From Steve: July 15

Saturday in Kimberley

As a united choir, at last, we gathered at our home base of St. Cyprian’s Cathedral and headed off to Fatima Shrine to sing with the township Youth Choirs of Fatima and St. Boniface. On the way out, Dimakatso, the director of Fatima’s choir informed us that heavy fire smoke would prevent us from meeting at Fatima. Many of the township folks have to light fires to stay warm throughout the bitter South African nights. Unfortunately, often the fires burn out of control. Homes and sometimes, tragically, people are lost.

We moved our venue to the school yard of St. Boniface. The silver-lining for me was the fact that St. Bonifiace was where my South African journey began sixteen years ago. It was the first school at which I taught in the township. My time in Kimberley was peppered with South Africans, now grown with children of their own, coming up to me and saying, “Mr. Fisher, do you remember me?” Very nostalgic.

At St. Boniface, KSB formed a large circle. The Youth Choirs then came into the circle and sang a seTwanna welcome song to us. They then proceeded to teach us two religious songs that we would sing with them the following day in mass. Nothing could have prepared us for that experience – more later.

Often on tour our chaperones hang in the background while the boys are singing. But our adults joined us in the circle, which is the only way in South Africa. The idea of people not joining in the group is unheard of. They had a ball singing the new songs, as well as the well-known KSB medley of South African songs. One chaperone commented how thrilling it was. For years, she had watched KSB perform Shosholoza as an audience member. Now she was singing it with KSB, in a township, in South Africa. The real deal. Surreal.

From St. Boniface we headed to another school DEEPER in the township. (Ask your sons about “deeper.”) There we found the Salvation Army Field Band at the end of a two-week band camp. As we got off the bus we could hear them playing out, serenading us as we walked closer. Amazing to see these young people playing brass and percussive instruments with such polish. In the distance, a few South Africans stood outside the school fence, listening and watching as we were. It was incredible to see this non-singing musical example of ubuntu. One of our seniors, DJ, who plays in a marching band, commented to me that he was “in heaven.” So I approached the band director and asked them if DJ could jump in. Of course he could! A South African would never deny someone the opportunity to be part of the group. The KSB boys cheered DJ as he walked onto the field. It was a special tour moment.

KSB then performed for them, which they loved. What sent them into orbit was our South African medley. Now I must admit, and I’m sure the boys feel the same way, performing the South African songs back home can be a bit of a chore. Audiences love them, but singing the same songs many times over can be tiresome. But not here in South Africa. The South Africans are so taken by a choir of American boys singing their songs, that each time we do the medley, it feels like were debuting it for the very first time. When we broke out into Shosholoza, the entire field band joined in. Some South Africans came into the choir and began doing their own vocal and movement ad libbing. It was electrifying. I can’t ever remember being so overwhelmed by this song which has become South Africa’s second national anthem.

We then had a South African braai lunch, township style. No drink, no sides, just meat. I was struck by the South Africans and our boys singing on the way to lunch, singing in line for lunch, singing while eating lunch. One boy made the comment, “Mr. Fisher, for once you were not exaggerating, South Africans really do sing everywhere they go, whatever they’re doing.”

After lunch, all over the school fields, there were groups of young people interacting. Some playing soccer. Some playing on the drums. Some dancing. Some singing. South Africans and Americans all mixing, as if they had known each other for years.

As we left, of course, we sang. From there we headed to the Big Hole. It is truly an incomprehensible site. The boys had intentions of buying diamonds for all you moms, as they had it in their head that they could get them cheap at the Big Hole. Some even vowed to “find one” on the ground. But I’m sorry to report moms that no one found one, and they decided, even at a discount, the diamonds were too expensive. Guess you’ll have to settle for those carved-elephant salad spoons.

I made sure the boys understood the full story of the diamond trade in Kimberley. Hundreds of thousands of black South Africans dug the largest hole in the world for riches they would never enjoy. The conditions were beyond deplorable. The pay was insulting. It was a nightmarish existence for the workers. I asked the boys to not idealize the townships today. The devastating poverty is the legacy of apartheid. And the people sing not because they are fine with their hardships, but to survive their hardships. The boys got it. Especially on Sunday when we left the township for the last time. We had a “silent bus” where the boys just looked. Really looked. Beyond the romantic surface of township life, to the pain and suffering of everyday life in the township. They got it. In fact, I got it more than I ever head. It was a gift to me. Seeing it through the boys eyes reminded me once again of the bitter fruit of racism.

(this is Anne, not Steve...) This is the story of our day on Saturday, July 9th. Although I know Steve will have a lot more to say, and more eloquently that I could, I think you can look at the pictures, watch the body language, the faces, the eye contact, and see much of what your boys experienced. It was "Joyful" in the deepest meaning of the word.

Link for the individual pictures - Flickr Set - July 9