I went to South Africa to study the pubic health challenges township women faced since the apartheid. My research throughout the year focused on the oppression women encountered during this period, as reinforced by the traditional patriarchy that was deeply embedded in their culture. Under the law, black women held the status of “perpetual minors” and their needs became subservient to their fathers, brothers, and husbands. In terms of health outcomes, black women fared the worst during the apartheid regime. This is the reality that I knew before getting on the plane toCape Town.
When I arrived, I was immediately overwhelmed with the vast amount of squatter settlements. The echoes of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God save Africa) from children did not seem fair. I was angry that when I walked on the street there was an obvious divide between black and white. I reached a low point when my neighbor died from an AIDS-related complication. I had to stop and remember the aphorisms I learned in our Brueggeman dinners throughout the year. Knowledge carries responsibility. You cannot let go of what you know. Question your prejudices. So I took a minute to internalize my surroundings in light of what I had studied; the academic schema that had developed from every book and journal article I had read. This is where I found my peace:
In chaos, there are systems. It is our responsibility to make sense of that perceived chaos and give meaning. Behind every squatter settlement there is an organized system of oppression. Behind each deteriorating school building is a network of colleagues who decided to deny equal access to education. Nothing ever just “is.” Never again would I allow irrationality to seep into what history had already taught me. Reality is not coincidence, it is constructed.