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Mondays don’t bother me (Happy Father’s Day!)

June 21st, 2004 by MrLuxuryFashionGuru

This is a long post, so important things first: I can be reached at Pastor Maggie’s home where I am living at (027) 039 682 4619 in the evenings (note that I am normally asleep before 10pm); and in case of emergencies, I can be reached at the Practical Ministries office at (027) 039 682 6203 / 4.  South Africa (GMT +2) is 6 hours behind Singapore time and 6 hours ahead of the US (Eastern Time).



Some things are the same everywhere.  I haven’t seen a single bit of what might be called “wildlife” in the African-bush sense of the word.  Every adult has a mobile phone, and the neighbours are watching “Spykids 3” with 3D-glasses.


I guess people are the same everywhere as well.  There are self-important, ossified dignitaries, there are self-martyring, pedantic matriarchs, there are mischievous, energetic children, there are swaggering young men, quietly-struggling fathers, flirtatious young wives, there are shy, friendly, hospitable, chatty, introverted, hopeful, insightful, amenable, lost, excitable, spiritual, talented, relaxed, musical, curious, proud, multi-faceted, indescribable people.  There’s a bit more emphasis on the “friendly” here in South Africa than elsewhere, though, perhaps especially because Port Shepstone is a relatively small community (about half a million people).



The levels of need here are stark, and pervasive, even if I haven’t yet seen much of it directly – there is too much dignity for that.  They talk of it in the community churches with bare floors, at the lush Hindu weddings resplendent with rose petals and candles, at the elegant garden parties with finger food and live jazz bands and also at the seaside villas with the stunning views of the Indian Ocean just beyond the swimming pool, and they all acknowledge the tragedy of the matter.  The children orphaned by AIDS, the teenagers washing dishes to support themselves through high school, the old men addicted to drink, or gambling, or drugs, the abandoned wives.  I have spent more far money feeding other people than I have spent on feeding myself, which is not a boast, but a lament.



One thing notably different here though is (what seems to me) very low levels of anxiety concerning exams and academic achievement in general.  While a sizeable proportion of the people I’ve met or heard about have various Masters degrees, and one fourteen year old in Pietermartizburg told me about the suicides that precede and follow the public announcement of the “Matric” (short for Matriculation, sort of like the A-levels or the SATs) results, the children and parents here don’t seem anywhere as concerned as those back home in Singapore, admittedly some of the most stressed individuals anywhere.  Remember the relatively high levels of unemployment which you would think might raise the importance of doing well in school.  All the students here are in the midst of “writing exams”, as they say here, yet parents are still renting DVDs for their children and the teenagers will still hang out, chat and have tea with you, even the ones taking their Matric this year.  I think of Jenevieve at home, a month away from her Prelims, who has been studying for weeks, or of the intensity of Reading Period back in Cambridge (remember those kids who literally move into Cabot Library?), and this laid-back attitude strikes me as almost incomprehensible.  Even if I may agree that Singaporeans can go rather overboard in their approach to schooling (I don’t think I would ever be able to claim I studied too much or too early; Zheyu and Jolene, I’m thinking of you two), I can hardly begin to imagine that any other attitude towards academics (other than grave respect and diligent work) can be appropriate.


And these people I speak of have been overwhelming Asian (i.e. Indians), who have, together with the Coloured people, progressed the most materially and otherwise since the fall of apartheid in 1994.



I can be nothing but very thankful for my situation here though.  It’s almost everything I could have hoped for in an NGO internship.  Practical Christian Ministries is a non-profit grassroots organisation (kind of like BCCSC back home), that runs a variety of projects in the areas of democracy (like running workshops on election processes, doing voter registration, monitoring voting etc.), human rights and women’s rights in particular (workshops, training ministers, surveys to monitor the situation etc.), poverty reduction (skills training, setting up cooperative business, providing information and access to government grants, micro-credit etc.), HIV/AIDS prevention and impact-reduction (awareness programmes, minister-outreach; they’re launching a new, holistic-approach campaign called “Living Positively” in July), youth outreach (skills training, trauma counselling etc.), and pastoral care (training pastors in counselling skills, creating communities of pastors in rural areas etc.).  So far I’ve only been there for two days (16 June was Youth Day, also the anniversary of the Soweto riot/massacre, which Janine might remember), but I look forward to the following weeks.  The first day I was a scribe at their latest progress-report meeting, which gave me a fantastic overview of all the work the organisation is doing, and now I’m helping to put together an outline for the organisation’s corporate PowerPoint presentation and website.  I’m expecting to be brought out to see some of the fieldwork some time soon.



I dreamt of Harvard last night.  I dreamt that Thayer Hall had been radically renovated, and that Thayer 101 had been transformed into an enormous 16-man suite that stretched several floors above and one floor down into what would have been the IRC and Computer Society offices.  In my dream I met the freshman who were just moving into the suite, and answered some of their questions about administrative matters, classes and extracurricular activities, all the while marvelling at the vastness of the space with just a little pang of regret at how unrecognizable the space had become.


I’ve been entertaining thoughts of learning how to make chutney and making it in DeWolfe. J



Doug agrees that my accent has changed.  I wonder how it sounds.  I imagine it sounds rather South African, and try as I might I can’t quite recall how to sound American.  Slightly disturbing.


I can still just manage Singaporean, though.



PS: Whatever possessed me to believe that I could go a month with a week’s worth of clothes??

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