“I once had a farm in Africa” are the opening lines of Karen Blixen’s book “Out of Africa”. She then describes in almost excruciating detail where her farm was (in Kenya) and what it looked like. She describes the plateaux and the grasses, the wildness of the sky and the layout of the land.
I once had a life in Africa and I think I barely noticed.
I am going back soon. Sue loves South Africa and she has been reminding me about the colors of Africa. They are clay orange of the earth, the bright red of ripe tomatoes and spilled blood and the yellow of sunflowers and saffron. These are the colors of Africa. South Africa has adopted a philosophy called “Ubuntu”. Its direct translation is humaneness but she says that if you have Ubuntu you have jazz in your soul. It is about the soul. She reminds me that the sun is hot and the Highveld lightning storms are like witnessing the wrath of God. There is Table Mountain and vast strips of white sand and a sea so cold it can take your breath away. There is nothing gentle about Africa except the Africans themselves who will smile the widest, whitest smile at your arrival.
For me it was so different. The struggle of South Africa was so like my own. It was about being abused and brutalised for no reason except that you were there. It was about being treated badly for no reason except that they could. The struggle was a long and bloody one and the casualties were high. There were lies and hidden agendas, allies and enemies and the fight was bitter to the end.
Ironically Africa and I have both found our liberation after years of struggle and labor. South Africa has made so many efforts to heal the scars of the past. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission demanded that the whole truth was made public. Victims of abuse were allowed the opportunity to tell their stories and be heard this time. The Constitution of South Africa has demanded compliance with Human Rights and finally all the people of South Africa have a free and democratic country to call their own.
Recovery is a messy business and not a straight or easy path but the intention to heal goes a long way to helping the healing process. She tells a different story of South Africa. It is not a story of poverty and corruption. It is not the story of poor service delivery and rioting. It is a story of healing with all the setbacks and mistakes that take place along that path.
It is a good time for me to go back and visit the country of my birth. This time I too can pay attention to the color of the grass and the vastness of the sky. I too can walk along the beach in Cape Town and see the moods of the sea (Sue told me about them). I too am free to look at the country that was my torment and my hell and see that much has changed for them and for me.
To see clearly is to be free from agony. When Sue was with me in the Berkshires I watched her see things around her. She watched the trees and the mocking birds. She sees plants that aren’t in South Africa and colors that aren’t their colors. I was too unhappy to see much. I look forward to going back without going back to the places and the memories.