Sunday, April 18, 2010

simons town and seal island

Yesterday, Jess, Betsy, Elizabeth, Christina, Mark, and I took a train to Simons Town for a boat tour of Seal Island. It took us about an hour by train to get there. We spent a couple hours walking around the town, eating at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the bay, exploring the shops, and then wandering down to the dock. We ended up being the only people that signed up for the 2:30 tour, so the five of us had a private boat tour with the skipper! It was about an hour and a half round trip tour, and the boat ride was bouncy, windy, and a lot of fun. When we approached Seal Island, the skipper slowed the boat so we could watch out for any other forms of wildlife. Apparently the morning tour spotted orca whales! We weren't so fortunate, but the seals were certainly enough to satisfy my wildlife quota for the day.

Seal Island is TINY (300 by 80 meters) and composed of solid granite. No vegetation, just rock. And it is COMPLETELY covered with seals. There were quite a few birds perched on the island, and we saw three young penguins among the seals, but the rest of the island was essentially solid seal chaos. The surrounding water was full of seals playing, swimming, and fighting the waves to get back on shore. The surrounding waters are called the "kill zone," because that's where sharks snag a seal snack, while the seals are returning home from a day of hunting.

Part of Seal Island... seals covered the whole island this densely!

The water was beautiful, and the views of the mountains from the ocean were stunning. There was a boat doing shark cage diving right next to us near Seal Island, so they were tossing out a giant chunk of tuna and a fake seal to draw sharks... that was a little nerve-wracking. A shark came right as we were near them, but it was just far enough away that we couldn't see it. If you don't know what shark cage diving is, they essentially drop a big cage into the water, and a person hangs out underwater in the cage... then they bait sharks to the vicinity, so that the person can see a shark up close and personal, while (hopefully) protected from consumption by the cage.

The boat doing shark cage diving. You can also get an idea of how small Seal Island is from this picture.

I wish I had taken more pictures of Simons Town itself (it's difficult to snap pictures when both hand are occupied by crutches!). There are a lot of cute little restaurants and shops all along the main road, and I would love to go back stay longer. Jess, Mark, and Christina stayed the night in a backpacker's lodge. Several others joined them this morning to go sea kayaking! I'm hoping to do the same when I'm a bit more mobile.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

update from bonnytoun and thoughts on crime and race in south africa

It's been a while since my last post, mostly because I haven't done much besides class and service in the past week. My foot injury ended up being a stress fracture, so the crutches have inhibited my mobility and activities. Luckily, I got a walking boot on Friday, so I'm slightly more mobile, but still have the use the crutches.

We moved on to teaching about a country per week in class at Bonnytoun. We started with the United States (since that's the easiest for us!), and then this past week we did a unit on China. None of us are experts on geography or world history, so we just teach the basic information on geography, culture, history, religion, cuisine... whatever we feel is important and can be grasped relatively quickly. On Wednesday, we brought in paints and had the boys work on some Chinese calligraphy. They LOVED it. I think we are going to try to incorporate more artistic/craft activities. Some were quite talented (most likely related to their hobby of tattooing one another).

A few examples of the boys' work with Chinese calligraphy.

I'm beginning to realize more and clearly now little the boys know, and are informed, about the status of their cases. All the time, the boys are saying "I'm going home tomorrow," only to be back in class the next day, or "I'm waiting on this man to call about my case" without knowing who the man is. None of them seem to have any interaction with their attorneys. None of them seem informed on a level that they can understand, if at all.

We've also begun to hear a few of the stories behind the boys' presence at Bonnytoun. After Max finished asking one of the boys questions for a Young in Prison evaluation the other day, the boy started talking to Max about his life. He told him that his father is an alcoholic, and hits his mother and sometimes his siblings. He is the oldest of the children in the family. He told Max that his father would spend the money that his mother earned for food for the family on alcohol, and the family would go hungry. I guess the boy hit a breaking point of desperation, and one day robbed some Zimbabweans so that he could have the money to feed his mother and younger siblings. Now, he's in Bonnytoun. But, his dad is free, drinking away the family's money, and abusing his wife and children. Not to say that the boy made a good choice in robbing those people, and I'm sure they their own money, too... but what a desperate, impossible situation to live in. He is 16 and generally one of the quieter boys. One thing that is really lacking in Bonnytoun is proper counseling. There are social workers that deal with the boys' cases, but there is not a psychologist or psychiatrist available for the residents.

One of the brighter boys in the literacy program (and one of my favorites - though I shouldn't have favorites, I suppose) told me a bit about his case the other day. On New Years, he and a couple friends were out and about, and he saw a truck and decided he wanted to break into it. His friends told him not to, but according to him, he was on tik and the the influence of the tik clouded his decision making. Tik is similar to crystal meth. He broke into the truck, stole some car part (something with the brakes I think). He and his friends began fleeing the scene, when they crossed paths with a few policemen. His friends eventually got charges dropped on account of lacking evidence, but this boy is in Bonnytoun, still awaiting trial. His mother just had daughter, and he's so excited about his new baby sister. There's really no way around it with his situation, he simply made a stupid decision. But I hurt for him, and hope for the best for him. He has a good heart, and he wants to go home and be a better big brother for his siblings and new sister. I want that for him, too.

Another shot of the courtyard at Bonnytoun. There are a few interesting murals on the buildings. I don't know who painted them.

From what I've gathered from stories and reports of others, there seems quite a dichotomy between the crime in Xhosa communities and crime in Coloured communities. Coloured crime tends to be more gang related, more hate driven, and drug induced. Black Xhosa crime tends to be more poverty and desperation driven, and there is not nearly as much gang involvement, or gang related crime in these communities. Most of the people in my program who work at service sites in townships work in Black townships, particularly in Khayelitsha. Though Mark, Max, and I work with many Coloured boys at Bonnytoun, and Tina works with mostly Coloured girls at St. Michael's, Betsy is the only service-learner to work primarily in a Coloured township, at Manenberg Primary School. She has told me how desolate the community seems in comparison with Khayelitsha. There is greater poverty within Black townships, but she said in Manenberg people aren't walking around the neighborhood, hanging out in their front yards, or chatting with the neighbors. It's not the same kind of community feel. There are also very few township tours in Coloured townships; nearly all take place in Black townships. Though the Black population has historically been more harshly oppressed, they have also been the group that has united under that oppression, that elects presidents to represent them, the race of Nelson Mandela, the group that has hope and unites over their shared ancestry. My perception of the Coloured people of South Africa is that they lack a shared culture, and don't identify with one another in the same way that the Xhosa people do, and that Black people across the country to, even between Zulu and Xhosa and Sutu. There isn't the same vibrant quality and cultural pride. The Coloured population seems eternally overlooked. Not white enough, and not black enough, so the saying goes. Sadly, it seems our service group has overlooked them, too.

On Friday, three boys went missing at Bonnytoun. Not boys in our group, other residents at Bonnytoun. It seems like boys can escape quite easily. Often, they come back, bearing drugs.

Monday, April 5, 2010

two oceans half marathon

I registered for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon before leaving the US... I knew that I needed to go ahead and register and pay for it there so I'd end up actually running it! It worked... The race was this past Saturday morning at 6:00. I have been sick, so I was out of shape, but I managed to finish with a decent time (for me). The second half held monstrous hills, but the kilometer markers made the race seem to go by faster... they came more often than mile markers so I felt like I was accomplishing more! It was a huge event... I think between the half and ultra marathons there were about 20,000 runners. It was dark for the first third or so of the run, and it was kind of neat to run before the sun came up! It reminded me of morning runs in high school cross country.

Shot from behind the runners at the start. The race started on Main Road in Newlands, which was just about a 20 minute walk from where I live. It's hard to tell from the picture, but it was PACKED. There were so many people, I could have reached out and touched someone on all sides of me for most of the race.

"Warming up" before the start of the race... I almost missed the start because I lined up with the ultra marathoners by accident.

Approaching the finish line. I was exhausted... I can't imagine doing the ultra marathon (56 km)! The race route was beautiful, and the second half of it ran through Rhodes Avenue, a road through the rural areas bordering the mountains. It also runs through Kirstenbosch Gardens. It reminded me a bit of running through the wooded areas of the Cades Cove Loop back in East TN. I think the ultra marathon route went down to the coastline, and then finished by the mountains.

Tina, Betsy, Erin, Laurie, and Jonah woke up to come watch me finish at 8:00AM on a Saturday morning! They came bearing a sign cheering me on... and doughnuts. The race finished on the rugby fields of UCT's upper campus. You can see a glimpse of UCT buildings and Table Mountain in the background.

Unfortunately, my foot has been hurting since the race, and I've been limping around. I'm beginning to reconsider the quality of my decision to run a half marathon unprepared.

Friday, April 2, 2010

bonnytoun pictures

Before leaving for Spring Break, I brought my camera to class at Bonnytoun one day. The boys loved it... they instantly started throwing up their gang signs and posing so close to the camera I kept having to tell them to move back. I'm unsure about whether it is okay to publicly display pictures of the boys (because they are juveniles involved in the justice system), which is too bad because I would love to share every picture.

Here are a couple pictures from Bonnytoun:

The courtyard at Bonnytoun, where we play soccer. The buildings in the back right-ish are some of the dorms that the boys live in.

The classroom we teach in (with Mark's computer, which we brought to project a movie from one day).