Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Journey to South Africa: January 2012

Although I missed the energetic weeks of living in the theatre from dawn to dusk and the chill of opening the green room door to a dark January evening after a long day of sweaty rehearsals, I must admit I enjoyed myself thoroughly journeying through the country of South Africa. A lot. So much, I really want to obtain dual citizenship ASAP and go live and teach there. This may seem far-fetched, but who doesn’t love an extraordinary goal with seemingly insurmountable obstacles?

The name of the interim trip is titled After Apartheid: The New South Africa. After a week of discussing African literature- and even a play! (Master Harold and the boys)- we flew from the Birmingham airport to Detroit and from Detroit to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Cape Town. Cape Town looks NOTHING like one’s typical imaginings of South Africa with its breath-taking mountains and beaches. Of course I brought with me a journal to write about every detail of this amazing experience. It was upon arrival that I was reminded of (and journaled extensively about) the principle of assumption versus reality. I had assumed to find sand and zebras but there I was looking at a vast expanse of mountains and beautiful coastline. Welcome to South Africa!

Although I felt completely at home with the people there and soaked up every moment of the America-free culture, I couldn’t help feeling a huge void. I knew instantly what was missing—the constant presence of theatre friends. Seriously. There I was in Africa and I was truly missing the friendship of my fellow thespians. I journaled for pages and pages trying to put my finger on what that special quality of “theatre people” is that I was so desperately missing. Is it the natural empathy that develops because of our craft? Is it the constant encouragement and uplifting spirit that radiates from their speech? I can’t seem to put it into words, but there is a noticeable distinction about the kind of people theatre performers tend to be and it took me being half way around the world to truly miss that fellowship.

Luckily it was filled by the incredible spirits of the African people. You know how when you are having a marvelous day and you smile and greet everyone you encounter on the sidewalk? You also know how each time the victim of that smile looks at you suspiciously or only half-heartedly receives the friendly gesture, you find your enthusiasm dropping in distinct blows? Not in South Africa. The opposite reaction occurred. Everyone, and I literally mean everyone, that I encountered with a smile or nod whole-heartedly accepted the gesture, engaged in the compassionate exchange, and continued uplifted by the human interaction. I was amazed. This distinct spirit is called Ubuntu, a Zulu word that is not translatable in the English language—probably because it doesn’t really exist in America’s individualistic culture. Ubuntu roughly means: My humanity is bound up in your humanity. If you succeed, I succeed. If you fail, I fail. We are all connected and must treat each other accordingly. I am not envious of your success because it is my success. Wow. How seldom do we see this in theatre, where people are competing for leading roles and once they get the role, look for the strongest tactics to manipulate others to achieve a selfish goal. Haha. I know, it is quite a pessimistc view of theatre, but you can’t deny its truth! I have actually struggled with this concept of “selfish theatre” since last year and just recently realized that theatre can be used for activism , social change, and therapy. I’m hoping to study abroad in Cape Town and learn more about the use of theatre for the advancement of ubuntu.

An odd thing occurred while I was there- I kept feeling so drawn to the poor townships. Instead of merely feeling sympathy for the people in the towns, I yearned to be there with them in the village, teaching, interacting, and pouring into the people there. It defied logic. Who wants to willingly live in a shack with an outhouse down the road? I was even frustrated that we went to so many tourist destinations. I just wanted to be in those villages and live like they lived. Though they have little, they are so joyful and content. They know what it means to truly live. Without facebook. Without iphones. All they have is each other—and that’s all they really need. I want to know that life, a pure and simple existence.
I discovered my burning desire for the poor, and I’m hoping to combine that desire with theatre, to hopefully leave this world a little better than it was when I got here.
Thanks Africa.

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