Monica: I needed South Africa. My journey through South Africa has impacted me with the power of context in the same way we hope our research might impact Positive Psychology. Context makes the story more complete, bright, and clear. I have always admired Ange’s story of growing up in apartheid South Africa, but my admiration was more sympathetic than empathetic. I could understand the stories in my mind, but I did not feel the spectrum of emotions in my heart until all of my senses were engaged. A trip to Darling led us to learn about the message of hope and potentiality of humor to heal that Pieter-Dirk Uys (Evita Se Perron) has lived for almost 40 years. I heard personal stories of home invasion and saw thousands of houses guarded by electric wires, 2 inch spikes, and signs promising armed response. We visited a township village where over 50 orphaned children and 20 weathered, elderly “gogos” were starving for attention and love, and were inspired by Marianne, Michael, Ria and Florence who devote themselves to making a difference in their corner of the world. I felt frustrated and entrapped by the subtle, invisible prejudice and mistrust that Teboho David Molorane, our 56th interviewee, is working hard to ameliorate with Batho's Place. And most importantly my life was enriched by the complexity of ecosystems, animals, cultures, worldviews and histories living in relative harmony, united by the ideal of a Rainbow Nation.
Ange: I have never been more proud to be South African. As we left my spiritual home I reflected deeply. There is a newness in the air. Our country feels like a fresh, green shoot emerging from a complex soil, onwards towards the sun. People smile. Diverse accents are still everywhere but young people tend towards a single South African tone – a pleasant and subtle mix of English and African sounds. There is a positivity here that I don’t remember feeling in years gone by. I remember optimism and hope from some – perhaps against all odds – but these feeling states were future-focused. The positivity now is grounded in the present, and that is the greatest and most crucial difference. The country, with the exception of politicians and rabidly political people, is moving on. There are problems, yes. But as a good friend remarked (in a different context, talking about therapy) “You can spend your time saying ‘Shame, that’s terrible’. But then you have to ask, ‘Now what?’” South Africa has asked the question and answered with world-class theatre, exquisite wines, breathtaking landscapes, the planet’s most spectacular animal life, and people that stir me to the core. I have said it from the time I could articulate my feelings. Our greatest strength lies in our complexity, in the integration of our rich diversity.
We spent a week in the African bush on the banks of the Crocodile River. Here we slept in a cage - a room built on the roof of a house surrounded by metal bars rather than walls. At night we heard hippos grunting, zebras trotted through the garden below, and hyenas laughed as we stripped the bed each night checking for snakes, scorpions and monitor lizards. But the only thing that really made us jump were the vervet monkeys jumping onto the cage in the mornings, no doubt waiting for a morsel or two. Africa rewarded us with sightings of the Big 5: Rhino, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard (in a tree with its kill) and elephant with their young.
In Hectorspruit we visited a small village mostly supported by church-led foundations who look after the many orphans and elderly people as best they can. The desire for physical affection was tangible among old and young alike.
After the dry heat and dust of the Kruger Park and Swaziland, Cape Town wowed us with its oceanic landscapes. Almost nothing beats a drive around the coast with visits to quaint villages like Kalk Bay.
...almost nothing! The winelands of Franschoek were world-class. It was here that we met David who, despite having to leave school at 14 to look after his family, has a thriving restaurant in Langrug, a township outside of Franschoek. David's dream is for South Africans to really know each other - to eat in each other's kitchens. This remarkable man also feeds hundreds of children and people with disabilities in his community, and graciously agreed to an interview with us.
Our visit to the "museum / nauseum" of Pieter Dirk Uys, aka Evita Bezuidenhout, in Darling (Western Cape) was as moving as it was hilarious. Tannie Evita has long held up a satirical mirror to the insanity and beauty of South Africa.
In our final days in South Africa we met the extraordinary indigenous people of Southern Africa, the San. We visited !Khwa ttu, a San Cultural and Educational Centre near Darling where we interviewed four people who shared their heritage, hopes and dreams with us. Like our time in the Navajo Nation this place will always hold a special place in our hearts.