Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Star That Won't Play False To Me

It's almost 3am in my quiet neighborhood of Southfield.

I'm dreaming of paragliding off Lion's Head when I remember that story my whale watching tour guide told me about a man who bought his wife a tandem paragliding trip off of the same mountain for her 40th birthday.

They caught a bad air rift and slammed into the side of the mountain.

Hanging there...with her 2 broken legs against the rock face...waiting for 4 hours for paramedics and a helicopter to get to them.

"Happy Birthday sweetheart"

The squeal of car tires and blasting of anothe lame Akon song creeps into the soundwaves of my dream


I awake with a start. Not to see Emeril from the food network sauteeing mushrooms in my bedroom, but to the sound of metal crunching against a concrete security wall. A car just ran into the security wall of the apartment complex across the street. No one's hurt but there's a huge gaping hole in the wall. Oooo dear.
Things at work are frustrating. The way are office is structured is positive in that it allows one to be exposed to and gain a deeper understanding of such a broad range of human rights abuses in this country. But because we don't specialize in a specific area, any attempt to do so is done through partnership with another organization. Communication here is a bit slow, so by the time you set up an initial meeting and arrange your tasks, you have only a month or 2 left. You already a foreignor with relatively little understanding of the culture and issues that organization is addressing, and are thus essentially seen as an "add-on" to which they understandably can't devote much time or energy into training. So while I'm grateful for the understanding I now have of so many facets of South African society and the range of experiences I've had (planning panels on gender based violence, supporting a transgender educational drag show, going on the radio to talk about service delivery pertaining to gender based violence, consulting refugees on their status, meeting with former sex workers, etc.), at some point I'd like to develop the skills to act upon such understanding.

It's so easy to get frustrated with oneself here. To so engage so deeply in another person's suffering, though I can never fully understand it, but to feel so unequipped or unqualified to respond in any real impactful way. I just constantly have to remind myself of where I come from. That really this office is structured so that the greater impact is on us as interns who are given the foundation to create the lasting change we all really want to see in the future. So many interns come into this office wanting to "make a difference," but from where we come from and the skills we have, not only are we realistically limited, but we must realize our role as students of the staff here, and more importantly, the people that we are trying to help. Patience is a lesson I am learning. Patience with myself and the learning process.

If there is one thing I know, it is that there is no other field for me. Human rights are universal. They are, as a white activist explaining his call to fight for a free south africa during apartheid says in the book Cry the Beloved Country, "a star that will not play false to me." Insecurity, what the world views as acceptable, even sprituality have tormented me and led me astray in the past. But human rights....human rights I cannot question or deny.

"I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me, a compass that will not lie." It will take time, but no cause, for me, and I am not speaking for anyone else, could resonate deeper within my heart:

Excerpt from Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton:
"I shall no longer ask myself if this or that is expedient, but only if it is right. I shall do this, not because I am noble or unselfish, but because life slips away, and because I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me, a compass that will not lie...Therefore I shall try to do what is right, and to speak what is true. I do this not because I am courageous and honest, but because it is the only way to end the conflict of my deepest soul. I do it because I am no longer able to aspire to the highest with one part of myself, and to deny it with another. I do not wish to live like that, I would rather die than live like that. I understand better those who have died for their convictions, and have not thought it was wonderful or brave or noble to die. They died rather than live, that was all. Yet it would not be honest to pretend that it is solely an inverted selfishness that moves me. I am moved by something that is not my own, that moves me to do what is right, at whatever cost it may be."

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