Port Townsend woman finds self suddenly in midst of South Africa's Mandela rites
Port Townsend native Sascha Archer shows Cape Town, South Africa, City Hall, decorated for a memorial rally for Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday.
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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Mandela, the former South African president and prisoner who is credited with ending apartheid in South Africa, died Thursday at the age of 95.
Sascha Archer on Friday morning South African time learned that Mandela had died when she checked her email and found messages from her mother, Karen Archer, who lives in Port Townsend.
“It's ironic how I heard the news,” Sascha Archer wrote in an email to the Peninsula Daily News.
“Apparently [my mother] tried to Skype us last night about the news, but it was 2 a.m. our time and our household was asleep.”
When she read the news, Archer was in a Cape Town suburb with no transportation and was “hugely relieved” when a friend called to drive her to City Hall, where an interfaith ceremony was taking place to honor Mandela.
“Many beautiful sounds filled my ears and soul, chanting, singing, clicking, marching/stomping and more,” Archer wrote.
“The scene in front of me was incredibly moving: in front of the Cape Town City Hall with flags at half-staff were large banners of Mandela blowing in the strong Cape winds and the roads lined and strewn with flowers.
“The streets closed off were overflowing with a large diverse crowd, people of all ages, colors and backgrounds all together in solidarity: waving the post-apartheid flag, throwing their fists in the air while singing traditional songs, hymns, chants and prayers, dancing and marching across the square.
“Amongst the tears, hugs and mourning: the overall energy was alive, vibrant and celebratory as everyone seemed to be rejoicing in Mandela's life. The collective sense of pride was both undeniable and beautiful to witness.”
Archer, 38, is a 1993 graduate of Port Townsend High School and earned a graduate degree in art therapy in 2009 from the Vancouver Arts Therapy Institute in Vancouver, B.C.
She wanted to put her skills as an art therapist to work and chose South Africa because that nation had no accredited art therapy programs.
On her first trip in 2009, she met William Smith, then 11, who had fallen from an electrical pole in an attempt to retrieve a bird's nest, necessitating the amputation of both arms.
Archer worked with William and brought him out of his shell, resulting in a documentary, “Driving William,” that was featured at the 2011 Port Townsend Film Festival.
Archer reunited with William, now 15, on Dec. 4 after not having seen him for two years.
Archer is to stay in South Africa for six weeks and planned to meet with William, work on a nonprofit project she is committed to, swim and “take time and space to reflect on what's next for me.”
What she did not expect is for the father of the country to die.
“I felt incredibly honored and humbled to be standing, not only with these thousands of folks, but also in the same area in front of the steps where Tata Madiba [Mandela] made his first speech as a free man,” Archer wrote.
“I will never forget the overwhelming feelings of love and gratitude during this historical day, for the father of a country I both love and consider my second home.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: December 07. 2013 7:45PM