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