Sunday, July 10, 2005

Late in my teaching career, the last two years of it, I started teaching South African history to my students. I petitioned to teach the class, arguing that I could get the kids interested in the world by starting with one place first. You can't hand them the world in one semester and hope for the best. Besides, I had ulterior motives.

South Africa has been very close to my heart since I was a child. I don't know if being born in Tanzania I carried my displacement with me and longed, subliminally, to go back. Starting at a very young age I eyed the Southern tip with a mixture of awe, hurt and anger. I couldn't understand how people could be so cruel and how no one would stand up and at least publicly do something. My first televised exposure was Albert Finney's TV-version of the Biko trial, The Biko Inquest. I must have been nine or ten.

I remember Mandela being freed. Then it came, the Truth and Reconciliation hearings.

I get chills just writing this. Unless you've actually taken the time to view even bits of the hearings you may not understand why it is so chilling. No dramatization could ever capture seeing the truth live. I hate to sound so pragmatic but to see a South African police officer recount how he tortured and killed a young man while his family listens in the front row is one of the hardest things I have ever watched. And I am detatched, watching on a TV in Chicago.

So they gave me the ok to do the course.

In the next post, maybe, I'll tell you about the class. The two things I remember most both have to do with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. At one moment during the hearings you can see him breaking down and crying immensely. At the end of the hearings Bill Moyers interviews him and Tutu says, to Moyers' amazement, and I am quoting from memory here, "People are amazing." Those damn eyes of his nearly bulging out of his head as he is saying this. What he is saying is that he is amazed at the capacity of human beings. It is a compliment. After everything he has seen. People are amazing.

I am far humbled in life. As a human being, as an American, as an Indian, as a man. As a cancer patient. I humble myself before the universe. I am amazed at the capacity of human beings. If they are capable of so much evil, they must also be capable of so much love. They must. I have t believe this. My vessel has carried me this far, what can I give? What can I give back to the universe, to the friends who help me across the river, to the wife who catches me when I fall?


Coffee on a Sunday morning. This is what happens. And decaf to boot.


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