Posted by: fullandbye | February 19, 2005

On the water

at 9:00 this morning, 60 high school students and 20 college students boarded the 70′ tub, The Susan Kruger. For 45 minutes, we chugged through Table Bay until we reached Robben Island, S. Africa’s most notorious prison turned museum and heritage monument.

Our guide was Modise, a political prisoner from the late 70’s throught the mid 1980’s. He was unbelievably charismatic and inspiring. Along with us, we had the visiting Roosevelt High School kids, the Isilimela kids, and a bunch of students from Belleville school, a predominantly Afrikaner school in Cape Town. Roosevelt and Isilimela are collaboratively engaged in an exchange called “Hands For a Bridge” but this was the first time Belleville was involved. All the students were really actively engaged, and it was wonderful to see.

We toured the maximum security prison, and visited the old haunts of Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Walter Sisulu, and others. Some UW people left the island at around noon, but I stuck around to participate in some other activities.

We had a panel discussion with a handful of ex political prisoners. The spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness is incredible. I continue to be amazed by it. Modise said “Forgiveness was hard, and it was painful. Of course I want justice, but I now see that those who continue to be racist are pathetic. They are victims and they are losers. They live in fear and loathing. They are forever captive to their own prejudices, and they are manipulated by perverse history that took root in the basest level of their consciousnesses.”

We had to make the 3:45 ferry back to Cape Town, and we booked it from the education compound (formerly the medium security wing) back to the docks, barely making the boat.

While most tourists piled into the boring and soulless catamaran ferry, we few UW students ran the gangway up to the Susan Kruger. Yonker and I took our place on the bow, and a crew member said to us “We are heading into the wind, and there is a lot of swell. You will get really wet man.” We thought about what this meant, and stayed where we were.

As we pulled out of the breakwater, the swells got big. Then they got bigger. After we had crashed on enough swells to cause spray to soak us completely, I remembered the fate of my last two cellphones, and put my cellphone in my backpack, which I took to the benches at the stern of the ship. As I climbed up the ladder to the open seating deck, the 30 or so passengers (a few program companions among them) saw me and burst into laughter. I left my bag with Doug, and headed back to the bow. The spray was enormous, overwhelming, frigid, and wonderful. My shoes filled with water, and not one inch of my body remained dry. With me the whole time was Yonkers, the two of us laughing hysterically every time a wave crashed over us.

Today was the first time in two months that I have been on the water. I am not sure if I should go this long ever again if I can avoid it. Now showered and with my saltwater soaked clothes rinsed and flapping in the Cape Town breeze, there is no place I would rather be.


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