Alice? Alice? …

©2013 Edward C. Lunnon

Sunday 27 January 2013: 6 years 4 months on …

Physical: Advantage CBD / Mental: Deuce

Most of my contemporaries (and older and younger) will be familiar with the words in the title of this blog. They would also be able to complete the title!

They may not know the group that sings the song. And even if they don’t know any of the other words, they will certainly know these few words and will shout them out heartily at any party where the song was played.

Another such song which dates from my school and university days (the seventies and eighties) is the song that contained the SEX word. In a very conservative apartheid South Africa, it was quite a challenge to belt out “I wonder … how many times you’ve had sex?”

Many would not know any of the other words of the song “I Wonder” or who the singer is. Up until now, that is … but all that has changed in the last few weeks.

Suddenly, after the release of the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”, Rodriguez has become a household name and his music heard all over the country – even on the contemporary airwaves of today, a far cry from the banned status quo in the apartheid era!

Nominated for an Oscar Award in 2013, the documentary tells the most amazing story: how the Mexican American labourer and singer Sixto Jesus Rodriguez, unknown in his home United States, and unknown to him, became popular in apartheid South Africa, “died” and was resurrected to entertain South African audiences again and again (and again next month) in Cape Town and Johannesburg. 

rodriguez

Just last week I wrote about the World Wide Web and its impact on our daily lives.

Thanks largely to the WWW, a search (by two South African fans who said “I Wonder” about Rodriguez) uncovered the mystery of this man, allows him to follow his passion and has resulted in the documentary being made.

The marvels of modern-day technology made it possible for me to download the movie from DSTV Box Office. I watched it, sometimes through misty watery eyes (I must confess) on Friday evening and again with Phillip on Saturday and again on Sunday morning!

The documentary has taught me, at least, a few life lessons and a “Cold Fact” or two. The life of Rodriguez could be the “soundtrack to our lives”.

The futility of apartheid is recognized but thank God, NelsonMandela, FWde Klerk and many others, as the one poster in the movie demands, we have been able to experience “Freedom in our Lifetime”.

But we can not only experience freedom from an oppressive political system. We can also experience freedom from whatever life throws at us. Detroit, in the seventies and today, was a hard place. Rodriguez, through his music, rose above a city of decay.

“Sit dit af.” “There is a way out”.

Obstacles often serve as an inspiration. “If you find things easily they’re not inspiring!”

However, it also shows us that despite “all the circumstances being right” we don’t always necessarily make it big. A prophet is not always recognised in his own country.

But we need to accept our station in life and use it to make a difference in our lives, in the world we live in and in the lives of the people with whom we share this world.

Rodriguez’s three daughters tell us about a man who “never said anything about being disappointed in life”, who read a lot, got involved in politics and the community, attended protests and rallies and causes that he believed in and worked for the working class – for people who didn’t always have a voice or a chance to speak up for themselves.

In his lifestyle and music we can certainly see and hear a lone guitarist and a humble labourer – a boy of the street whose experience was in the street, but who continues to make a difference in the world.

And makes that difference without having regard for reward or for himself.

Truly, had Rodriquez wanted any reward of any kind, the story would have been very different from the start. Too often, today, it is the reward and not the cause that encourages people to get involved!

Rodriguez approached work from a different place. “His magical qualities elevated him above bullshit and mediocrity”. He knew there was something more in making a difference and most of all, “his spirit remained!”

For me, one of the pivotal scenes in the whole documentary is when his daughters tell the viewer that, despite having lived in 26 houses (“they weren’t homes, just places to live”), he took them to libraries, museums, art galleries and science centres.

“Just because people are poor, or have little, doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams, that their dreams aren’t big, their soul isn’t rich!”

“That’s where class and prejudice come from – the difference between them and us – you and me!”

But from someone who was seen to carry fridges on his back and who lived in a DetroitCity that told its inhabitants not to expect more, came the encouragement to his children to “dream big”.

Rodriguez took them to places where “elite” people went. He instilled in them the belief that they “could go to any place you want regardless of what your bank statement says”. He showed them the “top floors of places” and showed them that they were as good as the elite are.

Rodriguez majored in philosophy and exposed his daughters to the arts.

“That was our day care! He showed us a life outside the City that is in books and paintings.”

Rodriguez writes and sings about “people are the same” in his “Most Disgusting Song.”

When his break came in South Africa in 1998 (“South Africa made me feel like more than a Prince”) and he goes from “being the outcast” to “being what he really was – a musician on stage”, he had “arrived at a place he’d tried to find his whole life” – he was at a place of acceptance; he was home!

The limousines pulled up but Rodriguez refused to sleep in the queen-sized bed. His humility remained.

The time here in South Africa was “beautiful, it was a dream” but then he had to go back. “The carriage turned into a pumpkin.”

He continues to “live a modest life. No excess. He works hard to make ends meet. There is no glamour to his life.”

And then the line of the movie that we can all learn from:

“He is rich in a lot of things, but perhaps not material things.”

Rodriguez sings

“Maybe today I’ll slip away

Keep your symbols of success

I’ll pursue my own happiness”

His daughter Regan says “It’s a grandiose story. People in Detroit need to hear something good.”

Perhaps we all need to hear something good.

And in “Searching for Sugar Man”, we hear (and see) that good.

As Rodriguez’s work colleague says:

“It demonstrates that we have a choice. Take Life and transform it into something beautiful. Like a silkworm takes raw material and transforms it into something that was not there before, something transcendent, something eternal!”

“It shows us the human spirit of what’s possible.”

Rodriguez chose Sugar Man as his choice.

You and I have that choice.

Rian Malan, author, says in the documentary, “We all have dreams for ourself, higher forms of ourself, some day we’ll be recognized, talents will be visible to the world. Most of us die without coming anywhere close to that magic.”

“The days of miracles and wonder.”

Jesus said “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5)

A Tale of Two Worlds

Tuesday 9 November 2010:  4 years 2 months on . . .

On my father’s side, my grandfather, Walter Charles Lunnon, was British. He spoke English. My grandmother, Susan van Blerck, was of Dutch descent. She spoke Afrikaans. We speak English at home (our ‘home language’) in a country that now boasts eleven official languages!

The numerous language and racial groupings in South Africa call each other by different names – some nice and some not so nice! Under new legislation designed to prevent racial incitement, some of these names may not be used and run one the risk of being criminally charged in a court of law.

For years, Afrikaans-speaking South Africans have called English-speaking South Africans soutpiele (salt penises). The name originates from the analogy that those of us from English descent are still firmly rooted in England. So much so, that we stand with one leg in Africa and one leg in Europe and our two legs are so far apart that our manhood dangles in the Atlantic seawater! Hence, the term ‘salt penis’.

So many terms!

Next week, this soutpiel is scheduled to travel to the land of his one leg:  England and Ireland – a visit to the ‘motherland’, so to speak. I am not sure which of my legs is planted in Europe, bearing in mind that my left leg is now far weaker than my right leg.

I enjoy the efficiencies of the First World. But I live in the inefficiencies of the Third World.

I will always consider myself an African. I am an African. I was born here in Africa.

Does one find ‘African Europeans’?

I have often joked that I was born to be a ‘Westerner’ and not an ‘African’. I suppose that’s because, despite born and bred and living in Africa, we were brought up in the European culture. So much of what we do and say and think is so European – even to the extent that we celebrate Christmas in the heat of summer with artificial pine trees, artificial snow, turkey and plum pudding, and still forever dream of a white Christmas!

Does one find ‘African Americans’?

Perhaps, having studied in the United States of America and being an honorary citizen of Oklahoma, I could also call myself an ‘African American’! (Now that’s one that could cause problems in the USA – aren’t all their African Americans black?)

And so much of our lives is influenced by Hollywood, the movies, the TV, and thus the USA.

Does one find ‘White Africans’?

Some Black Africans don’t consider White Africans worthy of the African title! They have no place for us. But, in a certain way, I suppose that you can’t blame them. There was a time when white people in this country called themselves European and claimed everything for themselves – Europeans Only – from park benches to living areas to beaches.

However, it is so sad to see so many of our family and friends leaving the country of their birth and now living overseas as expatriates: African Australians, African New Zealanders and African what-evers.

Talking about travelling and weak legs, I am hoping that my health will not let me down. For the record, the last few weeks have not been easy, and it would appear that there has been more degeneration in the last month than there has been in the previous four years. So, it’s not going to be that easy to travel this time – in fact, I will need to make the call this week if I will be able to go at all! It’s all quite stressful for me.

My passport had also expired, so I had to apply for a renewal. Because Home Affairs is in such a chaotic situation, I used a private company that has used the chaos to be original. There is always opportunity for entrepreneurs here.

That’s the upside of being African.

 So, they do the hard work for you, including all the forms and the queuing and that’s why they call themselves Q-4-U! But, it all comes at a cost.

That’s the downside of being African.

Despite SA being a member of the British Commonwealth, travelling to the UK now means having to obtain a visa. Even in the old South Africa, that was unnecessary. But, because so many foreigners are using our chaotic and corrupt and bribe-controlled Home Affairs Department to obtain illegal SA passports and then automatic access into the UK, the UK authorities have had to introduce visas for all South African citizens.

That’s the downside of being African.

But UK visa application is a dream. It’s all done online, even as far as making the appointment to personally go to their offices to hand in your documents.

Despite not feeling well, this happened last Friday morning, and is all so punctual and so efficient – and so European!

That’s the upside of being European.

While I was there, Pera phoned to ask whether I wanted to go on a Township Tavern Tour on Friday evening. I really didn’t feel like going out, but I am still determined to do as much as possible. So, we went.

Xolani Matheke, else known as X, is one of only 2 black teachers at Grey Junior. He organised for his colleagues to go on this tour of two typical Black taverns in Kwazakhele and New Brighton (ironically, even this Black African township has a European name!)

So we bussed in a European double-decker London bus – but not red – to the African ‘Northern Areas’ – those parts of Port Elizabeth north of the N2 highway that were designed in apartheid days to accommodate all people other than white! At a guess, I would estimate that 75% – 80% of our total city population of 1,5 million people live in those areas.

And, I would further guess that some 90% (if not more) of the white population that live south of the N2 highway, have never been into the northern areas, let alone eaten and drunk in a township tavern!  So, it’s quite an experience for a European African to enter and participate in and see how the African Africans socialize in their own world.

 We seldom, as white Africans, enter the world of our compatriot black Africans, despite the fact that they leave their black African world daily to cross the divide, figuratively and literally –in our case, the N2 highway – to enter, work, experience and participate in the Westernised world that is ours and, so fast, becoming theirs.

Pera and I had been on a tour before, so we were able to do some comparisons. The first place we went to was not really authentic or typical. It’s more of a tourist place and was obviously built with the 2010 World Cup in mind. We ate supper there – typical African cuisine of meat and pap in a bastardised African / European / American environment.

Then we went on to the second place. The roads are so narrow and the little houses are right on the edge of the street. So much so, that the bus even took out a cable that was suspended across the street.  The African way of illegally cabling the European TV from one dish to multiple homes was brought down for the night. But it won’t take long for them to do the DIY repairs and, maybe, link up a few other homes along the way!

The second place was more like it, but also not quite! An African watering hole with the most exclusive European car brands parked outside, playing the latest of American hip-hop and selling the best of imported European and American alcohol! Even a special on Heineken beer there!

I wonder sometimes how authentic Africa would have remained had it not been for colonial expansion and German BMW’s, European Carducci, American Rap, Scottish Whiskey, Dutch Heineken, French Cuisine and English golf (and nowadays Chinese anything and everything)!

Despite the outside influence, the spirit of the African African Ubuntu is so evident, and as European Africans, we have so much to learn from our countrymen.

The upside of being African is that we have such rich cultures to experience and to draw on.

The downside of being African is that we seldom make use of the opportunity.

As European Africans, we would rather use the opportunity to travel back to the lands of our fathers.

We really are soutpiele!

 

(And, after our tour, we went back to our world – to the comfort of a typical white suburban celebration of Anthony Beswick’s 50th birthday. I’m sorry we missed his speech, but he spoke about friendship, and I liked the following quotes:

The best mirror is an old friend – George Herbert

A friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies – Aristotle

The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend – Abe Lincoln

One who looks for a friend without faults will have none

Your friend is the man who knows all about you and still likes you – Elbert Hubbard

Count your age with friends but not with years

 

On Saturday, under a warm spring African sky, I watched Sean play his last school fixture for Grey on the Pollock Field against Woodridge College in that game of cricket that is so English and so typical of our other world.  I was pleased to see the large number of Black Africans that have joined the White Africans in playing this so-European game.)