Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's been a while...

It has been a long time since I posted anything of note on my blog. In fact, it has been a while since I have written anything other than academic papers. Today, on the bus, I was inspired to start writing again. Public transportation has a way of doing that.

Recently, I have been working as a reference librarian in a small, private library, just to test it out. I thought that going to library school to become a librarian or archivist would straighten everything out and I would then be on an actual career track. After three semesters, I have discovered that the library/archives field is a vast one with much variety. Needless to say, I still have a lot of thinking to do in regards of where I want to go and what I want do. So I am giving the reference thing a try. While my co-workers are wonderful, I am not so sure I enjoy interacting with the public more than is necessary. Maybe this makes me a curmudgeon - or even a stereotypical, reclusive librarian. Either way, the jury is still out on reference work, but the outlook does not look good.

A friend of mine, with whom I discussed this ambivalence about reference, suggested that working with the public is one way to have good stories to tell at parties. I wrote,"I think I would rather converse with my peers than with the public." "The public gives us the best "work" stories to tell!," she replied This possibly being her only argument in favor of working with the public. Well, today, I realized that my argument against doing reference and working with the public is that I rely on public transportation, so I have more than enough exposure just in getting where I need to go.

This afternoon I rode the bus to and from the downtown branch of the public library. On the way there, while desperately trying to focus on my homework, I listened to a young man expound upon the young, hot mamacita he had just hooked up with - in graphic detail. Now I am no prude, but I am not sure I wanted to know so much about other people's sexual preferences while riding the bus and reading The Tao of Computing. On the way home, a woman with a bloody knee and her man friend choose the seats right across from me. They proceed to have a rather long and loud conversation about buying a headstone for a deceased friend. The man talks about how wonderful the woman was, and how much he loved her - and then the conversation became too quiet to hear with any subtlety. I went back to reading The Tao of Computing, only to be interrupted by the man's boisterous pronouncement of his love affair with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior. In fact, in his mind, and I quote, "Jesus Christ is the THE BOMB." His passion was infectious, and I had to fight the temptation to shout, "Amen! Praise the Lord!" Luckily, his follow up statement brought me back to my senses. What was the follow up, you ask? A snot rocket. Not out the window or into a tissue, but onto the floor - about a foot away from my feet. At that moment, I realized that as long as I ride public transportation, I will not be looking for jobs that deal with that same public. Cynical? Perhaps. But who wants snot on their feet?

Reflections on South Africa

As a senior at Wheaton, I had the pleasure and the challenge to act in a student-directed production of My Children, My Africa by Athol Fugard. To play Isabel Dyson, I had to learn about the history and politics of Apartheid in South Africa, but I also had to viscerally and emotionally connect to the struggles of freedom and the need to oppress. Where did an open-minded though ignorant white girl fit into the picture? My only frames of reference at that time were my favorite novel, The Power of One, National Geographic articles and things learned in the classroom. Drawing on the support of my cast mates, the writings of South African authors and documentaries of the American Civil Rights movement, I was able to develop my character. This March, I had the opportunity to visit the place that has haunted my thoughts for so many years. I went to South Africa.

While I was certainly excited to go to South Africa, I must admit, I was also scared. If you follow the news or read the first pages of a travel guide, you will see that South Africa’s daily murder rate closely matches the rate in Iraq. You will see that South Africa has the largest AIDS population per capita in the world. You will see that the rape rate is on the rise, that visitors should hide their money well inside their clothing and should not use public transportation. So much negativity and fear about South Africa populates the pages and reports that reach Americans.

Of course, South Africa has problems and issues to face, but sometimes it is easy to forget that this post-Apartheid South Africa is only 13 years old. It is an adolescent growing into its shoes--struggling to right the wrongs of the past, meet the challenges of the future and assimilate the many cultures now attempting to live in freedom and equality. In these 13 years, South Africans have been trying to understand their history, make amends and move forward as a new, united nation—the Rainbow Nation.

As I walked down the streets of Cape Town and drove down the red dirt roads of Mpumalanga, I wondered at the beauty of the people and the places. Here I had prepared myself for I don’t know what—the place described by the news, I guess—but then I breathed the air, saw the elephants, watched the people and I experienced something else, something peaceful, something hopeful. Even while visiting Robben Island and the townships, the South Africans teaching us about their past and their present were filled with hope. Sure, they struggle and life is not what it could be, but they also spoke of growth, change and improvement.

In the three weeks I was in South Africa, I visited a number of tough places—places where people have endured great injustice and hardship. The men and women I spoke with have a deep, infectious passion for their country. South Africa, to them, is a work in progress with possibilities of greatness. While teaching their people’s tragedy, these men and women spoke with ardor, wit and humor—making me both laugh and cry. I think that most clearly expresses my feelings about South Africa—it made me laugh and cry, and sometimes, it rendered me speechless.