The answer is always LOVE (or sometimes, "42"!)

The answer is always LOVE (or sometimes, "42"!)
My philosophy is LOVEISM...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tea with my Assassins

By Kelly N Patterson

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."
---Nelson Mandela---

Hlabisa, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa (2001-ish)

Begiswe (my Gay Zulu bodyguard—who happened to be the most ferocious looking man in Hlabisa), arms crossed:  “So, you are going to have tea with these people who are now trying to kill you?”

Me: “Well, yes.  But they don’t know that I KNOW they are the ones planting poisonous snakes all over my house and office.”

Begiswe (frowning): “Is this a good idea?”

Me: “Well, how else am I going to find out WHY these people are trying to kill me, especially when I am just trying to prevent this ungrateful, violent tribe from extinction! Plus, we need their consent for the community job center. Are you coming with me?”

Begiswe (smiling):  “Of course. I wouldn’t miss THIS for the world!”

A few hours later, Begiswe and I met with three local “Somebodies”—meaning local men of elite social, economic and political rank, for tea, under the guise of discussing the creation of a community job center which would not only provide marketable job skills training to local Zuluz, but serve as a venue for public health and life-skills classes, an artisan market, and community arts center.

Upon entering the meeting room, Begiswe (in a whisper):  So, are you going to drink the tea they offer you?”

Me:  “Fuck yeah! And if it IS poisoned, then well…everyone will know who did it, no? And then no more problems for me! But you, don’t drink the tea, please.”

By the time tea was served, we were all in deep discussion about the proposed community job center and I completely forgot these people might have poisoned my tea; however, Begiswe did politely refrain from tea as suggested.

At some point, the business tone of the discussion changed, when one of the “Somebodies” stated: “So far, I see a lot of programs for the women, but what about the men? Actually, all I see coming from you and your Vusimpilo (the non-profit primary health care and rural development organization I was directing at the time) are programs and incentives for women. What about the men?”

This question caught me off-guard, “What do you mean?”

The “Somebodies” started to list ALL of “my” past and current initiatives, programs and projects, all in great detail: ranging from setting up women-managed pre-schools to starting women’s business co-operatives; from nutritional cooking classes to health classes ONLY for women; advocating “women’s groups”; issuing micro-loans and gardens to women; etc.      *NOTE:  As they were listing all the programs I created over the past year or so, I kept thinking smugly, “And where is MY Nobel prize?!!!”

“And now, you want to start Asian military training for women!”

Me: “Hold up!  Studies, all over the world, show that women who take self-defense classes are more likely to prevent a violent assault!  And I am sure YOU are aware of the distinctly FALSE Zulu belief that if you have sex with a virgin, it will eradicate HIV and everyone on this planet knows the rape and HIV statistics in this area!”   (*For your knowledge, Hlabisa had a 42.6% HIV prevalence rate and at the time, 7 out of 10 women were victims of rape.)

Somebody:  The only reason the world knows of the HIV and rape statistics out here is because of people like YOU and all those other foreign doctors and media people.  As far as we can see, you are preparing for war!”

Me (genuine shock): “Excuse me?!” 

Different Somebody:  Yes, it is clear to us that you are preparing the women for war upon men, on every level--starting in the home, in the kitchen, and then in the bedroom!  Now, women are hiding their money from their husbands and telling us we have to wear gloves on our penises!  Some women now say if their husband ‘forces’ them to have sex, it is RAPE—it is their JOB! Telling the girls to stay in school when we need them at home…”

At some point, as these men listed all my “subversive” activities, which DID directly benefit local women and hopefully their children (boys and girls, I might add), all in the name of addressing “gender issues”, I had to ask myself, “Are you, Kelly, trying to start some kind of war?!”

Me:  “Well, when you put it THAT way, it DOES look suspicious!”

I then attempted to tell elders of one of the oldest civilizations on this planet WHY it is critical to protect, respect and empower women.  This, as you can guess, did not go well-- citing the Bible; referencing The UN Declaration of Human Rights as well as South African laws; basic compassion-- “What if it were YOUR daughter or wife?!”  Nothing seemed to convince them to re-consider the value of women in their society.  I was about to give up, when I got a brain-fart…

Me: “So, you know the G8 countries?”

Somebody:  “You think we are ignorant?!”

Me:  “Not at all, do you know what all G8 countries have in common?”

Now it was my turn to point out that no, it was not political system, religion, race, currency, language, or location that determined the wealthiest countries in the world, in fact, it is largely because in all the G8 countries women have the opportunity to earn just as much as men--the financial burden of the family is shared by husband and wife.  And women CAN earn just as much as men in these countries because they are allowed equal opportunities to education, health, and jobs.  “But don’t listen to me, do your own homework!”

By the end of this intense meeting, I acknowledged that yes, thank you for bringing it to my attention that I need to equally address men’s issues out here (because YES, they showed me how I was indeed perpetuating the whole “Men vs. Women” thinking.)  Yes, men have to be included in all these conversations and their cooperation is indispensable to the well-being of the entire Zulu community.  I asked them for suggestions as to how best to reach Zulu men of all ages…and that, folks, was the beginning of the Fakamandla Job Center.  *And oh, I did not get murdered! ;) 


Joshua Magnus said...

Loved this story. Im curious to know how your relationship with the "somebodies" changed after the meeting.

john john said...

You define Courage.