I was scared. I became ill. I felt out of place doing an interview. I thought I had understood it all wrongly. The more I pondered this kind of writing, the more I felt that I’m not in my right place. I looked at the next two modules and I increasingly felt that it is not what I want to be doing. I did not realise, when I signed up, that to be a voice of the future would need such a heavy leaning on formal journalism. This frightened me.
I pondered very deeply about writing so much about personal achievement, and I knew that my interviewee felt the same way. It is not a bad thing to do, writing about the achievement of others, I do not doubt the goodness of doing that. But then I thought, there is such an abyss between the daily reality of finding food and safety for your family – the 'bread and butter' issues - that to be looking at others who have achieved accolades and prizes while one is at the bottom of your valley, is not how life really works. (Just telling you how my mind was jumping)
So I wondered, who will be reading my report? Women who are in there, still struggling? Is writing about someone else's successes – well deserved they might be – is that the kind of story that one wants to hear when you feel you are just about to give up? When one is in an abyss of despair, is it not news about the next step within the abyss which is more important? In my view much needed guidance on the next small steps of the journey through the valley is of much more use than being able to see the well-lit peak, where interviewees seem to be, when you're at the bottom, staring up.
Oh dear, I was confused.
Then, I thought, many of us activists on VOF and in WP and elsewhere come through a long period of working with people who are suffering so very intensely compared to ourselves. I felt awkward about delving into my interviewee's personal life when she indicated, very gently, that she prefers to remain ‘private’.
I’ll give you an example: In those days, when she and I were underground-comrades, those of us who were fortunate enough to get university degrees were embarrassed even about going to graduation ceremonies, we were so conscious of the other millions who could never get there, so a lot of us were never capped. A kind of political statement. This sounds a bit outdated and silly today, but it means that I instinctively understood her reticence about making reference to her background. I had to respect that.
There are so many other issues which came up for me – such as my separateness from my community (I feel fraudulent living in Europe away from the ongoing struggles in S Africa); my ignorance of the political landscape of my country... a lot of things……
I found it difficult to see how my report could satisfy the first part of the module, that is to do a profile. I felt more confident, in a way, about the second and third elements of this module, which were to speak about solutions, and to address how the solution/s might be replicated elsewhere.
I also looked at copy from you other ladies who write so fluently and eloquently. I so much admired the other articles which were coming through, and felt inadequate because I did not know where to start.
A journalist I certainly did not (and still do not) feel!
What did I do well, then, I ask myself? I stayed in touch with my midwife and mentor!
They were just so very, very supportive. I do not have words enough to thank them – and the VOF programme for its forsightedness in putting them into the structure. Had it not been for those two ladies at the other two ends of our global triangle – Michelle in South Africa and Elaine in California and me in Europe – if it was not for them touching me with their attention and concern, and encouraging me not to buckle – had it not been for them, I would have withdrawn from this assignment.
What will I do better next time around? Dunno…..!
Thank you everyone for your honest reportage and thank you Michelle and Elaine for your wonderful energy and keen insight which is keeping me going.