I drive to Saint Michael's and All Angels Anglican Church, as I do every morning, but today I am slowed by a pea-soup fog. My windshield slowly defrosts, and I take the curves a little slower than usual to avoid garbage and errant pedestrians. Even through the mist, heads turn as I drive the excessively speedbumped road past flea-ridden dogs, fruit stands, and concrete government houses - the only white girl in a five-mile radius. There is no such thing as anonymity here. "I saw you driving past the stadium," one of the church kids later tells me. "Why didn't you stop and pick me up?" Truth be told, I was too focused on avoiding the myriad pedestrians in the road to check the sidewalk for familiar faces. One of these days I will relax enough behind the wheel to watch for kids I know. But for now, keeping my eyes on the left side of the street takes precedence.
More often than not, I am greeted as I drive by with cries of "Mlungu! Mlungu!" - the Xhosa equivalent of gringa - from children and bemused adults alike. Usually I laugh, remain quiet, or mumble an "Ewe, mlungu" in response. But silently I weep, longing to be invisible. Oh, how I love this place - this terrible, wretched, hopeful place - but I know that I, the mlungu, will never fully belong here. I am an outsider, bearing the trademark pallor of people who have oppressed and beaten their darker-skinned counterparts, refusing to recognize their humanity.
I am weighed down by the burden of my paleness. How can I ask for acceptance when my very means of mal-fitting was once the rationale for oppressive separation? And yet, what is resemblance? Is my skin color enough to warrant complicity with the oppressors? Certainly I am not responsible for the crimes of the apartheid regime.
Later in the week, I sit next to Michael1 at the Gardens Centre Health Café, where I make plans for my students who are due to arrive in South Africa soon. These students, all from North America, will spend two months learning about this country's reconciliation process, primarily through exposure to the myriad storylines that comprise South African society.
Katie Frankhauser, Krista Colleague class of 2003, spent the summers of 2003 and 2004 working with the South Africa Community Fund in Cape Town, South Africa. SACF is a nonprofit organization focused on engaging students in peacebuilding and reconciliation within the context of a newly democratic society. She is currently living in Belize, Central America, where she works as a program facilitator for Jaguar Creek, an environmental center rooted in faith-based conservation. She continues to work with SACF in addition to her work in Belize, and is spending May-June 2005 leading the organization's internship program.