Sometimes I feel like Morales in “A Chorus Line.” I search right down to the bottom of my soul, and I feel nothing, absolutely nothing. I am neither inspired by events of the past, nor excited to tackle the complexities of the future. I am what my professor refers to as “melancholy.”
While said professor also encourages me to consume vast amounts of caffeine, arguing that the rapid fire of neurotransmitters will enliven me, he neglects to investigate beyond the basic biological level the reason for my ennui. In Starbucks today, I ran into this professor, who noticing that my melancholic mood had not dissipated over the spring semester, questioned me about the future.
PROFESSOR: No plans after graduation, I take it?
ME: Actually, no. I do have plans. In New York. And they involve the Upper East Side, Jewish attorneys, and the 9 to 5 soundtrack.
PROFESSOR: So then your face is just a sign of too little coffee–
ME: Um, that, or for the second time in my life, New York no longer excites me. And the place that does is thousands of miles and dollars out of reach.
His response– “You’ll get there. You’re Yaffa.”
After this brief encounter, I attended a book signing for Ahmed Kathrada‘s recently released memoir: No Bread for Mandela, a memoir about an Indian-South African who spent twenty-six in prison beside Mandela. His crime, like that of Mandela, was in believing in a democratic society in which race was not the basis of social or political promotion.
And after spending a lifetime on Robben Island, he was finally granted freedom and the opportunity to serve in the first democratic South African parliament. A soft-spoken man with an unassuming demeanor, he reminded me of that place thousands of miles and dollars away– that place I believe I should be when I graduate, but due to an allegiance to practicality, that place I am far from living in: South Africa.
Though it is difficult to explain my intangible connection to this country in words, I am repeatedly inspired by the South Africans I have met. In Oxford, I had the opportunity to learn under Albie Sachs, a judge on the first democratic South African Constitutional Court. His understanding of the law and the politics involved in adjudicating justice made me want to take my LSATs right then and there.
And today, listening to Kathrada recount his tale of unlawful imprisonment and will to survive, I was reminded of just how much I desire to be in South Africa, a country unlike any other I have studied or researched. Yes, it has obvious issues to contend with– namely, my thesis topic: an AIDS epidemic. But it also is a country that has exhibited more tenacity than most.
As Kathrada argued this afternoon, if someone had told him South Africa would achieve democracy thirty years ago, he would have asked that person “what plant he was smoking.” But then the drug-induced belief became a reality.
And I not so secretly want to be where mushroom-inspired dreams become achievable life goals. Despite my mother’s reminder that I know few people in South Africa, I am firmly committed to new beginnings. In the words of the Black Eyed Peas, I “Just Can’t Get Enough” of them.