Monday, February 13, 2012

Rebel With a Cause

If you had met my mother, you would have thought she was a sweet, friendly, and funny woman. After getting to know her, you would see the spitfire she really was. Nancy Ambrose was strong and fearless, had a great sense of humor, an ingrained self-determination that was both enviable and irritating. Some of these traits were genetic, and some were learned. She also had the ability to laugh at almost any situation... and at herself. I hope that I have inherited that from her, as I think it's sometimes the only way to get past the hard stuff.

My mother's birthday is this week, so I'll write up a little bio on her later and post it. I wanted to share with you a story one of her close friends wrote me about a year ago. It sums my mother up perfectly. I've really enjoyed the letters and notes her friends have sent to me after her death, sharing stories that I had never heard before. My mother was always defending the downtrodden, the unfortunate, and the left behind. Right before her death, we were gathering documents for her taxes and we had a good laugh at how much she'd donated to the handicapped veterans. She was a rebel with many causes.

This is one of those stories.

My mother's friend Judith was also the wife of an ex-pat in Gaborone. She was my mother's best friend in Gaborone until Judith and her husband moved back to Canada. My mother and Judith would go for daily walks, something my mother used to do with her friends in Darien for many years. I went on a few of those walks (in Darien) and was amazed how quickly they would walk – but mostly how fast they could walk and talk at the same time. They were faster than a NY commuter!

The morning walk in Gaborone took Nancy and Judith through the local golf course, behind the Sun Hotel, a South African hotel chain. Apparently there were very few golfers playing during the time of their walk, but if there were, according to Judith, it was easy to keep out of their way or line of fire. The golf course had always provided a short cut through the course for workers (i.e. maids or guards) who had long distances to walk to their place of work.

Judith is such a good writer that I think I'll quote from her letter to tell you the rest of the story.

One morning to our anger we found that a wire fence had been put up along with no trespassing signs. I can't believe how Nancy and I worked ourselves up into a froth. One of us found wire cutters and the next morning we cut a small hole in the fence and continued our normal walk.

The following day the hole had been enlarged and a stream of workers followed our example. A week or so later we were horrified to find a group of men installing razor wire in large rolls the length of several blocks. It was horrible – a South African apartheid-style solution. The men who were installing it were angry too. There was no cutting into this!

Nancy and I took photos and I took one to the local newspaper and complained about the horrible symbolism of keeping "black" workers out of an essentially "white" golf club right in the city, in a country that was proud of it's lack of white colonial dominance. Our criticisms were printed, along with the counter arguments (safety, right of golfers) of the Sun Hotel. But the razor wire remained.

Seeing as both their husbands worked for the Botswana government, perhaps Judith and Nancy's antics were frowned upon on the home front, but I admire the women, and like to think I would have done the same.

Thanks Judith, for such wonderful memories and photos.