Sunday, April 1, 2012

All's well that ends well!

Well my time here in Cape Town has come to an end. So much has happened, wisdom taught and lessons leant.  Each day I must say that I sit and breathe in and exhale whilst I take up the breathtaking view of the mountains that surround this beautiful city.

We were confronted with a bit of a business set back, but I look back on it now and think it was a blessing in disguise.  A whole document needed to be redone. Instead of whining about it, we got to work on it.  Now I look at it and think wow! This is a masterpiece, a true reflection of what it is I am envisaging to achieve and to leave behind my legacy. 

People over the years; have come into my life for various reasons, and I have come into theirs.  The ones here in the Cape Town have come into mine for significant reasons, all that I am truly grateful for and for all that my life’s journey which has been paved before me.

There is Tim and Ramon both Kiwis’.  Scott and I were sitting having lunch at a coffee shop and they both walked past and came back to say hi.  Neither knew I was back, I had met them both before whilst here, and if it weren’t for that moment in time I would not be leaving this magnificent country with a smile on my face.  Tim is an ex-minister of the New Zealand parliament and a genius in almost all areas of… well everything really.  His time, effort and contribution into helping me with my documents was priceless, and worth its weight in gold.  Then there’s Ramon, a very influential and connected Kiwi in South Africa. What a gem he is, his amazing hospitality and genuine friendship was the perfect balance that kept things on track and moving.

Both Tim and Ramon held a dinner party and introduced us to the very famous Father Michael Lapsley.  The Rev. Michael Lapsley was born in New Zealand and ordained in Australia. In 1973 he went to South Africa as a young Anglican priest where he became chaplain to both black and white students at the very height of apartheid oppression. He was elected National University Chaplain in Durban in 1976, the year of the Soweto uprising in which many black school children were shot and killed. 
Fr. Michael began using his public platform to speak out on behalf of students who had been shot, detained, and tortured, and was soon was expelled from South Africa. He spent the next 16 years in Zimbabwe as chaplain to the liberation movement in exile and in April 1990, three months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he was sent a letter bomb from agents of the South African apartheid regime, disguised as religious literature. In the blast, he lost both hands, the sight of one eye, and was severely burned.

In 1993, after returning to South Africa, Fr. Michael became chaplain of the Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture in Cape Town and in 1998 he formed the Institute for Healing of Memories. The Institute offered crucial support to address the emotional and spiritual needs of survivors of apartheid and has since worked with victims of war, violence, and genocide in places like Rwanda, Burundi, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, and East Timor. In South Africa, the Institute now works with people with HIV/AIDS, prisoners, victims of gender-based violence, and refugees. Recently, it has begun training the staff of an agency in East Harlem, New York City, which operates a shelter for abused, disabled women.
Fr. Michael’s own experience of inner healing has helped him connect with people in countless cultures who experience systemic violence and personal pain. He challenges individuals and communities to move through a journey of healing towards forgiveness and reconciliation. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of KwaZulu Natal in recognition of his work in South Africa and around the world.
Father Michael says of his own experiences, "I have travelled the journey from being a freedom fighter, to being a healer. And in some small measure, my journey reflects the journey of South Africa. There was a time to slay the monster of apartheid. But now that we have democracy, it is time to heal, to reconcile, to rebuild.”

Through his own experience of living in exile, losing both hands and an eye in a letter bomb attack in 1990, and after listening to the stories of the survivors whom he counselled at the Trauma Centre, Fr Michael realised the importance of giving people a space in which their experiences could be shared and acknowledged.

Father Michael has conducted many workshops. The purpose of the workshops was to facilitate reconciliation between different racial groups and to heal emotional wounds, in order so that individuals might contribute positively towards the reconstruction of South Africa.  
Requests for healing of memories workshops are continually received from a range of groups who highlighted the fact that the workshops had the potential for much wider application than the initial focus on healing apartheid wounds.  
Father Michael also developed a Youth Development Program, dedicated to enabling young people to learn about and from South Africa’s history.  The special ‘Facing the Past, Facing Ourselves’ workshops seek to motivate young people to actively participate in shaping a society where the rights and freedoms of each individual are respected and upheld.
Fr Michael has become a much loved and respected international advocate for reconciliation, forgiveness and restorative justice, and is frequently in demand overseas to run workshops and deliver talks and sermons.
The workshop has grown out of South Africa’s unique history and the need remains attentive to how the divided past can impact on us both individually and as communities and a nation.
I personally believe that when personal stories are heard and acknowledged, individuals feel healed and empowered. Through deep listening and meaningful sharing, human relationships can be transformed and restored.  This is one thing I have always believed and having met Father Michael and hearing his stories and where he is now and what he is doing is absolutely amazing, and I am ever so grateful to have met him and he come into my life.  The methodology in which he delivers his workshops is something I wish to learn and to implement back home as well.

18th March 2012.  This was to be a very special day, the most romantic for me to say the least….ever!  My partner Scott had woken up literally bouncing off the walls and excited about the trip to the very famous Robben Island.  The once home to Nelson Mandela for many of his 27 years of imprisonment.  Scott had packed a picnic lunch and we headed off to the waterfront for breakie and then boarded the ferry over to the island.  
Once we arrived there I thought I would have had the same feelings when I entered the slave museum, that ghastly sickly feeling.  But no, it was far from that, the island to me had a nice feeling, one that could be defined as a sense of hope and victory, and it had awe about it.  We boarded the bus that took us around the island, our tour guide was quite a character, the immediate feeling I had from all the locals we met on the island was that Robben Island represented and signified “Victory”, the victory of human spirit and triumph over the struggle.

The history of the Island is just amazing; we stopped at this one place called the ‘Limestone Quarry’ where prisoners of the Island, including Mandela came every day from sunrise to sunset.  Although they were told that they were digging the quarry for limestone for the roads, this was not true.  There was no purpose to anything, but was simply meaningless digging! And so they did this for many, many years to try and break a man’s spirit.  This it did not do to some!

The limestone quarry was also where Mandela and so many prisoners exchanged a lot of ideas, and they continued to educate each other. There was a cave in the wall of the quarry, which they affectionately called "The University." It is where newly arrived political prisoners worked side-by-side with the "old-timers" to mine stone, but at the same time, they were schooled in ANC and South Africa history, political ideologies and tactics, and it is where they planned for the future, for a free South Africa.

We stopped for a while at a place directly overlooking Cape Town, a magnificent view of the city with Table Mountain and Lion’s Head Mountain forming the backdrop, while the sky took on a nice hue as the day came closer to evening. What a torment for the prisoners on this little piece of rock, to be able to gaze at such a fine scene every day and be so close. Some daring, or rather desperate, souls tried to swim and escape, but only a handful ever made it across to land; the rest having fallen victim to sharks or the cold waters.

During the whole tour, our guide gave us a superb, running commentary on all the sights. At the end, we were treated to a speech about the island, and “Mr Mandela” and the hopes for his country, which still faces numerous problems in this day, including the effects of apartheid. 
The last part of the tour was the maximum security prison, where we got off the bus, said our goodbyes to our guide, and walked inside, passing the empty guard towers and signs showing happy pictures of joyful ex-prisoners, leaving the prison for good, and then coming back to the jail for a reunion. Inside, our new guide was there and ushered us into a long cell room, which was quite roomy. Of course it had to be because it held 60 prisoners. 

Our guide was an ex-prisoner, having served 14 years in Robben for sabotage and being involved in the ANC militant wing. Ex-inmates always lead this part of the tour. It seems weird that they’d want to work in the very place they were locked up. It appeared though that those leading these tours serves as a form of pride or solace, to help turn their former prison into a place to educate tourists and visitors.  
One thing that stayed with me that day were the words from our ex-prisoner guide, “Thank you for coming to acknowledge and respect our past.  Please diagnose the history and take it with you.  We have had to build new bridges to reflect on the past and do this so our children can walk over for a better future. Please pay your respect to the survivors, and please spread the message of Good Will”.

I can’t deny that the touristy aspect of the tour didn’t take away from fully appreciating the historical significance of the prison.  We finally saw the cell Mandela was kept, which was nondescript, small (about 2.5 metres wide), and had no toilet. It was so cold, but it was amazing to think an amazing man, resided here and to only enter into freedom with no feeling of hatred.

So now as we were exiting the island and walking towards the boat for our departure, Scott whisked me away to a near by table located under a beautiful big tree.  He knelt down on one knee.  Looked me in my eyes and said “It’s been one year to the day since I laid eyes on you, you have made me very happy and I love you.  Will you marry me”?  My eyes welled up with tears; it was one of the happiest days of my life.  It was perfect. He then took a ring box out of his pocket and opened the box.  There before my eyes one whole carrot diamond.  The ring has 13 diamonds.  13 being the number that comes so often that brings me luck.  Olympic gold, day 13 of the Olympics. I wore number 13, Commonwealth gold September 13th; my number was 1075, which adds up to 13.

A couple walked past and yelled out ‘congratulations’.  People might think it’s a little odd to have been proposed to on a prisoner’s island.  But to the people of South Africa the signifance of Robben Island was this; “While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid we would not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil. A triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness. A triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness”. -  Ahmed Kathrada 1993
For me to have been proposed to was just amazing.  There was an island that people were sent to because of the supremacy of white South Africa, and here was a white man, getting down on one knee to propose his love and devote his life to a black woman. There are so many synergies that I became the happiest person I believe that day.

On our return back to Cape Town we both had a chuckle as we reflected upon the day and recalled what our tour guide said as we passed the Anglican Church on the Island to which he said “Many people come to the Island and get married or redo their vows, as Robben Island is acknowledged as a place where you are committing to a LIFE sentence! So men, is this truly what you want? You should think about it!” a wise crack I think, I guess that was what Scott was getting himself into!  A place of true significance.

What a trip it has been. I walk away now with knowledge and friendships as well as 5 programs to             implement back into my girls academies. 

               All these programs have been designed exclusively for my academy.  I have come across and met so    a           many people that have influenced me in such a way that I have now a completely different perspective  a            and appreciation of life, with reconciliation and forgiveness, I have been shown ways to move forward            d       and to bring others along at the same time.
I wish to thank all my South African sisters and brothers that have had a major influence in my life thus far and have helped me become a better person, and given me a greater outlook in life.  My journey would not have been a success without my fiancé Scott who has been the rock here for me. There have been countless times I have cried and missed my children, but it has been fantastic that they have all been kept well and I know one thing I am looking forward to seeing the ‘big red kangaroo’.  Take me home! 

Not only have I come to this magnificent country to have my programs developed for the girls academy, this has been a journey that has enlightened me in so many ways. It is a part of my life that is so significant and one that I am very grateful for.

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