BootsnAll Travel Network

I’m back

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.

I wept and sobbed all the way through. I have much unfinished business with southern Africa. Those six years are in some ways the most vivid years of my life. I have never been so happy, so grief-stricken, so lonely, so much in love, so horrified, so moved by the best and worst in human beings–as I was then, or as I am now, every time I reflect on those years. South Africa brings it all up. The music, the landscapes, the sounds of the languages are burned into my bones. There are aspects of the film that trouble me. I wish the role of Antjie Krog had been played by a South African. Binoche does a fantastic job of acting, and I suppose her name-recognition guaranteed success for the film, but I am certain there is an Afrikaner actress somewhere in the world who could have played the role. On the other hand, there was a cast of hundreds, and all but the leads were South Africans, which is good. There was work for a large group of South African people for a while, and all the post-production work was done in Ireland, so there was also work for a group of Irish people. I’m glad of that. The acting of the testimonies given at the TRC hearings is disappointing; it feels like acting. But the main character in the film is the land. Those hills and mountains and fields are more vivid in my memory than the mountains of my childhood or the wide skies of Texas I gazed into today. Why is that? I can smell the wild sage, the sweet grass, the paraffin (kerosene) stoves, and the wood fires as I watch the film.

The blurb on Gobodo-Madikizela’s book says it is her reflections on conversations with Eugene de Kock (easily recognizable as the “de Jager” character in the film). But the part of the book that is most important to me is the chapter called “The Language of Trauma.” In it G-M writes, “The narratives of trauma told by victims and survivors are not simply about facts. They are primarily about the impact of those facts on victims’ lives and about the painful continuities created by the violence in their lives. There is no closure.” Painful continuities. There is no closure. Perhaps my unfinished business with South Africa is also related to the fact that for some experiences in our lives, there is no closure. I gained two children there and lost one. Painful continuities. No closure.

It was right for Jackson to play an American, and for an American to provide the role of wrong-headed innocent, taking wrong assumptions into South Africa and losing his innocence by the end of the film. He plays the Greek chorus for the rest of the world, voicing the audience’s concerns. See the film, if you haven’t. For all its weaknesses, it is an important film. And see Tsotsi, if you haven’t. I didn’t find weaknesses in that one. They both help me to hold the memories, and yet there is no closure.

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-4 responses to “I’m back”

  1. Constance says:


    I am reminded of the movie “Out of Africa” where Karen Blixen is in Denmark remembering the time she spent on her farm in Kenya. She talks about dreaming of the colors of Africa and then wonders, “Does Africa dream of me too. . .?”

    Indeed – does it dream of us too?


  2. admin says:

    Wonderful question. The people who love us there probably dream of us, as we dream of them. I love the Basotho belief that your ancestors will stay close to you as long as you keep remembering them, but if you forget them, they will forget you. We keep our ancestors close to us by remembering them, by speaking of them, by holding them in our hearts. It makes sense to me that this is true of all people from whom we are separated, living or dead: we keep them close by dreaming of them, remembering them.

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