Karen Kaye in South Africa

Saturday, August 27, 2011

So, what happened? The rest of the story

Thank you all for following along on my Peace Corps South Africa experience.  I have returned to the United States of America and am home now. Although I nearly completed my 27-month commitment, I left South Africa and my Peace Corps assignment abruptly in June, 2011—3 months shy of my “close of service” date.  Many of you are asking why I left early and suddenly.  So, I will tell you why and then “close down” this blog.  Since I’m no longer living in South Africa, this portion of my journey has ended.  Thanks for following along!

Before I begin, I must qualify this blog, because I’m reluctant to say anything negative about my Peace Corps experience, Peace Corps South Africa, and even the Republic of South Africa.  I must further qualify the fact that my Peace Corps South Africa experience was mine alone and there were many, many (if not all) volunteers in my group who experienced nothing close to what I did.  So, before you lambast me with admonishments and accuse me of spouting negativity, please know that I am claiming my experience only, and my thoughts, feelings, and reactions all resulted from my biases and understandings of the world.  These are mine and no one else’s.

Two years ago, I was very excited to learn I would be serving Peace Corps in the Republic of South Africa.  Like many, I was enthralled watching the fall of Apartheid and then amazed by election of Nelson Mandela and his attempt to bring South Africa into a democracy.  I bought all of  the excitement of  South Africa’s “Rainbow Nation” and couldn’t wait for my Peace Corps tour of duty.  I was especially excited to learn I would be working with the schools in rural regions of South Africa to help with the reconstruction of a school system devastated by  Apartheid.

My enthusiasm for living and working in South Africa quickly waned after my arrival.  In my rural community, I felt unwelcome and unwanted—and felt so for all of my two years in Africa.

The people in my community—a community in a rural area--seemed to strongly dislike three specific qualities in a person: they seemed to dislike women, they seemed to dislike Americans, and they seemed to dislike white people.  For those of you who don’t know me, I am a middle-aged, white American woman.  (The middle aged designation holds weight as well, and I’ll also speak of  it.)

South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world. The reasons for this are certainly debatable and of  a complicated and complex nature, but I believe this may be so because I experienced  a culture of hatred of women in my community.

Women in my community and in my school were treated as inferior (to their male counterparts) at almost every level: so much so that the vice-principal and heads of departments at my school (all women) would lower their eyes and soften their voices whenever my male principal walked into the room.  At one point it was suggested to me by my female colleagues that I would have an easier time in my school if only I would “submit” to the principal. I negotiated these realms as best I could but would learn later that I had offended my principal consistently because I, trying to be respectful and polite, would look him in the eye when I spoke with him and tried to speak very clearly.  In this way, and unbeknownst to me, I was a threatening presence to him from the get-go.  (Peace Corps prepared us to encounter “cultural differences” in our South African home-stays and at social functions, but I felt unprepared to deal with these gender-based cultural differences in the workplace.)

Also, and what was most upsetting to me, was how the men were blatantly sexually suggestive in almost every instance of encounter-- be it in a professional setting (at school), a formal function (a funeral), or in passing (being lewd while passing in the street).  However, because of my age (the middle-age distinction), I did not suffer these indecencies  as frequently as my younger American PC colleagues were experiencing. (People in my community reach an age of respect when older;  although I earned much more respect than my younger PC colleagues, I was not free from being harassed.)  I found dealing with this inappropriateness on a daily basis insufferable and exhausting and I couldn’t imagine what my younger colleagues were experiencing.  Peace Corps warns us of “unwanted attention.”  Volunteers might be better prepared if it were called what it is: ongoing sexual harassment.  People in my country and in my culture-- in America-- go to jail for behaving in such ways.

Another way that helped me feel unwanted was my American-ness.  There was very strong anti-American political sentiment in my community.  I often felt and was told that my presence within my community represented the arrogance of all Americans: who are we to think we can help others? (This is a political sentiment I somewhat agree with.)

And lastly, because of the recent history of brutal racial tensions within the Republic of South Africa, the racial tensions in my community remain very high.  Just the sight of me caused many to assume that I was Afrikaner (white South African).  I strongly sensed from my black South African community that Afrikaners were unwelcome and the few Afrikaners I worked with at the college told me they felt unwelcome (and unsafe) living and working in my community.  White people, quite simply, were hated in my community.

So why didn’t I leave and come home?  To serve in Peace Corps is voluntary and I could have ended my service at any time.  Why didn’t I leave?  I didn’t leave because it was important to me to keep trying.  It is a bit of an exercise to join Peace Corps and involves major life-changing decisions like leaving a job and a family behind.  I did not take my invitation to Peace Corps lightly and it was important for me—and an honor for me—to serve.

In the end and when my service was nearly complete, I did decide to leave early and come home.   A host-country national, who also served as one of my South African supervisors, said something to me that was not very nice.  What he said to me was so not very nice that it would be considered a death threat in my country.

Coming on the end of two years of trying to respond to my community with love and kindness, this last encounter with a man who rightly should have been a supporter and protector convinced me it was time to leave South Africa.  I would never  be what I wanted to be in my community and to my people: Karen Kaye.  I would always be a symbol of something my community disdained and despised.

So why am I saying all of this?  I’m offering advice for any incoming Peace Corps volunteer coming to serve the Republic of South Africa: if your gut tells you something is wrong at anytime in your service, then something is wrong.  Do not hesitate to discuss your concerns with your Peace Corps supervisor.

I voiced concerns to my Peace Corps supervisor early on and she immediately suggested I change my site.  In hindsight, always 20/20, I should have. Also,  I have since learned that I lived in a “location.”  Locations are like small towns (versus the smaller, quieter villages) and are often much more politically active.  Looking back, I think I would have been much happier living and working in a smaller, quieter village.

Also, I tend to check my reality by running things by other people.  In this case, it was, “Hey, it really sucks at my site.  Does it suck at your site?”  If it does suck at your site, well, then, perhaps something needs to change.  If it doesn’t suck at your site, well, then, something is wrong with me and I need to change.”  None of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers admitted experiencing difficulties.  (Although toward the end of our service, fellow volunteers DID begin to come clean and going public about experiencing difficulties.)

I’m 48 and most in my group were 30 and under, but there were 10 or so older than 55.  When I tried to compare my realities with the 55s and older, they would look at me like I had horns growing out of my head:  Why NO, they certainly didn’t experience anything like what I was experiencing at my site!  I would later realize that of course they didn’t: the older volunteers had reached the age of respect and were almost revered (but certainly respected) in their villages and schools and did not suffer with any of the “harassments” I and other younger volunteers did.

And here again, to incoming volunteers: don’t hesitate to voice your concerns if you have them:   Peace Corps does everything in its power to develop safe and appropriate sites for its volunteers; however, Peace Corps needs input from the volunteers at their sites to ensure the volunteer’s safety and satisfaction.   This was my biggest mistake: I was hesitant to voice my most alarming concerns.

Knowing what I know today, would I serve Peace Corps in the Republic of South Africa?  No, I would  not.  I feel that racial tensions are still too high in the rural areas of the country and I feel it too risky for Americans to be living and working in South Africa. 

Do I regret serving Peace Corps in the Republic of South Africa?  No I do not.  I believe for the first time in my life, I am a true patriot for my country, the United States of America. I was indifferent to and critical of my country before I left.  Now,  I love my country very much and feel remarkably lucky and blessed that, simply by a chance of birth, I live in the great nation of the USA.  I am lucky to live in a nation that is governed by democracy and that we as citizens have rights and a voice to change things.  I feel grateful to return to my home of safe streets, safe public transportation, safe drinking water, good hospitals and emergency response agencies, good schools, and healthy and abundant food.

I know there is violent crime, poverty and many, many difficulties for many, many people in America.  However, my life in America feels a billion times safer than what I experienced in South Africa.

But lastly, and I feel compelled to voice this emphatically as a parent to any parent with children headed toward the Republic of South Africa: I wouldn’t want my 20-something-year-old daughter serving in the Republic of South Africa.  I wouldn’t want my 20-something-year-old son serving either.

In closing,

PS.  That’s it!  I’m shutting her down!  I appreciate my readers and their ongoing encouragements.  Thank you for your support.  Maintaining my blog and sharing my experiences of my Peace Corps service has been one of the highlights of my two years in Africa.

AND, although my Peace Corps South African blog journey is ending, I will continue blogging and if you’re interested in film, you can hear me rant at http://www.karenkayefilm.blogspot.com/. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Saying goodbye to Pudimoe

Baby and Mrs. B-- my So African family

On Tuesday, June 14, 2011, I visited my village for the last time.  Many of you know that I was supposed to complete my Peace Corps service in Aug/Sept 2011, but something happened and I had to wrap up my service quickly.  The something that happened wasn’t “very nice” and it made revisiting my village awkward.  (For those of you needing to know “the rest of the story,” just shoot me a private email and I’d be happy to give you all of the sordid details.) 

On Tuesday morning, first thing, I readied myself to ride to Pudimoe to spend one afternoon, one evening, and one morning to break down my household, pack my two bags of permitted stuff to carry home, and say goodbye to a community I’d been living with for two years. No, twelve hours is not enough time to accomplish these things.

My colleagues at Vuselela FET College

I couldn’t have done it at all if Emily Lesego, the nearest and dearest PCV to me, hadn’t come to my aid. She was an angel and bolstered me through a very difficult time.

While I was hoping to arrive in Pudimoe by 1:00 or 2:00 on Tuesday, I didn’t arrive until 3:00 and hadn’t realized how tired I would be after traveling/waiting around for 7 hours. While I had hoped to walk to the village grocer to say goodbye to my postmistress and my “grocer family,” there simply wasn’t time.

As soon as I arrived at my trailer, I threw down my suitcases and began closing down my house. Also, I began cooking what would be my last batch of chakalaka and was hoping Emily would stay for dinner. (She would do better than that—she stayed the night!) Also during this crazy, busy time, Mrs. B and her daughter Baby came by so I could give her some things to carry to the primary school for me. (The incident that sent me packing had to do with a person at the primary school, and I was not allowed to return. It broke my heart not to say farewell to the school children!)

Marina--the best cook in South Africa... She is also one of So African family

I was hoping to spend a bit of quality time with Mrs. B and Baby, and then later when her husband, Mr. B arrived, but it was just too frantic. If I were to call anyone in South Africa “my family,” it is these wonderful people. They were very loving towards me.

The B’s left; Emily and I had dinner, and then resumed the frantic packing. We packed until way past 8:00 pm. Finally, with a tiny bit of urging from Emily, we took a break to stroll around campus (my last time) and enjoy the nearly full moon. Fella, my second African dog, was happy with going for a late-night walk. It was chilly, but very nice.

I was pretty keyed up, but finally able to sleep. Fella spent his last night in my house, propped up on a comfy dog bed. He’ll have to go back to being an African dog now. He was an American dog for a few months.

Mr. K--his wife was my star student. 
I love this shot because he would never, ever smile for the camera for me.
He has a lovely smile, doesn't he? 

On Wednesday morning, Emily and I had a quick breakfast, shared out last French press of coffee, and she accompanied me to my college staff meeting where I would bid everyone goodbye.  Because my departure was so sudden, most of my colleagues were shocked and dismayed at my abrupt departure, but all posed for farewell pictures with me, which made me happy. 

It was an emotional time for me. Physically, especially while packing on Tuesday, I was having nausea and chest pounding. I was also physically trembling. I had a bit of this again on Wednesday morning, but Emily thought it more from the questionable eggs we had eaten for breakfast.  I didn’t cry at all on Tuesday, not even at telling the B’s goodbye, but began on Tuesday morning with my farewell speech with the college. I broke completely down at loading the car and telling Fella goodbye. I hated to leave him and he had experienced a nasty gash on his leg while I was in Pretoria. I hated to leave him AND he was wounded. I must leave him to the care of Mother Africa and the campus community. He was a good companion in my last months in Africa.

Goodbye Fella.
Thank you for being so good to me.

Israel--my star student and my Setswana teacher.
He's a great kid--I'll miss him.
Although he is on Facebook!  :-)

Riding out of the gate, I had to bid farewell to one of my favorite people in Africa, Tanke, one of my college’s security guards who was very kind and helpful to me.  Tanke, like many Zimbabweans, has fled his country because of the cruel leadership of  Zimbabwe.   All of the Zimbabweans I met are longing to return safely to their country when their leadership changes.

I cried all as we drove out of my village, knowing I would never see it again. It was a bittersweet time for me: I was sad at leaving but also relieved.

And I was crying still, when we dropped Emily at her house and I had to say goodbye. She’s a wonderful young woman, a fabulous Peace Corps Volunteer, and a dear friend. I could not have managed the departure without her—and likely not my two years in Africa either!

I’ll be home this time next week!

PS.  I have more photos posted to my Facebook page.  You need not be a member of Facebook to see these photos (Just click on the link):


This is Tanke, my campus's security guard.
He has a beautiful smile, although you don't see it here.
He was very good to me.

Emily Lesego and I say goodbye.
The photo is fuzzy, but I love the mood of it.

Bags packed and ready to go.
Emily says I look much too happy here!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On being a tourist…

I’m not sure if I’ve posted these photos before or not, so sorry if a repeat: these are of a trip through Namaqualand and a side excursion to Port Nolloth to see the beach. The ocean you see is the Atlantic. And the following is a little blurb about Port Nolloth from Lonely Planet’s South Africa: Lesotho & Swaziland, 6th edition:

“Port Nolloth is a sandy and exposed little place with a certain fascination. Originally developed as he shipping point for the region’s copper, it is now dependent on the small fishing boats that catch diamonds and crayfish. [South African’s call lobsters “crayfish.”] The boats are fitted with pumps, and divers vacuum up the diamond-bearing gravel found on the ocean floor. The town has attracted a multicultural group of fortune-seekers and they give it frontier vitality.” (512)

Quiver trees--my third favorite tree in Africa
 Am switching gears on you abruptly now…

A gentleman I’ve never met in person, although we’ve become “friends” on Facebook, recently waged what felt like a personal attack at my excitement at coming home. To paraphrase his opinion, he seemed to believe that I would miss Africa on my return to the States—as I resumed my boring life of lazy complacency—his words—and admonished to me to see all of the lovely sights of Africa as I could before returning home.

His commentary more than a bit ruffled my feathers and I publicly rebuked him, but then my conscience bothered me enough to pull my comment off of Facebook a half an hour later. The last thing I wanted to do was engage publicly with a man I’ve never met and battle with him about his values and how he was projecting them onto me.


Others have raised this issue as well, although in a kinder, gentler fashion, and certainly not with the accusation that I would resume a life of complacency on my return home. My fellow Peace Corps volunteers have sometimes gently suggested, “I don’t get out enough,” especially when I’m voicing some of the concerns I have about living in my community. What they mean is, in their opinion: I don’t travel enough.

Now I will admit: If I had buckets of money and could travel about with ease (as having buckets of money would allow me), I would see much, much more of Africa than I have. However, I don’t have buckets of money and traveling about Africa is a bit more of an adventure than I care to enjoy on my limited budget. I have made a few small trips and have seen the sights I wish to see; specifically, I’m glad to have traveled north to see Africa’s famous “baobab tree” (Adansonia digitata) and I enjoyed very much traveling south to see Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park.

However, I’m in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, not a tourist and become irritable when people suggest I spend more of my time (and money) being a tourist.

In general, I am happy to stay in my village and enjoy my home and community during school holidays and breaks. Basically, everyone leaves the community to go elsewhere to spend their holidays and the hustle and bustle of my community dies down considerably. I love having this time to walk about my village feeling relaxed and enjoying my neighbors and the beauty of my African “countryside.” I also enjoy the uninterrupted (with work) time to enjoy my home in Africa and in spending time in it.

As my departure date approaches, I have one more opportunity to travel in Africa and see more of its sights. I have a friend who lives near Port Elizabeth, a town on the eastern coast of South Africa. I have not seen the eastern coast of South Africa and would love to see the Indian Ocean while I’m here.

I haven’t decided if I’ll travel or not in the coming weeks. Although the trip sounds appealing, it will also be the last “holiday” in my village I’ll ever enjoy. Perhaps I could do a little of both: take the trip and devote a part of the holiday for being home (in my village).

Either way, I’m happy to know that it will be my decision about how to spend my time in the way I most favor. And I’ll invite the gentleman that challenged me to come to Africa himself to enjoy the beauty of Africa, instead of admonishing me to do it. After all, we are our choices! And I am happy enough with mine!

Soon, very soon,

PS. Since I’ve drafted this blog I’ve learned that I will be coming home much sooner than expected. My last “trip” in South Africa will be an extended stay in Pretoria.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On being a celebrity…

Ok, folks… I’ve participated in the Mother Bear Project for my last time and here are some last shots of the little lovelies and their bears and yes—they are adorable! These children are from the Ikameng Early Childcare Center in my village. I’ve worked with Mother Bear Project three times in my two years in Africa and must say that the organization is exceptional to work with. Distributing the hand-made teddy bears to the vulnerable children of Africa affected by HIV/AIDS has simply brought happiness and delight into my communities that nothing else really did. I enjoyed the kids, I enjoyed taking the photos, and I enjoyed how the parents and educators seemed to enjoy the delight of it all. Mother Bear days were very happy days. So, here are a few of the last photos of my last time with Mother Bear. Remember, if you’re a knitter or have a few extra pennies, contributing to this great organization is a great way to spread a little love all over the world and how can you resist that?: www.motherbearproject.org.

Am giving you a bit of a warning here: In this blog, I’m mixing a bit of the good (Mother Bear) with a bit of the bad (unwanted attention received in my community). So, you will encounter unpleasantness in this blog. I will speak of racism here and I will speak in generalities: what I’m discussing doesn’t apply to every single South African I meet. Also, I’d like to point out that every Peace Corps volunteer’s experience in South Africa is very, very different and many—and most--of my PC colleagues are astounded when I tell them these stories and are appalled and strongly claim to experience nothing like this at all in South Africa. What I am speaking to is my experience and my experience only.

Also, I have since learned, two years too late, that because I live near a “location,” something like a big town where people are more politically active, etc., these kinds of hostilities—that I will describe--are more likely to be encountered. Two years ago, I should have asked to change my site. Two years ago, I thought I was the one that needed to change, and to keep trying. I kept trying, but to no betterment. Lesson learned!

Just a bit of background on me before we begin. One of the nicest things I’ve learned in my journey in this life is that I’m “just another Bozo on the bus”: I am no better or worse than any other human being. I seek a relationship of equality in everyone I meet: be it a child, an adolescent, an adult or a CEO of a company. Perhaps this value is the one that has been the most challenged during my Peace Corps service, and as a dear, fellow Peace Corps volunteer friend has tried to convince me: Just the fact that we are Americans will always displace us out of an equal relationship with our host-country nationals. I’ve fought for this my whole two years in Peace Corps: to not be treated as special, better than, or a VIP within my community. It is a lost battle.

One of the things I’ve gained in my Peace Corps experience—and completely unexpected—is the feeling, even if on a very small scale, of what it must be like to be a celebrity.

How many times have I rolled my eyes at hearing movie stars or super models whining on TV about how wretched their lives are because they are constantly hounded by the press, the paparazzi, and, well, everyone?

I have a whole new respect for what it must be like to be Oprah Winfrey or Tom Cruise. In fact, I am much more sympathetic to Tom Cruise’s meltdown a few years back, at jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch proclaiming to the world his love for Katie Holmes. I sympathize with his breakdown because he’s been living the life of a celebrity for most of his life; I have lived the life of a “celebrity” for only two years. Having the attention of everyone on the planet is tolerable for about three days, and after three days, your life as a celebrity becomes a nightmare.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my friend is correct: because I’m an American, no one in my community will ever approach me or relate to me as an equal, and this makes me sad.

Peace Corps warns us early to expect “unwanted attention” and how stressful it can be “living in a fishbowl.” But really, I had no idea what it would be like and I can tell you this clearly: I don’t like anything about it and one of the things I most long for on returning home, is the ability to “become anonymous and invisible” in my own world again. And I feel much, much more empathy for very famous celebrities that can never do this. (Well, OK! They do have millions of dollars to flee to exotic locations… but still!)

So, why exactly am I a “celebrity” in my rural existence in the Republic of South Africa? Is it because I’m a Peace Corps volunteer? Well, no. Sadly, and although I introduce myself as a Peace Corps volunteer and try to explain what Peace Corps is and what Peace Corps does, most people in my community have no idea about Peace Corps and could really care less.

So, why am I a celebrity? I’m a celebrity because I’m a white American woman living within a black community. There ya go…

Ok, ok. I feel your feathers ruffling. I understand… In my discussion, I’m speaking from the realm of “racism” and in my country, the USA, we don’t like racism and we don’t like racists. However, I’ve experienced a whole new reality in my temporary life in South Africa: because of South Africa’s history (which is, interestingly, very, very similar to the history of the United States), what “race” you belong to is very much a part of your “identity.” Identifying yourself as black South African, white South African, Afrikaner, Colored, Xhosa, Zulu, Indian, etc. is very important here and is the rule rather than the exception. South Africans consider their “color” and their classification in a group of people as a source of pride. This attitude is very much in contrast with the American attitude of “people are people, so why can’t we all just get along?”

(And yes, I’m speaking in generalities here.)

So, for Americans especially, I sense your discomfort at my “racist” discussion. I sense it and I appreciate it.

To live as a white, American woman inside a black community in rural South Africa is simply not done: She can live far away from it, and be separate from it, but she cannot live in it and participate with it. It’s simply not done. It is more than a bit out of the ordinary.

When I was very, very new in my service, I was on a taxi with several fellow PC volunteers riding through a town. A small group of young black South African girls saw us and became very excited. They pointed and shouted and ran with the taxi as it passed calling, “Magoa! Magoa!” The young women were excited at seeing a taxi full of “white” people riding through their town. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I was being introduced to the way my life would be for all of my two years living and working in rural South Africa.

So, what does it feel like to be a celebrity in this circumstance? It feels very uncomfortable at best and intolerable at worst; some days are better than others; but the constant strain of it every single day is trying… And thus, I can understand and appreciate Tom Cruise’s public “meltdown”—I often feel, especially at this late date, that I’m on the verge of one of my own.

I have lived and worked in my community for nearly two years. The people I work closely with of course are used to me and are loving and kind with me, etc. However, because my community is so large, I’m constantly encountering people every single day who do not know who I am or why I am here, simply in my walking from one place to another. I must first endure their surprise, which I’ve already encountered thousands and thousands of times, and which may be friendly and delightful, but often, because of the racial tensions that still poison my community, often are hostile and angry. Encountering hostility and anger, every single day, in some form is very trying… If I let it, it can shut me down and force me to withdraw: I have encountered hostility so many times and so regularly, it makes me not want to be friendly with strangers. To withdraw in this manner is harmful in many ways: in one way, I’m much more likely to miss the happy exchanges and in another, I seem like a hateful, American white woman—very much what Peace Corps doesn’t want me to present to the world!

So this aspect of “celebrity” is very trying.

One way I’m a celebrity is that I’m a white woman. I’m not really sure how the romantic realm operates between the men and women of my community, but I can tell you, when they’re trying to be romantic with me, it is more than a bit unpleasant. I was warned, at some point, that it would be a good idea to come to South Africa as a married woman and even if not, to pretend I was. I adopted this strategy and bought myself some “wedding rings” before arriving, but it rarely spares me the discomfort of the “unwanted” attention I regularly receive from men. It’s worse however, for my younger female PC colleagues. In Peace Corps it is called “unwanted attention”; in the USA, it is called “sexual harassment” and legal defenses and protections can be sought. In rural South Africa, we’re on our own. I won’t go into detail about what I’ve witnessed and heard with the younger, female Peace Corps volunteers, but I will say, I wouldn’t want my 20-something year old daughter serving Peace Corps South Africa.

I find unwanted attentions from men in my community extremely inappropriate, rude, and creepy. I have never gotten used to the sexual advances from strange men in my community and still react with shock and outrage, a shock and outrage these men seem completely unaware of and unbothered by, as if of course I would, after “Hello, it’s nice to meet you,” agree to have sex with them later in the day, “Say, around 4:00?” No thank you, I don’t think so. The faux wedding rings have never deflected these advances. There is also a vulgar gesture I’ve encountered with strange men when I’ve gone to shake their hands in introduction; younger female volunteers also know—and are repulsed by—this gesture. I’ve experienced it while shaking hands at church—yes, at church!--and by the police captain when I was introducing myself as someone who might rely on his protection. Needless to say, I felt more than a bit dismayed at the thought of this man coming to my aid in the case of an emergency. Once, at 7:00 in the morning, while attending a funeral, I was meeting a strange man my principal, my South African supervisor, was introducing me to. After everyone had a nice chuckle all the way around, I enquired as to what was so funny. Oh, the strange man was asking if he could kiss “the legoa.” Legoa is the Setswana word for “white” woman. Nice! I’m at a funeral, and it’s 7:00 in the morning, and I have a strange man making a joke about kissing me. Grr. I could go on with more instances describing this kind of “unwanted attention,” but I think you get the idea.

Sometimes I feel that every man in my community wants this kind of “shot” at me.  Is it because I’m perceived as a celebrity?  And in this way, I cannot feel equal with my “fellow man.”

In a similar way, but in a different fashion, I encounter these rude moment by young men of my community. These encounters are more likely endured from a distance: young men will shout to me “Marry me” or taunt and tease me, “I love you, I love you!” After becoming used to these kinds of attentions, they become laughable. However, the young men of my community are much more likely to respond to my greetings in passing with a hostile smirk and/or by purposely ignoring me. Of course, this is just “kids being kids” and I should be more tolerant of it and I do try to be. It’s the constant wear of such encounters every day, day after day, that feels demoralizing.

And in this way, I’m a “celebrity”—albeit and infamous one--and denied the opportunity to be equal community member.

Another way I’m perceived as a celebrity, that does not entail my “femaleness,” is the fact that I’m an American and as everyone knows: all Americans are rich.

I acknowledge the fact that I live in first-world country, have achieved a higher education, and am more likely employable than any in my community. In this way, indeed, I am very rich. However, I haven’t any money to give and Peace Corps doesn’t provide us with any money to give. In this way, I am very poor—cash poor.

Also early in my service, in my host-family’s village, there was a shop where we bought bread and such. The young children loitering about, and without fail, would demand: Give me five rands. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I would be hearing this phrase and be approached this way for every single day of all of my two years in Africa. Not only am I asked for money from children, but also from educators and other community members—and most depressingly, from my South African friends. I’m asked to get jobs for South Africans in the USA; I’m asked for trips to the USA “just to visit for a couple of weeks and then return to Africa”; and I’m asked to find people homes in the USA. I try to tell people that a) I will need to find my own job in the USA once I return; and b) currently, I have no home and will have to stay with friends when I return; and c) I have no money for travel or to pay for friends to travel and the only reason I’m in South Africa is because I joined Peace Corps.

These explanations don’t make any sense to the people here, because they simply cannot fathom the idea that not all Americans are rich. The South Africans of my community are convinced that our streets are running with milk and honey and that everyone that lives in America is rich—no exceptions! There is no dispelling this myth—as hard as I’ve tried. I blame this belief solely on American-made TV and films.

So yes, being a celebrity and approached for money constantly from strangers is draining. I can’t imagine how Bill Gates must feel.

In a similar way, but in a different fashion, I encounter these rude moment by young men of my community.  These encounters are more likely endured from a distance: young men will shout to me “Marry me” or taunt and tease me, “I love you, I love you!”  After becoming used to these kinds of attentions, they become laughable.  However, the young men of my community are much more likely to respond to my greetings in passing with a hostile smirk and/or by purposely ignoring me.  Of course, this is just “kids being kids” and I should be more tolerant of  it and I do try to be.  It’s the constant wear of such encounters every day, day after day, that feels demoralizing.

And in this way, I’m a “celebrity”—albeit and infamous one--and denied the opportunity to be equal community member.

Another way I’m perceived as a celebrity, that does not entail my “femaleness,” is the fact that I’m an American and as everyone knows: all Americans are rich.

I acknowledge the fact that I live in first-world country, have achieved a higher education, and am more likely employable than any in my community. In this way, indeed, I am very rich. However, I haven’t any money to give and Peace Corps doesn’t provide us with any money to give. In this way, I am very poor—cash poor.

Also early in my service, in my host-family’s village, there was a shop where we bought bread and such. The young children loitering about, and without fail, would demand: Give me five rands. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I would be hearing this phrase and be approached this way for every single day of all of my two years in Africa. Not only am I asked for money from children, but also from educators and other community members—and most depressingly, from my South African friends. I’m asked to get jobs for South Africans in the USA; I’m asked for trips to the USA “just to visit for a couple of weeks and then return to Africa”; and I’m asked to find people homes in the USA. I try to tell people that a) I will need to find my own job in the USA once I return; and b) currently, I have no home and will have to stay with friends when I return; and c) I have no money for travel or to pay for friends to travel and the only reason I’m in South Africa is because I joined Peace Corps.

These explanations don’t make any sense to the people here, because they simply cannot fathom the idea that not all Americans are rich. The South Africans of my community are convinced that our streets are running with milk and honey and that everyone that lives in America is rich—no exceptions! There is no dispelling this myth—as hard as I’ve tried. I blame this belief solely on American-made TV and films.

So yes, being a celebrity and approached for money constantly from strangers is draining. I can’t imagine how Bill Gates must feel.

Along this line, as an American, I’m expected to “know everything.” In the classroom, at the grocery, on the taxi, in the streets… I’m simply expected to be a walking font of knowledge that can produce business plans, solve complex calculus problems, teach fourth grade natural science with three minutes notice, and pontificate smartly on why we Americans, simply carry on without mercy in killing the likes of Osama bin Laden. (By the way, Peace Corps strongly discourages our discussing American politics—or any politics-- while serving in-country.)

Along these lines, in every “gathering” type of event, where many in my community come together for meetings, weddings and the like, I’m often treated as a special guest, or a VIP if you will.  When I’m invited to attend churches new to me, I will either be asked directly to speak or—as what usually happens—the service will be an interrupted so I can speak.  (Yes, I want to die when this happens.)  At social gatherings where food is served, I’m usually ushered to the front of the line.  On this weekend past, a fellow PCV and I were attending a district meeting of our areas Department of Education.  There were 600 principals in attendance, yet my friend and I were asked to step over to a special room where a special meal was prepared for the “very important people.” Gratefully, my friend declined for the both of us.  I would have died being ushered off to be treated differently than my principal!  This trend in my community is the one I’m most uncomfortable with: to be treated as special or different.

And then lastly, this experience has been most unnerving: people go through my trash. I’ve read of celebrities complaining of people going through their trash and how invasive it feels. It does! You would think that since you are throwing something away, that who cares who sees it or knows about it? But think about it: what you throw away can say a great deal about who you are and I find it very troubling to have people go through my trash. I sometimes do a silly little thing and write my prayers on slips of paper and place them in a “God box.” Well, these things are sometimes cleared out to make way for new prayers, and while there is something delightful about walking about on campus to encounter my prayers flitting about in the wind, there are other things I throw away that aren’t so delightful! I’ve made it a habit to carry my most sensitive trash into my shopping town to dispose of it in large, public trash receptacles. In this way, even if someone goes through my trash, at least my identity will be protected.

So, yeah, I think I kind of know what it’s like now, to be a celebrity: to be hounded wherever you go; to be the spectacle and the spotlight of everyone’s attention; and to encounter constant requests for favors and money. It’s exhausting, it’s unnerving, and it’s grating. Not everyone is made for the spotlight and not everyone is able to live in a fishbowl: I am one of these. I can’t wait to crawl out of my fishbowl and return to being another “Bozo on the bus.” And yes, I will be much more sympathetic to the Tom Cruises and Oprah Winfreys of the world!

Shh, don’t tell anyone, especially the mothers in my family, but there was a time in my Peace Corps service—a very short time--that I felt loved, and wanted, and, well, yes, an equal within my community. I had hopes of working more closely with the elderly and the orphans in my community and visited my area’s police department. I met this wonderful, vibrant strong black South African woman: she was the Lieutenant Colonel of the division. She spoke impeccable English and she had some great understandings of her community and was keen in seeing ways I could better help. We worked together and talked about several different ways I could become involved with the community and extend my time in Africa. I was so excited to find someone, someone I felt equal with, someone I felt I could forge an effective professional partnership with. I felt happy and fulfilled in Africa—FINALLY! And then she said the one thing that I fear to hear, the one thing I dread to hear, and the one thing that I always hear: Will you take me to America?

At that instant, I knew. I knew strongly, surely, and completely what my friend said to be true: As an American, I will never be perceived as an equal in my South African community. I will always be different, I will always be special, I will always be perceived as better than. At that moment, I knew I would come home.

Looking back over my two years as a celebrity in my community, I must admit some happy times at being the center of attention. It was fun when I initially came to my schools and initially met my coworkers and colleagues. It was fun to be wined and dined, and it was fun to be introduced to large crowds. And, it’s fun that everyone is so happy to see me on Mother Bear Days. But it all goes back to it being fun for about three days—and then the unrelenting grind of it that comes.

I am tired of my celebrity and so looking forward to being just another Bozo on the bus!


P.S.  ALL of the unpleasantness is worth it--the KIDS more than make up for it!  :-)

Friday, May 20, 2011

An anniversary of a different kind…

Notice lights glowing in the distance--these are from homes in Pudimoe

I’m celebrating and acknowledging my Peace Corps swear-in date, which is the 17th of each month, on Facebook. As my time for returning home draws nearer, I’m becoming more and more excited—especially on the 17th of each month and am having fun counting down the days!

However, I’m quietly celebrating another anniversary of a different kind. In May of 2010, I relocated my Peace Corps South Africa living situation from a very busy, boisterous “dorm room” setting, to a much more private residence on campus in a permanent “caravan home” at my college. (In the States, we call these “trailers,” or at least we used to call them this.) So, I’m celebrating a year in my little trailer here at the college and have been very, very happy living in it.

It was difficult for me to ask to move out of the “hostile hostel,” which I jokingly, but somewhat truthfully, began calling it. For one thing, when compared with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, having my own private “flat,” with a separate kitchen and bath space, even if inside a girls’ dormitory, was considered a “Posh Corps” living assignment, and many of my friends expressed jealousy. For Pete’s sake, I had indoor plumbing, a bathtub, and a flushed toilet! (Many, many of my fellow volunteers live in homes without indoor plumbing and haul water for drinking and household use from a community tap.) For another, there was a lot I liked about living in the dormitory, especially my large glass windows that provided an “IMAX” viewing experience while watching the drama of the African sky. And when things felt threatening outside, be it a weather-related storm or a soccer-related storm (I could overlook the campus soccer field from my room), I felt snug and secure inside my second-floor castle room in a cinder-block building.

After eight months of desperately trying to find happiness in my dorm room existence, I did ask to move. I was living with, well, college-aged kids who were joyful, boisterous, and loud during restful hours. Also, since I was a captured audience, I had frequent visitors and it was difficult to hide if I need to rest or be alone. But there were other things about it, that were much more unpleasant. For example, the building itself was infested with rats and African-sized cockroaches and about 200 girls and I were pad-locked into the building each evening with no possible escape in the case of an emergency (and no sprinkler system in case of a fire). While I was living there, a sewage pipe burst and raw sewage bubbled up out of the ground underneath my bathroom window for months. Also, the building lost water and electricity regularly.

However, even with these undesirable living conditions, there was something else much more intolerable to me: Strange men would visit the dormitory on weekend nights and the solicit college-aged girls. I found this to be the least tolerable circumstance of my living situation and eventually asked to move. (Yes, yes, I did make my campus supervisors aware of this unacceptable issue but unfortunately, nothing was done. There are cultural differences between American and South African attitudes regarding sexual relations between “older men” and “young girls.” Although I find the practice unacceptable, unfortunately and sadly, it is accepted here.)

When I made my supervisor aware of my wish to make other living arrangements, she encouraged me to “start looking around” for other possibilities. I was assigned two schools, as we all are, and in addition to the college, was working for a primary school out in the village. I began seeking a place to live off-campus, as I preferred to live in the village anyway.

Before I decided to move I was in the habit of strolling around the campus and had found a row of caravan homes—trailers—that I learned were occupied by educators at the college. There was one abandoned trailer and I began to long for it. It hadn’t been inhabited for quite some time, so I wasn’t even sure if it were habitable. I found myself visiting a picnic table on campus and sitting dreamily, eyeing the vacant trailer and praying for the possibility of living there.

Long story shorter: I did find someplace else to live in the village, but hadn’t realized the problem of the college “losing face” if I left it. In rural South African culture, to be embarrassed or seen to “lose” something is highly, highly undesirable—and for the college, to “lose” their Peace Corps volunteer to a village home would have been embarrassing.

I approached the college about moving into the vacant trailer.

Now, keep in mind, no one had lived in the trailer for quite some time. I knew there was a reason it was uninhabited and figured it must be in pretty bad shape. At this point however, I would have rather lived in a pitched tent in the back lot of the college than in the dorm room, so I asked to see it. As imagined, it was in pretty bad shape: the stairs providing entry way to the trailer weren’t there, the toilet didn’t flush, the cold-only water trickled out of the faucets, the hot water heater needed replacing, and there were hot wires coming out of most of the electrical outlets. Furthermore, while I had water and electricity provided by the college in the dorm room, I would need to purchase my own electricity for the trailer.

I didn’t mind any of these things—I’LL TAKE IT!

My change in residence needed to be approved by Peace Corps, especially in regards to my safety and security. With my Peace Corps supervisor’s help, we negotiated repairs and made arrangements to have security bars put in place.

My new home was becoming a reality!

Well, in the end, there was quite a bit of unhappiness involved with my move. I would later learn that, even though the trailer had sat vacant for quite some time, my South African colleagues—fellow educators—raised quite a stink at my “getting” to move into the trailer when they were without campus housing. They viewed my moving as an example of “white privilege.” So AFTER Peace Corps had installed security doors and AFTER I had moved myself in (I hired college kids to help me move—none of my peers were interesting in helping); AFTER I had scrubbed as much of the filth and grime away as I could, I get a visit from the campus manager to explain that everyone at the college was upset at my preferential treatment and no, they wouldn’t be repairing the hot wires, the toilet, the stairs, or the hot water heater after all.

I was FURIOUS. :-)

In the end, I got to stay, and, well, the live wires were repaired, the stairs somewhat replaced, and the college bought me a “mini-geyser,” which is basically a device you drop into your bath water to heat it. Many, many rural South Africans heat their bath water with pots on the stove, pots over a wood-fire, or with electric kettles.

I was also warned too, by a sympathetic South African, that the trailer sitting unprotected from the African sky “would be an icebox in the winter, and an oven in the summer.” And she was absolutely right about this! It does become an easy-bake oven in the summer and now that winter is coming, has turned into an icebox.

However, even with the dramatic extremes in temperature, even with the disgruntled college educators, even with faulty wiring and a toilet that doesn’t flush, I’m much happier here and have been—for a whole year. I have privacy, I have a “yard,” I can garden, I can line-dry my clothes, I can “hide” if I need privacy or space, I have space to accommodate overnight guests, I have an oven, and yes, I have indoor-plumbing and a bathtub! I have been much, much happier here in my little African home and am grateful to have had it.

As my time in South Africa draws to a close, I’m rearranging my little trailer home one last time: I’m moving my “living area” back to my bedroom, which is on the east-facing end of the house, so I have good, direct sunshine (and heat!!) all of the day. Also, I have a door that I can shut to keep in the heat from an electric heater that I eventually broke down and bought last winter (after foolishly trying to “tough it out” most of the winter!)

I’m finding in the mornings now, I’m waking warm with my heater on, and dress into warm clothes, and then exit into the kitchen of my trailer—which is ice cold. I warm water immediately to wash and prepare my coffee. For my coffee, I must warm my cup and milk or, because my dishes are so cold, my coffee ends up being tepid. I return to my warm bedroom, which now has become my “living room,” to prepare for my workday. With my heater and my rearranged living space, I’m warm enough now that I go off to school feeling warm and my mornings feel bearable, rather than last year when I felt my hands and feet nothing but blocks of ice all winter.

In my rearranging my house for my last winter in Africa, I’m also making a mental note of who I’ll be leaving my Peace-Corps-purchased belongings to. (While Peace Corps provides us funds to set up our households, they also ask that when we leave and return to our homes in the States, that these same household furnishings be distributed to needy members of our communities.) I will be finding a home for my bed, my wardrobe (these were actually provided by the South African Department of Education), my linens, my fan, my dishes and all kitchen pots and utensils, my electric kettle, and yes, my heater. I’ve met some wonderful people here in my time in Africa, and have “earmarked” my friends for these things along the way.

Since my group is in the School and Resource Project classification in South Africa, most of us finish our teaching and work with schools at the end of June. By wrapping up our professional work assignments, and after an extended school break in July, this leaves us a month or so to say our goodbyes to our communities.

My Peace Corps service is quickly coming to an end. Although I’ve been away from home and not seen my family members, I’m already hearing my loved ones say, “It doesn’t seem like it has been two years.” (Meaning, for them, time has gone quickly.) For me, it has definitely felt like two years and has felt like a VERY LONG TIME.

So, I’m counting the days and gearing up for my last winter in South Africa knowing this one, with my heater, will be much more comfortable. I have loved living in my little trailer home and am sure I’ll feel sad to leave it.

Soon, Karen

PS. Although my dorm room provided an “IMAX” view, my trailer allowed “amphitheater seating”—and these pictures are of “my” South African sky.


Sunday, May 15, 2011


Movie poster courtesy of Spyglass Entertainment, Revelations Entertainment, Malpaso Productions, and Warner Bros. Pictures
I came to South Africa to serve with Peace Corps in 2009 and the country was already very excited about World Cup Soccer to be hosted in South Africa in 2010 with soccer teams competing from all over the world. I’m not a sports fan, but the excitement for the upcoming soccer competitions was contagious—you couldn’t go anywhere in South Africa and not hear about the upcoming World Cup games. South Africa hosted one big party from June through the end of July, 2010.

Also in 2009, the year I came to South Africa, a film about the South African World Cup Rugby games hosted in South Africa in 1995, Invictus, was released in the United States and starred Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. The film was based on John Carlin’s book, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation, that recounts Mandela’s political strategy of using a national sport—rugby—to unify a newly democratic South Africa in 1995.

Please note the difference: 1995 was a rugby match and 2010 was a soccer match—this distinction has racial implications for South Africa.

The film’s title, Invictus, is also the title of a poem written by English poet, William Earnest Henley, a poem that inspired Nelson Mandela while in prison and in a way he hoped to pass along to the captain of the Springboks, François Pienaar. Translated from Latin, “invictus” means “undefeated” or “unconquered” and the film uses the poem as a core theme.

If you watch the film, Invictus, you will see a lot of the South Africa I see and live in, and you will be under the impression that at that one moment in time, when the South African Springboks defeated the New Zealand All-Blacks in that famous game in 1995, that the racial tensions in South Africa at the end of apartheid were completely healed thus culminating in “the Rainbow Nation.” I too, came to South Africa, under the impression that Mandela had done great things and that South Africa was truly a diverse and happily homogeneous—but racially diverse-- population, an impression that I was saddened to learn very quickly that does not exist, at least it does not exist among the South Africans that I live with. When I first arrived in SA, not understanding much about sports and soccer, I was asking a white South African about the World Cup Soccer and was told that white South Africans enjoy rugby while black South Africans enjoy soccer. (A “joke” in regards to this reference is made in the movie.)

I was also struck with how the black South African college kids that I lived with were outraged that an American actor, Morgan Freeman, was cast as their beloved Nelson Mandela. I told them that of course, it was an American made movie and that the movie makers were mostly interested in making money. But it saddened me to see how this one casting choice stood as yet another example of American imperialism: we’ll choose an American actor to play a famous South African leader.

Here are some general impressions that I came away with after watching the film:
• In the opening shot, you will see two schools: a white school and a black school. The white school children are impeccably dressed in smart uniforms, are attending a fine school, are practicing rugby, and are playing on grass. The black school children, on the other hand, are dressed in street clothes, are attending a modest school, are practicing soccer, and are playing on dirt. This opening shot, I believe, best represents the racial divisions that I still see in South Africa today. The two schools are divided by a road that Mandela’s entourage will travel and you will see the black children excited at Mandela’s passing and the white children observing with contempt. The white coach advises his team to “remember this day when our country went to the dogs.” Sadly, I still see these attitudes in the South Africa today.

Also, the family’s attitude of the white South African rugby team captain, François Pienaar, especially the father’s comments, mirror those of what I still see in white South Africans today, that “they (black South Africans) will take our jobs and drive us into the sea.”

• In the film, you will see wonderful aerial shots of Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park, where I spent Christmas holiday, 2010. Also, the South African rugby team trains in Cape Town throughout the film and there are lovely shots of Table Mountain against the backdrop of the city. These are the same views I experienced while in Cape Town, and yes, the city and the mountains are truly this beautiful.

• The film opens with the South African song, “Shosholoza,” and we, as Peace Corps volunteers were taught on our arrival in-country. The song was used controversially in the past by black South Africans as a show of solidarity in defiance of the apartheid government. Mandela speaks of singing the song with other prisoners while during his imprisonment on Robben Island. The song has since become a source of national pride and you will often hear it at sporting events and other national competitions.

• Many of the shots of Mandela as a statesman are at the Pretoria Union Buildings that I recently visited. Yes, these buildings are this grand and beautiful and I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to be in that crowd and hear the great Nelson Mandela at the fall of the apartheid era.

• In the film, we see Mandela residing in a “fortress-like” home with high security measures in place. This is how I see all white South Africans living in the South Africa of today: all of their homes are fortresses.

• Mandela was a brilliant political strategist, something you get a much better idea of in John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation (on which the film is based) and in my reading about him, I find myself comparing to Mandela to Abraham Lincoln in thinking about how these men were simply brilliant in their political strategies. When Mandela won the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994, the white South African Afrikaners hated black South Africans and vice versa, and this hatred had raged for 50 years. You get a sense of this hatred in the film when the police force, both newly-appointed members and members of the old regime are forced to work together at Mandela’s request: these racial tensions in the film are depicted as very, very high. (Also an attitude that I’m sad to report exists still today.)

What was brilliant about Mandela, is he knew that to undermine the racial hatred in his country was to approach the white South Africans, the Afrikaners, with their language, their history, and their culture. Mandela spent many of his years in prison learning everything he could about Afrikaners, and was especially careful to learn the Afrikaaner language.

Because Invictus is an American-made film, the actors are speaking in English and we lose the significance of the impact of Nelson Mandela speaking Afrikaans to every white South African he encountered and the impression that made. Therefore, in the scenes we see with Mandela and the Springbok’s captain, François Pienaar, they are speaking in English. In reality, Mandela would have been speaking to Pienaar in Afrikaans, not in English.

• There is also a shot in the film that juxtaposes the white reality of a white South African farm, a large, spacious, well-established house surrounded in an abundance of gorgeous landscape against the black reality of a crowded and poverty-stricken township: we see the sun rising over a “city” of tin shacks, where people live on top of each other. I see this as very much a stark reality in the South Africa of today, that the white South Africans are still in the role of the “haves” and black South Africans are still oppressed and limited in their roles of the “have nots.” Also, in the shots of the townships, you will see the donkey carts, street vendors, and street markets that are common in my village and shopping town. In several shots of the movie, you can see vendors selling their wares on busy streets, something along the lines of having people selling things on the side of I-65 in America, and yes, this actually happens in South Africa.

• In the film, you will see black South African women in roles of domestic servants (still a large reality today); notice their clothing of the drab fabric you frequently see black South African women wearing today. The cloth is still the least expensive of any cloth you can buy in the shops and is still the primary cloth used in “traditional” black South African fashions.

• The first rugby match in the film is played in Loftus Stadium in Pretoria. I have visited this stadium a couple of times: there is a restaurant inside that you can sit, and eat, and watch the teams practice. The rugby match of the World Cup match is played in Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg. I have not seen this stadium.

• At one point in the film, you see black South Africans being “led” by a choir in singing the South African national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Black South Africans would never, ever need a choir to lead them in song; furthermore, the spontaneous singing of black South Africans is much more beautiful than that depicted in the film.

• Something fun to watch for: Clint Eastwood, the director of the film, cast one of his sons, who looks just like him, as one of the Springbok rugby team players. See if you can spot him. Also, Matt Damon is cast as François Pienaar, the white South African rugby captain of the Springboks. Mr. Damon is fine in the role but he is an American actor cast with true South African rugby players. If you’ll notice Mr. Damon’s physique when compared to the other rugby players, Mr. Damon is shockingly smaller than the sportsmen.  Rugby players are giants, literally and in every way.

• At one point in the film, the rugby players tour Robben Island and the infamous prison where Mandela served most of his 27 years in prison. Yes, the prison cell in the film depicted as Mandela’s is indeed, the actual prison cell of Nelson Mandela. In the film, the “tour guide” is a white South African. However, I’m told that former inmates of the prison on Robben Island currently serve as tour guides—black South Africans and former inmates—and that these tours are not to be missed.

• Notice that the crews sweeping a rain-soaked rugby field are black South African women.

• The Pienaar’s black South African domestic servant is invited to attend the World Cup match. Watch for her to do the famous cry of black South African women: “Lee, lee, lee, lee!” I have been practicing this cry and am not very good at it, but hope to be able to demonstrate it for you when I come home.

• During the famous match, the film depicts black South African’s watching the match on TV in a liquor store: Zuki’s Liquor Store. You see these kinds of stores all over South Africa and they are made secure by the walls of metal grating that you see in the scenes. I have to say too, that the black South Africans watching the match on TV in the film are much more sedate and subdued than I imagine they would have been. I have never seen a group of black South African men gathered together and being quiet.

• In the film, you get a sense of the reluctance of the white South African rugby team to learn the new South African anthem: Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. In the book, you get a much better idea of how the team’s learning of the song and then singing it publically impacted the nation. Also, the fact that Nelson Mandela wore the Springbok jersey and cap at the match was a very, very controversial gesture and you don’t quite grasp the significance of it by watching the film only—it’s better understood by reading the book. The Springboks as a team and especially the colors of their uniforms were strongly representative—to black South Africans—of the apartheid government and its brutality for a very long time.

• One of my favorite parts of the film is the closing credits: Mr. Eastwood has included actual photographs of the winning Springbok 1995 rugby team, so you get to see pictures of François Pienaar and his teammates during the world-famous match. It gave me cold chills to see them.

Again, the movie closes and gives the impression that black and white South Africans were united as one nation that day in love and kinship. This is the impression I hoped to see and experience in my two years in South Africa. I’m very sad to say, however, that the racial relations I have observed between white and black South Africans is hardly loving and kind.