Sunday, April 13, 2008
Memeza Africa is visiting our small northern alberta town. they are a singing group made up of young men and women from Soweto, South Africa. they are living a dream, to travel the world, and make their living with their music. we had a chili supper for them last night, when they arrived in town. before dinner, they sang for us. the music was so beautiful it made me cry. one of my violin students is in the high school group who brought them to town, so he asked me to join him in playing some fiddle tunes for them after dinner. they're one of the best audiences i've ever played for. not only are they enthusiastic and generous with their applause, but by the end of the last tune, some of the fellows were singing rhythmic bass part along with our duet of 'Boil em Cabbage'... a sort of deep, smooth round sound, like striking immense, weathered hollow logs in an ancient forest. gave me goose bumps.
two young men, Thabo, and Mnenawa are staying for 2 days in my guest room. i hadn't planned to accept billets, as my kitchen is less than a week from receiving its visit from the cabinetmaker (in a STATE), and my bathroom is in a similar, though lower case, state. functional, but a mess.... but, as i mentioned, one of my violin students is involved in bringing them here and they were badly in need of more billets. he's a very sweet boy, so i couldn't say no. and, after all, hospitality is about sharing what we have, not about showing off what we have.... so, i picked up my tools, swept sawdust and cleaned madly all day saturday, unfolded the murphy bed in my teaching studio, and such as it is, i'm sharing my humble abode with them.
i had only a vague remembrance of the name of Soweto... i was living in the bush in the Yukon, in the '70's, at the time it was in the news, and i was very isolated. i have since read Nelson Mandela's book, Long Walk to Freedom, so i'm not completely ignorant, just pretty ignorant..... but i have a questioning mind, so i've spent this morning with my morning coffee, in my comfortable armchair in my comfortable (even if it is a work in progress) home, with my laptop, as my young guests slept. And here's what i learned.
Soweto, believed to be an abbreviation of Southwestern Township, is a 'suburb' of Johannesburg. it was created several generations ago when there was an outbreak of disease in the city, and it was determined that the poor were, if not responsible for, at least very susceptible, so it was not desirable to have them around. they were told to go elsewhere. as they were employed by Johannesburg society, they couldn't go far, so Soweto was born. no thought was given by city planners to providing infrastructure at the time, and it's been an uphill battle providing simple needs like water and power ever since. Many of Soweto's schools, according to one source, have no running water. many homes have no running water or electricity. the hospital in Soweto delivers 1500 babies every day. it's a large city.
in 1976, there was a public protest made by students, against being educated in Afrikanns, which was the language of the Dutch descended ruling class. the protest was made up of children, mostly, but the military was called in, things got out of hand, and children were shot. the rest, as the cliche' goes, is history.
as we walked the 3 blocks from dinner to my home last night, Thabo said. "this is a very quiet place... very safe." i answered, "yes; i don't think we appreciate it as much as we should." our eyes met, and he nodded.