Letter #10

March 9, 2011 — Travelmeds, Touring

This was intended to be my last letter for this trip to Tanzania and Cape Town. However, I got carried away. To keep the letters decently short, I'm increasing their number from an even 10 to a baker's dozen. I'm home and safe, despite needing some recuperation time from my African megabug, which returned with some vengeance for a few weeks. (Thanks for asking.)

A note on travel remedies:
In case you're interested, I, who've taken antibiotics only twice in the last 20 years, have just made a note never to leave home for exotic destinations without the following array: (1) antibiotics, not just Cipro for intestinal disorders, but a couple for respiratory ones as well. Also, the following, which have kept me from needing antibiotics Stateside: (2) Vitamin D 50,000 i.u.; (3) oregamax (an amazing immune support formula); (4) baking soda (for alkalizing); (5) probiotics (for everything); (6) liquid chlorophyll and OSHA drops (to increase the blood's oxygen-carrying capability-also much better than prescriptions for high altitude problems); (7) natural vitamin & antioxidant formulas; (8) rehydration packets; If anyone has any must-have's to add, please let me know.

What possessed me to leave home without all those remedies, I'll never know. I guess I've gotten cocky after 3 years of never sick. There's also something that might have felt little-old-ladyish about setting off for Africa with a mountain of pills.

The Tourist's Cape Town
By the way, the abbreviation for South Africa isn't s.a., but z.a., which has kind of a racy wild tang to it that I fancy. (I'm sure it contributed to my editorial blind side regarding the pills.)

A wonderful city for straight-ahead tourism, Cape Town has great energy and beauty with architecture that in its variety, imagination, and vitality reminds me of Chicago. Imagine Chicago garlanded around the coast of the peninsula with the geological majesty of Table Mountain and Lion's Head forming a somewhat mystical backdrop. (-even in the dark! Table Mountain-which is illuminated at night-seems at first sighting to be a cross between the Northern Lights and deep space.)

Table Mountain.

My doctor friend Katy and I finally go up to Table Mountain Saturday morning, the first time for several days that high winds haven't grounded the cable cars.

Here's an excerpt of the description of life on top of Table Mountain: Table Mountain is home to a rich fauna and flora, many species of which are endemic and survive only in the unique ecosystem which is contained on the mountain. There are approximately 1470 species of plants, including over 250 different species of daisies! Examples of endemic plants are the rare Silver Tree and the wild orchid Disa Uniflora.

And the air is so fresh! On the very rare still days of February (our mid-winter, but their August), it is hot, hot (although not even close to Zanzibar!) But the great majority of the time, there's a breeze that keeps the city smog-free and the air crystalline and cool (enough to fool one into thinking the sun isn't that strong after all. Ah well, pink is beautiful.)



Animals such as baboons and porcupines live here freely, as well as furry rodents called Rock Dassies. These little creatures look like plump rabbits without ears - incredibly, their closest living relative is the elephant! The Table Mountain Ghost Frog is an example of an animal found in no other place on the world.

I see big posters advertising a campaign to name Table Mountain one of the seven wonders of the world. That's a bit much-it doesn't hold a candle to other mountains I can think of-but the combination of the city, the sea, the air, and the charm of the people is pretty awesome.

Against that smashing Cape Town backdrop, I'm thinking about memory a lot here. How do the sayings go? "Those who fail to study history are bound to repeat it."
And "History: Work it through or act it out."

In the States, we are blessed with so many museums, universities, books, and teachers. There's a department-or at least a website-to document and recall myriad traditions, and people with interest and the time and money to pursue virtually every one of them.

In stark contrast, a great void of memory opens up behind a civil war or a devastating social holocaust like apartheid. When the memory-keepers die prematurely, those who remain suffer for lack of the stories that carry tradition and wisdom. With my mother gone, I'll never know who her Irish grandmother and grandfather were. Extrapolate that to an entire population: It's hard for any of us to know who we are without the depth and teaching that memory imparts. And that lack tends to elicit dysfunctional attempts to establish identity some other way.

Under Mandela and Archbishop Tutu's leadership, there is a concerted effort to reconstruct and reclaim memory. Mandela, who is especially interested in children, has published a wonderful collection of traditional wisdom folk tales stories for teaching children. I've listened to some of them-and been instructed.

Forced Removals. After Table Mountain, we made our way to a memory-recovery project started by individuals who were subjected to forced removals from an area known as District 6.

The District Six Museum has a map on the floor in the main hall big enough to walk the streets.

To the side, there's a replica of a typical home kitchen/dining room that these folks were ripped away from. There are names, photos, and signatures of citizens who remember all this happening. Some of the stories are published in books on sale at the little store. All this is evidence, a visual history of this enormous social trauma, the richness and stability of the communities that were ripped apart, in many cases bull-dozed flat. As the museum continues to collect these stories over coffee in the museum café and through a dozen different programs, lively ongoing interactions develop that enable citizens to establish and strengthen their connections with the city and each other.

I was speaking of these South African forced removals to a friend who reminded me-"This doesn't only happen in South Africa. We in the U.S. have done the same thing repeatedly. Think about the internment camps of the Japanese-Americans during the 2nd World War. Many of those people never got compensated at all from that experience. Loyal Japanese-Americans, many born and brought up here, lost everything.

"And don't forget what we did to the Native Americans. Think of the Trail of Tears-the mass removals of the Cherokees, Seminoles, and other tribes from Georgia and Florida to Oklahoma-in the dead of winter. It was nothing less than a death march, an attempted genocide. And it wasn't just about getting rid of "undesirables." The people who were removed weren't criminals or deadbeats. There were lawyers and educators, successful farmers and others. They just happened to have property that others envied and coveted. They got caught in the march because they literally couldn't believe it would happen to them in the United States of America." (For some exquisite artistic renderings of the Trail of Tears, Google Jerome Tiger, artist, trail of tears.)
I am chastened by my own forgetting, and remembering that not once did my American History course mention any of this.

National Gallery.
The National Gallery is one of several museums near what's known as the Company Gardens, growing fields originally established to help supply food to the trading ships that used Cape Town as a provisioning stop. Now it's a park and botanical garden with two museums, a planetarium, and a frequently changing and lively interactive exhibit schedule. The latest one, which I was attending, includes African fashion, which turns out to be exotic and lovely. African bead traditions are particularly rich.

I hear a lecture by an Englishwoman who is a beader, and whose imagination constantly sets before her ways to express in beaded creations what she feels about what she sees. As a result, she has created incredible jewelry for celebrities in many walks of life. Beading now occupies a seat in the gallery of my awareness marked "language." Who knew?

The person who invited me to the lecture is SERVAS member Farzaneh (American and Iranian)





Farzaneh Her charming significant other is Wandile a South African of the Xhosa tribe (like Miriam Makeba). The X signifies one of four different kinds of clicks in their language, I discover. (My "clicking" has a clearly foreign accent). We connect and like one another well enough to agree to spend Sunday going to Archbishop Tutu's church (St. George Cathedral), from which he issued calls, Sunday after Sunday for years, for the release of Nelson Mandela.





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