burns night and no conflicting emotions whatsoever.
January 26, 2010
In October of 2009, after I had been accepted to UCT, I panicked and let all of the innate fears that one might have when one prepares to move to Africa (inability to find a job, high AIDS rate, latent racial tension, high crime) overtake me. As a response, I chose to hedge my bets – I knew I wanted to do something different after I finished my M.A. at UVA, so I decided to apply to the University of Edinburgh as a sort of concession. If accepted, I would still be leaving the USA, but I would be going somewhere far more… stable, I suppose. I was accepted and, in return, told UCT I would not be coming, after all. I didn’t tell them that it was because I was scared, but that was the reason. The possibility of studying in Scotland was certainly exciting, don’t get me wrong, but Scotland doesn’t quite have the exotic appeal of South Africa, does it? I was excited by the prospect of Edinburgh, but I wasn’t excited the way I had been when I was first accepted by the University of Cape Town.
Earlier this month, I woke up one morning and had one of those G.O.B. Bluth moments that seem to follow me around – “I’ve made a huge mistake.” So I sent a pleading email to UCT and they, graciously, said no problem.
Today is January 25th, Burns Night. Robert Burns is the National Poet of Scotland and even though you may not recognize his name, you’ve heard his poetry – he wrote “Auld Lang Syne”, and “Of Mice and Men” is a line from one of his poems. I’m not in love with poetry, but I really enjoy Robert Burns’ work. And this is a significant night for me. Because I thought I might have conflicting emotions – “maybe I should go to Scotland after all” type feelings. But I don’t. I know I am making the right choice. Interestingly enough, (for me, anyways) it’s a decision that is at least partially influenced by a Scotsman.
320-some years ago, a dude named Robert Mulliken left Scotland and arrived in Massachusetts. That’s where I come from. And it was Robert Mulliken, bizarrely enough, who was the catalyst for my decision to move to South Africa – moving continents used to be something people did. Irish, Scots, Italians, Germans – all these people who now form our country came from somewhere else. That’s different now – we have immigration requirements and quotas, border patrols, things that keep people out. But after 300 years, isn’t time that a Mulliken continued the trend?
I have no idea what the next year will bring. I may arrive in Cape Town and decide I hate it, or decide I love it, or find myself indifferent. The thing is, Robert Mulliken didn’t have a choice. He got off the boat and that was it. Nobody at the consulate was asking for his proof of return ticket. And so, as I go through what’s left of the MA program I am finishing up and prepare myself mentally for a complete culture change I am doing so with an actively open mind. Nothing is telling me I have to come home after a year, and nothing is telling me I have to stay longer than a year. I realize that the place has its problems, and that those problems may be too overwhelming for me to come to terms with. But I also know that very rarely does a person have the opportunity to partake in something great, and I truly believe that partaking in South Africa is something great.
And now a Robert Burns quote to finish this thing off – “the rank is but the guinea’s stamp, the man’s the gowd for a’ that.”