Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Village of Hobeni (Cwebe)

Sorry it has been a while, you will know why in my next post. This was to be posted a week ago, but I didn't have internet connection. Either way, enjoy!

I am confused, or at least changed, or somehow suspended in an unexpected liminality between being two different individuals, both of whom I do not know fully. Powerful forces are quietly playing dice with my soul--all is as it should be. This morning the ocean is ruffled with a storm surf as dark clouds tip-toe across the shore. The animals, usually curious and rowdy at this time of morning, seem to have holed up in every possible nook that the forest might offer; only the birds are still singing.
            I find myself in Africa, with little direction, weak footing, doubting parts of myself, anxious about the demands of my quickly approaching future and with the overwhelming feeling of being a grain of sand on an endless beach. It seems hard to do the right thing, to say upright, to know that you are driven by the right motivations, that you have good intentions, that your actions will actually make a difference. Its hard, as well, to dedicate yourself to something and not sound like a martyr, to find some middle ground between those things that you can control and those over which you are utterly powerless. Powerful forces are quietly playing dice with my soul.
            Last night, by accident, or perhaps by providence, all of the pictures that I have taken so far on this trip were deleted from my computer. It was my fault, it was unintentional and, while I wish could have avoided this, I don’t feel very bad. My memory is much more important. At least now I know I can guiltlessly exaggerate my stories even more knowing there is no way to corroborate or deny my outrageous claims (...”the sharks were 10 meters long, I swear!”).
            This unfortunate loss (or divine gain of perspective) comes at a very interesting part of this trip. We have been doing some initial work in the communities of Hobeni and Cwebe, which surround the Dwesa-Cwebe nature reserve. The long term plan is to somehow integrate development in the community with conservation in the park. Easier said than done. Still, such a goal seems far removed and distant, so much so that I have found myself becoming increasingly disillusioned with such a notion.
            In the past few days, we have met with two of the seven villages in the Dwesa-Cwebe area and participated in community meetings. At the first meeting, in Hobeni, we experienced a strange tension, an ambiguous friction, from the people of the community. I can’t blame them but I also can’t entirely get my head around it. At our second meeting (this time in Cwebe), initially, things seemed to have gone over much better. There was laughing and talking, smokes shared, conversations bubbling, and a passing of traditional corn mash and a mealli-mealli (ground corn) drink. But despite the good feelings and our cross-cultural communion, I couldn’t avoid the feeling that what these people need are things we can’t deliver. We can’t build a school, we can’t move mountains, we can’t give scholarships.
            The problems here are endemic, deep seated, and do not fit lightly on our narrow shoulders. I want to help, I want to leave a part of myself in this place, I want to be selfless enough to cause change, but several confounding variables are becoming apparent:

         Politics are Politics- whether big or small, rich or poor, we are all a political organism.
         People are People- trying to dichotomize the world into right and wrong, black and white, undermines the complexity of the human sphere.
         Good intentions aren’t enough- one needs drive to accomplish something and also the capital upon which to build that accomplishment. We need a clearly defined purpose.

            This is an experience that is shaping me in many ways, many more ways than I could have ever expected. This is a good thing, the world is a beautiful place. But I can’t help but ask myself, several times a day, between wonderful moments and quiet pauses of reflection, “What am I doing here?”. I am a student but I am also a human being. I am a white American male, the epitome of privileged, and I understand the entire spectrum of our collective human history with blood on my hands. Its a funny paradox. The contingency of time is a fickle mistress, but nonetheless, not in short supply. Everything is right and beautiful in the world, all is as it should be. So it goes.

from the Transkei,


  1. What am I doing here? This is a question that you will be asking yourself for the rest of your life. Sometimes you will find the answers, other times you will get more questions and you will continue to strive for more answers. I ask myself this constantly, wondering if I am doing enough in this world to make a difference and most of the time, I believe I am. Just remember to sometimes be silent enough to hear the whisper of the Lord, He will guide you.

  2. It's ironic how exotic people describe a place we just see as home, some yearn for the lavish lands with grandeur buildings the likes of America. We live here or they live I only come during vacation here frustration, hunger lack of activity suppresses the awareness of beauty all due to the race created by technology. making us linger for a sudden exchange...glad you found the pure untainted nature ravishing your imagination...stories shared by people from afield of how great Xhora is brushes off the shame of proudly saying I am owaseXhora!