The following is an attempt to make sense of the world we woke up to on November 9, 2016, and then again on January 20, 2017. It is about the United States of America, but in a way it is also about South Africa. The right of free speech, as exercised by a country's free press, has been under attack in South Africa just as much, if not more, as it is now in the U.S.
One thing South Africa doesn't do particularly well is public transport. Without a car, you're pretty much lost in Johannesburg, otherwise a world class city in many ways. That is not so different from many American cities, where public transport is often scarce or missing altogether. Here is a story of having to ride the bus to get from one city to the next in America.
You know the saying Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all? Well, I think it might be the opposite in the case of domestic help. Losing your maid after returning to a land where live-in domestic help was last affordable in the 1950s is so painful, so utterly despair-inducing, that you might be better off never having enjoyed a helper in your home in the first place.
What sets African safaris apart is a combination of two things: breathtaking scenery and that jolt of adrenaline you experience when coming face to face with pointy teeth. And this is precisely what I got treated to on a recent visit of Everglades National Park, about as far from Africa as you can be. See the stunning parallels on two completely different continents.
The scene: A beautiful Sunday morning in September, a serenely calm house, a just-poured mug of coffee, the New York Times still pristine in neat folds ready to be plucked apart and spread out. Daughter, plodding down the stairs: "Mom, I have to build a cell replica for science class on Tuesday." And then it goes downhill from there...
What screams privilege louder than indulging your three teenagers with not one but TWO entire cars at their disposal? If you live in America, that is exactly the kind of situation your typical suburban mother will wring her hands over. In her defense, she's kicked those three teenagers in their collective butt to go and be responsible and find jobs, and now they need to have transport to and fro.
I have made a sad progression. I went from being an employer of paid (and therefore professional) domestic help to hiring the new free (and slightly less professional as well as reluctant) domestic help. And now, the final stage: I AM the domestic help. Remember the Zits cartoons? I feel an affinity to Jeremy's dad. He, too, is the domestic help.
When I started writing this blog post a few months ago, I had no idea that this topic would once again be at the forefront of our nation's conscience. That once again unspeakable evil would occur in the basement of a church. That this post would not merely be an anecdote comparing the histories of two countries I had the privilege to live in, but that it would have to shine a light on all the work still ahead of us in these countries today.
Just a few weeks ago, it was still bleakest winter here in the American South, where it's supposed to be mild and perpetually hot and steamy. It was a harsh winter, my South African friends. In fact, you think you got yourself some hardship with all that load-shedding? Well, you haven't experienced real hardship. You haven't experienced Snow Days!
You know how when you're behind on things, you get that terrible pit in your stomach when you're running late or an impossible deadline is looming, and ou curse yourself for waiting so long? You vow, by all that you hold dear, to never ever do it again to yourself. Yet the next deadline approaches, and you find yourself on the same exact track once again. Why do we do it?