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.


  1. It's so great that you got to do a homestay! I think a saw a little bit of Mommy Lisa coming out with that sweet little boy ;) Love you!

  2. Great post.., other homestay in Payakumbuh, Indonesia :

  3. I've enjoyed your post. Thanks.

    My wife Lisa lived in the shadow of Table Mountain in Gardens District from 9 to 19, and went to High School there. That was during apartheid of course. She was there when D6 was destroyed. She came to Toronto for University, and stayed. We have two kids together here, but we also own a house on the Southern Peninsula nearby Lisa's mom's cottage. Lisa and our elder daughter are there just now, sharing Nana's 85th and Xmas together. Our younger daughter wants to go to art school there in a few years.

    Nana is at the Methodist Church near the prison in Tokai. She's been a spiritual worker at the prison for over 20 years now - still going strong. Most of her cases have long since left prison and she still ministers to them, often visiting them in the townships.

    I hope you don't mind, but I've borrowed a pic of Khayalitsha to go with another taken a little closer to Woodstock amongst the shacks.

    One of your other pics is of St Peters Anglican. I think that was where my friend Siegfried (Zulu from up North, probably trained at Pieter Maritzberg) was pastor 'til recently. He's now with SIM in Muizenburg. also on FB

  4. very nice Post with beautiful images, I appreciate it.
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