Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Day of Hate and Hope

So far this trip has been everything I had hoped for. It has been full of new sights and tastes, and reliving old hurts.

We started the day with a visit to a very difficult place, the apartheid museum. Now, we wanted to go here first because we felt it was important for the students to understand the history of this beautiful country, a history that's anything but beautiful.

When we first approach, you are greeted with some words from Nelson Mandela, talking about the goal for this country, for every man, woman and child. The expectation, and responsibilities. It makes you feel really positive and empowered.

But, then I turn the corner and I feel like I got slapped in the face.

The first thing you look up at is two signs over the entrance. one that says whites only and one for non whites. You're not human if this doesn't literally take your breathe away...

I choose to go through the door that's labelled for non-whites, wanting to know exactly what these people felt when strangled by apartheid. As I walked through the gate, and looked at these large copies of the ID cards they used to have to carry at all times, their faces said so much, words they never felt they could voice. But they didn't need to say a word. You heard each word loud and clear as you walked down the caged corridor.

It took awhile to start breathing normally again, getting over the feeling that I owed them something, like I wanted to cry for all of them. I had to remind myself that apartheid was over, and not to get angry. That's an emotion that will be a waste of energy, and will only dishonor the sacrifices these people have made.

As I travel further into the museum, I continue to be bombarded with pictures from the 40's through the 90's when blacks in this country were denied their rights. But something strange started to happen. instead of the tears and pain, about halfway through the exhibit I started to concentrate on the strength in each picture. I started to focus on the dignity of many of the pictures, the dignity the people tried to show even when they were starving and hurting. And as I passed through the years, I started to see that yes, there was much pain.

But I also recognized that there was also a lot of white South Africans who were hurting. They werre also fighting against the injustices, and they deserved my respect as well. I realized that while looking at some of these pictures, I had fallen into that trap of hating all the whites in South Africa because of what they had done.

I was disappointed in myself because I had let that happen. But then, at the same time I was also proud of myself for not continuing down that road. But, then at the same time, I was also proud of myself for not continuing down that road. There were many south Africans who hated apartheid, and they were also willing to risk their lives in secret meetings to try and push the country forward, away from apartheid, and towards a new country built on respect.

Now this country still has a ways to go. These recent attacks of xenophobia in the townships where people were literally burned alive are horrific. You hear South Africans say repeatedly how embarrassed they are by what the world saw.

Everyone should be reminded that this country will run into roadblocks as it fights to become a new country that everyone can be proud of, South Africans as well as the millions of refugees.

We would all be better people if we remember these words that are on the wall as you leave the museum. Seven simple words, but these seven words are words we all should remember to fight for each and every day, no matter where we live. They are Democracy, Equality, Reconciliation, Diversity, Respect, Freedom. Seven simple words with a very powerful message of hope.

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