Monday, September 26, 2005

My Man-Crush

Every dude has his man-crush.

Reshad is in love with Tom Brady. Jason has something going for Chris Farley. Aden would have Dave Matthew’s children. Dunny gets a funny feeling every time Jackie Green is in town. And this is all perfectly natural.

I have a huge man-crush on Desmond Tutu and I’m proud of it.

The 1984 Nobel Peace Laureate from South Africa graced us with his presence on the Salvador to Capetown leg of our voyage. I’ve heard of Desmond Tutu all of my life, but the first time I really started paying attention to him was about six months ago, when I watched Anne Dowd’s video of her Fall 2000 SAS voyage. The Archbishop boarded the ship in Capetown that year for a brief speech, and the portions that made it into the final video, perfectly-delivered call for young people to dream and “soar”, was perhaps the most inspirational speech I’ve ever heard (and this is from someone who for various reasons is not a big fan of inspirational speeches). I secretly began rooting for him to join us again, if only for a day.

As with everything else related to this voyage, I wanted learn more about the man. Archbishop Desmond Tutu had two major impacts in South Africa, first by stepping up to the leadership of the country’s anti-apartheid resistance at a time most of its leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, had been put in jail.

His second major impact came when he was appointed to be Chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee in 1994. South Africa, having just gone through the terrible years of apartheid, was in the unique position of having to figure out how future generations of oppressor and oppressed people could live together. There were two main options:

1. The Nuremberg Solution – the oppressed punish the oppressor for all their deeds. This is a very problematic solution when the punished and the punisher need to coexist.
2. Forgive and Forget – this was impossible when there were so many wounds that were opened from years of apartheid.

The solution South Africa came up with was the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, in which anyone (black or white) could ask for amnesty for their crimes during the apartheid era if 1. they confessed in full to their crimes, and 2. if the crimes were demonstrated to be politically motivated.

This is a very simplistic summary of the TRC (I’m making it sound like the forgive and forget solution), but I highly recommend reading the bishop’s masterpiece called “No Future without Forgiveness”, which is essentially a discourse as to why the TRC is the best Reconstruction solution for South Africa.

(The book, by the way, introduced me to the word ubuntu, which broad concept under which, for example, a fractured relationship between two individuals is a problem of the community, and needs to be dealt with for the good of the community. I mention this because that’s how I usually deal with conflict, and I like the word.)

He’s one of the gentle giants, in the same line of leaders as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, MLK, Ghandi, Jesus, etc. So I couldn’t have been more excited when I found out that he was joining us for over a week. In fact, this might have been what I was most excited about this voyage.

My first encounter with Desi was an indirect one. Every night, Semester at Sea puts on a community college of some sort, and on Tutu’s first day, there was a racial discussion in the room adjacent to the Union, where he was present. I had organized a massive, all-student Karaoke Rager that night, and since the Union was clear a little earlier than expected, I started breaking the ice with a full, loud, unabashedly solo rendition of “Like a Virgin” as the students waltzed in to see what was going on.

The bishop’s racial discussion was interrupted by my impression of Madonna and I don’t think they were too happy about it.

But I don’t think anyone was bothered for too long. Mr. Tutu physical presence is endearing – a small, Yoda-ish man with expressive hands and long fingers, a quick wit, and a high-pitched, accented voice. He is always laughing and or making fun of you in a way that makes you like him even more. I believe the wise baboon character in the “Lion King” was directly based on the Archbishop, so if you’ve seen the movie, you can have a good sense of his mannerisms.

This attitude (along with faith and his wife) are probably what got him through a lot of his ordeals over the years. His wife Leah, by the way, should get half of the credit for everything she does. She is a stereotypically large African woman who is gentle, funny, and extremely articulate – in fact, she answered half of the questions that were directed to Desi. They have been married for 50 years, and in a revealing moment as I was setting up his mic, he asked that he be seated so he could see his wife from where he was sitting.

He’s extremely approachable, from the time he starts exercising at 6am to walk his seventh deck, and all day, so I had the pleasure to have three meals with him and his wife, where we talked about the serious and the not-so-serious, and since I was around him a lot setting up his microphone for his many events, I became very comfortable around him.

So we’ve learned much about what he is all about. He is brutally honest – he told us that if he had known our ship was headed to Myanmar given the country’s human-rights violations, he wouldn’t have joined us on this voyage – which is refreshing because it becomes clear that his endearing-ness is not an act. The guy’s the real deal.

Capetown is around the corner and I will stop here because I need to go to bed. But given this eventful crossing of the Atlantic, I think I’ll be bringing up this leg of the trip for a long time.


Anne said...

Rico, I spent 30 minutes in the presence of the Archbishop and my life was forever changed. I can hardly imagine spending five days. Holy crap!!! Seriously, you have been given a gift that very few will ever experience. I loved reading about your interactions.

Lynn said...

Hey Rico! I am so excited and happy for you. It sounds like this experience has lived up to everything you had dreamed of and more. I will keep track of your writings -- which I love!

romo said...

Hey Rico,

I wish I got to go to as many cool places as my backpack. This is my first time here and I read the whole thing. Sounds great. Are you hanging out with Sara? Say hello.