A SOUTH AFRICAN IN VIRGINIA: Emily Mnisi is an ethnic Sothu with a Master’s degree in special education from the University of Lancaster. These days, she’s on the management team of a farm-based therapeutic community for adults with mental disabilities, near Johannesburg. It’s called Cluny Farm.
Back at the beginning of the month, when my daughter Leila and I were in South Africa, Emily took us around a bit, including on a really interesting tour of Soweto. Last weekend, Emily and I were both in Philadelphia for a working reunion of the 14 folks who took part in last summer’s International Quaker Working Party on the Israel-Palestine Conflict. And since she had a couple of days free afterwards, I invited her to come back down to Virginia with me.
So I spent the past couple of days doing various things in and around my hometown, Charlottesville, with Emily. I knew in advance that hosting Emily here would be fun. But it was also very instructive.
Given her field of expertise, I thought she would find it interesting to visit a similar kind of farm-based therapeutic community that’s just half an hour away from here. It’s called Innisfree. And though I’d never visited it before, I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and was quite happy to arrange to take her there for a visit.
Innisfree Executive Director Lee Walters couldn’t have been kinder. She gave us two hours of her time yesterday morning, and she and Emily exchanged many ideas and impressions about their two remarkably similar projects.
In the afternoon, I’d arranged a visit to Work Source Enterprises, a C’ville-based non-profit that provides a wide range of employment/empowerment services for adults with mental disabilities. Again, I’d heard vaguely about their work beforehand, but never been there. There, Vice President John Santoski showed us around.
In a way, I was even more impressed with WSE, since it is community based, and it tries to serve the entire community (with some emphasis on the needs of low-income people).
Another thing that these two visits– and a couple of other ones that we made around town– brought home to me was the importance to people with disabilities of our area’s ‘JAUNT’ transportation system for people with disabilities. It is this system that allows people with disabilities to get to workplaces, doctors’ appointments, and generally around town…
Okay. I am sure that many of my readers have known all about such matters, and have understood them well, for many years already. Yes, I “knew” them, at an intellectual level beforehand, too. But somehow, seeing this wonderful array of services being provided to people with disabilities in our community– and seeing it alongside Emily, who’s deeply involved with South Africa’s efforts to empower its disabled population as much as possible– well, somehow it made me value what John and Lee and all their colleagues do in our community even more than I did before.
And it made me want to guard their really life-giving programs against all the budgetary depradations that are heading toward them from Washington like some massive tsunami.
And it made me want to take all the gazillions of dollars-worth of resources that the US federal government is pouring into weaponry and other means of coercion of non-American peoples around the globe– and pour it instead into starting just exactly THESE kinds of programs for other people around the world, instead.
(One early reaction Emily gave, after she rode down here with me on the train from DC, and then figured out that we’d traversed only one small part of one of the 50 states of the USA, was to say– “But, you Americans have such a big, beautiful country here! Why do you have to– ” I think it was politeness that prevented her from finishing the sentence. )
What the folks in South Africa are trying to do is so big, and so brave, and so inspiring! They are trying, I think, inside their one country, to do something that we all ought to be aiming to do at the GLOBAL level. Starting with a grossly inequitable system based on race– apartheid– they’ve been trying to transform it into one that provides at least a decent level of human services to everyone, regardless of race.
(Of course, Emily had many poignant stories of what it was like to grow up under apartheid. I don’t want to appropriate them and tell them here. I want HER to write her own stories for the rest of us! What I will just recount, quickly, is her tale of walking three miles to school each day, and three miles home at the end of the day– and seeing a small handful of white kids ride by her on a big, nearly-empty school bus… She noted, too, that while the girls from her community had to walk, some of the boys were given bikes to ride to school… Also, their school, locked in the “Bantu” education system, only went up to Standard Five. After that, to finish all the way through high school, she had to do the rest of it on her own, at home, by correspondence… But really, wait till she writes her own story, and that of the parents whom she describes in loving terms as, “incredibly resourceful.”)
So, anyway, instead of the communities and governments from the rich world just shoveling resources into building decent human-development systems for our sisters and brothers living in the poor world– we shovel them instead into weapons, and armies, and mechanisms of control?
What is our problem?? I think we are the ones with the most serious disability. Call it moral-attention deficit disorder. Call it mean-spiritedness. Call it blindness. Whatever it is, we need to deal with it.


AFTER THE TRIP: So this is how it is. Ever since I took the decision, back in about February, that Iraq war or no Iraq war I would proceed with my research trip to Africa, I’ve been strongly focused on planning for and then undertaking the trip.
And now I’ve done it. It was great. But I have definitely been on an adrenalin low this week. I think that gradually I’m coming out of that. Getting my act together for all the great writing that lies ahead.
Such a lot of great stuff to be done. (I try to tell myself.) Starting with a piece for Al-Hayat about the District 6 Museum in Cape Town. What a great story to write about!
But other, huger, more devastating things are cascading through the Middle East. The bombings in Riyadh. Continuing messy aftermath in Iraq. So-called (destination-free) ‘road map’ coming unraveled, and more deaths in Gaza. I need to get my head back around all that stuff, too, even while I do the writing-up on Africa. Family stuff to look to, too. I guess I can do it. I always have.


“THE 17-YEAR-OLD” ASSERTS HERSELF: Yesterday, she was on my case again. “Mom, why do you call me that? It’s so demeaning!”
I tried to explain it was related to an old joke. But that it was too complex to explain.
She carried on. “Besides, in your March 1 post, you talked about the dog having a slipped disk before you said anything about the so-called ‘seventeen-year-old’ having a bad injury. What’s up with that?”
Okay, mea culpa. I’m really, really sorry. So folks let me introduce you to: Ms. Lorna Quandt! What’s more, Lorna’s not just any 17-year-old but a talented young woman who with a bunch of her friends from Charlottesville High School today organized a walkout by 250 students in protest against the war. Read all about it (with pictures!) on George Loper’s website. George is a great community activist here in Charlottesville, VA, who has really enriched community life by using his site as a sort of public bulletin board for discussions and news of what’s going on around town.
The CHS students did a fabulous job of organizing their action; and they did it all on their own. And the school administration and the local police were both also quietly cooperative of the school students getting to exercise their right of free speech…
Two hundred fifty students is around 25 percent of the school’s student body. When the demonstrators got on the local t.v. news tonight, the ones who were interviewed were all stunningly articulate. And they really spoke from their hearts. The school should be– probably is– very proud of them.
These are kids, of course, who– if the war and/or the state of occupation drag on for any length of time– may well be subject to the draft. The young men among them, that is. But I think they all already know some recently graduated high schoolers who got lured into the military by recruiters who promised them that was the way to get job training, or learn computers, or whatever. So the whole business of the war has a scary immediacy for the high schoolers that it may not have for many of us older folks.
Our city only has one high school, which therefore takes in kids from nearly the whole demographic of the city’s population. The University of Virginia, which is located here, has a student body that, by and large, comes from a much narrower (= higher-income, more upper-middle-class) demographic. The level of antiwar activism in the high school seems MUCH higher than that among the U.Va. students! In this country, in general, relatively fewer young people from higher-income families than from lower-income families volunteer for the armed forces– since they have so many other options in life. So maybe the difference in activism levels we see among the young people in our city is related to the level of social/economic privilege that many U.Va. students enjoy, and to their relatively greater isolation from from knowing many people who actually serve in the military.
I guess it was the new Oscar winner Mike Moore who noted, in his recent letter to President Bush, that only one serving member of the U.S. Congress has a son or daughter in the armed forces. (MM suggested, too, that Bush should maybe send his own daughters over to join the fray.)