Saturday, December 25, 2010
My Mozambique Email Update #3
Here's a picture from Signal Hill in Cape Town looking over the fog rolling into the city shortly after sunset. Also, here's my third email update just in case you aren't on the email list.
Dear family and friends,
I've been spending most of December in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, for our MCC regional retreat. South Africa is almost incomparable to its neighbor Mozambique. The infrastructure, climate, and economy found here is a world apart. South Africa in many respects feels and looks like the United States and it is nice to be in familiar surroundings. However, more than once I found myself missing Tete and the friends and family I have found there.
At the start of December my living arrangement with my host family drew to a close and I moved out of my host family's house to live on the other side of the Zambezi River. I hadn’t noticed it before, but somehow that day it struck me that we had become real family. I think there’s something unifying found in the daily rhythms of life together. Like that feeling of coming home from work to find your sister asleep on the living room couch; it’s like a long lost memory. The day I moved, my host mother held back tears saying, “meu filho esta a sair (my son is leaving).” A little girl from the neighborhood, Lucia, followed me each with each load I took to the truck to hold my hand on the way back to the house. And the goodbye was sad. I never liked goodbyes.
This week, some friends and I visited Robben Island where the apartheid government kept many of their political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Jacob Zulu. One of the sites on the island is this limestone quarry where prisoners were put to forced labor. The limestone produced was rarely used for anything meaningful and was often dumped into the ocean. Of course, the point of the quarry wasn't the lime, the point of the quarry was to train the body and dull the mind. The conditions in the pit were awful. The prisoners had to dig for themselves a little cave into the pit wall to use as a restroom. The dust and sunlight permanently damaged Mandela's eyes. To this day he cannot shed a tear and flash photography pains him. But here also the prisoners discussed, argued, and fought over their past and future, their ideals and beliefs. Here they shared their stories of pain. And it is here where they realized what bitter fruit is to be found from the tree of racism.
And it is from here that the beginnings of Truth and Reconciliation were born.
The reason why South Africa looks like the way it does in comparison to Mozambique (Zimbabwe, etc.) can be pointed back to these limestone pits. The ability to forgive and move forward has been and continues to be critical to South Africa. This process allowed them to reject what was evil about the past while retaining what was good. From these pits, these prisoners were able to bring about heaven. And though there is far to go, South African history was forever changed.
There is this old, old story where God speaks to a shepherd named Moses in the mountains. In that story God speaks from a bush telling the man, “do not come any closer, take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” He does this as if to remind us to stop and remember what is sacred to us. This place where you are standing is holy ground.
The place where you are standing is holy ground.
The limestone pits on Robben Island are indeed sacred.
And in the half-light of the setting sun that day, my old neighborhood too was hallowed.
Thank you for sharing this with me. You have no idea how much your letters and messages have brought joy to my life. I miss you all. Happy holidays.