Sunday, September 30, 2007

Farewell to Africa, good morning Iraq!

It was time for me to come home from Africa. I didn't want to leave but sometimes fate intervenes in strange ways and the next thing I knew I was at the Jo'burg airport, suitcase in hand. But as one door closes, another door opens. At least that's what they say.

The first thing I did when I walked in the door once I got home -- besides hugging the kids and sorting through the mail -- was to apply to go back to embed in Iraq. And I just got an e-mail from Baghdad saying that my request has been accepted. And I leave on October 6 for Al Asad and Fallugah. Is the best cure for jet lag the hair of the dog that bit you? I'm about to find out.

"But Jane," said my friend Michael, "the Senate has just given Bush what amounts to a back-door approval to bomb Iran. And if Bush bombs Iran, all hell is going to break loose in Iraq." Oops. I hadn't thought of that. And apparently Cheney and Bush haven't thought about that either. Or have they? Good grief! Could they possibly be thinking, "The more dead people there are in Iraq, the fewer people there will be to stand between us and the oil"? If they are, that would be bad news for America, bad news for our troops and bad news for the Iraqis. But not bad news for me! Why not? Because while I was in Africa, I was informed by a fairly reliable source that no matter where I went or what I did, I would always be PROTECTED BY GOD! I am covered. The Big Man is watching out for me.

I'm covered by God's insurance policy. Bush and Cheney are not.

"But, Jane," you might ask. "How do do you know this for sure?" Here's the story:

Just before I left Africa, my best friend in our village took me to her church. "Ours is a small church," she said. "It's just a tin building off a dirt road. But it is a very spiritual church." And boy was it! They spoke in tongues. They prophesied. And they prophesied about me.

First we all packed into an elderly Toyota truck and drove back into the bush several miles -- with four of us adults crammed in the cab and five or six kids in the back. When we got to the church, the men's choir was standing outside in the hot sun, singing, clapping and jumping straight up in the air. And when their feet hit the ground, it made a hollow, rhythmic, earth-shaking sound. Their feet rose a good 30 inches off the ground with each jump -- and they kept this up for two whole hours. In the hot sun. It made my bones hurt just to watch them.

Meanwhile, me and various children sat on benches in the shade while the women's choir sang discretely in another part of the churchyard. And for the next two hours, the choirs sang while people arrived one by one or in small groups, walking over the dusty dirt road or climbing down the path from the hillside until approximately 200 people had arrived. Then everyone piled into the little tin church and everyone sang more songs in beautiful harmonies. It was like going to Carnegie Hall for a Ladyship Black Mambasa concert, only out in the red-dirt bush country of Africa.

And did I mention that when I first arrived, the pastor blessed me by throwing (hard!) two cups of water at my face and one cup of water at my back?

Anyway, we're all crammed onto wooden benches inside this tin shack when my friend nudged me and whispered, "The pastor just asked the congregation to pray for you to help you learn Setswana faster." Oh thank you! With my terrible memory, I can use all the help I can get. Ke a leboga, Mma.

Then we sang some more hymns and then this older woman suddenly stands up -- speaking in tongues. Then she goes down the rows of benches -- men on one side and women on the other -- and points to my friend and the two of them disappear out the back door for 20 minutes.

Then there's more singing. Then another woman goes into a trance, starts speaking in tongues and then points to ME.

You gotta really work at it to imagine what happened next. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill experience. No way! We go out to a brush-fenced enclosure and the woman gets down on all fours in the dust and softly, musically and methodically starts talking to me in Setswana. The pastor, my friend and I also get down on all fours and listen to the woman speak.

"What she said," my friend told me later, "was that no matter where you go or what you do, you will be looked after and protected by God." That's a very good thing to know, especially since I do tend to wander around a lot and also tend to get lost.

Then we all trooped back into the church for another hour or two of singing, sermons and prayer. And after that the pastor burned two slips of paper -- apparently with prayers written on them -- in front of me and patted down my head, arms and legs. Then everyone in the congregation went outside for tea. "This is a special herbal tea that will protect us and keep us safe," one woman told me.

Later I asked my friend if she had ever gone into a trance and spoken in tongues too. "Yes, of course."

"What's it like?"

"I'm not sure. I can't remember anything. I just suddenly black out. But what the woman said to you today was very, very good."

"You mean sometimes the prophecies are bad?"

"Yes. And they come true too. If someone says that your house will burn down, then it will." Yikes! Up to this point, I had thought that being singled out for a "reading" was a good thing. Now I understand why the woman in front of me who had just been pointed to seemed so reluctant to go outside.

"The pastor always goes with the entranced person," said my friend, "so he can help interpret in case the person starts speaking in broken Setswana or in tongues." Then we cooked our dinner, sat down in front of the TV, watched "Generations," and ate beet-root, stewed beef, potatoes and pumpkin. It was a very ordinary end to a very extraordinary day, one that I knew I will remember forever. It was a soul-jolting experience. After so many hours of singing and chanting and being surrounded by sincere hard-working people seeking spiritual relief from their day-to-day toil, I've never felt so real in my life.

"How long was the service?" asked a co-worker the next day.

"Five hours!" I replied.

And how long will Bush's useless war in the Middle East last? "Forever." Forever? Yuck! Bush and Cheney need to give up all this unholy killing, get a life, start to behave themselves like civilized human beings, go off to my friend's little tin church in Africa and get God back on their side.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Death where is thy sting: Funerals in an African village

I've been feeling somewhat like a ghoul lately because I've been trying to research what the funerals in my village are like and have been running around town asking people, "Are there going to be any funerals next week?"

"No, Jane," answered the village grandmother that I stay with. "There are no funerals planned for next week or the week after." But this is actually a good thing. It means that, even though I'm not doing first-hand research on this subject, nobody in my favorite village is dying either.

Willingly, I switched to second-hand resources -- one of the village elders whom I knew well and who knew the full 411. "Tell me about funerals," I asked Mma X. "What are they like? Does just the close family come or is everyone in the village invited?"

"The whole village comes and also the neighboring villages too."

"And they have a service in a church?"

"Yes. The program lasts for two and a half or three hours. And then they take the coffin to the graveyard."

"In America, they have open coffins. Is the coffin closed here?"

"Yes. There is a funeral parlor director. He drives the coffin to the graveyard and the family takes a taxi. The rest of the people just walk."

"And after the funeral?"

"They go back to the family's house and dijo -- eat. This always happens on Saturdays. After that the people go home."

"Do you think that the funerals help in the mourning process?"

"Yes. The people who come to the funeral really try to help the family with their grief. And the day after the funeral everything is washed -- the blankets, the clothes and the house. Then they put the deceased person's clothes in a box or suitcase for six months. And after the six months are over, the uncle comes and takes it all away."

"What does he do with it?"

"The uncle can do whatever he wants with it. And after six months, all the members of the immediate family cut their hair."

"What about the funeral preparations?"

"They take the corpse to the mortuary and the funeral is held within the week, giving relatives time to come in from the cities where they work."

"How does the mourning family feed all those people? Does everyone bring food? Or does the family save up or go into debt?"

"Funerals are expensive but the whole village helps out. Everyone brings $2 or $5 or any money you have. You just bring it to help out. Someone brings meal or sugar. People bring food. Everyone tries to help out. The family kills a cow."

"So the community uses this opportunity to show support for the grieving family?"

"Yes." So the people of the village do everything they can to help take the sting out of death. "Sentle." Good.

PS: So much for academic research. During the following week, however, the Grim Reaper came to our village and cut a large swath, once again reminding us that, in an African village, death is never very far away and is a grim reality of village life. Nine people died, including one small child (pneumonia), two older men (it was their time), a young man (overdose on drugs), a middle-aged man (infection -- no one said what kind) and my friend's brother who was hit by a car while bicycling along the village's only paved road.

During the whole week before my friend's brother's funeral, the brother's wife, in a traditional expression of grief, took to her bed and covered herself with a blanket while the women of the village came in and out of the room, offering condolences and sitting on a bench next to the bed for hours on end. I too offered the grieving woman condolences and sat on "the mourners' bench" for a time. Women were also out in the yard cooking up the slaughtered meat in large cauldrons and brewing large vats of beer made from mealie-meal, yeast and malt. Friends and relatives came from all the surrounding villages to help sit and mourn. And the men helped too -- carried the firewood for the cauldrons, helped keep the fires going and offered moral support. It was a sad time. It was a sad day. But everyone did what they could to help. I was overwhelmed by the sense of community in this village. Everyone there went out of their way to help everyone else when the chips were down.

I had to leave my favorite village before that next Saturday arrived so I missed all the funerals. But it's just as well. Sometimes it's actually better not to be an outside observer, a wannabe anthropologist -- and this was one of those times.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Alcoholism in Africa: You know it's a problem here when even I start looking good!

The African village where I have been staying recently has surprised me in a whole bunch of ways. For instance, who'd have thought that I would have gone all the way to rural Africa only to get hooked on prime-time TV! At 8 pm every week night, there I am -- on the couch, getting ready to watch "Generations". Will Dineo try to kill Kenneth? Will Karabo get to adopt Sezwe? And what about Ntombe's father? I can't WAIT to find out!

I also thought that living without running water would be a bitch. No problem. I can now take a complete bath in a bucket and still feel like I've been to a spa.

And germs? "What about germs!" Guess what? Apparently I have a cast-iron stomach. And even the AIDS problem here has surprised me. I had naively assumed that I would be seeing large clumps of emaciated men and women hovering around in the background like hollow-eyed ghosts. Nope. In this particular village, that doesn't seem to be as great a problem as in other villages I've seen. There have been very few funerals here since I arrived. That was a big surprise. I'd been led to believe that there would be several AIDS-related funerals a week. Not happening. Cool!

Another surprise? The women here are awesome. The older ones are wise and the younger ones are spunky. And the village itself is picturesque as hell. This could be a freaking tourist destination. Build a Hilton here and you're set. Think Puerto Vallarta. Think Bali. Think Branson, Missouri. Branson, Missouri? Sure. The music here is great. Even the kindergartners can sing in three-part harmony. Going to church is like going to Carnegie Hall.

And the school in this village? It's as good or better than half the schools in the States.

But the biggest surprise here for me is the sad reality of alcoholism. I just wasn't prepared for that. "Hey baby how ya doin' where ya goin' come talk to me...." How many times do I have to listen to that per day? Don't even ask. Good grief, I'm 65 years old. Could someone actually be that desperate? Apparently so. Come Saturday afternoon -- or Tuesday afternoon or Thursday afternoon or Wednesday morning -- suddenly even I start to look good to all too many of the village's men.

There is a freaking major drinking problem here in this town. And whenever I see a group of men here, I shy away from them. Does this mean that I have finally become a modest, shrinking violet in my old age? Hardly. It's just that the drinking problem here is so huge that even I have been forced to notice. And how can these guys even AFFORD to drink? Most of them seem to be unemployed.

"So, Jane. What are you going to DO about it?" asked a friend. That's the trouble with problems. Once you notice them, then you sorta feel like you gotta do something.

"Not a clue. Start an AA?" What CAN be done about drunks? Open a tavern! (Just kidding.) "Solve the unemployment problem?" I don't know! What? You think that I'm Mother Theresa or something? Or Einstein?

What would YOU do if you knew there was a town that was afflicted with drunks who were tearing the social fabric of the community apart? Form a chapter of the Hells Angels? What makes a man want to drink to oblivion every day? What makes a man so desperate that he is willing to even hit upon me? And what kind of medicine is there that can cure an illness buried so deep in one's soul? When I figure that one out, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, I am taking my cue from the wise women of this village and keeping totally away from inebriated guys -- which is hard to do in this town, I am surprised to say.

PS: I talked with one village woman recently regarding the causes of alcoholism here. "Basically," she said, "it's because there is not much else to do for many of the men here and they initially start drinking as teenagers -- to keep from being bored after school lets out. We need recreational facilities and organized sports for them -- and we also need more jobs. And also there is a colonial history behind the drinking problem here. For generations, white traders used to make money by coming to the villages to build beer halls and sell booze." Like I said, the women here are really aware.

But, sadly, it is the women here who end up getting harassed by the drunks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Pet Goat: Please help me organize national "Every Baby Gets a Bedtime Story" week!

I love to read. I can't imagine a world that doesn't include the Berkeley Public Library. And even if my eyesight faded away, I'd still manage to keep on reading somehow. If necessary, I'd even stop people on the freaking STREET to read to me. What's that famous quote? "You live in the company of the best people in the world when you read." Or, in my case, the most interesting -- I have a weakness for murder mysteries.

All of my children love to read. Why is that? Because I read them bedtime stories almost every single night since the day they were born. The bedtime story was sacred in my home. Why? Because I wanted to give my children the gift of the most precious thing I possess -- the love of reading.

"If people spent their time reading books, there'd be no more war." Me, I said that.

I just finished reading a heart-breaking article by Dahr Jamail, describing an Iraqi journalist friend's recent trip to a morgue in the war-torn province of Diyala. His friend had been forced to search through photos of hundreds of dead bodies, trying to discover if the body of a colleague of his was there. "Today I went to the morgue," wrote Jamail's friend. "I saw horrible things there. I didn't see [H's] photo among [all the photos of the dead but] some figures cannot be easily recognized because of the blood or the face is terribly deformed. It's unbelievable." For sure.

"In your country," Jamail's friend continued, "when somebody wants to go to the morgue, he may naturally see two or, say, three or four bodies. For us, I saw hundreds today. Every month, the municipality buries those who are not recognized by their families because of the capacity of the morgue. Imagine!" Imagine that happening in MY home town? I wouldn't even know where to start.

But if you want to imagine the pure hell that Iraq must be like, just multiply one single morgue photo by 1,200,000 and you might -- maybe --start to get a glimpse of the nightmare that is American-occupied Iraq right now. Then add to that appalling number the violent and brutal deaths of over 4,000 American soldiers -- our brave troops who are now rotting corpses simply because they naively believed all the deliberate and outrageous lies told to them by Bush and Cheney. After the Downing Street documents were released, we all learned for certain that there had been no WMDs in Iraq -- but it's too late now to change the cold hard fact that the flower of one whole generation of American youth has been murdered, crippled, maimed and/or taught to become heartless killers by men in the White House whose hearts are filled only with hatred and greed.

If only Cheney and Bush had spent their time reading instead.

Barbara Bush, shame on you. You shoulda read more bedtime stories to young Georgie! "My Pet Goat" would have been a good start.

And here's some good advice for the thieves and thugs and bogeymen who are blowing up their own people in Iraq. Get a life! Read a book! Have them translate Harry Potter into Arabic! And don't forget that it's Ramadan, guys. Stop blowing up babies and go read the Holy Qur'an. And the same goes for all of you "Jews" and "Christians" whose hearts are filled with meanness and greed. Read your freaking Bible! Read the Talmud. You saw what Imperial Rome did to the Temple? You saw what the Sanhedrin did to Christ? STOP DOING THE SAME THING. Back off. Listen to G-d. "In the beginning there was the Word...." But I digress.

Every single child in the world deserves someone to read them a bedtime story every night. To this end, I declare this week to be national "Every Baby Gets a Bedtime Story" week. Nope, make that "Every Baby Gets a Bedtime Story" week world-wide. From the wealthy gated communities of Northern Virginia where the weapons-dealers' children are tucked into bed by their nannies to the homeless shelters of Oakland in the basements of churches to the shanty towns of Darfur and Nigeria and Zimbabwe and the DRC to the barren workers' huts in China and Haiti to the Australian outback and the favilas of Rio -- every single child needs to get read to at bedtime.

Let's bring peace to the world, starting with the children. And if you are a baby living in a refugee camp in Kenya and you can't get a freaking bedtime story read to you because there is no one there who knows how to read, or because both your parents have died of AIDS in a former township in South Africa and your only "parent" is an eight-year-old girl in the same boat as you are, then call me! I'll be there on the next donkey cart. I promise.

And if you can't READ a story to a child then just make one up -- but preferably one with lots of positive images and a happy ending because we don't want the kids to have nightmares for the rest of their lives.

EVERY child needs a bedtime story read to them -- every single night.

"Jane, you should go out and form a foundation or something." No. That's YOUR job. I just want to read to children and, when they grow up, they will read to more children and... "World Peace in one generation!".

PS: There already is an organization in America that does this sort of thing. It's called "Reading is Fundamental" and at the school that my children attended back in the day, R.I.F. supplied books as prizes for a reading contest held every year at LeConte school in Berkeley, California -- wherein if you were a kid and you read 300 books during the school year, at the end of the term you got to go out to lunch with the principal, the wonderful Ms. Penny-James.

The year that my daughter Ashley was in third grade, she read 600 books! "Why so many?" I asked her.

"Because I want my brother to be able to go out to lunch with Ms. Penny-James too."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lucas Mangope: One of South Africa's living legends

Do I do my best thinking when I'm in pain? Apparently so. I woke up this morning with the sudden realization that a) my tooth was still hurting and that b) I live only half a mile away from one of the most important men in recent South African history this side of Nelson Mandela! What a chance to meet a true mover-and-shaker! Let's see if I can pull it off.

When I first got to South Africa, I saw a video about the last days of the Apartheid regime and it mentioned Lucas Mangope, the president of a so-called "homeland" for Black South African Setswanas. And according to one person I talked with when I first got here, "Mangope was head of the whole northern region of South Africa at the time when Apartheid was ending and he wanted to take his Bantustan out of Mandela's newly-proposed republic and form his own country -- but in order to make this happen, he asked for the support of the Apartheid government and this action sparked an invasion of Mangope's territory by the ultra-right-wing Afrikaner Eugene Terre'Blanche and his private army of racist thugs. Basically, they arrived in Mafeking and shot up the town. As a result, Mangope found himself in political turmoil because he had managed to anger the people of his region, who then put him under a lot of pressure to join with Mandela after all in order to protect the Bantustan from the right-wingers."

Listening to this side of the story, I made the assumption that Mangope had been merely a self-serving obstructionist who had foolishly stood in front of the Mack truck of history and had been forced to jump to the side of the road as Mandela swept to victory, end of story.

But now that I'm learning more about Lucas Mangope, I'm realizing what a great man he actually was; heroically holding his Bantustan together against all odds all throughout the Apartheid era.

The fnext story I heard about Mangope I sort of stumbled across by accident. I'd been asking around for information about sangomas – also known as traditional healers, also known as witch doctors (I should find one and see if he or she can do anything about relieving my toothache!) and apparently one of a sangoma's jobs was to conduct initiation ceremonies.

"The sangomas used to hold initiation ceremonies for the boys in this village," one of the local residents told me, "and when boys turned 16, they would take them up into the hills for secret ceremonies that included circumcision. Sometimes, however, the newly-initiated boys would come home singing, go to one of the initiated boys' homes and drop his clothing off on his doorstep. And that was how the boy’s parents would find out that their son was dead and that they would never see him again, not even his body.”

“But how did the boy die?” I asked.

“Nobody knows. It’s all very secret. And no one would dare say anything for fear of retaliation. Probably boys died from cuts and wounds. But there are no initiations held in this village any more. Because they caused so many deaths, Lucas Mangope put a stop to them.”

Here’s another rumor I heard about Mangope: Back in the day of the Bantustans, Black South Africans had no access to formal education, which meant that almost no one had a degree in nursing or engineering or even knew much about farming. Plus almost no one could afford to go to university to get a degree and even if they could come up with the money, the Apartheid government wouldn’t let them go there anyway. So Mangope knew that there was a big problem here but he got around it by setting up an apprenticeship system, educating people on the job. He also set up several teachers’ colleges.

Someone else told me a story about Mangope's’s influence in building up the city of Mafeking. During the Boer War in the nineteenth century, Mafeking was famous for a big battle there between the Afrikaners and the Brits. Then everyone forgot about Mafeking until Shirley Temple made it famous again when she starred in a movie about a poor little rich girl whose father had been injured during the siege of Mafeking, forcing poor sweet little Shirley to live in a freezing cold attic because everyone thought that her father was dead. But after that, Mafeking sank back into the armpit of history once again.

Today, however, Mafeking is a bustling city and the capital of the North West province. “Lucas Mangope did that. Back in the Apartheid days, he turned Mafeking around -- from being just another backwater town known only for having been mentioned in a Shirley Temple movie and into a thriving capital.” Humm…. And this man lives right down the road from me? I started to ask around about the chances of me getting an interview with him.

“Right now, Mr. Mangope is very sick,” I was told. Oh, okay. But when he gets better, I’d love to talk with him – one of South Africa’s living legends. But in the meantime, I should actually sit down and do some research on the man. I hate research. But thank goodness for Google.

According to one report I found on Google, Mangope was born in 1923 in the Transvaal. He grew up there, went to the Diocesan Teachers’ Training College near Pietersburg and became a secondary school teacher. Then, in 1959, he also became the chief of his village. And went into politics. And the rest is history. From what I can gather after reading this article on Google, the Apartheid government appointed him as the head of the Bophuthatswana Bantustan in 1972 because Mangope went along with their policy of separating the races. “Sure,” he told the Apartheid guys, “we’ll be separate from the whites. But we had darn well better be ‘Separate But Equal’ too!” -- or words to that effect – and then he hit the Apartheid guys up for big bucks. And as a result, the Setswana Bantustan under his governance survived the Apartheid era in much better shape than the rest of the Bantustans and townships of the time.

Another report stated that Mangope allowed a big-time developer to capitalize on the National Party's stern anti-gambling by building a Las-Vegas type area in Bophutswana, which Frommer's Guide describes as "the hodgepodge of inferior land into which the Tswana were forced. As an 'independent' state, headed by the corrupt Lucas Mangope, Bophutswana was literally a law unto itself, and millions began to swarm to 'Sin City'". I can't say if Mangope was corrupt or not but apparently he put the income from Sun City to very good use.

Okay. Now I’m really intrigued. How can I go about meeting this man? I once again asked around. “He’s not really sick,” someone else told me. “He just got back from a weekend in Jo'burg so he can’t be all that bad off. It’s just that he is very wary of granting interviews to anyone. There has been a lot of offensive stuff written about him in the press over the years and he’s not really willing to put himself in the position of being hurt again.” Can’t fault him for that. But still. I would love to chat with the man. What to do?

“You want to talk with Mangope?” another man asked. “That’s easy. He goes to church every Sunday. Catch up with him there.” Great! I’ve got a plan. So I actually did up my hair and put on a skirt and trundled off to services last Sunday. And guess what? The church doors were locked! Good grief! Did they find out that I was coming and barricade the place? Or what?

“Don’t take it so personally,” said a passerby. “This is the one Sunday a year when the whole congregation visits its fellow congregation in the next village.” Okay. So that plan fell through.

“I know Mangope’s sister,” someone else told me. “Let me see what I can do to hook you up.” But then it turns out that this person and Mangope had been arguing over something – I wasn’t sure what – for several years and so this plan fell through too.

Then someone else told me that Mangope went for a walk on the road outside his home every morning. “If you get there by 6:30 am, you can usually see him there.” Say what? Me get up and be dressed and coherent by the crack of dawn? No interview is that important! But when the next morning actually came, I did make the effort and diligently trudged down to his house really really early. But was the trip worth it? Yeah. I live in the most beautiful village in the world. The sun had just risen, the full moon was still in the sky, the cows and chickens and goats greeted me ecstatically and I made footprints in the red dust as I walked along. Young boys and old women greeted me on their way to help make preparations for the next day's funeral or to get their buckets filled at the standpipes. The air was fresh, the mountains shone in the background and I fell instantly in love with my village all over again. But. Did I get to see Lucas Mangope? No. But I learned a kick-arse recipe for making four barrels of beer in three days from one of the older women who was making it for the funeral.

So. Things were still not looking good in terms of my interview. But I did see Mangope's car drive down the street. Does that count? In terms of living legends? What if I had seen JFK’s car drive down the street? Or Elvis’s car? Would that be enough information to turn into a top story? Sadly, no. And now I’m starting to feel like a paparazzi. Or even a stalker. Forget it. Maybe I’ll just take a bus up to nearby Namibia and focus on trying to get an interview with Brad Pitt instead. Hey, he’s a living legend too….

PS: Later on I did manage to talk with another villager about Mangope and this guy was actually willing to spill. We were sitting on the front porch of a store down the street from the cemetery after a funeral and he started reminiscing about the old days. And after a while I started to take notes because what he told me was so fascinating. Here’s his story:

“First you need to understand,” said my hot new source, “that when the Apartheid laws went into effect, 90% of the population in South Africa was Black and they were forced into Bantustans which only occupied 13% of the land.” Wow! I had no idea. All I have seen of South Africa so far has been Pretoria and the market towns. I never would have guessed that 90% of the country was Black. But I do know that 100% of my village (except for me and my NGO) is Black, so just multiply that by a ton of other villages and townships and it makes sense. Pretoria then becomes the exception rather than the rule.

“When the Black population was sent off to the new Bantustans, there were nine main tribal groups in South Africa and the National Party – the inventors of Apartheid – gave each tribal group a “homeland” and then looked for a figurehead chief to rule each one.” The man sighed, took a sip of his tea and continued. “Before the homeland laws, this village was very sparsely populated. And it is located on soil that is basically rocks. You’ve seen it here. Most of the valley is rock. It's not exactly prime real estate. But when the homelands came, this area suddenly became highly populated as people were herded into the Bantustans, away from good farmland and away from jobs and industry. This village is the size of about one White person's small farm but suddenly it was supposed to hold thousands of Setswanas." Yikes.

"Mangope was the only tribal chief who used his new wealth to help out the people instead of squandering it on himself. He built a TV station even. And a radio station -- BOP -- that played good music and he built schools and clinics and police stations. There was nothing in this whole Bantustan prior to him. He built universities, gave out scholarships, developed student work-study programs and built stadiums and civic centers. The centers were called 'Mabana' -- mother of the children. People had never had anything like this before. Mangope had cops patrol the beer halls and shabeens. He built teachers colleges in Mankwe and Taletso and vocational training colleges and furthered education all over the Bantustan, which was now called Bophutswana. And he built little industrial areas in the homeland so the fathers wouldn't have to go all the way to Johannesburg to work. For instance, he built a brick-works right here in this village."

This is all well and good, but what about some hot gossip? Let's spice it up a little bit here. So far Mangope's saga has been sorta dry. "On the flip side," my new source obliged me, "Mangope was a tyrant and a bully! He and his wife ruled this village with an iron hand. Your life belonged to him. If his fields needed weeding, he'd pick you up off the street to do it. And it was compulsory to go to hear him speak whenever he held a rally. He ordered people around. He made people who had worked hard all day on their own jobs come to work for him once they got off. And if you had a business, you had to go into partnership with him or with one of his children or else you wouldn't get your license renewed." Oops, too much information! Be careful what you wish for. This guy was on a roll!

"The people of our Bantustan feared Mangope -- but they didn't like him. And he only helped the Setswana, not all Black South Africans. He even had his own border post. You had to have a Bophutswana passport to get in -- not just the dumpass. And you were discriminated against if you weren't a Setswana. You couldn't live here. You couldn't get a job here. My neighbor's grandson was part Setswana only and he wasn't allowed to move here because he was only Setswana on one side of the family." I wonder what he would make of Americans -- who are born and/or raised all over the place. Then we drank another cup of tea.

"Anyway, when Nelson Mandela got out of jail, the Apartheid government told him that he had to return to Transkei where he was born but Mandela replied that they had taken him out of Soweto and now he would bloody well move where he wanted to. So he went around and looked at all the homelands before he moved anywhere. And he said that Bophutswana was the best homeland, in the best shape and he wanted Mangope to come on board with the ANC." Aha! Insider information. My very own Deep Throat!

"Mandela then invited Mangope to the Codesa conference. He said, 'I see what you have done. You've done a good job.' But Mangope and Buthelezi of the Zulus refused to come to Codesa. 'We have our own people now,' they said. 'We own them.' They thought that they had all the power inside their homelands. But Buthelezi was a turncoat but Mangope didn't know this. And that was how Mangope was left out by himself while the other eight homeland chiefs supported Mandela. It was a stupid move that Mangope made. He might have been the President of South Africa after Mandela retired but he was brought down by his own pride." Hubris.

"Before Mandela, Mangope would bully the other eight chiefs. When platinum was discovered in Rustenburg, he had a showdown with another tribe that wanted to have influence at the mine and didn't want Mangope lording it over them. Mangope wanted to take over the mines too but the Bafokeng tribe won the case in court. And there was another chief in a village near here who tried to stand up to Mangope and as a result even now that village has no running water and is one of the poorest villages in the Northwest province. No running water, minimal schools. All because the chief had opposed Mangope and wouldn't listen to him."

"Tell me more about what happened during the 1994 elections," I said.

"Sure. Mangope wanted Bophutswana to be a separate country so he didn't put his name on the ballot for the elections. However, as soon as Mandela got out of jail, no one here listened to Mangope any more. Mandela came here and spoke at one of Mangope's stadium and almost everyone in the whole homeland came. All that were left at home were the dogs. Mangope had NEVER packed a stadium like that! Then Mangope held a rally and almost nobody came." Good grief!

"Mangope resisted when his people became pro-ANC. But it was of no use. When he tried to tell them not to support Mandela, they went crazy and rioted in Mafeking to show him that they were Fed Up. But then Terre'Blanche interfered in the showdown against Mangope even though Mangope hadn't been the one to ask him in. But for whatever reason it happened or whoever was responsible, Mafeking was in flames. Terre'Blanche had appeared to want Mangope to be an ally of his against Mandela but what Terr-Blanche had really wanted was to start a civil war." Not good.

"Then, after the protests, Mangope gave a speech. 'My people, you are ungrateful!' he told them. 'After everything that I've done for you, you have turn on me and supported a jailbird instead.' He actually called Mandela a jailbird. And a bandit. And a criminal. 'And when the bandit comes, you go and listen to him.' But by then Mangope was extremely rich. And he was arrogant." Then we drank more tea. And contemplated our own mortality for a while.

"But someone must have spoken to Mangope because he did end up running for Parliament. That Zulu guy Buthelezi had outsmarted him and was already in Parliament however. Mangope formed his own party -- the African Christian Democratic party, the ACDP. And he didn't run for election himself but his party won a seat and he took it."

"Thanks for the scoop," I told the man. "You've been a big help. But I have just one more question. What is Mangope up to now (aside from trying to avoid running into me, that is)?"

"Mangope? From what I have heard, he is now a very embittered man, well aware that people don't like him. The people don't sing his praises. And his wife was a tyrant too. He re-married not so long after she died. She was a horrible woman, the Eva Braun of Bophutswana. And his new wife is much younger than him."

PPS: This whole process of researching the life of Lucas Mangope has got me to wondering about what the people of America will be saying about George W. Bush once he has been thrown out of the White House (and hopefully been put in jail)? People being what they are, I bet they will diss him too. But the big difference between Bush and Mangope is that while Mangope did some bad things, he also did far more good. He will always be remembered as the hero who held Bophutswana together during some very rough times. Bush, however, will never be remembered for ever having done anything good. A million Iraqis slaughtered, the downfall of the American economy, our army gutted, corruption run rampant, our education system reduced to shambles, the Katrina sell-out, the stolen elections....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How I spent September 11: Getting tested for Alzheimer's....

Recently I joined a volunteer AIDS program which involved taking a lot of classes and learning a lot of new stuff that needed to be memorized. No problem. I made flashcards. But the flashcards didn't work. I must have gone through the pile 100 times. Nothing. While all the younger people in the program were soaking this stuff up like sponges, I just couldn't remember diddly-squat.

"Jane, have you ever considered that you might be in the initial stages of Alzheimers?" Had I ever considered that I might be losing my mind? Not really. So I considered the concept. And immediately burst into tears. But wait! I have options. I can be tested and find out for sure. Thank goodness for MediCare.

"It's not exactly that easy," said a friend. "My husband had Alzheimers and our doctor told me that the only way to find out for sure if you have it or not is to give you an autopsy." No thanks.

But then I really started to worry. Every time I forgot my jacket or got lost -- I'm always getting lost -- it started to really freak me out! What if I AM getting Alzheimers? Yikes!

"When my mother got Alzheimers," said another friend, "she got delusional." If you mean delusional like the rest of America -- who actually still believes that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq or that Bush didn't steal both presidential elections or that the World Trade Center buildings fell down in a perfect planned-demolition pattern all by themselves. If you mean that kind of delusional, well, then, I'm TOTALLY sane. For all the criminal things Bush and Cheney have done to my country, I want to see them in jail. You can't get much saner than that.

But still, I had better go ahead and check this memory-loss thing out. So I called around. "First you go to a psychiatrist," said my general practitioner, "and then you take some tests." The psychiatrist acted as my organizer here and coordinated my various medical work-ups. "But I can't be totally insane," I told the shrink. "I just wrote a 532-page book!" Then I tried to convince her to buy a copy but she had other things on her mind. Rats.

"First I want you to get some blood lab-work done. Liver function, thyroid levels...." I forget what all else. "Then I'm sending you to a neurologist."

The neurologist tested my physical reflexes and reactions, took a family history and asked me some questions. "How much is 63 minus 7? Recite your phone number backwards. Who is the President of the United States?" I got that last question right. John Kerry.

Then it was off to get an EKG -- which is just like having your hair permed. Honestly! They put these transmitter thingies on your head that look just like permanent-wave curling rods. Then they put some gel on the rods. Then they put a cap over the gel and the rods and then you just sit around waiting for your hair to curl.

"Close your eyes," said the EKG techie. "I am going to flash some lights in front of you." And what happened next was she flashed a light-show on my eyelids that was very Fillmore Auditorium circa 1964. I loved it. Bring on the Grateful Dead! Janis? The Stones....

Next we haggled over billing. Will MediCare pay for all this? And if I am actually certifiably bonkers, do I still have to pay? Sell the car, mortgage the dog?

Next came the MRI. Have you ever had an MRI? It's like being caught in a bomb shelter during Pearl Harbor and being told not to move. First you gotta take off all those rings that have been on your fingers for YEARS. Then they strap you down and slide you inside a tiny little tunnel. "You aren't claustrophobic, are you Jane?" I didn't used to be -- but I am now! Then they blast you with mega-sound for half an hour.

The first sound sequence was like Morse code -- SOS to be exact. Five long, five short, five long; repeated again and again at full blast. The second sound sequence was like a bull horn. Then there's the Intergalactic Woodpecker pecking at the inside of your brain. Then there's the jackhammer-from-hell sound sequence. And then the freaking machine leaves all restraint behind and goes for that they-are-about-to-drop-the-atomic-bomb air raid alert effect.

By the time they slide you back out of the machine, you are totally convinced you have no brain left at all. But this is not true. And I have the pictures to prove it. And I gotta say this about MRIs -- if Bush and Cheney want to torture political prisoners, just tell them to have their flying monkeys give their victims MRIs once a day. Trust me. They will confess to ANYTHING!

Then I went back to the neurologist. "Good news, Jane. You do NOT have dementia." So. The words that you are reading now have actually been written by someone who can actually PROVE that they are sane. How many people do you know that can say that! "Your blood levels are good. Your EKG is good. You are completely within the range of normal for someone your age." Hurray!

Now if only the rest of America would wise up too.

PS: If the psychiatrist changes her mind, here's how to order my book,
"Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Hints For Touring Today's Middle East":


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Africa: The world's largest refugee camp -- with a little help from the G-20...

A friend of mine just got back from touring the Kimberly diamond mines. "Don't waste your money," she said. "It's not like the old days when you could actually go down into the Big Hole and stand toe-to-toe with the miners. Now you just go up on an observation platform, view a roomful of photographs, visit a small replica of a section of the mine and watch a video." Thanks. You just saved me a 14-hour bus trip to Kimberly -- I can see all that kind of stuff on the web. "But the mine museum there was nice." But is it worth spending 14 hours on a bus? I think not.

"Jane, if you are serious about seeing diamond operations in action, then go tour Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Just put on your flak jacket, get out there and stop being a wimp." Sorry. No can do. I left my flak jacket back in Iraq.

"But why do you wanna know so much about diamond mining anyway?" asked my friend. No, it's not because I'm thinking about getting engaged. But I do watch South Africa's most popular soap opera every night and last week, Steve proposed to Queen and gave her a 15,000-rand diamond the size of a marble -- but only after he had fished it out of the kitchen sink drain where Queen's son Princie had dropped it while Steve and Queen were off on a romantic safari out near Sun City -- the Las Vegas of southern Africa.

The other reason I want to know about diamond mining is that the G-20 is going to meet in Cape Town this November -- to have fun at Sun City, of course (maybe they're run into Queen), but also to have even more Fun cutting up Africa's resources among themselves.

According to Google, "South Africa's Reserve Bank and National Treasury will jointly chair the Group of Twenty (G20) in 2007, Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni announced in Pretoria on Wednesday." Let the games begin! And like the slot machines of Sun City, you just KNOW that whenever a federal reserve bank is involved, the action is always gonna be rigged in favor of the house.

"The G20 was established in 1999," Google continues, "as a forum for the central bank governors and finance ministers of the world's major developed and emerging market economies to discuss issues around global economic development and financial stability." No comment there. We've all been around long enough to know what THAT means.

"Including both the G8 and the most influential emerging [G-8 wannabe] countries [including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, European Union, India, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey,] the G20 is a key forum on global economic development and governance, covering two-thirds of the world's population and 90% of world output." These people have power over 90% of world output? Now that's downright scary.

Anyway, the global corporate bigwigs are all coming to Africa soon. And how appropriate is that -- to meet on the very continent that has supplied them with ENDLESS wealth over the years.

And while we're drawing analogies here, let's compare G-20 members to beekeepers as well as to casino owners. "Don't do that, Jane. You know that you are allergic to bees." Yeah, but I still gotta soldier on. After all, this is SCIENCE. This is HISTORY. The future of the civilized world is at stake here. Time to suck it up and be brave.

If you think of the G-20 as beekeepers and the continent of Africa as its own personal beehive, you can get an idea of how important this continent is to these corporate guys (stop thinking of them as countries or even corporations-as-persons and start thinking of them as individual robber barons who do NOT have your best interests at heart. Heck, if they thought they could get away with it, they would have YOU working in mines and living in shacks with no running water. ASAP. Instead, however, they are politely and graciously giving you a few more years with electricity and hot showers before they make their move. Gee thanks, guys!)

But let's get back to my fabulous world-class beekeeper analogy. For the last 200-plus years, Africa has been a treasure-trove of honey for the grandfathers, great-grandfathers and fathers of the dudes of the G-8 -- and this is even truer today than it was for the likes of Cecil Rhodes, H.M. Stanley and General Henry Sanford (who lobbied Congress to approve of King Leopold II's slave trade operations after slavery ended because the idea of losing his slave-trade honey-pot was starting to bug Leopold -- a lot) because technology has made it even faster and easier for what is now called the "New World Order" to harvest Africa's many resources, er, honey. The new "Scramble for Africa" is now in high gear.

But the G-8's twelve younger siblings, the new kids on the block who were only officially included in 2003, don't have to worry about the original eight mega-corporations getting all of the "honey". There's still plenty left to go around. Gold, diamonds, uranium, fertile farmlands, platinum, oil....

So. We get the picture. The G-20 has moved in and is happily snagging all the honey. But what has happened to all those poor worker bees, slaving away to make said honey, once the hive has been destroyed? Sorry. No honey for you guys. And no Sun City either!

According to Google, "A good beekeeper knows just how much honey he can take from a hive without destroying the colony." Well, apparently the G-20 aren't very well trained as apiarists. They have managed to do major damage to African worker bees. Those dudes need to go back to bee-keeping school.

"But Jane," you might say, "your analogy sucks eggs. These are PEOPLE you are talking about -- not insects." I know that. You know that. But do the global conglomerates and corporate-owned governments attacking the riches of Africa full-tilt know that too? Apparently not. So. Here I am in Africa and it is Bee Season. Let's take a look at some of the "hives" the G-20 have harvested already or have next on their list. And, also, let's look at some of the tragedies that have befallen said "worker bees" after their nests have been destroyed.

The most obvious place to start looking at major hive damage right now is Darfur. That one has been pretty much smashed. Uranium and oil. As one prominent Middle East expert wrote me recently about Darfur, "Dar in Arabic means House. So, Dar Fur means the House of Fir. But the Darfur problem is not a refugee problem, Jane. It's OIL, OIL, OIL -- and even URANIUM. Thus, it is truly the House of Oil and Uranium, which has brought death and destruction to that area. There's a lot of oil in Darfur. The Chinese already had contracts to produce and market it, but apparently the Western oil companies want a share there too. And Israel supporters don't want the uranium to stay in the hands of the Arab Sudanese government."

Someone else who I've talked with recently was involved with the international Darfur relief effort and he said, "There is plenty of money available to relieve the people of Darfur -- but the big problem is getting the food TO them. Planes fly out of Nairobi with supplies from the WHO, etc. and air-drop them over the Darfur area. However, they don't dare land." What? It's not even safe for the UN to get into Darfur? That sucks eggs. But if you want a more detailed report on Darfur than that, there are hecka lot of eye-witness reports floating around -- dead babies stacked in the streets like cordwood, that kind of stuff. But go Google it yourself. Why should I do all the work?

Another good source of info about the problems in the Sudan region, I am told, is that new Pulitzer Prize winner, "Acts of Faith".

Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia? Those hives have been pretty much smashed as well. And what about the mining centers like the DRC? What has happened to their worker bees? Watch "Blood Diamonds". Or that movie about gun traders -- the one with Nicholas Cage? "Lord of War". And then there's Barbara Kingsolver's classic novel, "The Poisonwood Bible". The G-8 and the G-20 have been disrupting hives in Africa for a long long long time and they are really good at it. But enough about bees. Let's get back to talking about people. We all can imagine what a disturbed hive of bees looks like -- we've seen enough Disney cartoons. But just try to imagine what a whole continent-full of disturbed PEOPLE looks like. The G-20's search for honey, er, profit has turned all of Africa into a VERY disturbed hive.

Take Kenya, for example. "The northeastern province here and the northern part of the coast is awash with refugees, highway robbers and pirates," said a friend from there. "From Malindi to Lamu, there's a huge problem with lack of stability and a breakdown of the rule of law. Buses have armed escorts riding shotgun. Piracy on the open ocean is common. They take hostages and hold them for ransom -- like those Danish merchant marines. Many of the 'shifta' outlaws come raiding down from Somalia for a few days then go back across the border with their loot. Somalia used to at least have Sharia law to hold it together -- but now even that is gone. Human life is totally valueless in a lot of the Kenya-Somalia border areas. They would kill you for your socks -- let alone your cell phone. If you want to visit even the border areas, you need to bring your own private army." And several G-20 players are in that area because of its oil -- the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, to name a few.

According to the BBC, "Somalia is now officially at the epicentre of a regional Great Game that threatens to unleash a devastating war that could draw in over 12 countries in Northeast Africa. The Horn version of the Great Game is much more serious than the cloak-and-dagger stuff of imperial espionage and diplomacy that pitted Czarist Russia against the British empire in the period between 1813-1907 in Central Asia. Rarely before in post-colonial Africa have we seen such an intense regional power struggle to shape the destiny of a country." The G-20's idea of having Big Fun?

"I live perhaps 50 kilometers away from the largest refugee camp in the world," continued my Kenyan friend. The largest one in the world? The whole freaking CONTINENT of Africa is one giant refugee camp and has been for the last 500 years, as far as I can tell.

Alcohol also plays a big part in helping Kenyan worker bees endure the results of having their hives smashed -- as it does in all too many other places in Africa where bees in the hive have been disturbed. "They call beer here 'changa' and it comes in plastic bags called 'kumi-kumi' -- 10-10. Ten shillings for a 10-ounce bag. And that stuff will blind you if it doesn't kill you first. It's home-brewed, with battery acid added to increase the kick. My uncle makes and sells it." My friend also told me about the local circumcision ritual. "The initiators used to use the same knife on all the boys but now, since the AIDS pandemic, the boys all bring their own knives. They make three cuts and if you flinch, that makes you undesirable on the marriage market. And the place of honor is to be the first in line." But I digress. Except that we have now brought up yet another horror topic for worker bees -- AIDS.

Someone in Madagascar told me about the AIDS situation there. "Because we live on an island, the AIDS problem here has been almost non-existent. But now some big corporation is financing a mine on the island and that opens up a whole new can of worms. Because laborers from the African continent work more cheaply than the people here, they will be shipped in to work in the mines and the port. And they are bringing AIDS with them. And the people here don't believe in using condoms. And they think that AIDS is only an African problem and that THEY won't get it. Plus monogamy is not very heavily practiced here -- if your husband or wife cheats, you get upset but if someone else's husband or wife cheats, you just shrug your shoulders and life goes on. Plus the prostitutes come down to the urban areas to work until they make enough money to go back to their villages -- bringing AIDS back to the villages with them. The government has already drawn up a map showing the future routes that the disease will take." Thank you, G-20!

South Africa has the number-one AIDS problem in the world. "I don't know much about the refugee problem here," said one NGO worker, "but I hear it is straining this country's economy to the limit. That, and the problem of AIDS and AIDS orphans. Here we have what is called 'child-headed households'. Or they live on the streets. Children as young as two years old are living on the streets by themselves. I know one nine-year-old boy who is the head of his household and he's been taking care of his four younger brothers. Many of them drop out of school and look for work in order to support their siblings. Some try to return to school later. I know a 20-year-old who has just started ninth grade. He's struggling to keep up. But he's trying. Children in the primary schools get one meal a day and many of them live on that. But that's no longer the case when they get to high school so they have to drop out."

And speaking of AIDS, I just asked an expert on the disease how one can tell if someone has AIDS. "After a while you get to recognize the symptoms," she replied. "On their faces, their temples sink in and their bodies start to waste away, particularly on the buttocks. That's a particularly obvious sign." Well, that statement just got me in big trouble. Trust me. It's NOT a good idea in Africa -- or anywhere else for that matter -- to go about ogling guys' bottoms!

And while I was stumbling around lost as usual -- yes, Ashley, it's happened again -- in one of Africa's capital cities last week, I actually bumped into an embassy for the Republic of Iraq! OMG. I gotta go check this out. I gots a whole bunch of questions to ask! Should I say, "Ambassador, what do you think about the way that George Bush has turned your country into a total slaughterhouse?" Or should I ask, "How the freak do you think we can stop Bush from killing 15,000 Iraqis per month on the one hand while he steals all your oil to plush out his Swiss bank account on the other?" Or should I just keep my mouth shut or what? Determinedly, I marched up to the gate. "Are there a large number of refugees from Iraq seeking refuge in this country?" I finally decided to ask. That sounded like a pretty safe question....

"Well, actually," said the Ambassador's aide de camp, "there aren't ANY Iraqi refugees coming here. However, we do have a lot of citizens of this country applying for visas to go there." What! People would rather go live in war-torn IRAQ than to stay in Africa? Things are more serious than I thought!

"No, I mean that people from here go up there to work in the Green Zone." Oh. Do they also work for less money than the locals, like in Madagascar? Interesting. And I hope that they are being tested for AIDS before they leave. Iraq has enough problems as it is.

Even in peaceful, scenic Malawi, which has no war-torn countries bordering it at all, "the refugees just keep on pouring in," according to one local resident. "We have two major refugee camps here along with our 11 national parks and game reserves." Malawi is a major tourist destination. I suppose one could consider refugees a new type of tourist....

In Zambia, the refugee problem is intense as people seeking to escape from the DRC and Angola stream over the border and live in vast squatter camps. "But some of them just come over here to buy and sell," said my Zambian friend, "and then they go back home but many of them don't want to go back because the NGOs feed them here and there is nothing to eat back there. If the NGOs could spend their money in the countries, it would be better but the money is just allocated for refugees."

"What do they sell?" I asked.

"Mostly junk made of plastic; dollar store-type of stuff. Made in China. It sells for cheap. But people here buy these things a lot because they are status symbols. Sun glasses. Cell phone covers." Apparently, Zambia is awash with refugees. And people can't get out of Zimbabwe fast enough. I'm sorry, but to list all the countries that are in trouble due to the refugee explosion and to enumerate specifically how each hive is being destroyed would wear out my fingers on the keyboard. This essay is getting too long. I need a break. I need to go off to Sun City! Or at least to go watch "Generations". But the next time you hear about a big refugee problem -- or that illegal immigrants are streaming across some border, any border, even the border between the United States and Mexico, just think of my beehive analogy and thank the G-20.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Up the Bucs: Visiting South Africa's Soweto -- the southwest townships, then & now

This morning I got picked up by a mini-van full of people and we were off to tour one of the most famous places in South Africa -- the Soweto township. Our guide spoke Setswana so I tried out my language abilities on him. "Dumela, Rra," I said. And then immediately reverted to English. My Setswana sucks eggs. "Do the people in Soweto speak Setswana?" I asked.

"Some people there do but most people in the township also speak what we call a 'thief' language because various words are stolen from all the many different languages spoken there -- Setswana, Zulu, English, Afrikaans, Sepedi and even Portuguese and Spanish." We hit the road to Johannesburg first, to stop at that city's Apartheid museum. And as we drove out of Pretoria, I was surprised at how large and spread-out this city was. Lots of industrial parks. As big as Los Angeles. With lots of freeways. And suburban homes. Except that we just passed a house with a live ostrich in its front yard! You just don't get that type of thing in L.A. And then, suddenly, we arrived in Jo'burg.

"4.5 million people live in Soweto," said our guide as we drove though an upper-class section of Jo'burg. "And two million people live in Johannesburg." Don't you just love to know facts? "And here we have Nelson Mandela's daughter's house." It was really nice and really big. Then we drove by the Mandela Foundation offices. "46664 is the name of Mandela's AIDS research foundation, named after his prison number back on Robben Island." Then we drove by Mandela's actual house! Wow! It also was huge. "But he is in England right now." Then my water bottle started leaking and I got distracted. Now it looks like I've just wet my pants.

There were a lot of high-rise buildings in downtown Jo'burg. It was a vast city. "But many businesses have moved to Sandton City, at the edge of Johannesburg, due to the high crime rates in the downtown, so you will see that many buildings have been abandoned and vandalized here. And to your right is the Standard Bank, which started out in a tent in 1867, when gold was discovered here. And the city has never been the same." The downtown street we drove on reminded me of downtown New York or downtown San Francisco. We drove past the 60-story DeBeers building. Or was it 80 stories? I didn't have time to count.

Then we passed the building where Mahatma Gandhi had his law offices. And there is a traditional healer's shop. "This part of the city has quite a mixture of the old and the new. There is a store with the sign still up from the Apartheid days, saying 'non-white shop'. All of the shops used to be required to have signs like that -- saying whether it was a white shop or a non-white shop. And over there is where Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened their first law office -- across the street from the magistrate's court. And there is the building where Steve Biko, the black-consciousness activist, was killed in 1977. He was found hanging in his cell but no one could explain why he had bruises all over his body if he had killed himself. Also two teachers who had refused to teach in Afrikaans were taken to the top of that building and thrown to their death." Then we drove past some government-sponsored low-income housing and a flea market.

"And here is Gold Reef City, a replica of what Johannesburg was like during its early gold-mining days. And next to it is an amusement park, sort of the Disneyland of South Africa." And next to that was a casino. Very Las Vegas. "And here is the Apartheid Museum." Lots of school children were waiting in line in front of it. We all piled out of the mini-van and stood in line too.

You would be totally awed by this museum. Its design is really nice. And when you walk in, you are given a pass reading "White" or "Black". Then there are enlarged copies of the "dumpasses" that Black and Colored South Africans were required to carry back in the day. Then, in the foyer, there was a short history of the San people, the Bushmen who were the original inhabitants of South Africa. All too many of them were driven out during the last few hundred years or else died of diseases or died in the mines. There were some of their famous rock wall paintings on show.

In the museum itself, the first exhibit really hit me in the face. It was all about the White Rose Society. "In Hitler's Germany, there was a heroic underground of Germans who rebelled against state oppression. Many of them were executed by the Nazis." Wow. I didn't know that! I had thought that Nazi Germany had been mostly composed of "Good Germans" who had blindly followed Der Fuhrer. And linking these German heroes to the heroes of the resistance to Apartheid was genius.

"What is this section about?" asked one woman who was shepherding a bunch of Black African children through the exhibit. I told her.

"Are you a teacher?" I asked her in return. "Are these your students? And what part of South Africa are you coming from?" Maybe she spoke Setswana too and I could practice saying, "Dumela, Mma"?

"These children are AIDS orphans from an orphanage in Soweto," the woman replied. "We brought them here because we want them to know something about their history." I greeted the children and they greeted me back. Nice kids. I shook some hands -- I love to shake hands! -- and then I went off to use the most high-tech restroom I've ever seen. I wish some of the people in my home village were here. I bet they would appreciate it as much as I did.

The next exhibit described the effects of the discovery of diamonds on everyone here. "This led ultimately to the destruction of the independent African chiefdoms. The discoveries accentuated conflicts between the British and the Boer republics and between the White settlers and the African peoples of South Africa." This happened around 1867, at the same times as the gold mines were being developed. So. The sparkling diamond and gold engagement rings on the fingers of Victorian ladies came at a very high price, paid in South African blood.

On to the next exhibit -- the 30th anniversary of the famous Soweto uprising. In early 1976, a local White Soweto administrator wrote, "The broad masses of Soweto are perfectly content, perfectly happy. Black-White relationships at present are as healthy as can be. There is no danger whatsoever of a blow-up in Soweto." Ha!

On June 16, 1976, all that changed when a group of school children marched to protest a new law requiring them to be taught in Afrikaans -- and all hell broke loose.

"When you go to Soweto," said one of my Black South African friends, "remember what happened there. It was inexcusable and inhuman. My best friend, a young girl, was abducted and repeatedly gang-raped by the police."

"My father served in the South African defense force during the Soweto uprising," said a South African Afrikaner friend of mine, "but he never talks about that time. Never." From my friend's description of his father, I would imagine that Afrikaner veterans who tried to suppress the Seweto uprising probably now suffer the same type of post-traumatic stress disorder that America's Vietnam and Iraq vets suffer from -- silence, withdrawal, alcoholism and teeth-clenching nightmares. Whenever there is brutal suppression -- be it in Soweto, Mai Lai or Abu Ghraib -- a high price is also paid by the oppressors for having sold their consciences down the river. But I digress.

"One weekend after June 16, we went to the government mortuary," read an exhibit sign, "to try and find some people and when we got there, there were bodies scattered all over the place like packed potato sacks." And while I was reading about all this horror, a tape of a gospel choir singing dirges played in the background. I'm about to cry.

After the June 16 massacre, the uprising spread. "The Soweto uprising, yes, but it didn't just happen in Soweto." The focal point, however, was Orlando, the current home of my favorite soccer team, the Orlando Pirates. I have their hat. Up the Bucs!

"When you go to Soweto," said another one of my Black South African friends, "you must go to the Regina Mundi church. That is my church." That church took charge of burying all the victims of the Soweto uprising from June 16 to its end in 1978.

"How long must we be bullied, kicked, choked, bitten, raped and killed," read one banner in an enlarged photograph that had been taken during a burial ceremony at the grave site of one of the protesters. How sad. And even sadder yet is that burials in Black townships are still going on -- only now the deaths are caused by AIDS.

And, as usual for me, I managed to go through this section of the exhibit backwards by mistake -- so that the last photo I saw here was of young school girls in their school uniforms, running. Running. At first they were joyfully running toward freedom. And then they were running away. And dying. And dead.

Then there was a photo of the mass funeral for the 69 victims of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. Most of the dead had been shot in the back while protesting against the dumpasses. Those were dangerous days. They remind me of Martin Luther King Jr's 1965 march on Montgomery, Alabama. I was there, seven months pregnant with my daughter Lorraine. We had a feeling back then that we could change the world! But did we? No. The world is still stuck with dummkopfs such as Cheney and Bush. Oh well. But it was worth it anyway. I'd go on that march again anytime -- but maybe leaving out the pregnancy bit.

Then there were more enlarged photos on exhibit -- of Bantu education, life in the mines, domestic workers, overcrowded hospitals, starvation, the homelands Then there was a display of solitary confinement cells, nooses and armored personnel carriers that reminded me of what I had seen on the West Bank in Palestine. And the photos of the checkpoints outside the townships reminded me of the checkpoints I had seen outside of Bethlehem. "Punishment always leads to resistance." It was true in America in 1776, it was true in Apartheid South Africa in 1976 and it's still true all over the world right now.

Next there was a wall covered with original posters and graphics put out by the resistance movement and then some amazing videos of the resistance itself.

"When we demonstrated," said another one of my South African Black friends, "the reason that we ran in 'toyi-toyi' formation was because when you finished doing the toyi-toyi for two or three hours, you dissipated a lot of your anger. Otherwise we would have burned the place down!" The toyi-toyi is a quasi-military dance step characterized by high-stepping movements and done with linked arms.

The last stop was the museum's gift shop where they sold T-shirts that read, "Race: If someone wins, everyone loses." Which reminds me of some White south Africans today who complain that the Black South Africans are causing problems because they are so uneducated. Duh. If they had been supplied with equal educational opportunities all along for the past 200 years, Black Africans might all be freaking PhDs right now and this country would be an even greater First World global leader than it already is. "Jane," whispered my conscience, "please shut up. Next thing you know, you are gonna start whining again about how the high cost of education is dumbing down America as well."

On to Soweto.

"Soweto first came into existence around 1902, when there was an outbreak of plague in Johannesburg," said our guide. "Because of this, Black people were moved away from the city -- just dropped off in the middle of nowhere with no houses, no furniture, no nothing. But the people kept sneaking back into the city so the government finally built tin shacks for them to live in out there." We passed some corrugated huts at the entrance to Soweto but they were mostly just tacked onto the sides and backs of brick suburban-looking houses. So far, Soweto was looking kind of good.

"These tin hut add-ons are rented out to tenants and used to generate income. There are also tuckshops here and people sell various goods out of their houses. They do whatever they need to do in order to survive. And, by the way, Soweto isn't an actual place. It is simply a generic name for the 30 or 40 townships in this area. It is shorthand for 'Southwest Townships'. And a large percentage of the people here are unemployed. Mandela lived in this part of Soweto -- the Orlando township." OMG! I'm actually in Orlando! That's my team! Once a Pirate, always a Pirate! Up the Bucs!

"And there is the Orlando police station, the place where the children were marching to in 1976 in order to hand in their petitions." Wow! We're now in Orlando. And I wore my Pirates truckers cap too.

"They introduced the Bantu education system here in the 1950s, wherein Blacks were not allowed to learn mathematics or science and were taught only a very limited range of subjects -- only enough to make them employable at menial jobs and to get them used to following orders. Mandela hated the Bantu education system and tried to get anyone with any higher learning at all to run schools from inside their homes. One of the first things that Mandela did upon coming to office was to get rid of the Bantu education system and replace it with critical thinking and outcome-based education instead of just blind obedience, corporal punishment and rote learning. Even now, President Mbeki stresses the importance of education."

Then we drove past Winnie Mandela's house. "And she still lives there today. Perhaps she will invite us in for tea." We all looked hopeful but that didn't happen. "At one point while Nelson was still in jail, there was a scandal about Winnie being involved in the death of a teenager during the Apartheid period," continued our guide, "but apparently the young man was a government spy, spying on the ANC. The way that they figured this out was that he lived with his impoverished grandmother yet always had a bicycle, fancy clothes and toys." Oops.

"Ubuntu is present in the townships. People here help each other out. There aren't the high walls and electronic fences here that you see in the cities. That spirit of 'I exist because of you...' is still here in the townships. One of the nice things about Ubuntu is that whenever you meet someone, you greet them, to acknowledge that you SEE them -- not only as someone who is in front of you but that they are also human and worthy of your respect. That is why Black Africans always greet each other. It goes way beyond just saying 'hello.'" I've noticed that here and I always acknowledge Black Africans I pass on the road because of Ubuntu. Maybe I should start saying hello to White Africans too? So that they too will feel all acknowledged and not all left out? And speaking of Ubuntu, what about religion here in Soweto? "It's a mixture of Christianity and respect for the ancestors, sort of incorporated together. "

Then we drove down the street where the children had marched in 1976 and stopped at the place where young Hector Pieterson had been shot. "Nobody can understand why the police started shooting. The children had no weapons. All they wanted to do was present the memorandum at the police station saying that it was hard for them to learn in Afrikaans because even their teachers didn't speak it well."

Then we drove down the street where Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu lived. "This is the only street in the world that has produced two Nobel prize winners." Ngakane Street.

And up the street from Mandela's house was an excellent restaurant. The best French fries I've ever tasted. Really good chicken salad. But one American woman on the tour really complained because the service was slow. Get a clue. This is Soweto, not Fifth Avenue! Plus people eat at a more leisurely pace here -- like in Paris. Geez Louise.

Next we went to the Hector Pieterson museum. He was the boy whose photo was in every newspaper in the world as he died in the arms of his friend during the 1976 Soweto march. In the museum, I read an interesting statement that explained the forced change in language from the Afrikaner perspective. "Most right-thinking Afrikaans speakers today address the Bantu in Afrikaans whenever they meet. As the national economy requires Bantu to be in contact with White employers and co-workers, instruction in one of two official languages must take place...." Good grief! They wanted Black South Africans to learn to speak Afrikaans so that the bored Afrikaner housewives could speak to their maids!

That reminds me of a 1991 issue of "Your Family" magazine I found in a dentist's waiting room recently, wherein the YF Cooking and Crafts School offered "Christmas cooking and baking classes for domestics. [A teacher] will demonstrate traditional Christmas cooking and baking, as well as some new ideas. Participants will be shown how to organize a Christmas menu." They also listed classes for said bored Afrikaner housewives -- who had nothing to do all day because the maids did everything for them -- in paint marbling techniques, dried flower arranging, candle making, picture framing, pottery decorating, photo album making, creative stenciling and wall-hangings. Sorry. No basket-weaving.

I'm sort of joking here, but I am willing to bet that many of the Afrikaner housewives of that time were climbing the walls with boredom and were probably actually glad to see Apartheid go because its disappearance freed them in a way as well. And, BTW, several Afrikaners I have met here have talked about the guilt they feel now after being a part of that racist society. "But we were totally immersed in the propaganda of it all -- in our churches, in our schools, everywhere; told again and again by friendly, folksy politicians that we were merely protecting future generations from losing their rightful place in the sun." And in fact, some Afrikaners did speak up against Apartheid and some of them did get out there and march. But I can't promise you that they were doing the toyi-toyi!

Like with the White Rose Society in Germany and like in America today, there were were Afrikaners during Apartheid who did fight for justice. And never underestimate the Ubuntu miracle that is South Africa today -- where all the many races here are for the most part sincerely struggling to create a new country that is inclusive of all. And I'm here to tell you that it is a difficult, uphill battle but many people -- no matter what their race -- now live in hope. Or at least I'd like to think so, idealist that I am. But, hey, what they have here today is WAY better than Apartheid! Plus you don't have to learn dried flower arranging and the latest torture techniques on the one hand or live like a slave on the other. And you don't have to live in a police state atmosphere either. No more Green Zone wannabes for South Africa. Sure, there's a high crime rate but it's an individual thing. You just add "electrified fence" to your wish list, sign up for the Zulu bicycle patrol, stop the huge influx of hundreds of thousands of desperate impoverished refugees from the more war-torn parts of the African continent, never use your cell phone on the street and you're golden.

Meanwhile, back at the museum.... "No schools were built in Soweto between 1962 and 1971," said another sign. "Only 33% of matriculants passed in 1968. By 1975, for every 644 rands the government spent on a White student, 42 rands were spent on a Black one."

"To insure that the march was disciplined and that all the students were accounted for at all times, we had agreed to a march in rows, each row consisting of five students holding hands," read the sign under another photo of the children marching in orderly rows.

For me, this whole day has been a total submersion in man's inhumanity to man. You don't even wanna know the misery I've seen in these two museums today. In photos. In videos. In artifacts. Can you even imagine being there during the actual events?

Then we drove past the world's first ShopRite! Wow. ShopRite is one of the biggest supermarket chains in South Africa -- and the first one was actually started right here in Soweto. Up the Bucs! Also, there's a large middle class in Soweto. It's not all just abject poverty here. "Many people prefer to live here and commute to Jo'burg because of Ubuntu," said our guide. "Plus apparently they feel more at home."

We passed a school with a mural that read, "Spread love -- not AIDS."

"And here is the church that played a big role in the anti-apartheid movement. The Regina Mundi church. A Catholic church. Bishop Tutu held rallies here because of its capacity -- 2,000 people could sit down plus there was room for another 4,000 people to stand. And usually when the police drove by the church, they thought that the toyi-toyi chants they were hearing were hymns. But after that first march, the police realized that students were in the church and so they threw in tear gas canisters. The students panicked and many were killed in the ensuing stampede -- there were 7,000 in the church at the time. Then the police came in shooting. The bullet holes are still in the walls and roof. The police also cracked the alter and shot off the hands of a statue of the Christ. " What kind of barbarians would fire into a CHURCH filled with CHILDREN?

Then we drove past a shanty town. "And later on I'll show you the Beverly Hills of Soweto," said our guide. Then we passed a huge cemetery, a few square miles in size. "Dying first from Apartheid and now from AIDS, botched abortions, high blood pressure and diabetes." But considering it was a Saturday, the traditional day for such events, I haven't seen any funerals.

"And here are the two nuclear power plant cooling towers that are so famous because of the murals painted on them. The reactors are shut down now, but that has not effected Soweto's energy supply. All the electricity generated by them never went to the people of Soweto anyway." Only the toxins and the radiation?

"Next we will go to the squatter camps. And see those sheep in that pen over there? We could buy one, take it home with us and have a braai." A braai is the South African term for a barbecue. Yeah right. And where exactly in the mini-van would this sheep sit? In my lap? "28,000 people live in this camp. No running water -- only some standpipes. HIV is common here." And there were lots of friendly drunks.

We found a camp resident, paid him ten rands apiece and asked him to take us through the lanes. I loved it. Each little home was about the size of a large closet. It was like walking through rows of doll houses. And it had the feel of a rural village -- friendly.

"Would you like to go inside one of the homes?" Oh yes! It was totally tiny but completely organized and well-maintained, with a table, chairs, cupboards and one double bed.

"How many people live here?" I asked.

"Six," replied the mother of a baby which was sleeping in the middle of the bed.

"How old is your baby?"

"Eight months." A big, healthy boy, wearing disposable diapers. This sweet little house was the world's best photo op. And me without my camera. Rats.

"And here is the world's largest hospital," said our guide as we continued our tour. "3,000 beds. You don't believe me? It's in the Guinness Book of Records!" Then we passed a whole bunch of hostels where migrant workers lived, mostly men. "But this area has always been associated with crime." There were hundreds of dormitory-style hostels. "During Apartheid, Zulu workers lived here and the police supplied them with guns so they could shoot up the ANC areas. The ANC were well-trained with weapons but they had none available to them so they were like sitting ducks." Now the hostels are being demolished to be replaced with family housing. "But to live in this housing, you have to bring your wife -- which is causing problems because polygamy is practiced among Black Africans and the other wives don't want to get left behind back in the camps." I think our guide was joking.

Then we looked at all the rich houses in the "Beverly Hills" area. They were mostly McMansions, newly built. And then we got back on the freeway and drove back to Pretoria and everyone on the tour was happy with what we had learned but emotionally exhausted -- especially me. So I spent a quiet evening reading Jane Austin and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and contemplating everything that I had learned.

"Up the Bucs!"

PS: I just talked with another South African resident and she said, "Sorry, Jane, but the squatters' camp you were shown in Soweto just aren't the real thing. The camps that you saw aren't all that bad -- just cute little shacks designed to appeal to 'poverty chic' tourists such as yourself. Plus it totally annoys me when the tour buses drive by and everyone just gapes at the Soweto camps like 'those people' were animals in a zoo. But if you really want to know what real poverty looks like, go up near the Zimbabwe and Mozambique borders where thousands of refugees pour into South Africa every day with only the shirts on their backs. There aren't any sweet little tin doll houses up there. No standpipes. And not even tables and beds."

What can I say? How many levels of poverty ARE there in this world? And what can we do about it, how can we help? Maybe I should give up reading Austin and start reading Dickens? Parts of Europe --and even parts of America -- used to be as bad as this merely a few generations ago. And look at Europe and America now. There IS hope. All we gotta do is start spending our money on quality education and get rid of all those dummkopfs who keep spending OUR money on war. Or am I getting to preachy? Sorry about that.