Tiffany is a 32-year-old opera singer who's been privileged to perform selections from "Lost in the Stars," the musical version of Cry, the Beloved Country.
She is excited to travel to South Africa because she believes music allows you to hear what's going on in the eyes of South Africans and she wants to help spread the gift of music. Tiffany is amazed that Alan Paton could write so objectively and so beautifully. Paton once said that no song could compare to the beauty of South Africa—but Tiffany feels the beauty of the musical version of Cry, the Beloved Country begins to come close.
Jane Marshall, Tiffany's former high school teacher, nominated her to travel with Oprah's Book Club because she feels Tiffany exudes "the themes of Cry, the Beloved Country"—the love of family and community, faith in God and hope for a more beautiful world. A few years ago, Tiffany returned to her high school as a substitute teacher where Jane was teaching the novel. Jane invited her to sing the opera based on Paton's novel to her students. Jane wrote that Tiffany is "living proof that life can be transcendent."
Growing up in an inner city, Tiffany found her passion in music. Her career has taken her from the Apollo Theater to performing all over the world...but one of the few places she's never been is South Africa.
This has been a lifetime dream to visit Africa—I imagine it will be a homecoming for me, and the memories I will have after such an adventure will sustain me for a long time. I want to see the native South Africans and their shantytowns. I hope to visit school children and leave my legacy with them, too. If I can leave a few books or touch a few lives, it will give me the confidence that I made a small difference.
Once I arrived in South Africa, my journey began. I saw black South Africans selling all sorts of merchandise on the streets. Now that Apartheid laws have been abolished, the people are making a living the best way they can. I can feel that this experience will alter my thinking about so many things...and become a part of the fabric of my life's journey.
When we got to Soweto, I discovered that many informal settlements (like this one) are inhabited by the women and children of South Africa. I will always remember the faces of the children as they scurried to see me—I must have looked so interesting to them. I wish I could speak their language to tell them the measure of the strength and beauty that I see. They have a prideful look of resilience. One thing I will always remember: The memorial dedicated to the children who lost their precious lives in the uprising of 1976.
When I was given a "white" entry card into the entrance of the museum, I was not prepared to feel the pain and anguish that I felt. It was as if the pain of all who suffered under the inhumane systems of Apartheid rested on my shoulders during the time we were there. The sobbing was uncontrollable. A lovely black South African tour guide (Rafweala) told me to draw strength from her because they have overcome. Black South Africans have overcome. I will always remember Rafweala's resilience.
During our drive to Ixopo, I was reminded of the first words in Cry, the Beloved Country: "There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills." The hills rolled like giant organized waves and the further we traveled, the more the beauty intensified. Zulu people were walking freely, chewing on sugar cane—sometimes wearing only the bare skin on the bottom of their feet. Women balanced objects on their strong heads while the sun is glares down so bright. I found myself astonished by simple lives lived in a land of unparalleled beauty.
My most intriguing experience during this journey was our trip into the lower hills. This is where you can find the soul of the hills. We visited an elementary school—a small room schooling over 250 children. I was amazed by the discipline and regimented dances. We tried to follow the traditional dance and song but we failed miserably!
I will always remember sharing the gift of song with the Zulu people. I was overwhelmed by their appreciation. When the children were led to chant, "Sing, Tiffany, sing, Tiffany," I could not contain my tears of joy. The soul and pride of the Zulu people will go with me forever.
Being on Kumalo's Mountain was so palpably seeing something more powerful than me. Stephen Kumalo ventured here to conquer his internal struggles. On a personal level, as I looked at something so divinely beautiful I wonder how the carnal world can exist alongside it. I was surrounded by rolling hills. Below I saw the valley of the Zulu people and Carisbrooke Elementary, filled with young minds. It was a triumphant resting place.
What a difference it was to be surrounded by water instead of mountains! The waves rolled like the hills seemed to roll during our ride into Ixopo a few days ago. The ocean was calming while the hills were comforting. I am struck by the vastness of Africa and its beauty.
Robben Island was Mandela's "home" for many years. Once I entered the jail, I began to feel a deep sadness. We were taken to cell number five, Mandela's actual cell. I began to imagine being confined in that way. After being in the cell for five minutes, I couldn't control my tears. I knew than that my experience of being here...and also what Mandela had to endure...was a test of strength.
Table Mountain overlooks the beautiful Cape Town. It is one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. It was akin to being on Kumalo's Mountain, except instead of peering down on a Zulu valley, you see exotic beaches lining the Atlantic Ocean. It was another spiritual resting place during my journey in Africa.
Our adventures in the "bush" are what I learned Africa could be—a vast land where animals live freely. I enjoyed seeing rhino spray their territory, lions mating in the setting sun, hippos freely gliding in and out of view. I was struck by the confidence of the giraffes who towered over the entire kingdom. The experience taught me that even animals prefer freedom. I believe this is why they are calm and kind to humans in the reserve—they are free!
I was proud to be in the midst of such greatness and to be a part of an event concerning AIDS awareness. Many Africans suffer due to the lack of knowledge. I believe there will come a time when no one will have to suffer because human generosity will prevail. I feel like Nelson Mandela's statement that AIDS is not a racial problem but a problem of humanity demonstrates his resilience.
My flight home was bittersweet. I was anxious to depart to Africa because I knew the adventure would bring about many lessons. Now, I am anxious to return home because I want to begin processing my experiences. The lessons I've learned are as vast the terrain of Africa:
Apartheid hurt all the people, not just the blacks.
Many whites fought against the evil caused by Apartheid.
The Beloved Country is as beautiful as Paton described in his book.
I can do a lot to confront my own fears.
There are many different tribes in South Africa who practice different customs.
The biggest lesson is the resilience I saw in oppressed people— is one of the reasons that South Africans did not enter into a major conflict when Apartheid was dismantled.
I am writing to nominate a former high school student for your South Africa Book Club trip. Though it has been years since Tiffany Jackson graduated from the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven, Connecticut, she has remained involved with the school, opting to return to give back in various ways.
Tiffany is a remarkable individual. I have taught for nearly 25 years and she remains in my memory as the most focused and positive student of my teaching experience. For example, at 16 years of age, Tiffany would catch the train for New York after school, appear at the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night, and have herself and her completed homework ready for my first period class mere hours later.
After graduation, Tiffany earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Michigan. Then she returned to New Haven to attend Yale School of Music. This was followed by three years at the Houston Opera Company. Tiffany continues her operatic career with various performances in various venues.
Several years ago, between gigs, Tiffany returned to our school for a brief stint as a substitute teacher. As it happened, I was teaching one of my favorite books, Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country. It occurred to me what a wonderful experience for my students to hear a professional opera singer perform a selection from "Lost in the Stars," the musical version of the novel. Tiffany performed for several of my classes, and she was magnificent! Not only did she provide a moving tribute to Paton's work, she, once again, proved a shining example of hope for my students. Tiffany understands my students' inner-city experiences as she has experienced them herself.
Tiffany is living proof that life can be transcendent; one can achieve and grow through faith and love. It has been fourteen years since Tiffany first read Cry, the Beloved Country in my senior English Class. She exuded then, and later, the very themes of Paton's masterpiece: love of family and community, faith in God, and hope for a beautiful world.