Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tears in My I's

By: David Michael

My internship at Cape Chameleon in Cape Town, South Africa has come to an end. I am already preparing myself for the inevitable reverse culture shock, as well as the heartbreak of leaving this incredible country.

I will have to remember to get in on the right side of the car when I am picked up at the airport. I also have to make sure I drive on the right side of the road.

Ostrich, warthog, kudu, and zebra meats
I will no longer be able to say baie dankie, which is: “thank you very much in Afrikaans.” It sounds just like if one were to say: “buy a donkey” in English. Americans may not take it the same way.

I will have to readjust to American time, where everything is very fast paced and quick in response. Admittedly I became complacent with “South Africa Time.”

I’ll be craving the variety in cuisine once I’m back in the states. I tried many different foods from all over the world here, and enjoyed every single one. My favorite was the ox tongue.

I will take the history I learned about with me. I walked the path Nelson Mandela took, and explored the continued affects of apartheid. These are important lessons any nation can benefit from.

Pictured above from left to right: Where Nelson Mandela gave his speech upon his release, Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island, and a bench that still remains after apartheid (look familiar?)

I will also be taking with me the fact that I’m published, in another country! I really enjoyed serving as an editor, videographer, and writer the Cape Chameleon. I will definitely be adding my works to my resume.

I am disheartened I will no longer be able to attend rugby matches. I had just begun to truly understand the sport. My local friends no longer felt the need to throw their hands in the air in frustration whilst explaining it to me. Also, instead of peanuts or hot dogs the vendors passed around biltong (beef jerky) and doughnuts.
Go DHL Stormers!
I contemplated catching some of the wildlife, but realized none of them would fit in my suitcase. I also would hate to take them away from their natural habitat here, where you can see them from a couple meters away (but definitely do not touch).

Lions, and baboons, and penguins. O my!

I’ll miss seeing the mountains every morning during my mini-bus ride to work. Even more so, I’ll miss the incredible views offered at their summits. I’ll even miss the mini-bus rides themselves: being cramped into a small van full of 15 people, but able to make pleasant conversation during the journey with anyone every day.

The view from the top of Table Mountain
My view from the mini-bus

Most of all I’ll miss the friends I’ve made here. Not only Capetonians, but also people from all over the world. I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime, and will be really handy when I need to crash on someone’s couch when visiting another country.

I’d like to thank Professor Yusuf Kalyango, the family of the late Professor Mark Leff, Ohio University, the Institute for International Journalism, and the John R. Wilhelm Foreign Correspondence internship program for this incredible, and life-changing opportunity. 
Baie dankie!

Friday, August 11, 2017

José Ferrão
2017 SUSI Scholar on Journalism and Media
Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The journey to what one Athenian referred to as the “black people’s Mecca in the U.S.” started at Rio International Airport when I took a Delta flight. To my amazement, almost all of the flight attendants with two or three exceptions were African Americans, a kind of human landscape you never see on a Brazilian aircraft. In my country, black people are commonly assigned with cleaning jobs and entertainment. You often see them holding floor cloths and brooms, but very rarely leading a flight crew. You see them holding a microphone and playing the drums, but when most Brazilians check a prosperous entrepreneur out who happens to be black, they think there must be something wrong. An outrageous, sad and shameful reality.

I was loaded with stereotypes - and probably still am - when I boarded that plane. One can never be fully aware of the cultural jolt awaiting them, but I did have some background conception of Atlanta, as I had changed planes there some years ago. This time it was different, though. My African Brazilian friends from Salvador of Bahia and the years I spent teaching at one of our leading universities that adopted affirmative action have both helped me become at least more, I can say, insightful about these issues. For it is mine as well. After all, a country's heritage is something everyone takes part in, be it samba, soccer or ... slavery.

The landing in Hartsfield Jackson was pretty easy and I could see from the plane window how busy the airport was. Small carts running to and fro, luggage being taken from the parked aircrafts, men with green fluorescent vests signing the way to pilots and everywhere Delta’s propaganda: Proud to call Atlanta home and We have the best employees in the world. Sure you do, Delta. And the most colorful ones.

If you just go through the huge hallways of Hartsfield Jackson, you can see that the overwhelming majority of the airport people are African Americans. The singing Southern black accent is heard from the huge immigration hall to the eating facilities and throughout the big aisles of the terminals. Together with this beautiful song-speak, another feature of the black people in the United States is responsible for making them so powerful: their hairstyles.

I had been kind of gradually prepared for that nice surprise. One of the attendants in my flight from Rio had a sort of curly high hydrated hair cascade falling off her head down to her chest. Her being a tall woman contributed to an even more astounding outlook. A colleague of hers, on the other hand, preferred a light brown three-deck-wedding-cake-like bun reaching out to the sky. Every now and then you could hear I love your haaaaair!!!! coming out of a passenger’s mouth, which of course made them smile.

At Hartsfield Jackson, I just had to sit at one of those boarding gates and pretend the huge corridors were not airport but fashion runways, where the most amazing hairstyles passed by. Old women in her Sunday morning hats like just getting out of a Southern Baptist church service, young men with Mohican haircuts and bad boys’ sunglasses and middle-aged desk assistants with a whole variety of hairdos, ranging from straightening to highlights, from colorful extensions to progressive brushes. A woman driving a cart full of oldies with a big Rastafari braid passed by us and shouted a Beep Beep to the inattentive passengers on her way, while the lady at the boarding desk with half of her head shaved and the other half with blond hydrated curls hanging and swinging like Christmas tree ornaments continued her work…

And me sitting there, thinking of my dear fellow African Brazilians back home and the long way they still have to go to get as much empowerment as their North American counterparts after a lot of struggle and passive resistance…

And I remained in wonder.

José Ferrão
2017 SUSI Scholar on Journalism and Media
Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Not far from Martin Luther King’s Memorial, in the middle of a beautiful and well-tended garden, American president Jimmy Carter has his Center and Library. In one of the buildings that comprise the set of modern concrete-and-glass facilities, a museum hosts a collection of papers, outfits, and personal items belonging to the best ex-president the United States ever had, according to many, and his beloved First Lady Rosalynn. A visit is worth taking, especially if you are interested in knowing what makes an American.

The ingredients you find as you go through a set of walled photograph panels with inscriptions that account for the various stages on the pilgrim president’s progress to social activism and, of course, power. From his childhood in Plains, Georgia, to world leaders’ palaces, Jimmy is the good guy who made it. What he simply did was to accomplish someone’s prophecy that once proclaimed: “Any schoolboy, even one of ours, might grow up to be president of the United States”. The wise words are those of a Woman of Achievement, as Miss Julia Coleman, Jimmy and Rosalynn’s teacher and school director, was entitled back in the 1930s. About four decades later, her pupil would take the oath of office.

But not without challenges and perils, for those make the spirit tougher and more prepared to go and get there. Carter’s odyssey started in the Navy, when he had to face one of the fiercest storms of Pacific Ocean history. No big deal for the Sunday school teacher of the officers’ children though. Back to Plains, with little money, Jimmy and Rosalynn overcame the hardships and “together they steadily expanded their [peanut farm] business and began to play a larger role in the community”, says the script on the wall. Then it was time for politics and with it came the “painful loss in his first race for governor”. No big deal again, for a bigger campaign would pay off later on: from being an almost unknown politician, Carter became the Democrats’ candidate who in the end made it to the White House, supported by the restless family and friends who took the race in their hands. A story that goes on to a mandate that inherited the wearing out of the Vietnam War, the discouragement brought to the nation by Watergate, the tension of the American hostage crisis in Iran and the difficult peace talks between Israel and Egypt at Camp David.

A path not strange to the faithful Rosalynn either, the First Lady with an agenda of her own. The “Independent Partner” soon got used to “attending [her husband’s] cabinet meetings to stay current on the nation’s business”. The photos on the panel dedicated to Rosalynn show Carter’s wife holding the hand of a small child being assisted by a doctor in what looks like a humanitarian campaign, and also a meeting in the Oval Office with the First Lady on par with the president’s political staff. Her dresses and jewelry displayed on a glass window testify of the simplicity and grace of a well-bred country young girl, which also accounts for the Carters’ protestant ascetic values.

A couple that also helped “made America great again”, although in a single one-term mandate. No big deal again. Their long-lasting work had barely started. Still to come was the fight against Guinea worm, river blindness and malaria, three of the poor world’s horrible diseases that would receive The Carter Center’s assistance. The saints have been marching in, now at a slower place though, as the old couple retired to their home in Plains. In Atlanta, their story continues to be told, a revealing narrative that outlines the hallmark of the American people: a folk commissioned by God to fight, overcome and achieve. This has always been so in the United States. The Carters are good metonymy of it all.