A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

Playing with Fire

This post should be about a monsoon wedding during a peaceful countrywide strike. Of colored rice, Sanskrit vows, bright red saris, mehendhi and a foreign family feel on the soggy beaches of Goa. Of a drizzy train ride of 500 rummy, dream discussions and Flight of the Conchords,, followed by reunions while rediscovering a deliciously delicate dew-coated Bombay, dew that washed the pollution to the gutter, muddy-greened the streets and trees and slid down in short sheets so as not to spoil shopping stock-ups. Of finally going inside Gandhi’s old house, which was less remarkable than overdue since I’d lived a block away and then moved to South Africa where lawyer Gandhi got his start preaching ahimsa (nonviolence). I could write about catching the final World Cup match in the Dubai airport with the most international crowd possible, screams at the set-up screen in seventeen languages, and how even in the middle of the night the Arabian desert was so hot that sitting on the airport toilet the water beneath the bum felt fit to boil. But what’s really on my mind isn’t ahimsa. It’s violence. (Photo: Ahimsa is the highest ideal, Gandhi library)

South Africa has a bad reputation. Even in India they ask me, “Isn’t it a poor country?” And if I say I live here, the first European or American comment is always, “Be careful, don’t get raped!” A few weeks ago our mentally unstable mechanic threw a fit and quit. Clearing out the workshop it was discovered that he had been grinding knives like this one. He said they were for hunting.

I returned here from India to striking and a general state of unrest. Eight to ten people threw fire inside the reserve and burned about half of the land. It looks like hell and smells like singe. Before I even knew about the fire, I awoke sick with food poisoning my first morning here and retched for over an hour. I peeled myself off the bathroom floor and back into bed and barely got any work done the rest of the week. Given all the calming appearances of 37 in India (and by the way this is my 37th post), it was an especially grim sign. So far all the threats I’ve heard through community rumors have come true, down to raise demands and these fires. Now there’s talk of killing someone to “show they’re serious.” My translator is the most likely target. I talked to him about it on Friday.

“What’s your safety plan?” I asked. “Why don’t you move your family out of the community for a while? I’ll help you find a place to stay.”

He said he’d send his family to his sister’s and would stay home alone. He knows which five people are likely to attempt attack. He’ll wait to defend himself.

“Do you have a gun?” I asked.

“No, a crossbow, and the support of the spirits of my ancestors.”

“What happens to your family if you’re hurt? Who’ll support your wife and eleven kids? You’re probably the most important person on the reserve, and who else can take over when I’m gone?”

“If I go, it’s admitting they’re right. Sometimes you have to fight violence with violence.”

“This place is not worth dying for. Don’t be a martyr. You’re not Jesus. Think about a safety plan this weekend, and Monday I’ll help you find a place to stay.”

“Okay, I’ll think about it,” he said. “Thank you for this talk. Thank you for caring.”

He can’t even tell the police about the death threats because the threateners are friends with the officers. It would just fuel their fire. No one should have to live that way. And I can’t do my job. Never mind the stress—I can’t build community while they’re burning it down. It just takes one gust of wind blowing fire back into a community to wreck hundreds of homes and lives. The Education Trust is too young to sustain such a storm. (Photo: insane zebra post-cull)

I suppose the silver lining if, I dare call it that, of the slow evolution from slavery to abolition to voting to segregation to affirmative action to today is that blacks in the US had generations for their education to catch up so they could fill equal jobs. South Africa’s trying it all in one go: throwing blacks into jobs and responsibilities they’re not prepared for which they’re floundering and often failing at, whites resentful of black incompetence and greedy lining of pockets and sickened watching the white systems slowly collapse, with racial tension piled on top. Tall order for the Rainbow Nation.

To over-generalize, in my experience in Asia when a poor man looks up at a rich man he thinks to himself, ‘How did he get there? I must work hard and get a good education and get there myself. I want what he has.’ In Africa, a poor man looks up at a rich man and thinks to himself, ‘Why does he have that? I want what he has. I deserve it. I’ll knock him down and take it.’ There’s a sense of responsibility and valuation of education missing. It’s easier to unite against something (apartheid, slavery, Saddam, Mugabe, colonial rule—) than for something (even Obama’s uniting for Change has provided profound disagreement about what that Change should be).

People want opportunities they don’t know how to create. They don’t know what they don’t know. Some apartheid-like patterns are still very much in place. Toxic clouds spew blame like acid rain over everything. How to harness ahimsa here? Patience, listening, respect—the usual. Fire doesn’t figure. More fire will sadly force me to leave. As one of my friends said last week, "There are plenty of other babies to save." (Photo: unfortunately 20 km later another such sign appears)

Posted byValerie at 7:47 PM