Monday, March 29, 2010

spring break in cape town, durban, and joburg

My Spring Break (technically Fall Break) officially began on Friday, March 19 when I got out of class. I didn't leave for my travels until Sunday evening, but spent Friday on the beach and going out to dinner for Max's 21st birthday, Saturday in Kalk Bay, and Sunday at the Equal Education March on Human Rights Day (March 21), which was a part of their campaign for school libraries in every school in South Africa.

On Saturday, I went to the fish market at Kalk Bay and had lunch at Kalky’s, which serves the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. The fish market was, strangely enough, probably one of my favorite places I’ve experienced in Cape Town. It was right on the shore, and the boats would pull right up to the edge, where you can watch the fishermen and fish marketers would pull their product freshly off the boat.

A really fantastic little band was playing outside Kalky’s, similar to the band that performed at Ubuntu in Khayelitsha.

The band provided stunning live music during my meal at Kalky's

On Sunday, I helped out at the Equal Education March, which was a campaign to get school libraries in all schools in South Africa. There was a large concert, featuring HHP (a popular hip hop artist here), and then a march to Parliament. I was unable to participate in the actual march part of it, because I had to leave in order to pack for my trip!

Marchers at the Equal Education March for school libraries on Human Rights Day

Erin, Jonah, Max, and I flew out of Cape Town on Sunday evening, and arrived in Durban. We stayed in a hostel in Warner Beach, a small beach town outside Durban, for the first three nights. The hostel was wonderful, and the beach was beautiful… the ocean was actually a tolerable temperature, unlike the frigid water of the beaches in Cape Town. I also saw the Indian Ocean for the first time! Warner Beach wasn’t the most vibrant beach town... It seemed a little old and lifeless, but we spent some time in neighboring Umkomaas, which had a much more appealing and lively beach-town feel.

We went to Umkomaas to go scuba diving on Tuesday morning. We signed up for a scuba diving session for beginners that includes an instructional component and then dive in the ocean. We got through the pool instruction, despite major facemask issues, and hopped on the boat to head out to sea. The boat ride was fantastic because the ocean was rough that day and the waves were huge and exciting. The first problem arose when the boat slowed down. We got to the stiller water, where the dive would take place, and Jonah began getting severely seasick. By the time we jumped off the boat for the dive, he was too sick to actually scuba dive. On top of that, the conditions were ROUGH, and we all had a difficult time as we attempted to go lower into the water, equalize (we were all sick which made the pressure more painful), and stay together while doing so. Scuba masks do NOT provide deep breathing, and I couldn’t get a full breath of air as I tried to do all the proper steps. I started hyperventilating and couldn’t slow my breathing down enough to complete the dive. So, our scuba diving adventure turned into Max and Erin diving and having a great time, while Jonah threw up off the side of the boat and I sat on the boat trying to breathe and get my head back on straight. Once I was able to calm down, I chatted with the boat driver and watched a beautiful group of about 20 dolphins swim by RIGHT next to, and under, the boat! I wish I’d had my camera. I sure love boats, and I was glad to have my head above water.

On Wednesday, we checked out of the hostel and went to Ushaka Marine World, which is the largest water park/activity center in South Africa. It’s a water park, aquarium, marine center, and who knows what else… all right on the ocean. It was huge and had the cheesy amusement park feel to it, but we had a great time… and rode the tallest water slide in Africa!

We stayed in another hostel in Durban for Wednesday and Thursday nights, and spent Thursday walking around the city all day. As we walked through the middle of the city, I noticed that we were the only white people in the area. From my overall perception of Durban, it seems like the white residents stay in their suburbs. This is not true of Cape Town… certainly the living situations are typically separate by race, but daily life generally involves constant interactions between South Africans of different races, at least on some level.

We walked from our hostel to Victoria Street Market, a well-known market that ended up being pretty disappointing. From there, we went to Wilson’s Wharf and saw the boats, walked around, and had lunch. Our last stop was the BAT Center, which was by far the coolest. It’s an art and culture center in Durban where artists create their works on site, sell their products, have live performances, and more. I bought a painting to bring home for my dad!

View of Durban's city center from Wilson's Wharf. Apparently a nickname for the city is "Durbs by the Sea"

The outside of the BAT Center.

At night we ate on Florida Road, which we were told was THE place to go for nightlife in Durban. It was a five minute walk from our hostel, and had a line of restaurants and a few casual bars. It certainly wasn’t comparable to Long Street for the nightlife scene, but it was a nice place for a variety of dinner options and after dinner drinks. We ate at an excellent Italian restaurant called Spiga D’Oro and Mexican restaurant called Café Zulu.

We flew out of Durban to Johannesburg on Friday afternoon, where we were picked up by Damien, who Erin knows because she will be working with him at a camp in California this summer. He picked us up at the airport (which was about an hour drive from his house), let us stay at his house, drove us into Johannesburg amidst hellish traffic on Saturday, and even drove us to the airport on Sunday morning at 5:00AM… So, needless to say, we were incredibly thankful to him! We spent Friday night around his suburb of Johannesburg, and then spent Saturday in Johannesburg, largely at the Apartheid Museum. The Apartheid Museum was SO long… it was incredible and moving, but after 4 hours I was ready to get out of there. It was set up as a chronological path through the roots of Apartheid, the full fledged horrors of it, and then the aftermath when it ended. One of the most disturbing parts was learning about the AWB, which is the far-right Afrikaaner group (reminiscent of Nazis). I saw videos of AWB leaders speaking, and it was sickening. Here is their website:
The propaganda surrounding Apartheid was also shocking… Verwoerd called Apartheid a system of “good neighborliness.” I was particularly enthralled by one exhibit, based on the writing and photographs in House of Bondage, a book by Ernest Cole about the horrors of Apartheid. The book was banned in South Africa.

We spent the evening in Melville, a lively and fun area of Joburg with restaurants and bars lining one main street, 7th Street. Apparently a famous South African soapie (soap opera) takes place on 7th Street. We ate at a spectacular pizza restaurant with a New York feel for dinner, where we had probably the best meal of the trip. We spent the rest of the night with Damien and his friends back in his suburb, and then woke up bright and early to catch a 7:00AM flight back to Cape Town on Sunday morning.

I had an excellent trip, but was glad to return to Cape Town. Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town all have such different personalities! I loved seeing them all and getting a more well-rounded idea of what urban South Africa is like… but in the end, Cape Town is far and above the best of the three. It has much more to offer, a more open culture, and the most beautiful landscape. It’s good to be back.

*Note: My camera battery died, so I didn't get to take any pictures in Joburg. I'm hoping to get some from Erin and plug them back into this post at a later date.

Monday, March 15, 2010

homestay in khayelitsha

This past weekend we went to Khayelitsha to live with various families in the community for the weekend. Khayelitsha is both the biggest and oldest township in Cape Town, and the residents are predominantly black and Xhosa speaking. Danielle and I stayed with a family of five, plus one other visitor: the mother, Mavis (I can't remember her Xhosa name but we called her Mama anyways), father (we saw him only once in passing), their 12 year old granddaughter Siphusetha, 25 year old daughter Mpondo, two year old grandson Aphela (Mpondo's son), and then they also has a family visitor for the weekend, KK, who is Mavis's niece. KK goes to the University of the Western Cape, which is not too far away from Khayelitsha. The family was wonderful and welcoming, and Danielle and I shared a room with KK. The house had a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. It was a little tight for eight people, but didn't seemed as cramped as I would have thought. The family seemed to know all their neighbors, and I got a strong feeling of community in the surrounding area. Mpondo, KK, Danielle, and I were walking back home at night, and Mpondo saw one of her male friends that was outside nearby. He left his friends and walked with us until we got home safely.

My homestay family: KK, Mpondo (holding Aphela), Danielle, Mavis, Siphusetha, me

KK and Mpondo also told us about one of the neighbors, a young man, who apparently is a pretty shady character. They said he is infatuated with Mpondo, and follows her and watches her. One day, it was miserably hot outside and Mpondo was inside her kitchen doing the dishes in just a towel and her bra. She looked out the window and saw that the neighbor was in her yard staring in the window, watching her. Mpondo said that she told her mom what he was doing, and Mavis (her mother) grabbed a broom, went outside and, as the girls phrased it, "mauled him with the broom." They also implied that her actions were pretty brave. The young man could easily have retaliated, hurt her, and had little to no repercussion from it.

KK told me that her father grew up in Cape Town, and was involved in the June 16 riots in 1876. The black community organized a massive uprising during this time, fighting for Bantu education. KK's father was one of the leaders of the movement. On the 16th of June, the police broke up the riot by open shooting on those involved. KK's father was shot, and lost an arm as a result. He had to go into hiding for a week afterward because he was being sought after by the government for his significant involvement in the riots. He, and KK's mother, moved to East London (which is near Port Elizabeth in SA - not in the UK!) and have lived there ever since. KK said that her father has a "bad attitude" toward white people as a result of it. I can't say I blame him.

On Friday evening, we arrived in Khayelitsha, introduced ourselves, met our homestay families, and ate dinner together. It was such a warm welcome, and such a fun group of people, mainly middle aged to elderly women, teenagers or young adults that live at home, and then little children. No men were present. Most families don't have fathers in Khayelitsha.

On Saturday we went to see an event at Ubuntu, a center for HIV/AIDS positive children in the community. Dani, Laurie, and Lin-Lin from our program all work at Ubuntu. It was incredible... lots of music, singing, dancing, and mingling. One little boy climbing on my lap and barely left for the entire two hours. He played with my watch, and everyone's watches in the area, played with my face, laughed as I ticked him, and tried to tickle me back. I wish I could understand the words he was saying, but he was only speaking Xhosa.

A few shots from the performances:

The youngest children performed "Head and shoulders, knees in toes" in Xhosa, which we have learned in our Xhosa class... I sang along as much as I could remember.

My little buddy on my lap... unfortunately you can't really see his face because he is busy "taking a picture" with my watch, which he continued to use as if it was a camera. When I showed him pictures I had taken on my camera screen, he would kiss them every time.

Saturday afternoon we went to a place called Ace's, which is a more laid back version of Mzoli's... except this place serves ONLY meat. No pap or salsa. We ate there, talked to some Khayelitsha residents, and then went to the OTHER Ace's in town, which was more of a bar. We arrived at about 5:00PM, and the place was PACKED with people who were dancing, laughing, drinking, and enjoying the weekend. I've never seen a bar so alive at 5:00! We were given dancing instruction by people at Ace's, and I think they got a kick out of our enthusiastic attempts. South Africans sure can dance. We were once again welcomed with open arms... and we certainly stuck out as the only white people in the building.

Mavis was gone for most of Saturday, because she went to a nearby township with her aunt. Mavis's niece is getting married soon, and they were going to meet with the future in-laws to discuss the "Labola," which is similar to the dowry. It is a very big deal in Xhosa culture, and the next day Mavis told us that the future groom's family first offered 20,000 Rand. Mavis family argued for more, wanting 50,000R because the young woman is educated, which according to their culture makes her worth more Labola money. The man's family said they cannot afford that but they can offer 20,000R more when they can come up with it in a month's time or so... for a total of 40,000R. They want this money because the couple wants to have a "white wedding." All Xhosa couples have traditional weddings (I'm not sure exactly what this entails but I know that the bride wears traditional Xhosa garb). If they can afford it, they have a second ceremony, a "white wedding," which would be the same kind of service most American newlyweds have, with a white wedding dress. 40,000R is equivalent to approximately $5,700.

On Sunday morning, five other service-learners and I went to church with Mavis. She goes to St. Peter's Anglican Church in Khayelitsha, where she said her parents went, she met her husband, got married, sings in the choir at, and so on. She grew up in the St. Peter's church that is in Langa, though, so I guess there are two churches that are connected. The service was in Xhosa, so I couldn't understand it. But I didn't really need to understand the words... It was a beautiful service, and I could feel the love of the community in the room. I guess some people would say they could feel God's presence... I'd say there's no distinction. It was a highly musical service, and the music was incredible. No instruments were used, except one woman beat a seat cushion with her hand to keep the beat, and I heard some sort of bell being hit for rhythm as well. Otherwise, the music was purely vocal. It was beautiful. Of course then I remember that Christianity was initially forced on the Xhosa population by the white colonizers... The Xhosa community appears to have a devout and sincere Christian presence, but I can't help but be somewhat disillusioned by the origin of this aspect of Xhosa culture. The service was incredible, nonetheless.

We couldn't understand what the service leader was saying, and suddenly at one point Mavis turned to the six of us and said "Now you are going to the front of the church to introduce yourselves, say where you are from, and what you are doing here." We were caught a little off guard, but took it in stride. It seemed like all visitors introduce themselves publicly, because there were also three other visitors, from different areas of the region or country, that also introduced themselves. We were warmly welcomed.

The front of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Khayelitsha

We ate very well in Khayelitsha. Both mornings Dani and I woke up, had the bowl of cereal we were urged us to take... then Mavis would say, "Okay, time for breakfast!" and pull out plates full of eggs, toast, tomato slices, and some kind of meat (a mysterious sausage on day and fish sticks the next - I ate these sparingly). I guess cereal is just a breakfast appetizer in Khayelitsha.

Before leaving on Sunday, Mpondo and KK took Dani and me to Lookout Mountain, which is really a large hill on the edge of Khayelitsha. From the top, you can see out over the whole township. The houses are so colorful, but there is very little vegetation within the township. It's very sandy, and Mavis told us it used to be much worse. She said when she first arrived in Khayelitsha, it was so sandy you could barely even open your eyes outside, and you certainly couldn't eat or drink anything outside... you would just end up with a mouthful of sand.

I exchanged numbers with Mavis, Mpondo, and KK before leaving... and I'm hoping to get Mpondo and KK to meet us out on Long Street sometime in April.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

journaling at bonnytoun

I teach a two hour class with the boys from the dormitory Mars 2 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Thursdays I also co-conduct an extracurricular literacy program with the boys from Mars 1. For the literacy program today, I had the boys in my group do a journal writing exercise. The prompt I gave them was: Write about a person who is important to you, and why they are important to you. This journaling exercise took most of the hour. I, and the other two volunteers, would read each boy's work and then ask questions to try to prompt more writing. I also tried to talk to each boy about the people they were writing about, and to review what they remembered from the nouns and verbs lesson last week. Some remembered quite well. Two boys in the group cannot write in English, so they did their journal writing in Afrikaans. I was especially impressed and touched by Marwaan's work. I will retype his journal entry below, exactly as he wrote it:

My mom is important to me because shes the only one that lisen to my problems and the one I love the most of All people in my life. I like helping my mom and I miss it alot I miss the thins She tels me and the thins She Do for me and if I Need enything my mother by or give it to me iven if I have to wait a time befor I get it but most of all I miss her face and voice. and when I go home I will like to fix my problems.

I have started to get to know the personalities of some of the boys by now, and to see their academic strengths and weaknesses. Jeshwin is an excellent reader, and understands and remembers concepts very well (nouns and verbs)... but he struggles with writing. He is a very poor speller, and can write only very simple sentences. Phelo reads very well, and puts complex sentences together... but has terrible sentence structure and has a hard time understanding the concepts of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Brandon and Riaan told me today that they both have court dates next week, on the 16th and 17th, respectively. Phelo's court date is also coming up on March 25, which will occur while I am on spring break. Ryan, who I worked with last week from Mars 1, went to court yesterday. He turned 18 last week, so if he got/gets convicted then his sentencing will be more severe. It's hard for me to believe that these boys have committed crimes, and it's even harder for me to believe that some of them would fare well in prison. They just seem like kids. Most are 15 or 16, but they seem much younger to me.

I am sitting on my porch as I write this, and I just looked up to see a large rat scamper from one bush to another.

We are doing a homestay this weekend, so I will be living with a family in Khayelitsha , a black township, from Friday to Sunday.

Monday, March 8, 2010

nelson wine estate and sunday at mzoli's

There's currently a heat wave plaguing Cape Town, and it was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit today... I haven't stopped sweating since I woke up this morning.

Classes and programs are still going well at Bonnytoun. Today we started out class having the boys do a short journal writing in their notebooks about what they did all weekend. The boys that can’t write drew pictures. We then divided the class into our three groups, and I reviewed nouns, verbs, and adjectives with my group of boys (Phelo, Dumisani, Ayanda, and Bradley – though the group sometimes varies from day to day based on attendance). Dumisani wasn’t present for my lesson last week, but the other boys did pretty a decent job remembering what nouns and verbs were! I asked Bradley if he could remember what a verb is, and right away he said: “something you DO.” I was proud. The schoolteachers at Bonnytoun told me that remembering information between lessons is difficult for the boys.

On Saturday we went to Nelson Wine Estate in Stellenbosch to do a tour and tasting. Our tour guide was a civil law attorney for eight years before going into the wine business... and apparently that's relatively common for lawyers to do around here! We learned the proper technique to taste wine, but our tour/tasting guide was pretty down to earth, and he told us not to stress out about trying to taste all the obscure flavors wine connoisseurs list. The flavors aren’t really there anyways... it’s just grapes after all... but instead it’s the sensations that the wine gives our mouths that remind people of certain flavors.

We learned a few interesting stories about the history of Nelson Wine Estate. There are many vineyards in the Cape Town area, and they used to pay their employees based on the “dop” system. The “dop” system meant that the employees paid their workers (usually lower class coloured or black South Africans) with wine in place of money. This just perpetuated the alcoholism rates and left families unprovided for. When Nelson bought this particular vineyard, however, he ended the implementation of the dop system on his estate. He put the employees on regular salaries, and designated specific areas of the vineyard for each employee. He set up incentives for the productivity of those specific areas, rewarding the workers whose land portions provided the most and best quality grapes for wine. He also set up a system that allowed the workers to eventually own portions of the land to manage themselves. Nelson had to make specific moves to get around certain laws that disallowed blacks to own land. He sounds like a really excellent, progressive, and moral businessman. We enjoyed the day, tasted and bought some wine, and went swimming in their pool.

Yesterday we went back to Mzoli’s (the famous meat restaurant in the township Guguletu) for the Sunday experience. We were told that people go to Mzoli’s religiously on Sundays, and they stay all day, eating meat, drinking beer, dancing, and having a grand old time. What a great way to spend a Sunday. We got there around 11:00 AM and were a little concerned at the scarcity of the crowd… but by the time noon rolled around the place was PACKED. You go inside to order the meat (and "pap," which is kind of like firmer, stickier grits, and salsa)… and then they cook it for you and you pick it up and bring it out to the table yourself. I got to see the cooking/grilling room too, which was pretty crazy. Those guys can really handle the heat and smoke, and do a damn good job of cooking at the same time. I didn’t partake in the meat this time, but I heard some pretty phenomenal reviews. The seating is outside, with tented shade. The whole place was just an uproar of festivity.

The meal. I believe there were 8 or 9 of us sharing this food.

Also important to note: No plates. No utensils. There are heaping bowls of meat, salsa, and pap in the middle of the table, and everyone just digs in with their hands.

Monday, March 1, 2010

class and soccer at bonnytoun

Max, Mark, and I had our first class at Bonnytoun today. We were given 20 boys from Mars 2, and we worked with all of them together, just trying to get to know them and get an idea of their literacy levels. We played a few games, did an ice-breaker or two, and then broke up into three groups to read (similar to the extra-curricular literacy program). I worked with six boys, and again read a Dr. Seuss book. Of the six, two were good readers, one was an okay reader, and one tried to read, but couldn’t. He only got one work right on the page. The other two boys said they couldn’t read either. I suspect that they actually can, and I pushed them a little to try… but they weren’t having it. I especially liked Bradley in my group. He was one of the best readers, but didn’t try to dominate the reading like the other top reader in the group (I had to stop him to get him to pass the book on). Bradley was especially attentive, and a little shy, but very polite. He had exceptionally good handwriting, which made me wonder if he’s had more schooling than other boys in the group. I don’t know what we’re going to plan out specifically for future classes, but we certainly need to try to divide the boys by academic ability.

After class, we played red light-green for a while with the boys, and then Max, Mark, and I walked down the street and had some lunch before coming back to Bonnytoun to do a soccer program with another group, Mars 1, who I worked with last Thursday. Sabelo wasn’t there, but Siyanda was. He recognized me, and I think he was impressed that I remembered his name. I joined in the soccer game, but was definitely the weakest player. It was pretty fun, and a couple of the boys on my team would always make a point to pass me the ball. When the ball came toward me, they were encouraging ("Lisa! Lisa!")... of course I’d just kick it away to someone as quickly as possible. Overall I had fun (with the exception of Max heading the ball straight into my face!). It was good to see the boys so engaged in the game. A few were really exceptional ball handlers. I hope to bring my camera in sometime, after working at Bonnytoun for a while, to take pictures of the boys in action.

the old biscuit mill and soweto gospel choir

Friday night, I went to a play at Baxter Theater (UCT’s theater, which is just down the road from our house). It was a two person play about a man and a woman who get trapped in a nightclub as a result of WWII bombings. It wasn’t the best play I’ve seen, but it was certainly entertaining… and it was nice to do something a little different.

On Saturday morning I woke up and went back to Bonnytoun to do a literacy program again. This time we worked with one of the Saturn boys, who are smaller than the Mars boys we worked with last Thursday. I worked with three boys, and again had a great experience. They were younger, and seemed much younger, than the two Xhosa boys I worked with on Thursday. We took turns reading a Dr. Seuss book, and one boy struggled quite a bit. Another boy in the group helped him out a lot, and he was a great reader. It’s tricky to work with two boys at such different levels.

When I got back from Bonnytoun, I went back to the Old Biscuit Mill and got tons of excellent food (and free samples)! I had my camera with me this time, and was able to snap a few photos of the environment. The Old Biscuit Mill is an old mill converted into a ritzy shopping and international food warehouse on Saturday morning/afternoon. I’m not sure what the place is like during the week, but Saturdays are bustling, generally with wealthy white people, largely international. Interestingly, the Old Biscuit Mill is set in a somewhat rough, and certainly black and/or coloured area of Cape Town. Aside from this troubling dichotomy (which I’ve realized is very common throughout the Cape Town area), the Old Biscuit Mill is incredible. On one side, there are stands set up of food and beverages from all over the world…. On the other side, are cute and funky little shops, with themes like: vintage, antique, photography, retro, bead, clothing, and more.

Inside the food area at the Old Biscuit Mill

After the Old Biscuit Mill, a group of us packed picnics and headed to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to see the Soweto Gospel Choir in concert, where we saw Lira a few weeks ago. This concert blew Lira out of the water. A band called the Rudimentals opened... they were a really fun and lively Zimbabwean band. But when Soweto Gospel Choir came on stage, in their beautiful African attire, with the breathtaking mountainous backdrop, and belted out their songs with the most powerful voices I’ve experienced… It was incredible. A sensory explosion of beauty. The full experience couldn’t be captured with a camera, but I encourage any and everyone to look up their music. They sang in English, and also in various African languages. Their songs were largely Christian, but not exclusively so, and they didn’t give any sort of come-to-Jesus message via speech or song. They were infinitely more remarkable than any other gospel choir I’ve heard. Pictures below.

The Soweto Gospel Choir on stage, with the incredible backdrop of Cape Town's mountain range

I also got a picture with a couple of the choir members after the show, but it turned out really blurry. I think Betsy has a higher-quality version that I will try to get ahold of and post at a later date!

I spent a good portion of Sunday rock-climbing on a beach in Camps Bay that I hadn’t been to yet. It was an exceptionally beautiful area, and the vividness of the colors seemed unreal… a thought I tend to find myself having often amidst my sight-seeing here. Real life looks more vivid and stunning as a photo-shopped picture in a brochure. Much more beautiful.