Fligh high and fall fast

by Joke Debaere

Thinking harder. Thinking more. Breathing deeper. A new newsletter to write. Shifting private memories of last month’s journey from public ones. Or am I sorting things upside down? And is what I regard as private exactly what moves people the most? However it may be. What I am sure of, is that Francois is sitting in front of me at this very moment, behind his laptop, in the “natural way café and Factory Store” where we had a strong performance yesterday evening. (Gordon’s Bay, South Africa)

Life is treating us very well in that regard. Lately we have been performing for a number of rather big, sold out venues in a row. Some standing ovations and a number of people moved to tears. Sometimes success can feel like wings. The higher one flies, the better one needs to manage the landing as well. Since nothing of all the abundance we are experiencing the last weeks, can be taken for granted.

Amongst the things I encounter, travelling through South Africa, there is one image in specifically that fills my mind’s eye. Above the bed of the young daughter of friends of us, there was a picture of Nelson Mandela, in his younger years. The sides of the black and white image were covered with glittering pink and purple butterflies. Princess magic, one could say. As I saw this, I was moved by the idea that this young child went to bed every evening with the company of someone as impressive and inspiring as Nelson Mandela. Only some minutes later, as she fell asleep, we heard our friend’s account on what they had been through the previous night. An attempt to murder two of their friends, who were on foot on their way to their bed and breakfast from the pub where they had been celebrating some life events. The couple nearly died, yet survived. This cruel event set a whole series of personal memories and accounts in motion, with this one common motive: violence. It was an intense conversation, as you surely can imagine.

Tonight, I have been sleeping for the first time in a very fancy hotel room where the owners of this café booked us in, next to a panic button. For some hours on end, I couldn’t keep my mind of the thought what would happen if one presses that button. As violence might enter the room, we would invite more guns to arrive. The button is supposed to ease my fears, yet it did the opposite. Not that I am against such buttons. That would be quite naïve of me. No. What I mean is more that thing of “try not to think of an elephant”. Does the elephant disappear? No. Exactly. The elephant settles in all our minds right now. Crime is a bitter sweet cruel South African reality. Layered in such a complex way that the glitters around Mandela’s picture, moved me even more, after having heard again such a flood of real life events.

Part of me hesitates to relate this in our newsletter. I do not wish to add a lot of energy to the cliché image of South Africa, kept alive by Europeans, Americans … of “The dangerous country”. I have been warned many times not to come here by people who have never set foot on this continent. Yet, living and working in the land of Mandela, there is in many ways (I can’t put it any differently) a strengthening of the heart’s energy. A reinforcement of connecting to people. A growth in the strength one needs in order to find common ground with a diversity of people and places, never met nor seen before.

Francois is in the process of composing a “Mandela song” for an event in Schenectady, USA, this November. It is going to be performed with live music and a choir. I am writing a text, to read or recite along with it. We are both looking very much forward to this event. I don’t know yet exactly how, but something in me tells me that the butterfly-image of Nelson Mandela will find it’s way to my words there too.

In the meantime, we will keep on learning how to fly high.. and fall fast.

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