Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wild Coast Adventure

For a very nice synopsis of my Christmas adventures check out the blogsite of Jesse Zink

and this post

I will write my own entry soon, including some photos and an update of my upcoming new year plans.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Becoming A Man: AMADODA

I have the privilege of spending time with my brother Bongani (his mother is Nomamyasi a woman I work with who treats me as her own with equal care and concern) going through the xhosa ritual of becoming a man. The process includes him spending 3 weeks in the "bush" (in the woods about a kilometer from the nearest home). He built a home out of cardboard and tarp, and has to live alone with a messenger boy who brings his food. He was circumcised early in the first week. He walks around half naked covered in clay to keep him from being sun-burnt. He is not allowed to eat meat or have salty or sugary foods for 2.5 weeks. They allowed me to visit to take photos.

There is a lot of controversy over these rituals as many have contracted aids or died from dehydration or beaten by older men and ridiculed for "not being manly". Bongani's family is very concious about these issues and has made sure that the tools for circumcision were sterile and unshared, and his mentor seems like a genuinely nice guy.

On Saturday Bongani will come out of the bush and we will have a big party with a hole bunch of his relatives. Before he leaves the bush he will burn his temporary shelter and all his clothes and wear only new clothes and be given his own home as a way of showing he is a changed man.

Many of his relatives have made their way to Nomamyasi's house and when I have visited every day the men are already getting drunk and preparing for the party. This to me is the most sad thing to see. The idea that becoming a man also enables you to drink, and part of the tradition involves allowing the "man" to drink hard alcohol. The idea of manhood has become skewed. I like the idea of having a right of passage for both men and women, but the idea of what means to be a man is to me off base.

In an attempt to share with the students I work with (the brown bread boys) about what it means to be a man, I was able to borrow (for free) 8 bicycles from the department of sports in grahamstown.

We have been mountain biking for the last 5 days. On Sunday I took them to the beach in Port Elizabeth and we played rugby and soccer and played in the waves. I want the boys to see the world around them and realize the potential they have within themselves to live their lives differently outside of the culture of alcoholism and sexual activity that is rampant in these parts.

Through challenging them and pushing them up mountain drive (about 6 kilometers of dirt road uphill, and a 30 kilometer ride I wanted to have a reference for them to illustrate what being a man means to me. Yesterday after our last ride on the bicycles I took them to a vista overlooking Grahamstown. We sat and drank coke out of styrofoam cups while I talked about the three important things in man hood:

*1 It is important to PLAN AHEAD and SET GOALS: (I referenced our idea 6 months prior to ride bikes, and talked about how we planned our daily trips always bringing water, extra food, patch kits and tire pump) I also talked about some of our discussions about their desires to go into the army, become police officers, working on game reserves and becoming mechanics. All of which are suitable careers that the boys said they wanted to become.

*2 LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES and KEEP MOVING: A half hour prior to our chat, Nyangayethu fell off his bike and in turn broke my digital camera (purchased only 2 weeks prior). I was upset at first, but was able to keep composure and bring it up as an example that it does no good to wallow on it. I just have to make a plan. Kids are so afraid of failure. On our bike trips this last week we all fell off our bikes and got bloodied. I praised them for the fact that we all took on each challenge and were not afraid to get dirty. I talked about how much we had improved over the week. The first day the kids were tired after biking uphill for .5 kilometer, and on the last day we rode for 30 kilometers. We talked about the fact that their life is difficult, but it doesn't mean they cannot succeed.

*3 WE TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER: A couple of times on our adventures one friend or another would have issues with their chain or brakes and we would all stop and make sure we were together. We learned to keep an eye out for each other and support each other. I talked about how I would never ask them to pay me back for the fun trips to the beach or food of each day. I only asked that they in turn when they are older and have money do the same. I talked about Christ's example and how we should try to do the same, taking care of each other. I told them that I could have been doing many other things with my time but enjoyed spending it with them.

My only hope is that some our conversations and time spent will impact their idea of what it means to be a man as they watch their older brother goes through the profound rituals of manhood.