On Sunday we went to Robben Island. We went by boat, which ended up being a bumpy, windy, cold, but beautiful trip. Once we landed, we went on a bus tour around the island. Apparently Robben Island was used as a leper colony before it was turned into a prison. We saw the leper cemetery, and also the “Irish Town,” where a large population of Irish people settled in the aftermath of the potato famine. They built churches, and provided help for the lepers on the Island.
Most of the group with the "overseas" view of Cape Town in the background
The Irish Town on Robben Island
We then did a walking tour of the Robben Island Prison. The prison was used only for Black, Coloured, and Asian males – no White men, and no women. Those prisoners convicted of murder, rape, and the like were placed in medium security unites, while the political prisoners were contained in maximum security… this shows how much the reigning regime feared these political figures and activists. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years (he spent the next 9 years in another prison), and we were able to see his jail cell. We saw the cells used for punishment – the windows were even covered. Black prisoners were treated worse than their Coloured or Asian counterparts, and were even fed differently.
Nelson Mandela's cell
Visual of the food disparities by race
We also learned about Robert Sobukwe, who founded the Pan Africanist Congress in opposition to the apartheid government. To punish him, the government completely isolated him from human contact. They put him in a solitary building on Robben Island and disallowed the prison guards from communicating with him. They even rotated prison guards on a regular basis to prevent any formation of a relationship. He was kept from his family, and was set free and then rearrested two or three times. Maybe it sounds naïve, but I am astounded by the cruelty humans are capable of imparting on one another.
On the boat ride back, we saw whales and seals. Seals might be the happiest animals in the world… they looked so content just lounging in the sun.
Also on Sunday we went to a braai (South African barbeque) that was put on for CIEE students. On the way home, a few of us hopped on the Jammie Shuttle (provided by UCT), and the shuttle did a complete loop, went back to where it started, and then finally got us to our destination. South Africa is not big on efficiency… It’s pretty refreshing, really. Elizabeth and I just kind of relaxed and trusted we would get somewhere we wanted to be eventually, but a CIEE Arts & Sciences girl was sitting behind me on the shuttle, and she was so frustrated and stressed out that it was taking so long, and that we were going in circles. Americans must seem so high strung and annoying to South Africans.
Yesterday I went to a mall with some girls in my group. I was pretty disappointed that prices were about equivalent to shopping at home, but I think we’re going to go to a flea market in the area soon to try to get some deals, and some more authentic South African merchandise. It was our first experience with a taxi and cab, though, and all went well. I’m still unsure about the standard tipping procedures here. Later in the day we met our professors for the semester. Cina will be teaching the Social Research Methods class, Ingrid will teach Poverty and Development... and I can't remember the names of the women teaching Afrikaans and Xhosa. They all seem very kind.
Last night, I went to Bronx, a gay club, for karaoke night. The drag queens put on an especially great show! Overall, South Africa (like the rest of Africa), is highly intolerant of homosexuality… but Cape Town is known for its more progressive nature. From what I’ve heard, the gay community has been growing in recent years and is becoming more active and visible in the Cape Town community. I definitely plan on going back to Bronx… and we signed the boys in our group up for karaoke next week.
Today, we went back to Equal Education in a smaller group (only those interested). Now, I’m incredibly conflicted between Equal Education and St. Michael’s… Equal Education is just brimming with an active energy that gets me excited and ready to get up and DO something. It very much appeals to my legal and human rights inclinations. I will get to see St. Michael’s in person this week, and will hopefully get a better grasp on what place is the best fit for me.