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African Journal - Report 3

Dear Friends,

Since the report from late October is already a bit old, I’ll just include a short update here, before publishing both.

In terms of my work situation, not much has changed. I’m still doing the office / driving job. Relations with my superiors have improved, mainly because I hardly ever have any contact with the ones I don’t get along with. I have settled in more, much of what I do I do routinely, and I am fairly content. I have avoided conflict and confrontation. So is everything just fine?

Not really. I feel that I am losing out on a big chance: to get to know the real South Africa while I am here. Whatever the pros and cons of Ubuntu might be – it is an exceptional place very different from the townships, or the black population on the land. I don’t think, and I have heard from several friends, that I can experience the culture of the blacks here. Because of its geographical isolation, there isn’t that much interaction with the community at large, either. I am largely dependent on the people who come here to get to know the culture, and although I’ve learned a bit from out staff already, it will never be the same as if I was living with them.

Also, I am not happy with the office job I am doing. When I started applications for the service, I had hoped for just what I have now: an easy brain-job, in an exotic country. But during all the reading and the application preparations, I realized that I needed something else. I’ve dubbed it myself "my quest for empathy".

I’ve always had trouble with feeling the pain of others; I shield myself against it because I don’t want to deal with it. But I am realizing more and more that this makes me smaller as a person. I need empathy to grow personally, to grow at heart. And I thought that this service, and the planned work with the behaviorally disturbed children, would help me on that quest. Soften me up, bring a bit more balance to my self, which is heavily dominated my intellect and deprived of deep emotionality.

Again, just as with black culture as mentioned above, Ubuntu doesn’t do what I had hoped it would. I am not working with children – I am not working with my heart. I am working with my head. And I am not challenged. Tax forms, cheques and budgets are easy enough for me to deal with, but I need to be challenged, especially emotionally!

Therefore I am considering changing jobs. I think that, if I had left for the personal conflict with the people here, I would have just surrendered and lost a chance to learn how to deal with situations like that. But now, even though I am fairly content, I think a change is more justified than before. I fear that, if I don’t make a move, my time here will go by quickly and largely without transformation on my side. I’ll leave South Africa without the growth that I yearn for. And I cannot accept that!

So where would I like to go? I don’t know yet. There is an SOS Children’s Village in Mamelodi Township nearby. It would provide, I hope, both exposure to black culture and emotional challenge. Some people have warned me that I would not be accepted there as a white, others have reassured me that I certainly would be. I tend to believe the latter. Crime is also an issue, in the townships it is worse than anywhere else. But then our staff tells me that it isn’t that bad at all, they live with it and survive, too. Finally, they may pay me less than the little money I get here, and maybe I won’t have access to a car.

It’s a difficult decision to make, and I am looking at other projects, as well. A friend of mine is setting up an orphanage in a town up north, and has asked me to help him. That, too, would be a good experience. However, that one won’t get off the ground before June 99 – which is a long time to wait. On top of it all, I will have to get any change of project approved my service supervisor here – and approval is not certain. I’ll talk to her about it in two weeks.

As you can see, I am wrestling with some pretty heavy issues here. But that has the advantage that I am, at the bottom-line, not bored. I’ll keep you updated on the progress!

Hugs and love,