Amazing guest blogger from Johannesburg, “Mandela and me”

I asked my gubbie, Jason Stein, to be a guest blogger this week. Here is what he has written and allowed me to share with all of you.

Thank you, Jason.

**

Mandela and Me

‘Jason, please come in and take a seat.’  said the senior psychiatrist in a rather psychiatric voice.

I looked around the room at the sixty eyes of the psychologists and psychiatric nurses who were gathered there to view their next case study.

‘Jason, please help yourself to treats ‘

The bowls of candies, crisps and other irresistible nibbles that lay before me were the only barrier between me and the exponentially multiplying eyes. It was disheartening listening to my crisp crunching psychiatrist companion munching through my wall of protection.

‘No thank you’ was my polite decline.

‘Jason, please would you tell me why it is that you are here?’ asked the psychiatrist

‘Because you called me in here’ was my obvious response

‘No, No. Here! In this institution. Why are you here?’ asked the psychiatrist with a surprising air of frustration

‘I don’t know’ was my response, since I wasn’t entirely sure.

‘How old are you?’ was the next question.

‘Quite stupid’ I thought considering all my details were contained in the dossier of information that he was holding.

‘Eleven’ was my short reply to the man of psychological education.

‘What is it like at home with your mother and father?’

‘Everything is fine’ I said sensing the disappointment of the audience who had been wringing their hands with anticipation.

‘Then why are you here?’ came the question for the second time.

‘I guess it’s because I’m different.’ I replied despairingly.

It was not long before the audience became tired of my vague and unexciting responses, and I was dismissed to be taken to the ward where I would meet my room mate.

He had long ladders of scars running up his arms from wrist to shoulder that appeared to follow a chronology like the rings of a tree. But unlike a tree they were imperfect. They were scars that had been revisited and reopened multiple times. He looked at me curiously while slowly carving another masterpiece using a tiny blade he had extracted from a razor.

‘I’m Jason’ I said timidly, not knowing what else to say to someone who was in the process of dissecting his arm.

I sat on my bed looking out at the gardens trying to visualize what they might look like in the height of Summer. The Jacaranda trees stood patiently waiting for their purple flowers to blossom. The long road leading out of the Johannesburg institution was broken in many places. I wondered if the powerful roots of the Jacaranda were capable of such destruction.

The year was 1989. South Africa was at the edge of a political precipice that was about to change world history. I too was at an edge, frozen, unable to jump and unwilling to look back.

‘I’ve never had a little brother’ came a voice suddenly.

The self butchering ceased temporarily as my room mate looked up from his surgical work. He was only eighteen yet his face looked old and seemed as deeply scarred as his arms. Though no physical signs of injury were apparent.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked rhetorically

‘Do you believe in God?’ he asked. ‘Because I don’t. I’m doing this for Satan’ he continued sourly before getting back to work.

A struggle was raging in the country. It had been a 26 year battle that had caused the waters of the Cape Coast to boil with a desire for justice and democracy. Robbin Island stood alone and unreachable in the distance containing a volcano of humility that the world was yet to encounter.

That night I lay in bed cautiously watching my room mate prepare for bed. The tiny blade that lay on his side table made me feel uneasy.

‘Can I tuck you in?’ he asked after washing himself at the little basin across the room.

My trepidation dissolved as I sensed his kindness and felt a sense of warmth as he pulled the covers over me. His eyes told a story that I didn’t have the courage to probe further.

On 11 February 1990 not long after my discharge from the institution, I sat in front of the television watching as Robbin Island finally erupted and a man walked free, upright and stern yet clearly weathered. It was the best of times for most, yet for some it was the worst of times. It was a time of uncertainty as the country stumbled forward into the unknown. It was a time of fear in which many questioned their futures as a white minority who had by default benefited from an evil system at the expense of an entire nation.

As the years rolled patiently forward the country went through a metamorphosis in which colour lines began to blur and corrective measures were put in place to bring about equality.

My later exploration of the world took me to England where I would live in a city where the streets to my surprise were not paved with gold. I explored Britain’s pebble coast line, traversed the white cliffs of Dover and admired the lush green landscapes of Devon and Dorset. All the while the embers of an unextinguished fire were trembling inside me though I wasn’t fully aware of their presence.

Eight years later I was relocated to Switzerland where I would remain for four years. I was vehemently against returning to South Africa but the fire inside me began to rage with a fury that made the picture perfect and serene Swiss landscapes revile my presence.

In August of this year I returned to South Africa in a quest to settle what seemed to have become an uncontrollable blaze. My return came just in time to experience yet another turning point in South African and world history.

As South Africa now prepares to lay the father of its nation to rest, we celebrate the glow of wisdom at one mans core that burned brightly enough to penetrate the overpowering darkness that grave injustice and oppression can bring.

I think back on my encounters along my own journey and the faint glow of hope, love and humility that I have found in those shrouded in the most encompassing darkness. I wonder what happened to my room mate who despite being consumed by his own demons, possessed enough light to show compassion to a lost and afraid eleven year old child.

We are all prisoners. Some of us by external forces and some of us through our own incarceration. Self liberation happens not through blind optimism, but by having enough hope and belief in our own internal glow no matter how faint it may be. Only then can we tread an uncertain road and embark on our long walk to freedom.

Jason Stein

Johannesburg, South Africa

Jason at Mandela's house shortly after Mandela's death is announced to the world
Jason at Mandela’s house shortly after Mandela’s death is announced to the world
Mandela's house
Mandela’s house

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