Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Rooftop That Changed My View

Here's more of that time travel past/present tense writing I warned against: I wrote this when we were on the plane from South Africa to Namibia.

It was the kind of evening about which every political junkie dreams.  Perfect weather, a rooftop restaurant complete with bonfires, and friends discussing and debating foreign policy and political strategy.  It was even more perfect since it occurred in Johannesburg, South Africa.  We’d only known our politics-loving friends for two hours, at most, and not a single one of them could vote in an election in the United States.  Those factors did nothing to diminish the camaraderie and respect for each other’s insights, however, and it may have even enhanced it.
We’re halfway through our ACYPL trip and South African will soon be a memory since we take the adventure to Namibia tomorrow.  But what a memory it will be!  Our three days of meetings have given me a semi-impressive understanding of the intricacies of South African politics so I delve into the debates, questioning Democratic Alliance party leaders about their grassroots strategies and discussing American foreign policy with the prickly but kind elected official from the African National Congress.  We never did agree on the foreign policy details but no one involved seemed to mind too much. 
It was these two hours that cemented my conviction that programs like ACYPL really can change the world.  Not only was I included in discussions with these leaders, each of whom aspired to be a high-level government official at some point in the future, but our presence brought them together as well.  The good-natured ridicule of party divides, the jokes about differences between the seemingly countless local African languages, the flirting over firelight and food…it all suggested a years-long friendship between these South Africans.  It was only at the end of the evening that I was stunned to learn that gatherings like this do not occurr: the ANC and DA Youth Leagues do not openly socialize together.  It was only the invitation to spend time meeting with an American delegation, and daily reminders from Brandon, the outstanding Political Officer at the U.S. Consulate, that got them to that rooftop.

I’ve enjoyed every moment of our trip so far but as we head to Namibia, I go forward with a true belief that the impact we leave behind in South Africa will not depart with us.

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