Saturday, July 9, 2011

On the Kalahari

My dear new friend Alta Reynolds from South Africa gave me a book "Kalahari Rain Song" by Elana Bregin and Belinda Kruiper.  What a fascinating read!  "This unusual story brings together the voices of two South African women, different in background, connected in spirit. Weaving together a range of narrative styles and strands - mythic, political and anecdotal - it reflects the complex reality of the #Khomani Bushman community that Belinda is a part of. It includes photographic portraits of Bushman life as well as unique pieces of art by acclaimed Bushman artist Vetkat Kruiper. Through the telling of her own personal journey, Belinda powerfully evokes the Bushmen's continuing struggles for survival, land and identity in South Africa today."

She writes of plants I've never heard of or seen.  She tells of shades of red and orange that I can't even imagine.  A whole new world half a world away from suburban city USA.

"I've driven on sand tracks that are powder white in front of the wheels, bright orange behind.  One theory is that it's the iron oxide in the sand that gives the dunes their color.  The Bushmen have other explanations.  They say the sand is the colour of the people's blood.  At one stage it was probably yellowish.  But when the persecution began, the settler atrocities that killed off the Bushman and virtually wiped them out for good, their blood flowed into the sand and turned it red.  and the red has remained as a reminder of the spilt blood of the people.  This theory also explains why, when the Bushmen leave the Kalahari, they become very yellowish, as if the lifeblood is draining from their skin.  The sand and the people are one.  Ek weet, as ek bloei, dan gaain leef die sand van daardie bloed. Dan work ek weer een met die waarvandaan ek kom.  (I know that when I blood the sand begins to live from that blood.)"

The Kruiper family could not get passports and visas to come to World Peace and Prayer Day this year but I imagine we would have had a wonderful time together driving around Minneapolis. (I was the official van driver for the international guests and the stories were amazing!  I heard Alta tell of surviving a poisonous snake bite on her foot!)  Each indigenous person I've met has a story to tell and I quickly recognized the similar theme: somehow their lifeblood was tied to the land where their forefathers were born.  South Dakota.  Arctic Circle.  New Zealand.  South Africa. Bdote. South America. Worlds apart and yet so similar in story and in their hearts.  All "deeply in love" with the land where they were born or their ancestors came from.  All struggling to protect the natural resources in their "life source" and fighting development.  All somehow interwoven with the stories of all the other indigenous people I've been blessed to meet.

I am admittedly a geneological mutt and as best I can tell, I don't have a true "homeland"... and yet I find myself yearning for "home" and my people some days.  I can't fathom how it would feel to know where home was and yet couldn't be there. Or slowly watching it being stripped of its beauty and the things that make it special.  I grieved going back home to see that my elementary school was bulldozed for condominiums.  I get nostalgic simply about my old neighborhood. I can't even begin to understand their connection to place...but I can listen.