on out farther to see the 860 hectares from a higher vantage point. The expanse of Glen Garriff reaches to the closest mountain.

There we saw, from a distance, a dazzle of zebras, a flock of ostriches (did you know that South African male ostriches are brilliant black and white, while the females are brownish gray?), a herd of wildebeest, and a herd of blesbok.
Also on the property, that we did not see, are meerkats, jackals, and bontebok.

Anton Leach, a South-Africa- born Australianfilm-maker, was also staying at Glen Garriff, making a documentary about the lions. Andi, along  with Traci Page Wood, whose father Patrick Shannon owns the farm, is fighting hard for the land and the lion reserve. Lions are a commodity in South Africa: for safari hunts, and for poachers who sell lion bone as a powerful aphrodisiac. How sad and ridiculous is that?

The lion farm has to provide meat for the lions, of course. There are lots of natural prey on the land, but it's illegal to let confined lions kill their food placed in the confinement for that purpose. So there are quite a few flying body parts (into the pens) when feeding time comes.

South Africans have a penchant for ending town names with "Fontein" which probably obviously, means fountain. 

When we saw a sign for a town called Blesbokfontein, we said, "That's where we just were. Blesbok fontein." Flying blesbok heads...a veritable Blesbokfontein!

 Some of the lions were very sweet and friendly. Sky, here, became my buddy. There are NO wild lions left in South Africa, by the way. All of them have been poached or hunted, as mentioned above. So a conscientious lion reserve, where lions are extremely well cared for and healthy, with room to play and run has become their ideal habitat.

From there, we got back into the car to put on some more miles.  It was tough to leave Glen Gariff. It was one of the many places in Africa where I felt like I belonged...and I felt as if I could just stay forever.
But once more, we piled in the car...
Then our drive to Barberton!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Robben Island

Robben Island.
Scott, our friend, Mzukizi, and I visited Robben Island about two weeks before PResident Obama and Michelle did. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years or the crime of being a member of the ANC (African National Congress) and protesting against the system of Apartheid. 18 of those years were spent at Robben Island, working in the stone quarry and in this cell.

Now, at 95 years of age, he has become an international icon of peace, hope, and the fight against oppression everywhere. 


Here is Scott in the stone quarry where the inmates worked. Note the small cave in front of Scott and the group? In that cave, Nelson Mandela and other imprisoned ANC members would meet or leave each other messages.  I guess you can say that small cave is partly responsible for the overthrow of the Apartheid government!

Here are some more pictures. I tried and tried to include photos of the Obamas in the same places, or at least links, and this blog crashed every time. So I guess if you want to see the Preisdent and Michelle in the same places we were (only two weeks later), you'll have to google Obama in South Africa or Obama at Robben Island.


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 This is the view of the the view of the bay from Robben Island.
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 Mzukizi contemplating the cells, where names, pictures, and statements from the inmates were posted.
 Mzukizi and me on the boatride from the island. He was not a big fan of the rough-water ride.
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 Scott and Mzukizi outside Robert Sobukwe's house. Sobukwe died in solitary confinement. He was considered one of the most dangerous brilliant minds of the resistance to Apartheid, so died in prison without ever having contact with any of his compatriots. He is immortalized in the book, How Can Man Die Better, by Benjamin Pogrund. This one has moved high on my list of "To reads."
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Mzukizi and Scott as we prepare to leave the island.
A last view from the bay, looking back at Robben island.

Last reflection: Scott and I work amazingly well together. Maybe we're too much alike (on Africa time even when we're in Minnesota, not exactly the most organized folks in the world, etc.), but we made very compatible group leaders and research-fellow travelers. 

Students, take note: do as we say, not as we DO. We were admonished on the big-group tour of the prison to STAY together. Um, suffice it to say that we did not follow directions. The group exited the building where Mandela's cell was, and Scott looked at me and said, "Come on!" We ran back into the building or we would never have gotten any photos of Mandela's cell. We had the place to ourselves...for a bit. We finally got to "feel" the place and take some pictures. When we went back outside, we had lost our group. Another group joined us, however, and the new tour guide took us INTO the stone quarry (ours hadn't, and Scott had never been there on his four previous tours), and also took us into Robert Sobukwe's house. Nether of us had heard of Sobukwe before. 

Serendipity. All of our trip was laced with happy serendipity. Things would go wrong, and every single bad thing led to something better than we could have planned or anticipated. Getting lost and joining a new group was only one tiny example of that on this trip. And did I mention that Mzukizi, who has lived in the Cape Town Area his whole life had never been to Robben Island? It was one more magical picece of an unbelievable month in South Africa.

"We are not African because we live in Africa. We are African because Africa lives in us." --AfroVibe

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

South Africa, NEH Grant, Townships, the power of stories, and other dreams...

I just realized I haven't blogged since June 1. That is partly due to the fact that I could NOT blog in South Africa. I barely had internet, and when I did, the blog clogged the airwaves and crashed, so after multiple attempts, I gave up.

Let it also be known that every night now, I dream of South Africa.

My only week in Minnesota since May 18 was a bit hectic. Now I am in North Carolina at Nikki, Tom, and Alec's house, but Alec is sleeping, so here goes.

Yesterday morning, Nikki, Alec, and I had a delightful short morning at Noelle, Tony, and Maren's house in Arlington, Virginia, before we headed to Pennsylvania Avenue.

There I met Julia Nguyen, Senior Program Officer, Division of Education Programs, at the National Endowment for the Humanities Office in the historic Old Post Office complex. (Nikki and Alec went to the National Museum of Natural History).

Julia was entirely helpful and supportive of the ideas Scott Fee (Construction Management, MSU,M, now newly appointed Interim Assistant Dean in the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology) have cooked up. We want to apply for a big NEH grant for "Bridging Cultures" at Community Colleges...which also requires a Community College to be in collaboration with another institution. Seems as if this might have been written for what we are working toward.

I won't belabor all our plans here, but they do include bringing Prof Kobus van Wyk (below) to Mankato to speak at a conference at South Central College. Kobus is the endowed chair of the brand-new department of Human Settlement Development Management at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. This department has a focus of somehow revamping the rebuilding the townships while giving full consideration to human needs (safety, education, health, transportation, etc., etc. which all relate to Humanities).

Our approach to this grant is that stories are the medium that move information from our head to our hearts and move us to action.  Stories are what the Humanities convey--through art, music, literature, film, history, architecture, etc., etc. Stories about South Africa all end up leading us to the townships. THERE, in the townships, the Humanities converge with the Built Environment.

If you don't know, townships exist in every urban area of South Africa, and a version exists in most rural areas, too. Townships are the legacy of apartheid. Apartheid means "separateness" in Afrikaans. When segregation was forced because the Afrikaner government under the Nationalist Party believed that races could only thrive while separated (I can't even begin to comment on this outrageously horrific idea), non-white citizens were forced into specified areas and couldn't leave without passbooks...similar to passports but necessary for traveling outside the neighborhood.

Now the townships still exist, with vast overpopulation and poverty. BUT look at the joy and sense of community. As we walked through Vlei ("Swamp") Township on the edge of Cape Town, these kids were dancing their hearts out. The oldest boy drummed with amazing skill on an old washtub. The mamas were busy cooking. Joy and hope and community have NOTHING to do with affluence.

We all know that the one thing that can break down prejudice is meeting a specific person from the group against which we hold a prejudice (Think about the movie American History X). Stories do the same thing. STORIES help us meet individual people, help us empathize,  force us to understand oppression and misfortune; stories change our attitudes about "others."

We believe that South Africa is a microcosm that is a metaphor for the world.  South Africa is the site of one (not unlike the Holocaust) of the worst legalized systems of oppression in the world. There is racism of every type, and not only black/white conflict but between the "White tribes" (Afrikaners/Boers and English) themselves, East Indians, many other Asian groups, "colored," and more. There is also some of the most joyful, colorful hope in the universe, despite oppression.

When "Madiba"--Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela retired from the South African presidency, President Clinton said the following:

"In every gnarly, knotted, distorted situation in the world where people are kept from becoming the best they can be, there is an apartheid of the heart. And if we really honor this stunning sacrifice of twenty-seven year, if we really rejoice in the infinite justice of seeing this man happily married in the autumn of his life, if we really are seeking some driven wisdom from the poser of his example, it will be to do whatever we can, however we can, wherever we can, to take the apartheid out of our own and others' hearts."

That's what we want to do with this grant. Present some opportunities to explore how learning about South Africa can help us all eliminate APARTHEID OF THE HEART.