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Haircuts and Forced Relocation

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I went to the mall today to get a hair cut from an old fashioned barber staffed by a retired barber helping out during the busy cape town tourist season. What a character -- friendly, knowledgeable (he confessed that in his line of work he has learned to be a minister, an attorney, advisor, friend, minister, coach -- all contributing to his current ability to sit with prince or poor person and converse easily) and skilled.

He didn't waste much time getting to talking when I answered "San Francisco" to the question of where-from (Santa Rosa draws questions and confusion, San Francisco, well it's close enough).

He launched into the ever available history lesson for visitors on apartheid and I braced myself for that moment when he would ask for my name and hear "Viljoen".

But he didn't ask. He just told me the story of his family and the forced relocation that fell on them and all the colored (in south africa colored is a term to describe people of mixed race and is not considered derogatory. Colored is a distinct category and americans sometimes have to get used to a local announcing "I am 100 percent cape colored") folk who lived in District Six when the government passed the group areas act and decided that yummy piece of land where the coloreds lived was to be allocated to whites and arrived with bulldozers one day and level led the place, forcibly moving folk elsewhere.

I guess it was my turn to listen and his turn to talk and a short clean-up-buzz became an hour long soul emptying as he stood for moments with his hand on my shoulder and clippers ready while he remembered to me the shock of the international community at what the south african government had done and what it was like for him and the current colored population to look at that empty place which has remained undeveloped -- conscience or pressure, I don't know -- empty prime real estate even when the government offered it back and no one would set foot on it - a powerful statement. So it remains today and will perhaps be turned into a public space one day as a tribute to the fierce history it stands for.

He didn't ask my name. I didn't tell him. He thanked me for listening. I left with another piece of my country in my memory pocket, an excellent haircut, and some more sighs in my heart for the culture I come from, lived and flourished in.

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