Posting this from snowy Maine. We are having perhaps our biggest snow of the winter on March 1! School and work have been called off. From my window I hear the giddy delight of neighborhood kids playing in the fresh fallen snow. Quite a change from the glorious soundscape of birds outside my window at Tama Rumah Guest House in Melville.
On my last full day in Joburg Neli offers to take us out of the city today to the Cradle of Humankind, otherwise known as Maropeng. She, Mamela, Philip Bither , Edward (Neli’s partner) and one of their friends (whose name I didn’t quite master) head north into the Mahliesburg hills, a beautiful area one hour north of Joburg. I made this trip in 2010 but its’ totally worth another visit. Maropeng is a great museum that traces the development of planet earth and humankind. The museum is designed to meld into the landscape. Much of it is covered by earth like a berm house. There is a decidedly environmental slant to the presentations along with a message of equality. Ironic for it to be in South Africa with its still present Apartheid mentality. It’s a wonderful place for young people to learn about evolution and consider the future of the planet.
My favorite aspect of the property on which the museum sits is the long views across the open rolling hills. Today there is haze that creates layers of horizons. It’s very peaceful after the bustle of Joburg. Maropeng is a large preserve where some of the oldest human and animal remains have been discovered. Skulls like Ms. Ples were unearthed here. There appear to be trails throughout the property and today there are over 100 mountain bikers here for the third leg of a 70k a day bike event.
After our tour of the museum and a nice sit in the sun we head off in search of a decent lunch. Its past the noon hour so possibilities are sketchy. After a bit too much discussion we finally end up at the Maropeng Hotel, a very swanky place near the museum with an infinity pool on the terrace and even more beautiful views. By now I am beyond hungry but the service is horribly slow and the food mediocre. Oh well.
At the table we are two arts curators, a surgeon, a corporate marketer/arts board person with a deep grounding in the visual arts scene, and two choreographers. It makes for interesting conversation and a glimpse into a particular slice of life in Joburg. We jump from politics to art to food to music and more.
By the time we get back to Melville I am exhausted and opt to miss the final performance of Mark Hawkins and go to bed early in preparation for my 24 hours of travel tomorrow.
As I prepare to depart I keep thinking about what I am taking away from this visit. Everyone we ask (our drivers, waiters, artists, funders, innkeeper) say that things are getting better in South Africa — the government is taking better care of the people and crime is down, but gas prices keep going up and jobs are too scarce. in Soweto there has been some successful development like a new theater complex and more restaurants and B & Bs. This is where the next Danse Afrique Danse platform will be taking place in November. Still the government bureaucracy is maddeningly inefficient, corruption is rampant and many are still suffering. This is still a very young democracy with a legacy of injustice under Apartheid. It is shocking to hear informed, intelligent South Africans say that they feel Mandela helped the whites more than the blacks in the end. Traveling across the city one sees the disparities of great wealth and poverty. Depending on which neighborhood you visit it might resemble the Hollywood hills or some other wealthy US suburb. On the other end of the spectrum are the dismally poor shantytowns of the townships.
What has also come across through people’s personal stories and several of the works on Dance Umbrella is the pervasive threat of sexual violence against women, children, gays and lesbians. The children who are raped and impregnated by their teachers, the raping of children as young as two as a way to avoid HIV/Aids, the grandmother who was raped and murdered, the corrective rape of lesbians (could there be a more absurd notion), the casual one night stand and resulting contraction of HIV/Aids. The threats are so pervasive to be more the norm than not and I can’t help but sense that there is a degree of acceptance that this is just life, along with a sense of horror. Rarely do these cases get prosecuted and so it goes on and on.
Another ugly truth that emerges through my conversations is the deeply embedded racism among some whites. As in the Y.S. there are people who seriously consider themselves neutral, open-minded and supportive of blacks. Yet they convey a deep rooted sense of superiority and desire to maintain physical distance. As though the black race was in some way polluted, dirty and less. Many whites grow up with black nannies who they adore to their death but god forbid they get too close to any other member of the race. Geez Louise in the 21st century can we move on to a more enlightened and humane way of being in the world together. Our blood is red, our tears are salty and we are all going to die someday. Let’s be the best people we can for the short time we are here.