We learned some Afrikaan today, ”buy a donkey” which means thank you very much. I’m sure I’m butchering the spelling but it is an easy and a comical way to communicate with the locals, as you tell them to buy a donkey after they provide a service. Last night we took the kids to a play, Solomon and Marion. A story about a white woman and young black man struggling to live in a post-apartheid world, the old lady wanting to end her life after losing her son when a gang of young black men shot him, the boy struggling with a secret that he had held for many years, he had a role and was present and when her son was shot, both looking for some sort of salvation. It was a unique and thought provoking cultural event for many of the Globetrotters, especially after seeing a rock concert the night before.
This morning we headed out to try what we had attempted on Friday, Table Mountain and Robben Island. This time we made it. As the gondola headed up the mountain it looked like we were entering heaven as a cloud surrounded the mountain and we headed into what looked like a giant cotton ball. For a few minutes I thought we were going to get to the top only to be surrounded by dense fog but within minutes we emerged from the cloud and the city stretched out 3000 ft below. There were places where it was an ethereal feeling and the clouds formed around the rocks and crevices. The kids loved the view and tried various camera shots jumping off rocks. It was surreal and beautiful.
Then we were off to Robben Island. Freebird told me he was shaking as we pulled into port and unloaded. The showed us around the island before we entered the prison. Starting with the dog kennels where they kept the guard dogs, the kennels were larger than the cells. We continued around the little village where the guards lived and the tour guide was telling us that there was quite a bit of wild life on the island, including deer and spring bok but we would not see them because the sound of the buses always scared them off. As we turned the corner there were two bucks fighting right in the middle of the road. They were so consumed with the dominance ritual it was like the bus was not even there.
We unloaded from the bus and we met our tour guide, an ex-prisoner, Ntando who spent seven years on Robben Island for political crimes. He started by taking us into the group cell that he shared with 40 other inmates. The climax of the tour of course was seeing where Madiba was held for 17 of his 27 years of imprisonment. A single cell where he was held, unable to communicate with his fellow prisoners or the outside world, it is a sight that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
Freebird and I stayed back as the rest of the tour continued to savor the moment. As the tour finished Freebird and myself waited until all the other people had cleared out to ask our guide some in-depth and personal questions. “How did you feel about the process of reconciliation that Nelson Mandela started?” He responded “I was very upset at first but after time I realized that my hate for the people who tortured me was just eating me from the inside out.”
“What made you stand up and fight apartheid?” “One day I saw in the news that a young boy had been killed by the police and I knew if I was any sort of man I could not stand on the sidelines.”
“What was the crime you were sentenced for?” “The police caught me with guns in my house”
“What was the worst part about your seven years of incarceration?” “By far the six months I spent in solitary confinement, where I underwent multiple torture sessions and had no contact with anyone else. Being in solitary works on your head.”
“What did you think of Desmond Tutu’s role in the end of apartheid?” “We all played a different role, Mr. Tutu, played an integral role and even he was caught up in the violence. One time he was at a rally that was being held in a cemetery when the police came and started shooting, Mr. Tutu had to duck behind a tombstone to avoid being killed.”
“Do you have a faith?” “I am working on it, I am spiritual and I am working on my faith.”
“What made you come back to the prison to work as a tour guard?” “When I left this island I swore I would never come back, you may have noticed I am not in the pictures of the 1995 reunion of ex-prisoners.” “So what brought you back?” “I was unemployed.” We appreciated Ntandos honesty. It was my second time to Robben Island, it is amazing how even the second time the deep sense of suffering and martyrdom was more than most, including me, can fathom.
We finished the day with a huge family meat at our dining room table that holds 20 people. It was so neat to eat like a big family. All the leaders have been amazed at our kids and how they have embraced all the new and exotic things they have experienced.
So today when you are in the grocery store or have someone do something nice for you tell them to “buy a donkey” and see how they look at you.