‘If you wait till you can do everything for everybody instead of something for somebody you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody.’

Dear All

No better recipe to turn a day into a difficult one than, already in a fragile mood, to read some stories about Africa. Stories that touch the heart I mean. The writer doesn’t know this but the boy that whispers in his ear; I know that boy. The book he mentions, ‘Country of my scull’ by Antjie Krog, I’ve read it and it left traces of sadness and recognition that won’t go away. ‘This encounter makes us both whole again’ turned out to come from a deep felt truth, embedded in the hearts of people in Africa. That alcoholic asked me for new shoes as well.

This week it was eleven years ago that I married and, for the first time, I didn’t only wonder how it would have been but also if it (still) would’ve been. Asking a question that can’t be answered is useless, to realize that everything, always, flows can be disconcerting or an encouragement. I try the latter, sweet memories are no useful mould for the future.

And still, some stories open chests full of the past, chests that were not that well locked in the first place. And if there are no stories there are the dreams that, uncontrolled, bring up memory, knowledge and wishes – wishes the most. Paton wrote ‘Cry the beloved country’ when I was still in elementary school but that Msimangu (not related) would’ve been in my heart without that book as well. Writers that cleverly sketch a world that is the same as the world I know make once more the realization of brotherhood inescapable. I still love to sit on that hillside in Nkonjeni with the crooked house in the back from where you can see so far. Far, far, far.     ‘You can leave Africa, Africa won’t leave you my friend.’

That boy that whispered in the ear of the writer, that boy, I know him. His whisper sometimes becomes a shout: ‘come back!’ From here I can see all the work that has to be done there and I’d love to. Work with results, unlike in my own surroundings not disturbed by reality. Tempting dreams that censor the unwanted and deny the relentlessness of the real world.

‘East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet’ Kipling wrote. North south is what we say these days, politically more correct I hear. If Kipling meant the enormous differences that are often incompatible, if in his definition of meeting beliefs and backgrounds have to be the same, he has a point. But as long as people have been travelling, they meet; ever more often, ever more intense. That goes at least for everyone that is willing to look further than his or her own circle. And here as well as in Africa it’s simply a consequence of being there.

Yes, I do see the differences, but not I only. For them also, for the other, the world is getting smaller and smaller and – it sounds like a contradiction – ever more puzzling. East west, north south, rich poor is what it’s really all about but that sounds so harsh; we see more and more of each other and too often we from the west consider our own ideals superior; a qualification that, maybe, sometimes is correct but looses every trace of legitimacy where word and deed are not one. Freedom, equality and brotherhood are difficult to sell in a world where (economical) exploitation is the order of the day. The anger and disgust, the escape in own/old culture, the ever bigger stream of refugees; the gap, even in our own society, becomes bigger and bigger. As long as we don’t take are own ideals seriously, surprise is either hypocrisy or stupidity.

The cleaning lady and her husband who makes a new gate were both in a terrible mood. At one point I’d had it and asked what was wrong. Bingung – confused. With a mass cremation coming soon they are supposed to volunteer in the banjar (local community) every day; women the whole day, men half the day. That volunteering is a joke, it’s not paid indeed but the one that doesn’t join puts himself outside of the community and, maybe even worse, will be so ashamed. Disastrous in a society where people are paid per day and no work means no income. People with a low income will have nothing left; only the rich are not bothered. And for the priests, of whom the children remarkably often study in Singapore or Australia, these are the good months.

It’s made them easy. The wish for escape into ones own culture is not unique for parts of the Islamic society, it creeps over the world. (Hello Black Peter) Here, not only here, it often results in a balancing act; on one side the traditional way of living and on the other the ‘good stuff’ modern society offers – at a price of course. The hero that will stand up and say it can’t go on like this and finds a third way is not born yet I think. Revolution is far, far away.

P’s son is getting married, right after the month of no work and no income. It can’t wait much longer. You understand I’m sure. And P has to pay for it, that’s the rule for a son. The financial situation of the family is such that a comparison with Greece comes to mind, so they go for the absolute minimum. 35 million rupiah (a good years salary) and no more than 150 guests. Just enough to not feel shame towards the neighbours. Last night the introductory stories to work towards a loan already came.

A culture of shame, priests that care about tradition and not about people, poor education and corruption all over the place; how to escape?

Love, Frank