Thursday, May 27, 2010

birthday in cape town

I had a wonderful birthday last Friday, one of the best birthdays I’ve yet experienced. I got to spend the afternoon with my Bonnytoun boys. Mark, Max, and I took the class on a trip to Company’s Gardens in Cape Town to have a picnic, and go on a walk… then to the neighboring Iziko Planetarium to see a program on Table Mountain. We walked around the museum for a little while after the program ended, and had an all-around lovely time. The boys loved it, and I loved it. It was a beautiful, warm sunny day, the gardens were beautiful, and we had a clear view of Table Mountain. They sang happy birthday to me, and I told them goodbye. I am going to watch a soccer tournament at Bonnytoun House tomorrow, but that was my last real time of interaction with the boys – on my 22nd birthday. I had so much fun packing into the little bus with all the boys, driven by Mr. Williams, the educational director. Whenever we passed a group of girls, the boys would all turn and look and get excited. It was pretty funny. Whenever a popular song came on, the bus would break out into a sing-along (the song “Down” was a highlight of the trip).

Company's Gardens, where we picnicked. See Table Mountain in the background.

Some of the boys talking to Mr. Williams (on the far right). I tried to get a picture with none of the boys' faces in it, so that I could include it in my blog. This was the best one I could get, because whenever the boys catch a glimpse of the camera, they look and pose. So, notice the two blurred faces.

I spent the evening with all my friends in my program. They made a Thanksgiving feast, and had us all dress in Halloween costumes for it… A little combo American holiday celebration. I’ve also talked a lot about how much I love Thanksgiving, and my wonderful friends took that into account in the planning. Mark and Nick’s birthdays were both on the 20th, the day before mine, and I love sharing my birthday with other people. Our friends also took us to see Wayne Brady live at a casino nearby on the night before my birthday.

Nick dressed as Nopi, our favorite security guard, for "Halloween." We have all grown close with Nopi, and he is having us over to his house in Fish Hoek on Sunday to say goodbye!

I am surrounded by so many people who care about me here, and loved spending my birthday both with the boys at Bonnytoun and my friends and roommates. I also got emails and facebook messages from all the people I love at home. I usually don’t like my birthday very much, and I don’t like the obligatory birthday wishes and gifts that I often find insincere. But, this year, I felt very loved on my birthday, and the celebration was genuine, and not too extravagant. It was perfect. I am thankful that I was able to spend my birthday in South Africa, and even though I spent the day with people I have only known for a few months, they are people that I have grown to know very well, and care about very much.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

south africa and tennessee

For the past several weeks, I have been reading, seeing, watching, and trying to wrap my brain around the reports of the flooding in Nashville and surrounding areas. The tragedy is the only event of the semester that has really made me feel homesick for Tennessee. I suppose it has reminded me that my roots are in Tennessee, and part of me stays there wherever I go.

I grew up in East Tennessee, a fact that has become a unique part of my identity here in South Africa, where I am the only student in my program that is really from the South. I can really identify the East Tennessee in me, the stubbornness, the independence, private nature, and also the pride. I don’t like people to see me at my weakest, and I don’t often share my concerns, whether small or large, with those around me. I don’t like asking others to help me, which became a real problem at times this semester when I was bedridden with both a stress fracture in my foot and healing from a minor, though painful, surgery. I am proud of the East Tennessee in me, though, and I love where I grew up. I felt at home upon arriving in Cape Town and looking up to see a mountain range next to me. Something about the mountains really makes me feel at home, makes me feel safe.

I also see similarities to East Tennessee in the South African community around me, for better or for worse. Beyond the mountains, I see the racism of the South African peoples that I also experienced at home. I see the matter-of-fact, no-bullshit way of talking that South Africans and true East Tennesseeans share. I see the stubborn, no-nonsense Afrikaaners that, in some ways, remind me of Tennessee hillbillies. I also see the segregation between the races, and strict roles of genders both here and at home. The prejudices that are often hidden, though typically unsuccessfully, in Tennessee, are not hidden here. I have interacted with South Africans more blatantly racist than the most racist of my schoolmates or acquaintances in Tennessee. I have heard more gender-stereotyping here than I ever did from the conservative, arrogant, and sexist business men that were members of the country club I worked at in Atlanta last summer. I am always the only female lifting weights in the University of Cape Town gym. A few of my friends attended a Xhosa ceremony, at which the men sat in chairs while the women sat on the floor. The woman cooked the food and prepared the umqomboti (traditional beer), but were not able to serve themselves until all the men had full plates. A man who spoke could override any statement of a woman at the gathering.

Though this post seems to focus more on the negatives, I see both the good and the bad in two communities I care greatly about. I see both similarities and differences between the two. I see a great need for progress in both communities, but also a great deal of humanity and genuineness.

I go to school in Middle Tennessee, a place that is still very much the same Tennessee as my hometown, but has many differences. I have grown to feel a part of the Nashville community, too, and even to embrace its affiliation with country music, a term I consider an oxymoron.

My academic advisor e-mailed me today, regarding class credit. At the end of the e-mail, she responded to my statements about the flooding in Tennessee. She made the statement: “Parts of Nashville look like a third world country.” Perhaps Nashville is a bit reminiscent of South Africa these days – a first world country and a third world country all in one. Another reminder of the universality of destruction and human suffering. Another connection between South Africa and Tennessee. I am still enjoying my time in South Africa, and am beginning to grow nostalgic that my time here is coming to a close. I will sorely miss the wonderful friends I have made, and will always hold the boys of Bonnytoun House close to my heart and in my prayers. But, as I say goodbyes and really buckle down to get my Capstone project completed, I also look forward to being back in Tennessee. I will treasure every last moment in South Africa, a country with which I will always feel a deep connection. But, when the time comes, I will want to see the Appalachians again, I will want to see the remaining evidence of the Nashville flooding, and most of all I will want to see my family, the people who really make East Tennessee my home.

gangsterism in pollsmoor and the coloured community

We watched a video in Poverty & Development class today on gangs in Pollsmoor Prison and Cape Town. The notorious gangs of Pollsmoor are the numbers gangs: 26, 27, and 28. The narrator of the documentary, Ross Kemp, interviewed John Mongrel, the leader of the 28s in Pollsmoor. The documentary was made in 2006, and apparently John Mongrel has since been killed. Speculation rumors the murder was connected with his participation in this documentary. He told the interviewer how he takes a new prisoner every now and then to be his "woman." He makes the man sleep by his bed, wash his clothes. He has sex with the man. Mongrel said this does not make him gay. He is not gay; he is a man, and the man he has sex with is his woman, reports Mongrel. What happens if the man does not want to wash his clothes, sleep by his bed, and have sex with him? He is killed.

Many of the prisoners interviewed reported that their original crime sentences were maybe 6 years, 9 years... a relatively short time. But, these sentences had been extended to 15, 20, 25 years or more, due to the prisoners' participation in gang-related crimes. One man reported that he stabbed a warden multiple times, with intent to kill, because the order was given by the high-ranking officers of the gang he wanted to join.

Originally, these numbers gangs were unaffiliated with outside gangs. This is no longer the case, and certain gangs are connected to the 26s, 27s, and 28s. This affiliation promotes drug trade across the walls of prison and into the community. From my work at Bonnytoun, I know that one of the most notorious gangs, the Americans, are affiliated with the 26s.

The Western Cape has the largest Coloured population of any province in South Africa... It is no coincidence that it also has the highest incidence of gangsterism and gang-related crime. "Coloured" and "gang" tend to be closely associated. In addition to the often impoverished condition of the Coloured population in South Africa, and their constant lower-class status, both during Apartheid regime and today... Drug use (tik, dagga, and mandrax are some of the most common) is also most prevalent among the Coloured community. The white community tends to use cocaine, and the Black community generally sticks to alcohol abuse. The presence of highly trafficked drugs and the fiscal rewards involved in the drug trade lend the Coloured community easily to gangsterism.

I have found myself more and more interested in the unique and troubling condition of the Coloured community in South Africa, and in the rule and presence of gangsterism. I am troubled to think of my class at Bonnytoun, and their constant scribbling of gang affiliations and symbols. I hate to think that it is a real possibility that they too will end up in Pollsmoor one day.

I did not go into great depth on the gangs in Pollsmoor and Cape Town area, but the presence of gangsterism is apparent everywhere. The Wikipedia article on the numbers gangs goes into great detail about the origin, set-up, and inter-workings of these three gangs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

buffelsfontein game reserve and darling

This past weekend, Angela (program director) and Gerald (academic advisor) took our group to Buffelsfontein, a game reserve on the West Coast, near the town of Darling. It was a Reflection Weekend, for the purpose of reflecting on and evaluating the program as a group. We stayed in wonderful accommodations, in a thatched house on the game reserve, with a much appreciated fireplace. Between reflection sessions, we were able to go to an Afrikaaner museum in Darling, a museum/garden/restaurant/theater for Evita se Perron, aka Pieter-Dirk Uys. Evita is a satiric comedian who, though a man, plays roles of both genders to best portray her messages. After reading about her, and getting a taste of her humor, I would love to see a live show! She does a lot of political commentary through her satire. One of the t-shirts they sold read: "Apartheid was a pigment of the imagination." Another read: "Hypocrisy is the vaseline of political intercourse." Pieter/Evita was advertising a show called "Elections and Erections," which is sure to be full of satire, political commentary, and crude but illustrative humor.

The Afrikaaner museum was interesting too, as I have had little to no interaction with, or education about, the white Afrikaaner community of the Cape Town area and South Africa. The Boers (Dutch-descended, Afrikaans speaking, white farmers in South Africa) were also oppressed by British rule, and fought the British South Africans. Only brief mentions of this among other historical lessons and the Apartheid Museum exposed me to this aspect of white-on-white South African violence. I still am largely ignorant in this regard. The Boers fought wars with both the British South Africans and the Xhosa. The Boer peoples are known for their independence, stubbornness, and nationalism. They were traditionally farmers, and my experience and knowledge of them reminds me a bit of hillbillies in the United States.

Buggies that were used for transportation by the Afrikaaners in the farming community of Darling. I'm not sure of the timeline.

The museum also featured a small section in tribute to the Khoisan people that lived in the area. The museum displayed a representation of the type of huts they lived in, as well as the weapons they hunted with. They were indigenous to southern South Africa until they were essentially wiped out by the Xhosa and the Boers. I don't much else about them, sadly. The Khoisan are commonly known as "bushmen." The word "Xhosa" means "angry man" in Khoisan, resulting from the many disputes between Xhosas and Khoisan, due to the forced relocation of the Xhosa people onto Khoisan land during Apartheid. (Interestingly, though, this is not the origin of the name "Xhosa." Instead, it comes from a renowned chief named Xhosa.)

Back at Buffelsfontein, we were taken on a game drive around the reserve. Luckily, the rain took a break and we had clear, sunny skies for this outing. First, we watched our tour guide go into the cheetahs' cage and feed them headless, skinned chickens. Cheetahs and lions do not live naturally in the Buffelsfontein area, so these two animals were kept in cages. In my opinion, this gave the reserve the feeling of being a part-reserve, part-zoo. The tour guide got shockingly close to the cheetah with chicken in his hands... Apparently there is NO recorded unprovoked human death or injury from a cheetah in history. They are not aggressive toward humans, have small teeth, and are much, much smaller, lighter, and more brittle-boned than lions. These qualities makes them stunningly quick, but also vulnerable in a fight.

Driving around, we saw many giraffes. I was taken aback at how BIG these animals are! They look so regal and poised, so peaceful and kind. We also saw springbok, the namesake of the South African rugby team, but I didn't get any pictures of those. We saw ostriches, which I got unsatisfactory pictures of but were my favorites, along with the giraffes. Ostriches are just hilarious looking creatures, and apparently are not very intelligent. Their brains are smaller than one of their eyeballs.

An ostrich hanging out by the lodge. Females are brown, while males are black and white, like the ostrich you would picture. This is a female ostrich.

We visited the lion cages for feeding time, and though we were closer to them than the cheetah, the thicker and stronger cages made them more difficult to photograph. Paul, who was feeding them, said that he has to keep the male lion (Simba) separate from the female (Elsa, Simba's daughter) and the young lions for two reasons: Simba would try to mate with Elsa and might to eat the young lions.

Driving around again, we spotted antelopes, kudus, wildebeests, and buffaloes. Apparently buffaloes are the most aggressive animals out there... Our driver seemed pretty fearless in regards to most animals, but refused to get too close to the buffaloes. The buffaloes also popped in to visit right outside the restaurant's window as we ate dinner that night. We all checked to make sure the way was clear before walking outside again. We also saw a baby kudu nursing from its mother! Nearly every animal on the reserve has a black tail. The guide said that was so that when the animals have to flee predators, their young run behind the parents. They get tunnel vision on the black tail, and see nothing but that tail, and are able to focus on that point as they run. Kudus, however, lift their tails and have white fur underneath their tails for focal points. They look similar to deer.

The antelopes took off running when we drove by.

Wildebeests frolicking near our path.

The buffaloes. I had to utilize my zoom for this picture... we didn't want to risk our lives for a close-up.

It was fascinating and surreal to see such large animals that are so foreign to me at a close range. I was also intrigued to get a glimpse into the Afrikaaner community in Darling, though we didn't have much time in the museum. I hope to discover more about the history and cultures of the white South African population. I also hope to get the opportunity to see Evita se Perron live one day.

Monday, May 3, 2010

filming of a world cup 2010 advertisement

I went to Long Street last night to go out for dinner... where, much to my surprise and delight, I stumbled upon the filming of an advertisement for the World Cup. It was insane. A huge chunk of Long Street was blocked off to allow for a giant float that said "Ayoba!" (a motto of the World Cup, and a popular phrase). On the float was a massive vuvuzela, and dancers dressed in colorful, sparkling, flashy outfits. All around the float were people dressed as clowns, dancers, giant puppets, confetti, flame dancers, flags, umbrellas, flares going off, girls hanging from trapezes.... not to mention the massive crowd lining both sides of the street, as well as the balconies of bordering bars and restaurants.

The main float. Ayoba! is a phrase popular throughout South Africa. As far as I can tell, it just means "cool!" or "sweet!" or something along those lines... but it seems to be one of those words you can use for just about anything. It has become associated with World Cup 2010. During the filming, a man would blare out a tune with a vuvuzela, and then everyone would yell "AYOBA!" ...that repeated continuously throughout each take.

I'm not sure whether this giant puppet is supposed to be a particular person... but if so, I have no idea who it is.

Floats, dancers, clowns, confetti, flares... Color everywhere, people yelling and dancing all over the place... Long Street was also lit up almost end to end with huge flood lights.

You can see the man blowing the vuvuzela from his throne on the float - Top right. He must have excellent lung capacity; he kept it up from start to finish. Also, notice all the people lined up on the balcony in the background with World Cup attire. Not to mention the chaos in the foreground.

I was standing right at the front of the sidewalk, watching all this happen. I'm not sure what they were filming specifically for, but it looked like it would be part of a commercial or some kind of ad for 2010. Look for me on TV... AYOBA!!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

mass of thanksgiving

This morning, I went to a mass of thanksgiving at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. The mass was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Father Michael Lapsley surviving the explosion of a letter bomb. The letter bomb was sent to him by the Civil Cooperation Bureau, which was a covert, special-operations organization run under the apartheid government. Father Lapsley was targeted because of his affiliation with the ANC (African National Congress), which opposed the apartheid government. Father Lapsley lost his hands and half of his arms. He has metal hooks in place of hands. But, he survived the attack, and continued with his ministry, specifically aiding victims of violence and torture.

Most of the mass was in English, but various prayers and readings were done in Afrikaans and Xhosa. Several songs were in Xhosa. The bulletin had every prayer and song in print in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa, so all those attending could understand the service in their own first language.

The mass was one of the most beautiful worship services I've been a part of, and was presided over by none other than Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The service included a reading from the Koran, a Buddhist prayer, a Jewish prayer, an Episcopalian prayer, and a traditional African prayer. It was distinctly Catholic, and distinctly interfaith, and put together in a genuine, open, and loving manner which did not seem forced, and did not seem too desperate to achieve political correctness. It was simply an open worship service to commemorate a terrible event, to pray for victims of violence and torture, and to commune with people of all faiths in solidarity for peace and forgiveness and cooperation. Father Lapsley spoke of his strong belief in the importance of all faiths working together, of the value of all faiths, of his belief that we are all worshiping the same God, by different names. He also articulated his respect for his atheist and agnostic friends.

Archbishop Tutu is a small man, with a healthy sense of humor, and he spoke briefly about his history with Father Lapsley at the end of the mass. I was humbled to be in the presence of a man who has done so much good.

It was moving to attend such a genuine and loving mass. Christianity has its positives and negatives... but (despite evidence to the contrary) it certainly has the potential for real openness. If only that aspect of Christianity was more often carried out in the world.

What an incredible opportunity, to worship with Archbishop Tutu and Father Lapsley. What wonderful examples of the active love of humanity, Catholicism, and Christianity.