Wednesday, November 30, 2011

it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...kind of.

Every Saturday morning, I wake up at 7AM by force of habit an I think, today is going to be the day that I will go for a forty-minute run. In truth, though, I usually get to the twenty minute mark and then I get distracted by something - usually shopping. Last Saturday, it was the Christmas craft sale at the Bougain Villa.

Christmas in Namibia is something that I'm trying to get used to. I'm used to associating Christmas with snow, pine trees, hot chocolate, the usual stuff. Christmas shopping with summer sales is bizarre to me. So are Christmas lights hung from palm trees. The German Christmas markets here serve chilled sangria rather than hot gluvine. And it's been getting really hot these days as it turns to summer.

the images in this Christmas display by the Kalahari Sands Hotel is what I'd normally associate with Christmas...

...but this is what Christmas actually looks like here

The Christmas craft sale at the Bougain Villa was just as odd for me. Set in the beautiful courtyard of the building, vendors sold traditional Christmas items, like cards, fudge, handmade beadwork, and traditional african items like biltong, and less traditional items like airsoft guns. and peculiarly traditional Christmas items like wool mittens and toques, although i have no idea who would have any use for these things in thirty-five degree summer Christmas weather (which was another reason why I wasn't jogging for much longer).

So basically, it doesn't actually feel like Christmas to me, even if the store displays are all trying to push it. Despite this, I had a lovely evening of Christmas music tonight. Lately instead of tutoring the kids at the after-school program in Katutura, I've been singing Christmas carols with them. It's just adorable to watch a dozen kids singing their hearts out - they have fantastic voices.

it's interesting to see which Christmas songs they like the most, and which ones they've never heard of. Their favourites seem to be "Joy to the World" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". They'd never heard of the "12 Days of Christmas" and I didn't think it would go over well because it's so long and challenging, but once the kids learned it, they can't get enough of it and insist that we sing it over and over and over again till my voice gets hoarse. They also seem to be quite gifted rhythmically too - they clap complicated beats while they sing, even without me showing them. Given the fact that Christmas happens in the summer here, I wonder what the kids think about all these references in Christmas songs to things like snow, snowmen, pine trees, reindeer, boughs of holly, being cold.

I feel like maybe someone should "Namibianize" some of the Christmas carols. like this:

Johannes the red-nosed kudu
had a very shiny nose
and if you ever saw it, you would even say "izzit, bro?"
All of the South African colonialists
used it to classify his race
they never let poor Johannes get in any kudu place

then one sunny Christmas eve
Father Christmas did say
Johannes, with your nose so lekker,
won't you drive my minibus, nie?

then all the kudus loved him
and they shouted out lekker, bra!
Johannes the red-nosed kudu
you'll go down in history, ja.

After singing christmas carols, I left Katutura to go listen to Christmas music in a more formal classical setting at a choral concert at the Christuskirche, a historical Lutheran church built in 1910 located on Fidel Castro Street (yes that's the name of the street).

(image from Wikipedia)


A mixed voice, mixed race local choir called the Harmony Chorali Choir was putting on a performance of Christmas carols, classical pieces, traditional African music, and random extras like songs from the Sound of Music and Phantom of the Opera. I enjoyed them a lot. they had a varied repertoire and their rendition of "Ave Maria" was beautiful enough to nearly move me to tears. I also really liked their unique gospel soul arrangement of Handel's Messiah. Most of all, I loved the traditional Oshiwambo folk songs they performed, complete with djembe and coordinated dancing and ululating. Generally I think there should be more ululating in churches.

I also got a big kick out of the fact that many of the choir members, including the conductor, read their music sheets from iPads.

Anyway, after a night full of Christmas tunes, and a promising upcoming weekend of my office Christmas party, I'm starting to get into the holiday spirit. especially the part about not working.

Monday, November 28, 2011

picnic on the Katutura side at Goreangab Dam

you should play the second track "Water" off Teen Daze's "Beach Dreams" album.

On Sunday, I woke up to the unmistakable roar of A's cherrybomb exhaust pipe that the previous owner had inexplicably installed on his car, despite it not being a sports car at all. A. was outside the house, wanting to go meet up with Namibian friends at Goreangab dam. I had literally just rolled out of bed in my old T-shirt, and was still exhausted from clubbing till 4AM the night before, but I never turn down a chance to visit water and have a picnic, so I got dressed in record time and got in the car.

the park at Goreangab is pretty different from Avis, mainly because it's located by Katutura rather than Klein Windhoek. So instead of seeing rich old German couples walking their dogs and young Afrikaners going for jogs, Goreangab has loads of folks from Katutura, friends and families, braaiing up food in the picnic steel structures casting shade over the dirt floor, blasting African house music from their cars which they've pulled up close to the picnic tables, small children constantly begging for money and bottles, and self-employed entrepreneurs in suits going from table to table selling photoggraphs and biltong (mmm biltong). It's a good place to party on a Sunday afternoon in the summer.

At the picnic was the whole crowd of kids that work at the Ministry of Health, including L, P, T, and Tutu. they handed me a Windhoek lager and some spicy stew that Tutu had made. I have no idea what was in it or what kind of meat it was but it was delicious - I adore that woman. It was certainly a big contrast from the picnic we had at Avis Dam last weekend. It may not have been a beach on which to have beach dreams, but it was a great time, the kind of fun time that a music video might show friends having. Honestly, if i could just fill up my second summer of the year with Sunday picnics with great friends, I'll be happy.

pretend this is a music video of all the fun that friends have

the picnic area

the water

L and I trying to be twins

eating biltong

A. being A.

Mr. Gay Namibia and some Friday night pool

On Saturday night, I went to Mr. Gay Namibia, the first beauty pageant for gay men in Namibia. My friend Micheal had asked me to accompany him on the guitar while he sang Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah during the wardrobe changes in the pageant. There was no way I was going to turn down an opportunity to perform a Canadian classic at a gay beauty pageant, especially one that served a full three course dinner with wine and champagne for what came out to be less than ten Canadian dollars.

there will be an newspaper article out soon about the event so I won't post too much details here, but you can enjoy the final moment where drag queen Solange announces the winner:

I love the part where all of the winner's friends and fans rush up to the stage and cheer loudly - I love the way African ululations sound. I also love the footage of the man jumping up and down excitedly with a giant rainbow flag. It was a beautiful moment, an important one for the repressed gay community in Namibia, and I felt tears in my eyes.

we celebrated afterwards getting photos with Mr Gay Namibia, and by going to a night club called Zanzibar where we danced our pants off (not literally - but it was pretty hot).


Friday night, i thought it would be a good idea to eat only a cinnamon bun for dinner, drink two big glasses of beer, and then take on the local pool league.

after work i sent out my usual "so what's going to be then, eh?" SMS to my various droogs in the city to see what the evening would bring. my appointment to meet Mr. Gay World was cancelled, so I ran some errands downtown; tried to go get into a cab on Independence Avenue, but got pulled out by a cop who told me cabs can't pick up there. he put me in another cab...and then promptly ticketed that cab. I can't say I totally understand how everything works around here.

Julia was off salsa dancing, but andrew was up for shooting pool at a nearby bar called Jokers which had a set of pool tables in the back. We sat at the bar for a couple of drinks first, where we met a local guy named Reggie who convinced us not to use the kiddie tables. Instead he'd show us where the "real" pool tables were. We took our beers, and followed him out the back door, across the yard, up the fire escape, and past a bunch of strongly worded signs in English and Afrikaans saying DO NOT BRING BEERS FROM JOKERS HERE. For a moment I was convinced he was taking us to a Scientology conversion meeting or something, but then we entered a unmarked room that was inexplicably a different part of Jokers Lounge, despite being ridiculously far and hidden from the main part of the bar. the room was filled with smoke, the sharp sounds of pool balls bouncing against each other, and extremely serious looking guys. Clearly this was where the real pool players played. Reggie had led us to their secret spot.

a security guard headed towards us with a disapproving look on his face, i'm not sure if it was because of our beers that we'd snuck in or because i smelled like a noob, but Reggie stepped in and negotiated intensely for a few minutes in Afrikaans. And then suddenly, it was all right. the security guard stepped aside.

"You may play at any table," he told us.

I looked at the room. All of the tables were in use. "Which table can we play?" I asked nervously.

"You must challenge one of the players," the guard replied. "They play for money."

Oh dear. I'm not that good at pool. I spent most of first year university in the pool hall, sticking cups into the holes so we could get endless games without paying for it, but that was nearly a decade ago and since then, thanks to law school, my vision has gotten terrible and I've lost the ability to focus on a nearby object enough to line it up with a farther object. Not to mention I've got a silly haircut that makes my bangs hang in front of my eyes. Looking at this room full of intensely concentrating guys and piles of money on the sides of the table, I didn't think I was going to get much sympathy from them. I also didn't think I was going to be able to borrow a bobby pin to pull my hair back here. This was going to be interesting.

"Okay. Who are the worst players here?" Andrew asked.

We ended up joining at table at the back with two young architecture students from Polytech. They were pretty friendly, especially after Andrew started conversing with them in Portuguese (i could have used him in the studio, darn it), and we played a couple of games. Andrew did pretty well. I did about as well as I expected to, which wasn't very well, especially with no substantive dinner and two larger Hansa draughts. but it was still fun, and neat to discover another hidden hangout spot not too far from our place.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

it's going to be an interested weekend

The Canadian news media organization OpenFile published my story on the gay rights situation in Namibia. You can read it here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

long day

whew. let me tell you about my day yesterday.

7:30-8:AM - walked to work.

8AM-1PM - had to quickly learn South African law.

1PM-1:30PM - tried once again to understand from my visa agent why things are moving so slow when i am trying to offer free labour

1:30-2PM - decided my lack of clothing is becoming a problem; went to the PEP (like our Giant Tiger) and bought some clothes from the children's section...because that's what fits me.

2:00-5PM - worked on the domestic violence report

5:00-6PM - music rehearsal at the College of the Arts with Michael for an upcoming gig

6:00-6:30PM - waited for Victor to pick me up. sat on the steps of the college and played the guitar while people walking by gave me strange looks.

6:00-9PM - recorded more guitar tracks at the label's studio. quickly learned how to play R&B style guitar. I still don't speak Portuguese, and LG still doesn't speak English. everyone's feeling a bit stressed because there's a rush to start mixing next week. Ran into the girls from Gal Level again, discussed boys.

9:00-9:30PM - Victor drove me home. He tells me that he's originally from Kenya. I asked LG why doesn't he learn to speak English so he can talk to other people.

9:30-10:00PM - arranged an interview for an article that OpenFile Ottawa is getting me to write

10:00-10:30PM - job interview over the phone

10:30-10:45PM - ate a yoghurt for dinner

10:45 - 11PM - Skyped with my sister and dad

11:30 - 6:30AM - slept. managed to pull a leg muscle while dreaming.

Today is much of the same, except replace recording at the studio with teaching Christmas carols to the kids in Katutura. busy busy busy...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

all my friends shook it out

"i fall down to the ground
lay out your blanket,
the sand is a blanket over us
all the running we've done, all throughout our dreams
in everything we're gonna do because it's me and you...."

-Teen Daze, "Let's Fall Asleep Together"

is it snowing at home? listen to this song and think about the sun.

i'm really into songs that are about hanging out with your friends, maybe because i've been missing all my friends back at home lately. if my band ever makes a music video, it's going to be about me and all my friends and all the fun we're having, so that other people watching the music video will wish they were with their friends having the kind of fun we're having, instead of sitting there alone watching my music video.

Sunday afternoon, I was in the mood to get together with all my friends and have some fun, probably because I had spent most of the weekend hiding in the dark of my room alone playing the guitar and recording new music. I mean, to be fair, that's generally what I prefer to be doing, and it wasn't like I was capable of doing much else - for days I had been trying to ignore the fact that I had obvious signs of either food poisoning or a stomch bug, but by the weekend I had to give up the Chuck Norris facade and had to give in, stop drinking beer, and stay home.

I digress. By Sunday afternoon, I emerged from my cave, ready to be social again. A bunch of us piled into Andrew and Julia's cars and drove over to Avis Dam for a sunny Sunday afternoon hike and picnic.

the beautiful sparkling Avis Dam

It was a lovely hike, where we met all sorts of friendly folks walking their dogs, fishing with their families, diving off high points into the water with friends. We found ourselves a pretty spot by the water and treated ourselves to a giant picnic feast and wine. of which I only ate bread, bananas, and apple juice, because i was still on a BRAT diet. i played Sufjan Stevens on my iPod, and we lounged as the sun went down, watching the other kids chase their fishing poles into the water and pull out giant fish.

okay, now play this song by the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, and scroll down and pretend that these photos are a music video of all my friends having a lot of fun

kids diving into the water

the feast i could not eat

claudia and i

dean aspiring to be andrew

gloria trying to blend in with the boys

"all my friends shook it out..."

i love picnics. they are my favourite social activity, combining my love of the outdoors, food, company, and non-commercial establishments. my favourite dates with rob are when we pick up sandwiches at the Italian grocery store and then eat on the grassy hill at the Aboretum of the Experimental farm. If only I could bring all my friends back at home over to this new city I've found. There are so many beautiful places to watch the sun go down.

each shade of blue is kept in her eyes
keep blowing and lighting
because we own the sky



Great Bloomers, "Catching Up"

My Dad vs Yours, "Happy Wanderer/Carry the Weight" (the fun begins at 2:45)

No Joy, "Hawaii" (probably not safe for work)

Monday, November 21, 2011

recording at the studio

I went back to the recording studio on Saturday evening. Sula wanted me to lay down a few guitar tracks for the new Gal Level album that the Ogopa Butterfly label will be releasing soon. I was a little nervous about foraying into the world of R&B (do R&B songs even have guitars anymore? answer: apparently yes) but was up for spending a few hours playing the guitar and having someone actually listen.

I’ve been in plenty of North American recording studios before, but it was pretty interesting being in a Namibian studio. The record label’s impressively numerous industry awards are proudly displayed at the entrance. Sula's in-laws drifted in and out of the building, as did a number of other random folks. The building looks like any other house in Windhoek, with its yellow walls, red dirt lawn, and massive gate, but the interior has been transformed to suit the company’s needs. The dark recording booth looks somewhat has a homey DIY touch, with black cloths stapled over wall frames to absorb sound, little holes in the material letting in the daylight. Between the black cloth walls, though, are all sorts of recording equipment that I’d love to spend all day playing around with.

“Victor, will you close the gate before we get mugged?” Sula mutters. I want to ask him if this was a problem, given all the expensive sound equipment housed in the building.

I'm introduced to LG, an Angolan refugee, who will be working with me that day. I set up my guitar and LG plugs it in. He turns on the system and plays the song that I’m going to record on, a sweet slow ballad that kind of reminds me of Des’ree’s “Kissing You”. The computer is making a weird beeping sound but I try to ignore it. I pluck the strings, trying to come up with a decent guitar riff to suit the style, all while I’m chattering away to him, but LG seems like a quiet shy guy.

Victor drops by and hands me a bottle of water and a delicious carton of Oshikandela as hospitality.

“The computer keeps beeping,” I tell him.
“It’s got a virus,” Victor replies.
“Oh.” I turn to LG. “Did you know your computer has a virus?” I ask LG.
“He doesn’t speak English,” Victor tells me as he leaves. “He only speaks Portuguese.”

Oh. That would explain why he’s not replying to anything I say. He hasn’t understood a word I’ve been saying all this time.

The recording is therefore a pretty interesting experience, since I don’t speak Portuguese. We communicate mainly through music and sign language. When he wants me to play louder, he hits his fingers on the desk. When he wants me to try a particular melody, he sings it to me and I play it back to him. Once in a while, when the message is too complicated, he uses a program on his computer which works like Google Translate, typing in his messages and hitting the “traduzir” button. The messages always come out garbled (“You can finger pick know how”) but I get a basic idea of what he’s trying to say. Usually.

Meanwhile, the crazy computer continues to beep throughout the song. This is a little annoying, especially when you’re trying to follow the beat of the song and keep getting distracted by the beeps. Soon enough it becomes background noise and I’ve hammered out a few tracks. It takes a while. I have had thick guitar calluses on my fingertips since I was fourteen, but now I feel like my fingers just might start bleeding.

When I’ve finished recording the first song, LG plays around with a bunch of controls. I watch him transform my tracks, adding a touch of chorus, turning up the reverb, playing around with a bunch of effects, until we hear a rough idea of the final product. He’s managed to make my stuff sound awesome.

“That is so cool,” I tell him. I assume that he understands “cool.”

LG says something in Portuguese to me with the words “R&B” and “guitar” in it.

“I don’t usually play R&B,” I tell him. He wants me to try anyway. So I start playing a few bossa nova chords. He fiddles with some buttons and is soon writing a R&B beat on top of my riffs. It’s pretty neat. This is the first time I’ve jammed with someone on a computer. The beats are complicated, and it’s a challenge to keep up.

Afterwards LG pulls out his iPhone and plays a song. “Kizomba,” he tells me. I’ve heard of kizomba, a popular music genre from Angola, but have not had the chance to listen to it before. It sounds beautiful, a lovely blend of synths, synthetic beats, live instruments including guitar, and smooth crooning reverb-heavy R&B vocals. LG sings along

I realize that I understand the words. “This is in French,” I say in surprise.
“Yes,” he nodded.
“Do you speak French?”
“Francês? No. Português.”
Darn. That would have been a better way to communicate than sign language.

I reach for his keyboard and type into the program. Can I buy this CD in Namibia?

He looks at the screen. “Memory stick?” he says to me in English. In the old days, musicians would have swapped mix tapes, but today, you just fill up a USB key.

By this time, other people have come into the studio, including two girls I’ve never seen before. “LG, have you still not learned English yet?” one of the girls demands. LG slinks away before I have a chance to say good-bye and thanks for not making my guitar sound horrible. Not that he would have understood anyway.

By this time, I’ve received multiple texts from Andrew insisting that I must come out to a house party. After feeling puzzled at the change in his tone and vocabulary, I realize that it’s Leio and Pinehas both texting me from Andrew’s phone. Sula drops me off at the party, which is curiously the same place that we saw Rochon off at her good-bye party. There is an absurd amount of game meat to be cooked on the braai, and the largest bowl of pasta salad I have ever seen You could bathe a child in it. This makes me incredibly happy, and I stuff myself until my tummy hurts.

There’s a laptop at the party playing music, and somebody puts on the Facebook song, and everybody jumps up to dance. Man, I just love the way people dance in this country. We party until the neighbours close it down.

turning the dining room into a dancefloor

showing us how to do a dance that looks an awful lot like the macarena

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

performing at MoJoe's

every day on my way to work I pass by this giant red residence on Uhlandstrasse which looks like a magical place, with bright coloured kids' playgrounds, beautiful palm tree landscapes, and a curious sign that says: "NO GUN. NO FISH. NO RACISTS." which personally I think is a pretty good philosophy in life. every time I walk past, I wonder whose magical home this is.

I've finally figured out that it belongs to none other than Lize Ehlers, the equally magical girl who runs the Song Night that I performed at last month. She explained to me that her husband works in destroying land mines and weapons and is allergic to seafood (and hates racists), which would explain the sign at their house. I think I'm going to make this slogan my new toast.

Lize also has a regular gig performing at MoJoe's Lounge, and invited me to join her last night as a featured musical guest. the music of Scary Bear Soundtrack is finally getting African exposure!

It was a great show. Lize and I took turns going on stage and performing a mix of originals and covers. I'd recently bought a cheap used bright blue guitar with a pickup from a pawn shop that plays surprisingly beautifully, so it was my first chance to play it publicly.

Lize, singing a Nina Simone number

what made me particularly happy was all the people who came to the bar to see us perform. virtually all of the friends I invited came out, including the Americans, Leio, Saima, the other musicians I'd met at Song Night, Tshuka from French class...okay, let's be fair, I don't have a ton of friends in Namibia, but it was nice that the folks I did know did come out, and apparently that night there was twice the number of people that usually come out on Tuesday evenings. This is in stark contrast to life as an indie musician in Toronto, where there was always so many shows happening on any given night, I'd have to beg and bribe any of my friends to come out to my shows. Sula from the Ogopa record label and Red Carpet Magazine came to see me perform as well, and he invited along some legendary folks from the Namibian hip hop scene including The Dogg. Hanging out with some of the biggest Namibian rappers was all kinds of surreal and awesome. Hopefully they liked my sound.

We took a brief pause for a wine-tasting session, which is one of the reasons why I love MoJoe's.

I closed off my set with a classic Canadian cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I am pretty sure there is an unstated rule somewhere that all Canadian musicians must perform this song at some point. I invited fellow musician Michael to come up on stage and join me in a duet, and he sang beautifully. We're going to be performing this song again at another gig in a few weeks, and it's going to be awesome, for details I can't release just yet.

Sean finished off the night with a stirring rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" which made Georgia-born Julia a little misty-eyed. Crystal, the woman leading the wine-tasting who seemed to like my music, sent over a bottle of wine to my table with her compliments, so we lingered a little bit longer. Windhoek definitely knows how to treat you feel like a star.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

brunch at casa joe's in joburg...and a bit of history

the aftermath of a good Saturday night

"turn off the radios. they don't sing about us.
these saccharine dreams and vapid love songs
distract us while we're robbed..."

-Scary Bear Soundtrack

(listen while you read)

On Sunday, I woke up to the sounds of children screaming, which was an interesting change from the sounds of birds screaming. I had a sudden appreciation for the North American tradition of Sunday morning cartoons, which effectively sedates the children and therefore allows their neighbours to sleep in properly.

while the four of us girls lay sprawled out on Joseph's living room floor, trying to come to terms with our exhaustion from the previous day, Joseph was in the kitchen making us girls brunch, because he is just plain awesome like that.

i am a big fan of brunch and brunchmakers

getting ready to eat

Brunch at Casa Joe's: beans, caramelized fried banana on bacon with nutella (this tastes amazing), and a healthy salad with brie and chives.

hair of the dog: my mimosa, stirred with a knife. because I'm hardcore in Joburg.

Joseph blasted DJ Cleo's house music (aka South Africa's Facebook song) while we ate, which gave me the surreal feeling of eating brunch at an after hours dance club. Which, really, is what Casa Joe's is, all the time.

Then Joseph announced we were going to the apartheid museum. When he first mentioned this, I thought he was joking, because, you know, there's something odd about learning about apartheid on a Sunday morning hangover. but why not?

On the way, with absolutely no help from Sheila the Incompetent GPS Robot, we picked up Mathieu, still rocking the pink-red flipflops.

not photographed: general resentment toward Sheila.

The apartheid museum, which we found once again with no help from Sheila, is curiously located right next to a theme park.

"Are you going to the theme park?" asked the security guard as we pulled into the parking lot.

"No, we're going to the apartheid museum," we replied, as dozens of identically dressed kids hurried toward the roller coasters. It was so close that at first I thought the theme park was part of the apartheid museum.

the theme park.

the apartheid museum.

I was really impressed with the carefully designed layout of the apartheid museum. It was a beautiful building, with part of the exhibits outside under a brilliant blue sky, yet still simultaneously as bleak as its subject matter. The entrance, for example, was segregated between "Blankes" and "Nie Blankes". Our purchased museum entrance tickets randomly designated us as "white" and "non-whites" (interestingly, joseph, sabrina and I were designated as whites). Our designation then took us to a different entrance and different passageway into the exhibits. It was a curious experience, and we felt strange to be so arbitrarily separated from our friends - but then, that was the point of the exercise.

The rest of the exhibits were fantastic, artistic yet tastefully executed. It gave me a chance to learn about apartheid in depth; up till now, I only knew what I knew from books or in the specific context of Namibia under South African colonial rule. Now I had the chance to see the intricate details of the apartheid laws and its effects on people: the visions of those in powers of an Africa ruled by the whites tightly controlling the black population in virtual servitude, and implementing this vision with a series of laws that took away rights, one by one. segregated residences. segregated neighbourhoods. segregated entrances. schools. hospitals. drinking fountains. kitchen utensils. forcing non-whites to carry passes in public. providing only four years of formal education, so as to keep non-whites uneducated and only qualified for unskilled manual labour. making that education be in another language, the language of your oppressors. inhumane working conditions. constant poverty. criminalising interracial relationships. and of course, ruthlessly crushing any political voice questioning these policies.

I'll confess that I cry very rarely. My various jobs for the last ten years has led me to work with clients with all sorts of sad stories; Alzheimers patients, survivors of abuse, refugee claimants, homeless men, former drug dealers, schizophrenics, and so on. My heart breaks easily, but I almost never cry, for whatever reason. But I found my eyes to be filled with tears for the entire two hours I was at the apartheid museum. Why? What truly moved me, and inspired me, was not the suffering of people under apartheid, but the determined fight against it. it was the sheer overwhelming beauty of political resistance that was making me weep like a child.

There was something particularly moving for me about the exhibits of the Soweto uprising, which consisted of high school students holding a mass protest against what the regime was doing to their education. I tried to picture the high school students of my day, reading their trashy magazines and complaining about math homework while smoking in the parking lots to look cool, actually caring about their schooling and gathering together to fight for their right to a good education, and standing strong in their beliefs even in the face of police officers shooting into the crowd and killing their friends. It was an incredible thought. There was a list of political opponents that had died in police custody, and it was startling how many of them were sixteen or seventeen years old, mere children, really.

(Ali has a lot more to say about Johannesburg's apartheid history here)

Well, after you shed tears for two hours, you emerge feeling cathartic but tired. The museum anticipated this too, because at the end of the exhibits, you find yourself outside in a sunny garden, with this sign:

"Coming to terms with the harsh realities of apartheid and its lasting effects is a process of unburdening. It is painful to some and liberating to others. Take a moment to walk and contemplate the beauty of this, our country. Think of what has gone before and what is still to come.

And then walk away free."

it sounds strange for me to go on and on about how great this museum is, but I was really glad to have a chance to visit it during my short trip to Johannesburg. It made me feel grateful, about the things that I take for granted, like being able to get married to my wonderful white husband, being able to have dinner at a black friend's (or white friend's) home without being arrested, and being able to go to rallies like Take Back the Night or Save the South March Highlands without worrying about being shot or having the state brand me as a terrorist.

it made me feel proud, about the brave people that did take a stand. especially the young people full of so much wisdom, and the white people who fought against apartheid, even though it would have been so much easy to go with the flow and stay out of it. I felt proud of political opponents everywhere, fighting for human rights, including my own great-grandfather who was killed by the Japanese colonialists while he fought with the underground resistance in Korea.

finally it made me feel inspired once again to do something worthwhile with my life. Who knows what it will be; certainly this weekend showed me that I probably will not be making any significant contributions to the field of mathematics. But whatever I do (if you'll excuse a momentary lapse into cheesyness) I want to make sure that it was worth having all these people fight for my rights.

"it's time to riot
take to the streets
make known our cause as leaders meet
they send their cops
they build a wall
but they cannot possibly arrest us all..."

-Scary Bear Soundtrack