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Mind-numbing language and reasons for hope

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Rubric–QEP–Templates–Student learning outcomes– Program assessment Plan–Iterative Systematic Assessment Cycle–Bloom’s Taxonomy– Primary Constituents–Triangulation of data–Project-embedded–course-embedded assessment. Gack! I first heard this mind-deadening language in South Africa, in the mid- to late 90s, when we were redesigning what a college education means. Mandela had just been elected president, and we were ready to question the Anglo-centric education model. We wondered if Edmund Spenser might be less useful to African English majors than Okot p’Bitek; if Shakespeare’s comedies might be less vital than Soyinka’s. Our intentions were cultural, political, even vaguely revolutionary. Each South African university had been operating in its own little sphere, so suddenly the people who controlled the funding for universities asked if the B.A. we were offering in KwaZulu-Natal was equivalent to those offered at Fort Hare or at Witswatersrand. We didn’t know. Somebody hired a gang of American education experts (God help us), who brought this language across the Atlantic. [read on]

Guarding the stories

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

I am so grateful for National Public Radio. After the inanities of television, even television news, even so-called “Public Television,” the depth of National Public Radio is a great relief. I often hear a snatch of something as I’m driving, and then I come home, go to the web site, and read what I heard, or listen to it again. This time it’s a series on War and Literature, and a book by Aminatta Forna, a woman from Sierra Leone. Her most recent book is called Ancestor Stones. This piece of it brought tears to my eyes: [read on]

Energy, Zulu traditional doctors, Kirby vacuums

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Today is my second full day of not-teaching (till mid-August), and I feel as though I’m on intravenous Life Force. I went for a walk this morning, and I could feel energy surging through me like electric voltage. I think it’s related to a concept I learned from Zulu traditional doctors, about which I’ll say more beneath the line. Meanwhile, as I was finishing off my course, Manko and Kendra started training for a new job. At first they thought they were training to be telephone consumer service reps, and later they realized they were training to be Kirby vacuum cleaner salespeople. [read on]

News from Lesotho

Friday, May 11th, 2007

I dreamed about M’e Mpho Nthunya last night, so I got up early, went online to get an African phone card, and called her. I hadn’t talked to her since November, and she whooped aloud when she heard my voice. “M’e Makie,” she cried out, “is it you, ke nete [truly]?” Yes, M’e, I answered, laughing with her at the wonder that we can talk to each other from worlds apart. She went on, “I dreamed about you last night, and we were talking about you with Ntsoaki [her granddaughter] all the morning. I was afraid you were dead because we didn’t hear from you in so long. I didn’t think you could hear us.” So that connection still works. [read on]

I’m back

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

That was quite a break. Actually, I was deeply immersed in writing the piece I alluded to weeks ago, the piece that was bringing up all my inadequacies. In the course of preparing that piece, I read a great stack of books about Argentina and several about South Africa, including Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A Human Being Died That Night, about which more in a moment. Finally, the writing project is done, for now. Today, for a break, I watched a movie (on DVD, of course, the only way I ever watch movies now): IN MY COUNTRY, in which Juliette Binoche plays an Afrikaner opposite Samuel Jackson’s American (much easier role). The film, based on Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull , which is sitting by my bed but which I haven’t yet started reading, wiped me out. [read on]

Prime evil

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

As I continue reading about Argentina’s dirty war, I am reminded of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the hearings that it held during the years I lived there, while Mandela was President. Feitlowitz’s Lexicon of Terror features a whole chapter on Adolfo Scilingo, who holds a similar space in Argentine history to the space held by Eugene de Kok (also de Kock and de Koch, also nicknamed “Prime Evil”) in South Africa. Both were enthusiastic torturers and murderers, both followed orders, both did what they did for “love” of what they thought was right, both later felt horrible and confessed to unspeakable actions, and both are living out their lives in prison while the men who were their superiors die free, one by one. The main difference between the two men is that Scilingo tried to get out of the punishment phase of this story; he recanted his confession; de Kok, on the other hand, has become a model of enduring remorse.

House of Sand

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

Early yesterday evening I watched the Brazilian film, House of Sand with my friends Ruth and Gerri. They hated it. Gerri thought it was “amateurish.” Ruth found it slow and thought the time changes were awkward, the character switches gimmicky; she became restless and paced around her living room, waiting for it to be over. Some friend I am. I hung on to the last minute and am still haunted by the slow power of the film, by its visual gorgeousness (not since Daughters of the Dust have I seen such composition), and by its questions: given life’s impermanence, what can we hope? what exactly does it mean to “make a life” in the harshest possible circumstances? [read on]

Theatre for development?

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

In this afternoon’s mail I got a copy of an international journal published in 2002, devoted to “Theatre for Development” in Africa, including an article about my struggles and failures in Lesotho from 1992-94. I wrote the article in the late 90s, while I was working in South Africa, and then forgot about it. Eight years later it has found its way to my mailbox. The article is good-humored and self-deprecating. In it I look back at my ideals as I first arrived in Africa and met the first of the theatre groups I was to lead. “From my book-learning I knew how to label what I was about to do: it would be theatre-for-liberation, not theatre-for-domestication, top-down theatre, or theatre-of-indoctrination. It would come from within the community it was meant to serve; it would be shaped and directed by that community, with skillful intervention from me…. People would flock to see it, would understand and enjoy it, and would be moved and liberated by it. We would begin with information-gathering, discussion, and script-development; then would come workshopping and performance, then followup.” Dear, naive, hopeful, idealistic young Kendall that I was, I really did think it would work. [read on]

A swirl of life!

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

Lisa is having a baby as I write this. Manko has come home for an overnight, and that has gone well. On the world scene, it begins to appear that a significant mass of Americans now see what a disaster the invasion of Iraq has been and are perhaps wanting a change of government, though it is very difficult to see how to make the mess in Iraq better for the people whose lives have been ruined. Great emotion wells up in me for all of that. Speaking of great emotion, I showed Shakespeare Behind Bars at the prison on Thursday. Seeing it with John and that group of men was deeply moving, and last night I finished Alexandra Fuller’s Scribbling the Cat and sat weeping and wrung out for about an hour before I fell asleep and dreamed it. Last weekend I visited Guillermo in the prison he has recently moved to, and this afternoon, after I take Manko back to her dorm, I will visit Odus in a different prison. Plans for the summer, which are actually plans for my future life, are shaping up, and this morning as I walked on the trail, smelling the late summer grass and listening to the crickets and cicadas, watching dawn color the Texas clouds shades of pearl and rose, I felt as if the stillness in the very small me is surrounded by a swirl of emotions, changes, activities, and possibilities in the greater silence that holds everything. [read on]

Intelligence reports and a whiff of Africa.

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Glorious weather in south Texas, and wonderful news abroad in the world. At last our sneering President’s own intelligence (I hesitate to use both words in the same sentence) agencies have reported what the Buddha said: VIOLENCE BEGETS VIOLENCE. Violencia faz violencia. It was never enough for our media-numbed populace that thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were dying bloody deaths from high-tech killing machinery; but at last we have word from a “conservative” source that the war has made life less safe for Americans. If that can just get people’s attention, maybe the movement for peace, or at least for a change in government, can take hold. So I hope. And as I was beaming in the gentler heat and grinning at the news, I stumbled over a book about southern Africa that is so achingly well-written it takes my breath away: Scribbling the Cat, by Alexandra Fuller. [read on]