I return with memories of my 16 month tour of duty in Pretoria, South Africa and, coincidentally, one evening while watching TV between 9:30 and 11 p.m., I felt like I crossed the bridge of time and this tour of duty came to the forefront of my thoughts (which are enumerated in the following paragraphs). South Africa is a beautiful country and I was posted in Pretoria but traveled to Cape Town, Durban, and Kruger Game Park, and to Kwanke Game Park and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, which, with my love of animals, domestic and wild, were surely highlights of my experience. A co-worker and I also took a weekend drive to Swaziland and the beauty of the multicolored bougainvillea trees were stunning but the blue jacarandas lining the streets of Pretoria will forever remain my most vivid memory of floral spectacular and a found Pretoria, with its quiet beauty, to be a most suitable place to live. I enjoyed the arts, symphony, musical comedy theater, in which I saw Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Machine” and of course, the varied native dance and singing of this fascinating country. I could elaborate in greater detail but the following memories are the ones that touched my heart and stand out in my memory at this time, so I will move on to that recent evening when I was viewing television.
First, Murphy Brown, and her showing up at a press conference conducted by our President’s press secretary, and various other references to the things that are happening in our country presently, which included references to separating immigrant mothers from their children.
Then Law and Order, and I felt like I was back in South Africa again, during which 16 months Nelson Mandela was released from his years of imprisonment, and I had felt proud to be working in the political section of the Embassy (this was in 1990). As I watched the show portraying the heart breaking separation of a Hispanic child from her mother and the law and order officials trying to house her and not have her taken by an official working for the government who was initially jailed for kidnapping (for his prior move of this child to New York City and a foster home), but released from custody as the judge had no option but to rule that the new immigration laws superseded “justice,” who now, once again, had returned to take the child to a dormitory holding “cell” for these children, I was taken back in time to my tour in 1989/1990 and the fact that the ONLY way the suffering people could protest apartheid without landing in jail/prison was through, yes, the “arts,” on stage, in paintings, whatever means could legally express their feelings.
I was also privileged through a friend’s invitation to go with her to a black township on a Sunday where a family with hardly enough to eat themselves offered us their one chicken (we refused of course) and provided coca colas for refreshment, and warm hospitality in their little hut, while this young black man of 19 or 20 years of age stood at his mother’s dining table reciting lines of a play he had written in which he felt free to express his true feelings about his, and all his people’s, distress to live in such an unfairly prejudiced environment for so many years.
And further, because I, myself, was and am, a recovering alcoholic (41 years of sobriety in this year of 2018) this same friend who took me to the black township took me to various AA meetings in Pretoria and on Sundays I, along with South Africans, almost entirely Caucasian, in the Program went to an SOS Orphanage to a room where a meeting was held which was attended by black men and women who were attempting to get sober, and I marveled at the strength of these individuals, although totally suppressed in every which way in their lives, could still want to “get sober,” and I felt a sense of privilege and pride that I was given the opportunity to partake in such good work.
It is strange what one remembers about tours of duty/life in a profession which I sought and proudly worked in for 16 years overseas to earn a living; it is not the experiences one normally would tell friends about, like wonderful theater, scenery, game parks and the like (although I certainly also enjoyed these when in country) but these special memories which I have described in the above paragraphs which are heartfelt, and involve all human beings in our world. This was truly an evening of reflection! And I feel grateful, during this season of Thanksgiving to have enjoyed the experiences. Until next month and Taiwan.