Amy Biehl & Mother to Mother

I’m a few days behind, so just pretend it’s Sunday!! Today (August 25, 2013!) marks the 20th anniversary of Amy Biehl’s death. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned her before, but she was the US Fulbright scholar from Standford University who was working in South Africa in 1993. Three black South African men killed her during an anti-apartheid demonstration. It was a historic event because she wasn’t just another white girl who was killed, but a US student who was working in South Africa as a woman’s rights advocate during apartheid. Anyways, so Sunday was the 20th anniversary of the day she died in Gugulethu, a black township of Cape Town. Her mother, Linda Biehl (her father Peter died of cancer) was in town and attended a church service in Gugulethu followed by a brief memorial service, which we attended as well.

 

The church service was really interesting!! It was an Anglican service in this really old/dated church in the township. Because Gugulethu was a black township during apartheid (it continues to remain predominantly black even after the end of apartheid) most of the congregation were black South Africans. I was ready to hear some soulful, gospel music 😉 which I did! The pews were totally full. The woman who presented announcements welcomed our group to the service as well as Amy Biehl’s family, who were also in attendance. I have been to an Anglican service before (catholic would be the closest thing to it, and I haven’t attended one of those either), so I didn’t really know what to expect. The service was in Xhosa, as the presenter announced, so it was difficult to really participate, but we were able to follow along. One of the aspects about this service was that there was a TON of incense. I mean at times it was so smoky that you couldn’t really see. This woman who was accompanied by a bunch of alter kids, would whip the incense thing around on a chain up and down the aisles to “purify” the congregation. It was intense. After talking to my mom she pointed out that we probably looked like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High when he and his stoner friends emerge from their weed van… the church was that smoky when we opened the doors! What I enjoyed the most were the praise songs and music… imagine that! They had a “choir mistress” who would stand up and direct the congregation in song, they didn’t have a separate choir who would go up to the front or anything. There was no organ, or piano. All the singing was done in acapella. And they sang in Xhosa four part harmonies! It was very impressive. I did recognize two songs! They sang “Rejoice the Lord is King” in Xhosa which I could follow along, and they also sang “It is Well” – one verse in English and another in Xhosa. It sounded really good! At one point people got up and started dancing in the aisles!!! They used their bibles to bang on as drums and then had like silverware type things to make a little clangy noise. I have a video I’m going to try to upload.

 

After the church service, we walked over to Amy Biehl’s memorial site. There were a bunch of kids from the Amy Biehl Foundation playing marimbas as we arrived! The first song was “if you’re happy and you know it!”. That set the mood for sure! It was more of a celebration of Amy’s life than remembering her death, which was really nice. Linda Biehl spoke as well as some of the people that worked for the Amy Biehl foundation and knew her. Interestingly, two of the men who killed Amy currently work for the Amy Biehl Foundation! Linda Biehl views them as her sons… that’s amazing. And their children she calls her “grandchildren”. I don’t know how she does that. The memorial service was very nice and a very moving.

Sunday evening, we had tickets to see a performance Mother to Mother, which is a portrayal of a mother struggling to come to terms with the actions of her son. It’s a book, and was made into a play that we saw in Cape Town. The play portrays the mother of one of Amy’s killers and how that mother is grieves for Amy’s mother, Linda Biehl, who was in attendance. Everyone should read the book because the play was super good. Sindiwe Magona is the author of Mother to Mother, and she was also in attendance. I could go on and on about the play, but this post is already super long! We had an emotionally exhausting Sunday, but it was all worth it!

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Inside one of the Assembly Halls

Inside one of the Assembly Halls

This hall was built in I believe 1985 or 86 during apartheid. Our guide said the ANC leaders sit to the left of the speaker and the President of SA sits not in front, but off to the right (your left) at the table with the crest on the front. I found that interesting that he doesn’t sit in the “big important chair”

Poetry & Parliament

Before getting started on Parliament (which we toured today), I’ll explain the poetry. Yes, mom POETRY!! A group of us students decided to walk over to the Waterfront shopping center (it’s one of the places we feel safest walking to and walking around!). I also needed to get more cell phone minutes (YOU HEARD ME! I have 200 minutes for who you!!) We got some lunch there, I got Subway J yes, Subway, for R19, that’s less than $2 US dollars!!! Usually my Subway is twice that! Anyways, we ate and decided to walk around. There are literally so many stores at the Waterfront and we had yet to discover some of the store upstairs. We wandered into bookstores, walked past Armani, Hugo Boss, Burberry (the fancy stores) and I discovered a store called…. POETRY! I spotted the scarves in the display window before I read the name!! But Poetry is like a little Anthropologie mixed with Eileen Fisher. (Perfect for you and me, mother!) I walked around that store like nobodies business. I kind of felt bad because I could have spent hours in there, but the rest of the group was with me. Buuuuut, I bought myself a sweater! For $40 US dollars, which is not bad at all. It is a mint/teal green, long-sleeved, button down cardigan with little tiny holes in the front. It’s so me! They had an excellent sale room that I want to go back and look around some more. I think my roommates and I might go back this weekend to the waterfront and possibly split up for a little while. Then I’ll spend all my time at Poetry!!!!!

 

On to bigger things, we got the chance to visit Parliament today! What I didn’t know, is that South Africa’s government is divided into three areas (like the US’) but each branch is located in different cities. In US everything is in D.C., but in South Africa, Parliament is in Cape Town (that’s the main branch), their Executive branch is in Bloemfontein, and their Judicial/high court (like our Supreme Court) is in Pretoria. We toured Parliament with our guide who showed us the inside of some of the courtrooms where Parliament meets. They call them Assembly Chambers. It was really cool! The building was beautiful and very close to Table Mountain (one of the 7 Wonders of the World!). The streets were cobblestoned and the surrounding buildings were very pretty. Our guide explained where different members sit during hearings, which was interesting, and more history about Parliament. Apparently, Parliament might be moved to Pretoria in the distant future. If you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense to have three separate but united branches of government in very separate locations, especially when many officials must be in attendance in each branch. That’s a lot of travel time. Sounds like how things are kind of done in D.C. I also learned that the South African constitution is considered one of the most liberal constitutions in the entire world. There is a lot on no discrimination against race, religion, sexual orientation, you name it. However, it’s often times difficult to implement all of those, as it takes lots of time. I’m usually not one for government, but learning about South Africa’s governmental system is very interesting, especially when you’re living right down the street from Parliament!