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"Mum, is she black or coloured?"

SOUTH AFRICA | Wednesday, 26 March 2008 | Views [1743]

I was always marvelling at the colours of the grass in SA. This photo pretty much captures the red I liked so much.

I was always marvelling at the colours of the grass in SA. This photo pretty much captures the red I liked so much.

I was 17. I used to sing ‘freeeeee Nelson Mandela’ in night clubs in Melbourne. I had dreadlocks. I used to graffiti ‘Stop Apartheid’ on what ever material came my way. I kept a scrap book of mostly unread South African articles. I watch Shaka Zulu and the Power of One.

As I became more aware of what was going on, I stopped looking. It was all too shocking. Were these people humans? I was too sensitive. I was crying and nothing seemed to be getting better.

I would never have thought to visit South Africa if it wasn’t for a friendship that was struck  while I was living in Norway. A South African. A real one. One who’d lived and breathed the sad stories I’d seen on the TV. One who knew Africa from an insider’s point of view. Who could tell, by listening to accents, what area people came from. Who could see at a glance the racial mix that produced the features and skin colour of the person before her.

And yet, she had the British humour. We were both colonies of the British crown. We understood each other’s humour, food choices, expressions, pop culture and drinking habits.

We arrived.

We saw shanty towns. Tiny shacks pushed together, made of tin and pieces of board.

Expensive shopping malls with barbed wire fences around the entire area.

Naked children playing in the dirt beside busy highways.

In a country where most of the population were walking, there was a distinct lack of foresight in town planning for pedestrians. The cities were designed for cars.

We saw beautiful grasses gently swaying.

A storm chasing us across the expansive drive from Johannesburg to Durban.

Car accidents every day.

White mini buses piled full of people driving at awe inspiring speeds.

Jett, our 7 year old, learnt about colour. Blacks, Whites, Non-Whites, Coloured. People were unafraid to point out his whiteness, or someone else's coffee, cream, chocolate or sausage colour. (a boy in my class, when I was 16, said I had skin like browned sausages... errr... Thanks Micheal, I think....) For the first time in his life, Jett started identifying people by the colour of their skin. 'The black woman.' 'The black man, but not as black as the one at the restaurant. A bit lighter.' 

Sneering white faces. (I’ve never seen such ugly expressions on white people’s faces as I did in South Africa)

A table cloth of cloud over a mountain top.

From a health and well being instructor’s point of view, I’ve never seen so many beautiful, symmetrical bodies just casually walking down the street. There was no hint of back ache, or stiff shoulders. Just beautiful posture and natural grace. My jaw was dropping to see such healthy, balanced walking.

We saw real live lions. Ok, so they were in a park, but we were in a car and they were just out there… and if you haven’t seen something like this before, it was a wow experience.  The majesty. The pride. The dignity and power. It was all there in their huge heads and gorgeous manes. Magnificent moment for me.

And I saw my friend. In her home land. With a maid. And living in a security patrolled apartment. And feeling she could never walk anywhere, but had to use the car. Where we had to wind the window up at the lights in case someone reached in and well, what? I don’t know. Nobody really explained what was going to happen.

We were there this time last year. I’m 36.

Now I laugh a little at the image of  myself, way back in Melbourne, at the age of 17,  flinging my dreadlocks (authentically) around at a night club to an African band singing about an imprisoned leader. It seems a little absurd.

I bet there’s a 17 year old now, somewhere in the world, with no real ties to Tibet, singing, or dancing, or praying for the freedom of the Dalia Lama. Maybe they shaved their hair off as protest.

And in another 10 years or so? Who will the 17 year old be holding to her heart, calling for the world to see and protect?

Tags: friends, growth


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