By SUSAN WINTERS COOK
I left the U.S. 19 years ago. Most people thought I was fleeing an awful, public divorce. Wrong. I was going to something and a country I had come to love since 1988 when I first visited here. Why? Because even while under the apartheid regime, I met the most courageous, optimistic, creative, resilient people I could have ever known. They were heroic. Both black and white. They saw evil, refused to accept it, and used every means possible to defeat it, from simply refusing to recognize the "whites only" signs to publishing the truth when they knew it would shut them down, or imprison them, to those who refused to allow apartheid to diminish their understanding of who they were.
It was very scary! The New South Africa has its problems, widespread corruption, unrealistic expectations, serious infrastructure issues. But I still believe in it because of the people on the ground level, just like before. There are heroes everywhere.
Folks, living overseas is never easy. It can be like living in No Man's Land. I am no longer truly American but I will never be truly South African. I live here at the generosity of the present government despite my permanent residency status that took two and a half years to be approved, only after five years of marriage to another permanent resident, another year to receive my South African ID card, and another year to receive my drivers license, all with constant prodding. Yet, right now, I feel more secure than I would in the United States, because I found a beautiful, peaceful little part of the earth and Africa, cultivated trusting and caring relationships, and a way of life that can survive on my U.S. pensions due to the high exchange rate. My history as one who championed the Cause during the Struggle, and then fought for those who have HIV has gone a long way toward acceptance with the people around me, and they are very protective.
Those who choose to live in another country if Trump is elected may not be so fortunate. Most countries have become very particular about who they accept on a long term basis. Work permits can be tricky. They will want to know, what do you bring to benefit them? South Africa now requires huge sums of money to be brought into the country. And, you will miss Home. I miss my family terribly. Yet I remain here. Why? Not only for financial reasons, but because I hope that some day my wonderful granddaughters in Boston can spend some real time here and become acquainted with the heroes, and an alternative way of life that is grounded closer to nature and simplicity. Plus, I still love it.
South Africa still has a glimmer of hope, based on the extraordinary events of the 1990's. The United States will have lost that if Donald Trump is elected. Trump would never be allowed here. He would be lucky to be jailed before being shot. And, even if he is not elected, the evil has been released, like a poison gas. That's when the heroes on all levels will be needed to confront it on all levels. So, instead of making plans to leave, make plans to stay and fight, in any way possible.
I might choose to return and join you, and bring what I have learned from the heroes here. Oh my, there are so many ways to defeat evil. Choose your means carefully, but do it in any way you can.
The basic rule is, instead of focusing on evil -- which will not change in the immediate future -- look for the good, support the good, just keep focused on the good. Tell others about the good, build networks for the good, use your skills to raise up the good. This can be done, one person at a time. The United States is full of heroes who will rise to the occasion. What if they have seen as much exposure as Trump has seen?
That's all there is . . and you are needed to do just that.
There have been many challenges along the way, being here to experience the extraordinary process this country and her people have chosen over the past 28 years. I am honored to have had that opportunity. It is important to consider, if you leave the United States, whether it is enough to be doing that to make a statement about Donald Trump. Or is there another way to make that statement that will provide the support the country needs to weather this turmoil that threatens to tear it to shreds?
The South Africans have a funny phrase that sums up all the challenges we face daily, used by all races, but originating in Afrikaans: Die Boer mak a plan. The farmer makes a plan.
SUSAN WINTERS COOK IS A PHOTOJOURNALIST AND HUMANITARIAN WHO LIVES IN THE EASTERN CAPE REGION OF SOUTH AFRICA. SHE IS THE WINNER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ROBERT F. KENNEDY JOURNALISM AWARD AND AUTHOR OF NOZUKO'S STORY: THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FAMILY.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID CAREL