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Monday, September 1, 2008

Welcome to Crossroads, Welcome to Hell: A Reflection on South Africa

That is what a graffiti wall read in one of the townships and I couldn't help but think of what John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, "The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven." How very true.

The South African people we have met have been so welcoming, warm, and kind, opening up to us and not holding anything back. These people have such a strong sense of hope even in the most dire of circumstances. Walking to school everyday even in the pouring rain, hearing about family members who have been raped or domestically assaulted, watching friends get exhiled from social groups because they have contracted HIV, all of these things surround the people in townships of South Africa. They breath in these attrocities in daily, and exhale what little bit of hope they can.

It is still astounding to me how passionate these people are for life, perhaps because in ways they are the ones truly living. How often is it that we as Americans have to step outside of our comfortable, safe little bubble we call our life and be forced into confronting our emotions through such hardships. I would guarantee that these children at age 16 have experienced more emotionally, physically, and psychologically than those much older than them in the states.

But through all this tribulation these people have a vision of hope. Hope for equality, change, respect, and a mutual understanding of each other as human beings. And while these people in townships face these issues daily, the real issue that must be adressed is how and why these dreams have not and seemingly sometimes cannot be realized. That is a whole other blog post and perhaps the real goal to our project. How can these dreams be realized?

More importantly though, is truly understanding those who don't hold these hopes and dreams. While there is an overwhelming sense of hope there is also a festering sense of despondancy. When is it that people of the townships begin to think the odds are too highly stacked against them? When is it that children see no hope in an education? When is it that men make the decision for the first time to take out their agression on their significant other? When is it that a man decides the pain in his life caused by HIV is deserved by others? There are so many of these questions and the largest and most collective of them is WHY?

Felix Culpa, original sin, directly translated to "blessed fault" and "fortunate fall". What is so fortunate about this "fall"? So blessed about this "fault" in South African culture? Looking back at Milton's writing, which I so often tend to draw parallels to, Adam and Eve's fall from grace prompted the first time in which humanity was shown compassion, mercy, and grace by God. Humankind thereafter had to experience pain and death, but humans could then also experience the virtues of clemency, compassion, and sympathy in ways they would not have been able to had they not disobeyed. I am confident that South Africa's "blessed fault" may be the catalyst for hope, change, and growth as a nation.

And I can't wait to be a part of it.

"O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem," "O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer."


Ann DeMarle said...

Jaime—beautifully written—capture so much.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what she said. :-)