Saturday, September 25, 2010

Africa Part 5

We went to Kruger National Park over last weekend, and I must say, the experience was like none other. In many ways, witnessing nature so majestic and wordless but full of communication and connection was extremely close to prayer for me. Going into the park, I felt compelled to be silent, as if I were entering a church, or some beautifully sacred place. And holy was watching giraffes eat, graceful and charming, seeing zebras and kudu springing across the plain, and baby elephants drinking at the watering hole. I was stunned by how miraculous this earth is. At our campsite the first night, about 10-20 meters away, we first heard an awful horrendous sound. After getting closer, we realized that it was two hyena fighting over an impala. Saw the blood and sinews, heard the ripping of flesh, grinding and cracking of bone between jaws: I was absolutely amazed by it, and endlessly grateful for the fence.

At the farm, a school tour came through while I was helping out. Instead of paying too much attention to the cheese making process and cow lessons, I became an attraction to the 7-9 year olds. After the kids touched my skin and touched my hair, a little girl shyly told me it was “very nice”. And I bet I was the first Asian person some of them had ever seen.

It always upsets me how slow I am to offer rejoinders. And by “offer”, I mean “throw into one’s face”. I feel like my mind is fast, but my tongue isn’t as cutting sometimes as I’d like it to be. I think too much, perhaps, and don’t act enough.On Sunday at the campsite, as we were about to leave, a man asked me, “You’re from China yes?” I told him my family is, and I couldn’t quite decipher his tone when he told me that “You speak pretty good English, for a Chinaman”. I didn’t want to assume he was a racist, and instead, just gathered that he was an ignorant fool. Had I been in a sharper place, I would have told him many other things. But all I mustered was that I grew up in the states. To which he said, “I was in China once and they can’t speak English at all”.The comment was utterly absurd, unless his blinding sense of entitlement marred his common sense and tact. And what kills me is that there are so many retorts that I wanted to utter, but didn’t because he was in front of his children and mother. I regret not explaining carefully to him in private how inappropriate he was.

Yes, I might have not mentioned this before, but in the mornings before we head out to the schools, I have been working on an organic dairy farm. We start at 7 AM and go for four hours, have lunch and then go do our work at the primary and secondary after school initiatives that the Bjatladi Youth Center has done up. One of my favorite jobs was peeling horseradish, for to pickle and jar up. (This coming week is the Spring Festival in Haenertsburg, and there’s a lot to be done). There was something really quite meditative about it, and satisfying. Much like splitting wood, and taking inventory of homemade jams. Farm work is very self directed, and has a certain rhythm to it that pleases me. When one job is done, there’s another, and there’s quite a lot to show for it. Although one of my favorite jobs was peeling the horseradish, mincing the stuff was another matter. Tearful. Lachrymose. Fumes in my eyes and nose builds character, to be sure.


  1. Incredible. Sounds like you are experiencing the simultaneous beauty and power of nature. Did you see any lions??

    It's amazing and shocking what kind of assumptions people can make when their exposure to others are limited. I'm glad you recognize the man's ignorance and don't think that he is necessarily evil. I'm sure your presence is powerful enough that it's unnecessary to make any retorts!

  2. yikes, grammar fail ... their exposure to others IS limited ... i know you're probably cringing!

  3. One lion. Shame. But lots of other am-inals!

  4. Random question: but how are the people like in your program (or who you work with, if they're not part of the program)? Like, what's the age span, and where are they all from? Are they people you think you'll stay in contact with forever? This trip sounds amazing!

  5. Bonjour! There are four of us. Oldest 25, youngest 21. From parts of USA:Kansas, Atlanta, and France! The tertiary is teaching me the language painstakingly and patiently: j'ais envie de parler! (I think that's right). We're reading through "La livre de ma mere" right now. At a devastating pace.

  6. Hey, randomly checked your fb - what on earth are you doing in South Africa? Anyway, from my time in Argentina and my travels through Central America, the concept of Asian-American is non existent. My sister in Australia also has the same problem. It's ignorance. You're outwardly Chinese and if you speak English then you're cool, but if you claim to be American then you're just downright crazy. And isn't it an insanee experience to be the first Asian person someone meets? We're spoiled in the States.