January 2012 Archives
It's a good thing I have waited well over a week since our return to write this entry. If I had written within a few days of returning it would have gone something like this: "Booooo, I'm so miserable. I should have tried harder to lose my passport so I could have stayed. I want to go back NOW. The end."
Thankfully things have gotten better since that first week back. The first few days were consumed with sleeping, looking through pictures for hours on end, talking to classmates and even some tears. Some of this was expected. I knew it would be an adjustment to go back to my life in Minnesota, but I certainly did NOT expect to be so emotional. The weirdest part was I couldn't really put my finger on what it was. Was it the abrupt change in weather? Was it going from being surrounded by more than 25 people and there always being noise to the stillness of being alone in my apartment? Perhaps it was the realization that all those weeks of planning and anticipation were now over? I think it was all of the above AND then some.
On our last day of class Sarah from LAC talked about re-entry. By this point many of us were already concerned about what it would be like to go back to Minnesota. She explained that there are 4 phases - ranging from the initial excitement of going home to the re-adaptation phase after we had been home for sometime. I can't say I experienced much of the 'initial excitement' phase. That is not to say that I didn't miss family and friends back home and wasn't excited to seem the, because I was. However, during the trip I was fully aware of how extraordinarily lucky I was to even to get to participate in this program I knew that once I returned it would be back to 'real life' again. It was such an amazing break from my daily routine I didn't want it to end. Obviously it HAS come to an end and now the question is "What do I do next?" Not only does this include when will I get to travel overseas again (perhaps to South Africa), but more importantly, what can I do to 'give back' to the place that embraced me with open arms for 3 weeks? I've already got some ideas......
PS - The postcard I sent myself from the Cape Town airport the morning we left arrived yesterday! I must say I am quite impressed with the mail service. Only 10 days! I thought I'd be lucky if I saw it before 2013.
Thursday (1/12/12) was our last day working with Afrika Tikkun. After we finished our service work, we drove to Gugulethu for lunch at Mzoli's Place. Unfortunately I had the lovely stomach bug that day so my enjoyment of food was limited, but just the experience of being there was awesome! I did a quick internet search of the place and this is what I found:
Mzoli's was opened in 2003 by Mzoli Ngcawuzele, who got a start-up fund from the Development Bank of South Africa as part of their support of black-owned businesses. From selling meat informally from a garage, Mzoli's, by 2006, had become one of the most popular hangouts in Cape Town.
We waited about an hour while the meat was prepared. During this time many people got drinks from other local stores and just relaxed. I used this time to chit-chat, but also stop inside the store to see the 'magic happen.' What a production - grilling meat to feed 30+ people. It was pretty incredible to watch. It was soon delivered and everyone ate up!
That evening we were invited by Joe Schaffers to go to a jazz club. How cool to be invited by someone who is living history of Cape Town?! Joe was our tour guide at the District Six Museum and was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. Just being invited by him was unbelievable, but seeing almost 20 college students have such a great time at a jazz club was something else. Another amazing day in Cape Town!
-Accept the Process.
- TIA (This is Africa)
-Do you know what a JOB is???
- This is the youngest weave I've ever seen.
- If you're chasing a leopard why do you have a boner?
-My favorite song is pocket jazz.
- I'm going to keep chasing that sunset.
- I'm going to be careful about who I tell about Africa, because they're going to try to picture it and they're e probably going to picture it wrong. It was probably a thousand times more beautiful than they can imagine.
- I'm a lightweight but I can still drink.
- I don't do walking.
- I'm going to kick it.
- Youth Studies majors I see a child.
-We will be reunited soon enough as if no time has passed.
- I'm grown!
* More to Come Soon
As I sit here on the last plane back to St.Paul all I can think about is one challenge, probably the most difficult challenge I was faced while on this trip. On our first day in Deflt as we walked backed from the hospital which was very emotional a man asked me do I have any good news for him. I was stuck. I did not know how to respond. I wanted to say that we had gifts for him and his family, but we didn't. Then I thought about saying that tomorrow would be a better day, but I didn't know that for sure. A person walking with me answered for me and said no. This stuck with me the entire trip and when I reflect on the situation now I had a lot of good things to tell him. I should have said that I am here to learn from you and your community about Ubuntu, forgiveness, and resiliency so that I can take it back to the U. S. so we can try to become a more open and caring society like South Africa. I should have invited the man to walk with me so he could tell me his story, but I can't go back. I have to forgive myself for being so self-centered, learn from the experience, and move on. This is one of the many lessons I learned from the MaT staff. You cannot live in the "what if's". Instead you have to learn from every experience and move on.
The last few days of the trip were perfect. We had a braai in the township of Guguletu, which was a great experience. Although, it did feel like everyone from the township was looking at us funny. The food was amazing. We ordered 3 or 4 different kinds of meats and the meat was brought out in big bins, which were passed around. It was a great way of ending our time in the townships and sharing time with the organization whom we had been working with - Africa Tikkun.
On Friday, some of us started the day by driving to Cape Point. On the way, we saw baboons sitting right on the side of the road. There were about 10 of them and none of them were scared of the vehicles just feet away from them. We had to shut our van windows because apparently they like to jump in cars. When we arrived at Cape Point, we were able to see both the Indian and Atlantic oceans in one spot. After that, we went and saw the penguins and some of us swam with them.
On Friday night we had our final good-bye Braai (Grill-out). Everyone whom we had met throughout the entirety of the trip showed up, which was around 50 people. We had a ton of food and drinks. People were dancing and playing drums. Everyone from Africa Tikkun and Interstudy were there. It was a great way to say goodbye and thank you to all of those who helped us throughout our journey in South Africa.
Well, this is my final blog and I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has followed along throughout the trip. I learned so many things in such a short amount of time - I truly had the best time of my life.Matt Norring
This is my last blog for our South Africa trip. I actually tried typing it the other night, but when I'm at home in good ol' Hutchinson, I steal wireless from the neighbors :). And apparently there is karma because I had finished my last blog and really enjoyed what I had written and I was kicked off of the internet....and it didn't save my blog...or upload it to this site. As you can see I was a little frustrated by it and decided not to re-do it that night. So I'm writing it now!
So class started yesterday, I only had one, History of the Holocaust. And as morbid as it sounds, I'm excited for the class to progress so I can learn more about that time period. I have three classes today, two down and one more to go, my night class at 5:20. Ick.
Let's just say I'm not ready to be back to school yet. Not ready for the realities of life to come full force at me, which they did. I missed a lot of stuff while I was in Africa. Some of it good, some of it bad. To be honest, it just scares me to know that I missed so much in such a short span of time. There were things I could control and things that were completely out of my control, and it scares me. It's been hard being back but I know that it will get better as time goes on.
One thing that has really helped my integration back into Minneapolis is my dad and Annie. They both came and picked me up from the airport. After we went out to eat and on our drive to the restaurant, at the restaurant, and our drive home they were asking me questions. Not just the typical what was your favorite part of the trip. They asked in depth of what happened and how it made me feel. When I got home, I showed them all of the pictures I had taken and tried to describe to them what I had seen. Even though they will never completely understand what I went through, they both tried their hardest too, and to me that means the most out of anything that they could have done. I realize that not everyone I talk to about my trip will be like this, none of my six roomates were. But I will cherish them and their need to help me succeed and to help me reinterate into Minnesota. I will never forget or misuse that about my dad and Annie.
Besides that, I have all of my stuff unpacked at home and at my apartment so everything is clean! Which is a nice change, I'm sure it won't stay this clean for very long though!
An expectation, or a hope that I have is that we all stay in contact in Minneapolis. I realize that a lot of people are graduating, some are not in Minneapolis, and not everyone got along. But this trip was an out of the world experience that we only understand. I think it would be healthy to stay in contact so we can talk to each other about Africa and just so we can grow in our friendships. Last night a bunch of us were supposed to meet at Buffalo Wild Wings to eat dinner. It was Scott, Ed, and I. I was slightly disappointed that no one else showed up. I realize it was the first day of class and some people had night class, but we were so excited to meet up when we got back. I just hope that this doesn't continue to happen and we can make this work for all of us.
We have been back in the United States for a couple of days now. Between the jetlag and the immediate return to work and school, I can already feel the hustle and bustle of my life before my Capetown experience returning to me. It is nice to be back to my old familiar world, but I am very much afraid that I will get caught up in it and lose the important lessons that I gained while on our journey in South Africa. There were some very valuable lessons that I want to keep with me forever and that I want to apply to my life in general, but I know that such things are very easy to lose when outside of the setting that they were learned in. I do not want this to be my truth following such an amazing journey. I do not want to lose sight of what South Africa has given me.
So the question is... where do I go from here?
I cannot say exactly how things will play out... but I do know that I have some concrete goals for myself to help me to not lose what I gained in South Africa:
1) I will stay in contact with the people that I went on this trip with. The idea of ubuntu that we learned about in South Africa is that a person is a person through other persons. I am who I am because of the other people in my life. This applies to my experience in South Africa as well. Each member of our group added a piece to the puzzle that made up what this experience was. In order to keep that experience alive, it is important to keep our bond alive. My commitment to ubuntu will start with my commitment to this special group of people.
2) I will contribute to a fundraising project with my fellow South Africa classmates to raise money for the two organizations that contributed significantly to our experience. I'm not sure what role I will play in this fundraising, but I will do my best to be sure that it gets done and to be sure that I give all that I can. Both EducoAfrica and Africa Tikkun were vital to our experience, and furthermore, both are vital to South African youth. I want to give back in anyway that I can.
3) I will become an activist. In order to do this, I plan on first being more informed about the world around me. I will do this by reading... newspapers, magazines, online articles. From there I will focus on issues that are important to me. I will take whatever steps I think are necessary to contribute to the issues that I care about.
4) I will do my best to be aware of the reality that I have an impact on everything and everybody around me. The decisions I make, or that I neglect to make, does truly have an impact on more than just myself. I will do my best to make decisions based on my awareness of how they will impact the people and the world around me.
5) I will do my best to always consider that other people have different lived-experiences than I do. By acknowledging this, I will see others as individual human beings. I will be able to better understand the people that I meet. And even if I can't fully understand the people that I am around, I will be better able to contribute to any compromises we may need to live together peacefully.
6) Finally, I will do my best to forgive those that may wrong me. Not only can this be healthy in improving the relationships in my life, but this will also be healthy for my own well being and my own ability to move on. I will try my best to be forgiving on all levels so that conflict can be resolved and true healing can take place.
I will miss South Africa! But I will do my best to honor the memories I've made there by working on the goals listed above.
What I found to be most valuable about the course was the importance and centrality given to lived experience. Not only does paying attention and simply listening to others' stories move us toward potential social justice, it brings us closer as human beings. As I am exiting my undergraduate career it was crucial that I remember that although I have read a small amount -- don't get me wrong I consider myself a nerd in many respects and do adore reading -- book knowledge often can come along with all kinds of elitism and exclusion, alienating people from the idea that they might know something because they have lived. Having the opportunity to listen to stories -- whether in watching footage from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission or visiting homes in the township of Delft -- was extraordinarily powerful. It has made me seriously consider whether or not (or where) I want to go into the academy, which typically (depending upon the department or specialty) devalues knowledge coming from experience rather than books. I've been leaning more and more recently toward education work in my future, but that could of course take many forms. Things may change over time; however I'm convinced that the right kind of genuine education -- sharing the humble curiousity which children so easily employ -- in any case is vital to sustaining respect for others. As Thomas Szasz wrote,
Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.
and bell hooks:
Thanks to Nate's instruction and openness, in addition to the many people encountered on this trip, I've found the above practices to be ever so necessary in everything we did on this wonderful course. I have come to more concretely appreciate the fact that learning when done right must include everyone's voice, or else we continue moving away from any meaningful relationships and bury ourselves in ego and ignorance.
On Friday, a small group of us went to Cape Point. The southern most tip of South Africa. It was one of the coolest things that I have ever seen. There were beauttiful mountains that we got to climb and at the the end of the point, the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans met. I had never seen anything like it before. The morning started out crappy with a cold, rainy, windy, foggy hike on Lion's Head with Scott. We didn't make it up the entire mountain, almost half way. Even though it was very hard to see, it was an experience worth it and I'm really glad that we got up at 4am to do it. Later that day, we also went to Boulder Beach and got to swim with penguins! It was a really cool beach, the water was warm, we got to climb around on rocks, and we got to get really close to the African penguins. It was a really busy but a really good day. That night, we had our last get together as a group. We had a party at house 7. All of us on the trip were together and we invited people that we had met throughout our trip. There was a lot of good food, drinks, music, and a bonfire. We ate, danced, and talked late into the night. It was an amazing time to see everyone for the last time for we went and for everything that happened in South Africa, the good and the bad. I wouldn't change one bit of it for the world. :)
10 January 2012
Title: cable car.
This afternoon, we rode the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, or Trafelberg. Zama and Chris were with us and it was Zama's birthday! This was her first trip to the top of Table Mountain and she'd lived in Cape Town her whole life. This was my second trip and that really put things in perspective for me; I'd done all of these Cape Town things in my two weeks here that people who actually live in Cape Town rarely do. When we got to the top of the mountain, we took some group shots. The Bean and I had a few outfit changes to do as we had to take our Morris Photo Contest Shot. I think we'll definitely win, (at least, I hope). Then we hit up the café as we were super hungry and the Bean and I got pizza and a bottle of champagne. Loved it. We then pranced around the top of the mountain, taking photos and enjoying our afternoon off.
10 January 2012
Title: service and learning.
This morning we began, as we often do, at Afrika
Tikkun. We split into two groups and
headed into Delft and Blekkesdorp to do patient visits. JLB, the Bean, Shira, Ky, Daisy, Jessica,
Marika, Alexa, Shauna and I chose to stay in Delft. We first went with a nurse who works at Afrika Tikkun to visit one
of her clients. As we arrived at the
house, she was explaining to us that the family she works with has a 21 year
old son, two older sons, and a younger daughter and son. The 21-year-old suffers from both mental and
physical handicaps and is confined to a bed at this point. He also suffered from epilepsy, but hasn't
had a seizure for two months. As she
went to ask the family if it was okay that we came to visit, most of us were
nervous. The nurse returned and ushered
us inside. The mother was so welcoming
and we were shown to a small bedroom off of the living room.
Her son was just laying there, so skinny. None of us had expected this. But, when the mother grabbed his hand, he lit up. The nurse and the mother explained to us that a social worker had tried to take him and place him in a home, but she couldn't give him up. He was her son, she could care for him in the proper way and give him all the love and attention that he needs. She gives him physio (physical therapy) everyday and the nurse attends three times a week. The nurse gave the family her phone number, so she can come and relieve the mother at any point--even in the middle of the night. At one point, the nurse had asked the mother if we could take photos. This is when we became uncomfortable. This is something our group has struggled with continuously throughout our time spent in the townships. Some of us feel as though taking photos of the conditions in the townships is like taking photos of zoo animals. 110% of the time, according to Anthea, people will allow you to take photos of them, of their homes, families. These people want you to remember them, in the least in a photo. But this situation felt different. It was so close, so real. No one else wanted to take photos, but the nurse had already asked the mother. Not taking a photo of her son, home, family would be perceived as rude. So, I took one of the most uncomfortable photos of my life adnd the mother made a comment to her son about how sexy we looked in our shorts. I then asked if it would be possible to take a photo of the mother with her three children, the child with the handicaps as well as the two younger siblings that were playing with their brother while we were there. It was one of the most touching moments of my life. Another thing I really struggled with was that the mother had said that he had been waiting for a new buggy (wheelchair) for two months because his old buggy was ten years old. She can't even bring him to the hospital by herself, so she needs to call a transport for the both of them every time he goes into physio or for an appointment. A few things from this visit really have resonated with me:
1. The love of the mother for her son. Watching the son know the difference between the touch of my hand versus his mothers, and his face light up when his mother held his hand was just amazing. There's no other word for it.
2. It was really hard for me not to take money and go try and buy a new buggy for him. I know that we had talked about making promises and how not being able to fulfill those promises has the ability to be mire harmful than if we had not come at all.
3. I was also reminded of IHS (Indian Health Service) back home. Indian people can go into IHS and get "free" healthcare. It is definitely not private health care by any means, where you are treated quickly and the facilities are state of the art. Delft Community Health Center actually reminded me of IHS and I'm not sure why it took me this long to realize it.
The next patient we visited was a HIV positive woman. While we were waiting for her to agree to talk to us, one of the women she lived with came out and hugged each of us and wished us a happy new year. Instead of going into her home, the woman came out to speak to us with a beautiful baby on her hip. Everyone was paying attention to the baby and saying how cute she was in awkward silences. We learned that she had been on ARV's for the past five years. She found out she was HIV positive when she had TB twelve years ago. I can't imagine this. One thing I was very mindful of while hearing her story is that life isn't all doom and gloom in the townships. This woman may be living with HIV and has had TB, but it isn't a death sentence. She still is fully functioning, able to live a full life despite disease. Some days are worse than others, but she's still here. Thank God she's still here.
9 January 2012
In class, we talked about forgiveness. Its so strange how such a vague concept can be so powerful. I found a quote earlier this week after our first talking circle by an unknown author, "The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest." While I believe the first two are true on a personal and social level, I don't necessary think that forgetting makes one happy. I think that taking this quote and applying it to South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, especially the portion about forgiving and apologizing, rings true. While I love living in the US, I think that a lot has been lost by our "amnesia" of the past; things, such as health care, that South Africa is succeeding at that are considered basic needs are lacking in populations within US. I think that South Africa's ability to say "Look, we as a nation fucked up, but we can only move forward from here," has really helped the nation heal and the formation of the TRC played a huge role in that.
The ideals behind the
TRC, as I see it, are hugely rooted in Ubuntu. I am me because of you. South
Africa wouldn't be able to continue to be a nation post-apartheid if its people
hadn't embraced the Ubuntu belief. The
idea that one person influences, or is influenced, by everyone else is
phenomenal. The fact that this concept
can be held throughout the apartheid system is even more amazing. So, as I said, I think the TRC as a concept
is rooted in Ubuntu, but when put into practice, it was taken advantage
When people like the brigadier, whose name was not important, applied for amnesty for 40+ cases put before the TRC, I think something like TRC can't even help. He even admitted he wasn't sorry. He was doing his job. His job got put before his morals and his values and can't apologize for that. It doesn't make sense to me why he would be able to even apply for amnesty...Okay, well I can see why he would be able to apply for it, but realistically, I'm wondering, did he really think that he would be granted amnesty on all of the cases? I was appalled...but then I found the above quote later that day that got me thinking about the brigadier, and others from the video. Where would South African people be with the concept of Ubuntu if these people (mainly men) were not granted the same rights that others were? Lost.
9 January 2012
Back to Afrika Tikkun! This morning was filled with children: smiling children, crying children, and yawning children. We visited an Islamic Day Care Center in Delft today. When we arrived, there was one woman watching over about 7 kids. All of us travelled together today so there were about 3 of us to each child. Since it was a Monday, I was having a case of the Mondays. On the way to the daycare, a small group of us were singing Disney songs, trying to prepare for the energy required to entertain kids. However, I had a buzzkill when I arrived; I was no longer in the mood to play with children.
I started thinking about my time in Isithembiso Abandoned Babies' Home in St. George's Park, PE. I miss those babys more than anything. I was wondering if any of the beautiful children I had worked with had the opportunity to go to a daycare like this or if they had been adopted or even were still alive. Some of the babies at Isithembiso were HIV positive, although we didn't want, or need to know which. I've been pondering the idea of giving my children middle names of the children I worked with. They all had beautiful names and I want to honor them in a meaningful way.
8 January 2012
Title: a look
into the past.
We began our morning with Zama leading us around UCT and showing us around. The school is the largest in Southern Africa and has beautiful historical buildings, and a Master's in International Relations...I'm thinking about it.
Nazim and Aaron brought us to the Waterfront in the vans and we were allowed to run loose. JLB, the Bean, Kasey, Courtney, NJ and I stopped at the Mugg and Bean for a quick bite to eat. My mission was to check out the Birk store and see how expensive they are because I'd been borrowing Matt's and I definitely want a pair. They're so Morris and so expensive.
The whole group met up at 12:30 to board the boat for Robben Island, the island where Nelson Mandela served 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. This is my third trip to the island. At Robben Island, the tour consists of a portion in a bus that shows you the overall history of the island, including the impact WWII had on the island, leper's graveyards, churches and Robert Sobukwe's cell and the walking portion inside the prison, which shows you either D or E block, which held the everyday people of the struggle and B block, where the leaders of the movement were detained, including Madiba.(talk about a run-on sentence) Normally, I find the portion inside the prison th be the more interesting part, but this time, I really enjoyed the bus tour. Our tour guide, whose name is now lost in my mind, asked where he had visitors from. A number of us were from the States, but others were from Canada, Australia, Germany and England, to name a few. With that information, he provided us with how each of these countries had impacted the island, which was very cool.
I also think part of why I really enjoyed the bus tour more is because the times I had been at the island before, I had the same tour guide for the walking tour. I felt a sadness rushing over me as I realized that he was not going to be sharing his experience with my friends. He was a huge part of why I had enjoyed my previous tours so much. However, our tour guide this time was still great. He was a prisoner in D block, which had never seen before, so that was cool.
The boat ride back to the Waterfront was a motion sickness nightmare. Most of us weren't feeling well after returning to shore after the ride, but also realized we hadn't eaten since 10h30. Kasey, Paige, Courtney, the Bean and I decided to grab some food at the Waterfront before heading back home. We had some delicious pasta and drinks, coupled with good conversation. We missed James, Emma and Mark's visit, which was terribly sad, but I'm sure that they had 20 others swarmed around them the whole time.
7 January 2012
Title: a trip into the wild.
This morning, we took a long drive with Lisa and Louise from African Trax into the Groote Karoo to Aquila Wildlife Reserve. Freesia, Cyndi, Shira, Paige, Courtney, Kasey, Bean and I were welcomed with a glass of champagne and roaring 4x4 Jeeps ready to take us into the reserve. We went beyond the fences and immediately saw some buffalo right across the fence from the pool. People were so close to this massive animal that could just crush them within a second. We then moved on to see wildebeests and ostriches.
I had a flashback to Oudtshoorn 2009 when I was facing the issue of riding an ostrich...or not. Ultimately I had decided to ride the stupid bird and the joggies had to literally shove me up on to it. I then tried to fall off but they made me hold on! It was so uncomfortable. I hated the feelings of the feathers on my legs. Enough reminiscing.
We moved on into the enclosure for the king of the jungle, the lion! I've never understood this nickname because lions don't really live in the jungle. Anyway, one of the girls with us is very passionate about lions. IT was absolutely magical to be able to be a part of planning to help her achieve her dreams of seeing a lion. When we first went into the lion enclosure, our tour guide had made no promises that we would see any lions, but assured us that there were seven lions within the fenced border, two male and five female. Within the first few minutes, we were able to spot the first female which brought excitement to the whole group. We ended up seeing all of the lions and coming very close to both a male and a female. On our way out of the lion enclosure, we passed another jeep, which was full of students from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. Small World!
We stopped for a break and the drivers popped champagne for us while others took photos and relieved themselves in the bush. For Courtney's birthday, we took the opportunity to celebrate and sing to her and others joined in with their birthday songs in French, Portugese, Hebrew, Spanish and English. We finished out the safari with rhinos, hippos, zebras, more ostriches and springbok.
Upon arrival back at the main house, we were
greeted with a buffet lunch consisting of stew, chicken, braai bread and
potatoes and Greek salad with bread pudding for dessert. Most of us put our
costumes (swim suits) on to take a dip in the infinity pool, which was
gorgeous, with the exception of men in speedos. Old men in speedos. Imagine an
infinity pool with a swim-up bar, mountains in the distance and safari animals
roaming on the other side of a fence. So cool.
Shira was teaching all of the girls how to flip their hair back and once
people figured out how to do it, Freesia's camera never stopped.
On the way home, we were driving through the mountains and Lisa had pointed out some baboons! They were so close to the van we were in! Unlike the baboons at Cape Point, these are still afraid of humans, so they won't climb into your vans. There was even a baboon carrying a baby on its back!
I am almost arriving back to Minneapolis now, after over 26 hours in transport from South Africa. Surprisingly, I do not think that I will even be that jet-lagged. I adjusted really well upon arriving there so I hope it is a similar experience coming home.
I am really sad to leave but excited to see everyone. I will let you know that it is going to be very difficult for me to even try to explain the experience, emotions, lessons, and thoughts that I have had on this journey the past month. So please be patient...it won't happen instantaneously. I think if you are willing to listen, in time, you will perhaps understand some of the things that I would like to share. The experience was very intense, and life changing to say the least. Don't worry; I am still me...just better.
Anyways, I made some connections with some people in South Africa that I am very grateful for. I plan on staying in touch and someday, going back. On our last night there, we had a Braai and everyone came together. It was a perfect way to end the journey. The drums were beating, bodies moving, voices traveling, and of course, a couple of cocktails going down smoothly J some of us went downtown Cape Town to go out with a bang, and this is exactly what we did. My girls and I went to Hemisphere, one of the nicest clubs in Cape Town on the 31st floor of a bank! The view was phenomenal. It was a great way to say farewell to the beautiful country of South Africa and city of Cape Town. We headed to Long Street, the main drag to all the bars and met up with new friends to make more memories for a lifetime. We danced into the morning...I never wanted it to end.
But it is over...and now I am faced with holding onto it all when I get home. I am challenged not to forget all the valuable lessons about life, people, and myself that I have learned. I know it's so easy because life is busy, and we are all caught up. This journey that I was able to experience will be my center point. It will forever be tattooed on my heart and soul.
I made some very great friends on this trip that I will forever be grateful for as well.
Goodbye to the beautiful people, moral land, townships (Delft in particular with Afrika Tiikun), mountains (Educo Africa), Interstudy, , slow internet, old school Nokia phone, talking circles, University of Cape Town classroom #1, VA Waterfront, Table Mountain, whites beaches hugging the freezing Atlantic ocean, hot sun, greenmarket, Osborne Street, Long Street, mini-buses, Pick and Pay, Shoprite, laundry man, Robben Island, Slave lodge, Cathedral, District 6, House 14,and HOME AWAY FROM HOME...for now!!!!!!!
Always remember, never forget.
A special Thanks to everyone who took the time to follow my journey through pictures or my blogs or both! It is much appreciated!
Love, Shauna Rae
It's very hard for me to sit here and write this blog post. I want to be in denial as long as possible that this trip is really over. Luckily, our incredibly busy final week here was completely jam packed with more amazing things to do. There's so much to talk about so I'll just highlight some of my favorite moments from the week.
On Monday morning we returned to Afrika Tikkun after our weekend break. That morning we went to a day care center in Delft where one woman was taking care of many children. I had a blast playing with the kids. There was an adorable baby boy there who was a bit fussy, but he was so cute! It was amazing to watch the kids interact with each other. There was no fighting amongst any of them and the older ones were so helpful when it came to taking care of the little ones. It was so sweet to watch. We spent the entire morning at the day care and although I felt completely exhausted by the time we left, I had a blast. Nate told us before we started our work with kids at Afrika Tikkun that they would lift us up, and he was definitely right.
Tuesday morning at Afrika Tikkun we went around making patient home visits. After the feeling going through the health center left me with, I was really nervous about what my reaction would be to seeing patients at their homes. The first patient we visited was an almost 21 year old with cerebral palsy. His mother has devoted her life to taking care of him and her other children. The boy can't walk or talk. His thigh was about the size of my wrist. It felt very weird walking into their home and mostly just looking at this boy. The mother was very kind and was willing to answer all of our questions. It was hard for me to say anything when we were inside. To see a woman who will never give up on the well-being of a child in need is amazing. It really made me think about the members of my own family who do the same. The nurse called this mother "the mother of strength", and I certainly know some mothers of strength in my own life.
That afternoon we rode the "cableway" up to Table Mountain. What an absolutely stunning place. It's one thing to look at it as the backdrop to this marvelous city, but to go up there and look down at the entire city and the ocean was breathtaking. It was a beautiful day with clear and gorgeous views of everything. We were up there for about 2 hours which was a good amount of time to grab some lunch at the restaurant up there and walk around. I need to find a way to get back up there someday...
Wednesday we had the day off and I headed to Muizenberg to go the beach with a group of people. We took the train there which was really fun. It was super hot on Wednesday, especially on the train. It kept stopping for long periods of time which didn't help with the heat, but we made it finally! Muizenberg is such a pretty beach. The water wasn't too cold and the waves were really fun to jump and swim in. It was also cool to see all the surfers do their thang on those big waves.
Thursday was our last day at Afrika Tikkun and some of us helped with cooking, the storage room, moving furniture in and out of offices, and painting. I was really excited to paint and helped paint the new mint green office. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to finish what we started, but we tried to get as much as we could done. Hopefully the Afrika Tikkun staff didn't have too much trouble finishing up. Afterwards we all headed to Mzoli's in Gugulethu, another township a few minutes away. Mzoli's is a fresh meat market where they braai (barbecue) the food for you. Even though I didn't eat the meat I had a fun there. There was a vegetarian meal and other things to munch on. It's quite the establishment, lots of very fresh animal of all sorts being served. It was fun!
Yesterday was one of the best days I've had here. A few of us journeyed to Cape Point, the southernmost tip of all of Africa. It was pouring as we were getting closer and when we got out of the car, but just as we were getting ready to begin the trek the rain stopped. It was a lot of uphill, but the views were definitely worth it. The clouds cleared up enough for us to see everything around us. The mountains, the lighthouses, the 2 oceans (Atlantic and Indian) below us, and the fabulous company I was with were amazing. Yet another indescribable place I've been to. We then headed to Boulder's Beach to see the penguins. I was not wearing the proper attire for this part of the day and I had to roll my pants up pretty high to walk through the water and climb over all the rocks. Being that close to penguins was cute but also amusingly scary. I couldn't stop picturing all the penguins coming to bite and peck me ferociously. Thank goodness that didn't happen! I had a blast crawling through, over, and under the rocks there and even getting harassed by a catfish in the process.
Last night we had our farewell Braai and many of the staff members from InterStudy and Afrika Tikkun came over. Everyone was hanging out in the backyard sitting in a circle as some people played the drums, sang, and danced. I feel like I've said to everything I've described that I've had so much fun, but I really have! I've had more fun these past 3 ½ weeks than I think I have in a very long time. Not to mention I've learned more in the past 3 ½ weeks than I have probably in all of college so far.
We headed out for final night out Cape Town style before heading home to get as much sleep (which wasn't much at all) before needing to get up clean and pack. As I sit here looking at my packed bags in my quaint single room I am very sad to be leaving. I knew I would be sad, but I'm looking forward to a lot this semester. I keep forgetting that all of these great new friends I've made here go to school with me. Most of the time when I say goodbye to people I don't get to see them for a long time, but that won't be the case when we get back to Minneapolis. I signed up for this trip not even thinking about the potential friends I would make, but now I can't believe I just met all of these people now--it feels like we've been together for much longer than 3 weeks.
My dad sent me a text just before we left the country that said "I love you. Be full of awe and have a great time". I saved that text and carried it with in everything I did here. Dad, I was consumed with awe and had more than a great time. If any of you ever get the chance to come to Cape Town, GO! And take me with you please.
14 January 2012
long South Africa. I've tried all the tactics to stay: losing my passport,
going to the hospital, attempting to find a husband. None of them have worked.
I'm sitting here on the couch in our living room. Packed. Not ready to go.
is pulling at my heartstrings. I could literally stay here and do Nate
Whittaker Bootcamp for the rest of my life. It's so weird that we've only been
here for three weeks.; I've only known these people for three weeks. Being here
with 25 strangers hiking in the mountains, building community, serving the
people of Delft has made me really look at my character and assess what I
really want to do in my life. Coming
back to South Africa is a must. I, like
Nate, feel as though this is my second home.
Its weird how comfortable it is.
Things change, the people are different, but the feelings that come
rushing back are all the same. I feel
more like myself here. Maybe that's
because one of my most formative years was spent here.
I've been avoiding this, because it's an admission that we're going back, but I really want to say thank you to my classmates for all they've taught me. Through the interactions we've had on the mountain, in the city and in the township, I've learned a lot about leadership, community and myself. I also want to thank Nate for his extensive work on this program and hope that he continues to share his passion for people and social justice with students. And of course, Sarah. She has been a vibrant addition to our class, with her spunky attitude and loving sense of compassion. I can't imagine what our trip would have been without either of these two.
I also want to thank Kristin, Nate's girlfriend. I'm sure that Nate spent many hours outside of work formulating the skeletons and meat of this program, not to mention the three weeks that he's been here. Obviously, I want to thank Anthea and Liz for being so bright and welcoming into Afrika Tikkun. Our experience would have been incomplete without the two of them sharing their stories and their work with us. Mark, Emma and James have been an absolute inspiration to all 26 of us Americans with twang. Chris Kotze, I could thank but we never took a bestie open sandwich pic, so...My friends and family back home, I appreciate you but come to South Africa to visit me.
South Africa, I cannot thank you enough. See you soon.
Miigwech indanaa manidoo wabaminigoog noongom.
Today is the day we leave. People are scurrying around cleaning up 14 Osbourne and trying to fit the last souvenir in their checked bags. I know this quote has been floating around a lot, but I'm saying it one more time.
"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
I'm really excited to go home and tell people about my exciting journey to South Africa but at the same time I'm really nervous. Yesterday at Mug and Bean I asked Brittany, "What if people don't even care that I've been to South Africa?" My being here has been just a small blip, three weeks of my life. In these past three weeks I have thought a lot about my relationship with my sister and how happy I am that she pressured me to apply to this program. But her already having been here and leaving again makes me wonder what my reaction was when she tried to tell me all of her stories from the last trip. I know I was probably ending my junior year in high school so I had other things on my mind, like applying to colleges and what I was going to wear on Friday - you know, important things. I know I mostly signed up for this trip because Brittany wanted me too, but I decided before I left that what I wanted the most from South Africa was to help me figure out my own life, who I am and even what I want to do. So in the sunset journal I wrote my purpose. After waking up to see the sunset, something I typically don't do, I was trying to figure out what I was going to write about on the walk out to the mountain. The walk out I was constantly tripping over my sisters pants, as I forgot to bring sleeping clothes. Trying not to trip over her pants and step directly into her path I instantly knew what I was going to write about. Most of my journal said it all and in a more descriptive manner, but my whole life I have been walking in Brittany's footsteps, careful not to stray to far from her path. Brittany and I went to the same high school, same college, we are in the same clubs, on the same executive boards, and have the same job. It's really hard to have an older sister, but it truly is a blessing. Being in the mountains made me realize that yes, having a sister is great, but we don't have to be the same person. I need to acknowledge that Brittany has made great choices, but the choices that are best for Brittany are not always the best for me. I'm not saying South Africa isn't where I want to be, but I'm saying I am starting to realize that Brittany is a great sister, mentor and friend, but I need to stop following in her footsteps. I love yah B.
I just realized I'm most nervous to show people pictures. Pictures can tell a thousand words, but still can't to justice to the beauty of this country. I love taking pictures. I've taken four years of photography classes and I know with a really good picture you can evoke emotion, but I know that whoever I show my pictures to will only get that one frame of a landscape that expanded for miles, or only three of the kids in the house that I volunteered with. Which really makes me understand what Nate's been saying about staying in touch because we are really the only people that will understand when we talk about Africa.
It's not goodbye, it's see you later.
I've been thinking about a few things. Forgiveness, my sense of time, and confronting issues.
On forgiveness, I'm struggling like crazy thinking about forgiveness. Nate, our instructor asked us to think about who we have to forgive at home, what you would say, why we want to forgive them, what we risk losing, if it will be hard. I have two people to forgive and one of them is myself. I've been beating myself up for a mistake made a year ago and I need to just let it go. I think South Africa has been helping me realize that mistakes happen and I need to forgive and move on with the rest of my life. One reason I struggle with forgiveness is because I've never really had to forgive anyone for anything big. Sure there are small things I have forgiven people for, but no big issues have crossed my path thus far in my twenty years.
My sense of time is gone since being in South Africa, which makes me scared to go home to commitments and meetings and classes where being on time is the key to success. Brittany said it really well a few weeks ago, " I'm gonna do what I want to do, when I want to do." That is exactly how I feel South Africa has been, to an extent. I mean I still go to class on time and stuff, but when it comes to free time, I've spent in exploring the V&A Waterfront, Observatory, the Green Market Square and even our neighborhood, Mowbray. I love that people here pronounce Mowbray as Mowberry. hahahahhahahaha. I love having all this time to myself to explore and just get lost in the vast city of Cape Town. Everything revolves around time and when you're watching a clock waiting for the next thing to do, you tend to get stressed out. I'm really scared to go home and be connected to technology and time.
I've thought a lot about how I had to come all the way to South Africa just to confront an issue at home. It's almost as if I needed to escape the monotonous everyday routine to see the problems facing me. I've said it a few times but I've got two people to forgive back home and one of them is me. The mistakes I've made have haunted me for a year now and I kept telling myself that I was a terrible person and I'll never be okay with myself. But I've been working toward forgiving myself and I think being in South Africa has really helped me by having such a great example of forgiveness.
That's all folks.
6 January 2012
Title: Feeling family
On Friday, we went back to Afrika Tikkun and broke into three groups. I was in a smaller group that headed to do a home visit further away. We went to visit a granny whose daughter had passed away and she was taking care of her daughter's four children. Kelly, Ky, Hana and I showed up and granny warmly welcomed us into her home. We had brought a puzzle, a lot of face paint and a ball. The children, ages 13, 7, 5 and 3 were really shy at first, so we cracked out the puzzle and got the ball rollin'. Granny was asked to babysit three more children and we ended up having more kids to play with. All of the kids wanted face paint, including one of the older children who really didn't interact with us. It was a great feeling to be able to be around a sense of family again.
Going into this house with the granny really reminded me of being home on the rez with my own gramma. She is one of the strongest women I know; she has been doing foster care for as long as I can remember and within the past year, she has taken on the task of raising my three cousins, all under the age of 14. It is hard to watch my gramma revert to acting as mother to my cousins, but knowing that they are safe and healthy is worth it.
Last full day here in Cape Town. The realization that I am going home tomorrow has started to set in and I am very sad but also very excited to see the people back home. I have so many gifts, clothing, pictures, memories and plans that I am bringing home with me. South Africa is an extremely juxtaposed country that I have fallen in love with and a place I want to return to through out the rest of my life. I have learned a lot about who I am as a person and the spirit of Ubuntu. I hope that the change I feel inside can manifest itself once I return to the United States and that I can make a difference in my own country.
Today I am spending my last full day with friends. We are going to Cape Point, which is a national forest and a peninsula that is the farthest south on the continent of Africa and then to boulder beach, where we will see penguins swimming. Hopefully I will get the chance this afternoon to go to green market square one last time to finish getting gifts and then we end tonight with a braai, that is basically just grilling out, with all the important people we have met along the way.
Leaving tomorrow is bittersweet.
I know, "life is how you make it" seems cliche, but it is true to me. To explain this further, a girl in my class made a statement that "life is 5%, and 95% of how you react to it." A good example of this relates not to life, but to death. In a documentary we watched in class last week, a black lady said, "When people have died, if you mourn them too long it demoralizes your spirit. When we buried them we didn't cry, but we would sing." Simply stated, if a person dies you can cry, or you can celebrate the life the person had lived on earth by singing.
Will you cry or sing in times of trouble? I know I try to sing (not very well though)!
A Daycare in Delft
Today was a hard day for me in the township of Delft. We went to a family owned daycare as a group, so there was 25 Americans and about 17 children. If we would not have been there today, the one caregiver would have been in charge of feeding, changing, and entertaining all of the children by herself. At first, I was super pumped to see kids, paint faces, throw around the rugby ball, etc, but after the first hour I had a sad realization. Most of the kids had not bathed in awhile, the floor had not been cleaned in awhile, and the toys looked ancient. The realization for me was that I have the luxury of thinking about what I will be going home to in less than a week. I will be able to go home to a spotless apartment, a warm shower, my education, and a supportive environment.
I can say today was the first day I almost understood what it would be like to not only visit the township, but actually live there. I'm not saying I have more power, but I do have more privilege and I know what it's like to have nice things. I cannot relate, and I will never truly understand, but I am humbled by the life in the kiddos and the other genuine people we have met while spending time in Delft.
I've done quite a lot of things since my last blog. V&A waterfront where they have Two Oceans Aquarium. It is named as such because it has creatures from both the Atlantic and Indian ocean (I believe). It was amazing!!! You all know what a fish geek I am, so I obviously had a fab time. I saw a cuttlefish, an octopus, a angler fish, and tons of others that I've never seen before. We took a ferry to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was in prison for over 20 years. The stories the guides told us were pretty intense, but sprinkled with humor. No matter how much I learn about it, the horrors of Apartheid still floor me.
Been back to the townships a few times. One of the things we did was walk around Delft and visit with sick patients. The first patient I saw was a 20 something year old boy who had a mental disorder and a physical one, they said it was something to do with epilepsy. The house was pretty nice, compared to others I've seen, but still very small. The boy we visited was laying on a bed, in a tiny room, wearing only a diaper. He was literally the skinniest person I have ever seen, and it was hard for me to understand how he was even alive. You hear the expression skin and bones, but that's the first time I've ever actually seen it. His mom and the people who cared for him were super nice though, and didn't seem down about their situation. We also met a woman who was HIV positive, and she was very friendly and welcoming. We did a bit more physical work today, which felt kinda nice.
We've also been to Table mountain, which is a flat topped mountain in the middle of Cape Town, and we rode a Cable car to the top. Beautiful isn't even an adequate enough word to describe this place. Like the educo retreat, I felt so peaceful, and at home when I was up there. I love the mountains so very much.
But possibly the best day I've has so far was the wine tour we did yesterday. I went on this tour because I heard we would get to see cheetahs, and didn't really care much about the wine... However, when we first arrived, we went to a place that had many animals, a room full of butterflies, duikers (look like baby antelopes), meercats, monkeys, iguanas, beautiful exotic birds, turtles, and lots of other creatures. There was actually one monkey, called a marmoset, who crawled all over me, and let me pet him. He was so cute! After that, we went to 3 wine farms, and saw some really pretty vineyards. I tasted a lot of wine and cheese, and learned more about wine than I ever have in my life. It was actually really fun! Last stop was the cheetah place! We were only allowed to touch their backs and their sides, but we got to pet one adult cheetah (Joseph), and two cubs! There will be plenty of pics when I return. This place also had wild dogs, foxes, and probably other animals, but I didn't have time to see them all. I did, however, get the opportunity to play with baby owls, and hold an adult one :)
We only have less than one week left in South Africa. I can't even believe it. After a week, we go home and have to start a new semester. This is something that I am looking forward too. We have been working in the townships for a couple days now, and it is a huge eye opener. Our first day, we walked around nthe Delft township and we walked to the clinic. There is one clinic in the township for over one million people. There are three doctors and no surgeons. It is a miracle that t hey have a free clinic in the township, but it is so small that people are not able to get in because the waiting line is so long.
When we were walking through the clinic, I was filled with so many emotions. I was angry, sad, confused, and scared. I didn't know what to feel and I automatically decided that their life conditions were unfair and I wanted to "help" them. But then I began to realize that I couldn't and didn't need to "help" these South Africans, but I was filled with pity.
I discussed this with our group and the workers from Afrika Tikun. The response I got was that the South Africans lives are actually very similar to ours. There is success, happiness, saddness, and laughter. Our lives are very similar and even though South African lives are not as extravagent as the one's that are lived in the United States it doesn't mean they're lower than us or need "help". The people of South Africa are happy and filled with pride. They cherish what they own and don't worry about what they don't have. I was slightly upset when I was told not to feel sympathy for the South Africans in the townships. But not that I've thought about it and had time to reflect, it makes a lot more sense.
The townships, the culture and the life lived is beautiful. Enough said.
Time is flying by, it's hard for me to comprehend that we only have three full days left. Yesterday was our second to last day in the townships and we spent it visiting patients in their homes. I saw two different homes. In one home I met a woman named Ana and her three-year-old son Joshua. Joshua was suffering from extreme burns that he had received a week earlier when he tipped the teakettle over on him. He was bandaged up pretty well and he was not very happy. Ana on the other hand was delighted to see us; especially after she found out we were American. She kept saying how honored she was to meet us and wanted us to take pictures of her and to never forget her. "Don't forget me, don't forget Ana, pray for me, pray for me". We kept trying to tell her we were the ones honored to meet her and be invited into her home. The second patient I met was a man who has had cancer for 13 years and is living with his niece. He had recently turned 70 years old. The family who all lived in the house was a woman with two daughters, a granddaughter and her uncle. This home was one of the bigger homes I had seen; it had two bedrooms and was decorated with a lot of pictures. They also had a baby kitty that was about the size of my palm that I instantly fell in love with. It also broke my heart because I think it was way too young to be away from its mother.
In the afternoon yesterday we rode the cable car up to Table Mountain. It was stunning and pictures will never do it justice so everyone needs to go experience it first hand. The views were absolutely breathtaking. You could see the vastness of the mountain range, the oceans and Cape Town and all its surrounding areas. I just walked around taking photos of different views and talked with others. When looking out into the ocean it looked like the sky and water just melted together, it was amazing.
We ended the evening as a group with a talking circle and then five of us went down to Long Street for dinner. I split a huge hamburger with chips (French fries) and had an Oreo shake (which was good but not as good as Annie's Shakes)
Today we have the day off and I am going to the beach!
The 2nd day at the township was very tough for the group and me. We had the opportunity to go through the local hospital in Delft. We walked through rooms and hallways that had endless lines of people waiting to be treated for HIV/Aids and many other diseases. I can tell you that I will never complain about a 2 hour wait in the ER at home ever again. Towards the end of the hospital tour, Ed, my roommate, fainted. He fainted because of a combination of what we witnessed and not being properly hydrated. For me, seeing Ed faint was like seeing a brother go down. Witnessing Ed faint sort of topped everything off for me. I couldn't handle any more on this day after that.
The 3rd day at the township we went to the children's daycare in Delft. We arrived around 9:00AM, and the kids were full of energy. We played with them all morning - blowing up balloons, face-painting, and rugby. I was amazed at how much energy and joy the kids had. I started playing catch with the rugby ball with one of the kids, and soon 6 others joined in. The kids taught me how to play rugby, and we played all morning. In a way, playing with the kids rejuvenated me after the last township visit. When we were saying our goodbyes to the kids, one of the kids approached me with a miniature figurine of a famous rugby player, and said, "I want you to have this". My eyes opened wide and I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing right now accepting this from a child who has close to nothing? I thought we were the ones in the townships who were trying to help and give to their community, yet on this day they gave to me. Throughout all of the visits to the townships, I have been struggling with what can I/we really do to help? After witnessing the great magnitude of poverty, and listening to stories of all the hardship, the question that comes to my mind is where do WE even begin? As the trip and class has progressed this question has been nagging at me more and more. But at the end of this day, I came up with one answer and that is to LISTEN.
More from the townships and a conclusion of the trips will be coming soon.
We have visited the townships multiple times now and I am struggling to find words to describe what we have seen. I know that no words could possibly do justice for what we have witnessed. The first day in Delft (the Township we have visited each time) we met an outstanding group of people from the organization that we are working with. I have so much respect for these people and their line of work. We all shared our personal feelings when we are arrived and I was feeling very open-minded and eager to see more. Our first task that was handed to us was to assist with their garden, that from the looks of it was more like a combination of thorny weeds and other various types of weeds and hadn't been utilized for a long time.
Usually at home, and my dad will attest to this, when I hear the word gardening or weeding, I will leave the house and run far away, but on this particular day, I couldn't wait to get started. I began gardening and shoveling up weeds like there was no tomorrow and before I knew it 2 hours had passed, I was dripping with sweat, and still felt great. I took my gardening gloves off and blood was running down my hand from a blister (Don't worry mom, I cleaned it well). I did not care one bit. The feeling of having the opportunity to help people that are in such great states of need rushed through me, and at that point in time nothing else mattered. I never thought I would say this, but I loved gardening that day.
As my last days in SA come to an end I have been thinking about what I will do when I come home. During circle Nate made a comment about how the majority of the people on this trip will not change. In their minds and hearts, they will have changed, but their actions will stay the same. This scares me because in my mind and heart, I know that I have changed but will my actions show differently. Will I come home and go right back to my same ways? Will I get a case of amnesia and forget? I can say that I will not go back the same way I came, and I will not forget, but this means nothing. Actions speak louder than words. Only time will tell if I live up to what I say. One thing I do know is that I will never stop trying to be a person of my word.
Throughout the tour I had a gnawing feeling in my stomach; I was deeply troubled. Although I don't have any knowledge of the prison system in South Africa, all I have heard people say is that they are grossly overcrowded. With the unemployment rate at 43%, I wouldn't be surprised if the South African situation bore some similarities to the USA's increasing criminalization of the poor over the past 30 years. In the United States, the prison is not a historical artifact. Rather, it is a modern reality, a tool of power through which the state exploits and systematically is working to disenfranchise poor folks and people of color (from what I've read, particularly Blacks and Latinos). White supremacy is alive and thriving -- and in the case of prisons in the US, white supremacy's effects are growing and shifting. For instance, immigration detention centers and Guantanamo Bay detention center -- located on a military base in Cuba where detainees essentially have no rights -- are mirrors witnessing the United States' abuse of people living through conditions of exploitation. As Colorlines writes,
"America's immigration detention centers are in the business of warehousing men and women who have suffered trauma--the sorts of people whom reasonable governments should aim to protect, and indeed whom the U.S. has laws to protect. Instead, they are locked up, thrown into these legal purgatories and traded as pawns in a political and financial game. The Obama administration has deported more people in each of its first three years than any previous year--almost 1.2 million in the last three years--and it needs more space to lock those people up. The detention business is now booming. Unlike people held on criminal charges, immigrant detainees are not afforded the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel. Since deportation is not formally considered a punishment, but an administrative consequence for violating a civil law--crossing the border--they have no right to an attorney. Only 16 percent of detainees have legal representation... in the legal system they retain few of the rights that we expect of the criminal justice system." *
Seeing Robben Island provided a chilling reminder of not only the dangers of political repression but also the real need for outspoken organizing regarding prisoners' and detainees' rights. Furthermore, the ways in which resources for education are disproportionately divested away from low-income communities and communities of color are crucially intertwined with the rates of incarceration affecting those communities. Robben Island therefore re-affirmed my drive for organizing in my own city rather than seeking to bring my own uninformed ideas of change to entire other countries. However, the growth of global and international studies within our own University at the expense of departments like Chicano, Asian-American, American Indian, and African-American and African studies is not accidental and reflects larger problems within the types of knowledge valued. We have a responsibility to ask -- who is our University educating? Why? How? Toward what goals is the imagined 'community' of the University supposed to be striving?
We read Ivan Illich's incisive and truth-filled piece to Hell with Good Intentions as a perfect grounding for soon exiting South Africa and re-entering the USA. Even the best of intentions can bear severe damaging consequences, unless we listen to peoples' stories and inquire humbly.
* See Colorlines' story on immigration jails.
What a fantastic day spent in South Africa. We started off the day with working in the Township. Today we worked at a day care in Delft. At first it was hard since we have such a large group of 25 and there was only originally around 10 children. We felt like way to big of a group to all be in the tiny room so we split up and half of us worked with the children at first while the other half just talked outside. Eventually more and more children got word of where we were so after awhile we had plenty of children. People were jumping roping, which I discovered I cannot jump rope at all but I was the champion of the limbo contest out of our group. After awhile the daycare caretaker asked me to hold this one year old boy who wouldn't stop fussing but I was able to calm him down and play with him and then he eventually fell asleep in my arms. We originally were supposed to leave at 12:30 but they said they were making lunch for us and we were told it was almost done. One thing you should know is that African time is very relaxed and casual, so about an hour later lunch was finally done and being served. Lunch was an awkward affair. They had a whole meal prepared for us of rice, curry, salad and fruit and we were told to eat while all the little kids just watched us. It was very uncomfortable because we could have easily gone home to eat or even out to eat and these kids who might not have anything to eat were told to not eat anything by the adults.
After our time in the township we had a three hour class about forgiveness, which was my favorite class and very inspirational. Everyone in my class including the teachers are so inspirational and knowledgeable. They are teaching me so much and have ideas and perspectives that are brand new to me and are allowing me to see the world in so many different lights. It really had me start to think about my last year and a half of school and how many different things I still want to learn. There is so much I don't know that I want to know and that I feel is my responsibility and duty to know but yet I have so little time to work with. The rest of my undergraduate career is going to be business and accounting focused which is necessary for my future career but also I can't help think that there is more important things to learn about.
Everyone on this trip is awesome. I am starting to know these people so well and it makes me extremely sad we are going to start going separate ways in less than a week. I feel so blessed and happy that I have had this opportunity and that I still have 5 days to experience this amazing country and spend time with the amazing people. Shout out to my roommate Madison who has been a great roomie and I am so sad that she goes to the Morris campus instead of the Twin Cities campus L
Tomorrow (Tuesday) we are spending the morning at Delft and then spending the afternoon and early evening on Table Mountain. I have talked with a lot of people who said this is there favorite part and I am extremely excited to experience it! Please pray and hope for clear weather tomorrow!
I moved to Minneapolis last May and for the first time in my life I've felt like I have finally been in a place where I belong. Although I can't say that I have things completely figured out... I have come to know more about myself and what I want to do with my life over the past 8 months than I have over the better portion of my life. Coming to South Africa has been a valuable step in the process of where I want my life to go. I have learned things here about community (ubuntu), forgiveness, and lived experience that will be a part of who I am for the rest of my journey here on earth. This has definitely been a profound part of my lived experience.
But I have been struggling the last few days not only with feeling a disconnection to the initial inspiration that I felt when I first arrived here, but also with the inspiration and connectedness that I have felt since moving to Minneapolis. Although I haven't exactly been questioning my decision to be a part of the Youth Studies program at the University of Minnesota and to end up working with young people, I have found myself questioning my intentions and also how I could possibly impact young people in positive ways.
I am constantly having to check my own inner processes of 'othering' certain groups of young people and young people as a group in general. I have to check my desire to make these groups more like me by forcing them to adhere to the ridiculous standards of society that have been built upon a racist system. It saddens me that my mind cannot automatically think openly and that I need to go through the process of acknowledging my own white privilege and the systems of racism set up in the United States on a very constant basis. I wish that my mind could automatically think of all people as equal and that it could immediately recognize the flaws of society that instead have been embedded into who I am.
I go through moments on a very consistent basis where I realize my own tendencies of 'othering' and racism and thus feel completely hopeless that I could possibly make a difference in this world if I cannot even change my own bad habits and thought processes. I wonder if my intentions in entering a world where I can work with young people are on track or misguided. These moments of doubt are what fuels my moments of disconnect like I have had recently.
But it seems that just when I start feeling complete hopelessness, then something or somebody touches my life in a way that I am rejuvenated and that strengthens the faith that I have in myself and the world around me. In class today, we discussed how we can take what we have been learning and use it in our lives once we return home. Our discussion was absolutely inspirational. I am in constant awe of the deep intellect of my peers. But I am also in awe of my own inner voice that speaks to me in situations such as our discussion in class today. When discussing whether or not we could use a process of truth and reconciliation within the United States to change our societal systems that are built and run on racism, many of my classmates voiced their frustration with the U.S.'s capitalist approach to life and how it would likely be impossible to change people. I found my inner voice telling me that although the situation seems hopeless at times, I truly do believe that change is possible. Moreover, I feel that change can and will start with our young people.
As I sat there wondering how I could reach young people and help them see that they need to be the advocates for change, I felt the answer could be found in how we educate and bring awareness to the youth of America. This is where people like me come in. My role will be to support youth where they need to be supported... to earn their trust... to learn from them... but to also help them to see what it means to be aware. From there... the young people will take their awareness and change the world. I believe in their ability and strength to take on the world in a positive way. They may just need help to see the world as it really is... and not as how media and society depicts it.
So once again, I know why I want to be a Youth Studies major and what I want to do with my life of working with youth. I want to support them and to help them to become aware of the world around them so that they can take that and bring about change. This is what I want to dedicate my life to.
We had basically a three-day weekend free of classes and volunteering and it was a very needed break. Friday afternoon we had off and a lot of us ended up at Green Market Square to buy souvenirs and gifts. At first I was nervous about bargaining the prices at the market but then it became a challenge and I now enjoy doing it and I definitely have gotten a lot better. After the market an unfortunate event happened and three of the people I was with had their credit cards stolen, luckily banks were called and cards were cancelled before too much damage could happen. Friday night we went to the waterfront and ate at a restaurant right on the harbor and we watched ships and boats go by as the sun set.
Saturday morning was an early morning. This was the day for the safari and we got picked up at 7:30 am. It was a two-hour drive to the reserve, which gave us a chance to see a lot of new scenery. The safari was absolutely amazing. We saw giraffes, zebras, elephants, lions, hippos, water buffalo, rhinos, springbok and some others. The elephants walked straight at our vehicle and we could have touched them if we stuck our hands out the window. The rhinos were the most frightening, they kept getting mad and being very alert and our driver kept having to back up and away from them and then slowly creep forward. The lions were incredible. We saw four females and two males. One of the males was so close we could see flies on his nose. He was resting in the shade and was always on alert when he heard anything. I loved the lions a lot and one thing that was crazy was there mannerisms. They acted the same way as house cats with cleaning their faces and their resting/ sleeping positions. It made me miss my kitty a lot. After the safari we had an all you could eat buffet and then time to spend in the infinity pool. It was really hot so it felt amazing to cool down in the pool. We eventually made the journey back and Saturday evening we celebrated a birthday. We went out to a restaurant called Sergeant Peppers and had really good pizza. Also literally on the safari we drove past a different vehicle that had people from the Carlson School of Management South Africa group. And to make it even more crazy we ran into them when we were out Saturday night so we were all hanging out and sharing about our adventures thus far.
Today was a good day. As a class we went to the V&A waterfront and had three hours of freedom. Myself along with a few others went to the Two Oceans Aquarium, which was extremely interesting and awesome. I saw thousands of fish along with sharks, turtles, penguins, crabs, frogs, lobster, etc. After the aquarium we met as a group at the Nelson Mandela Gate Way to catch a boat over to Robben Island. Our tour was a couple hours long and we were able to hear stories from our tour guides who were actually prisoners on Robben Island. We saw Nelson Mandela's cell, were they quarried rocks, and the different blocks of cells. Robben Island is such a powerful spot with so much history relating to it.
Tomorrow we start back up with working in the townships and class. We leave on Saturday and I am extremely sad. I love it here so much and I wish I could stay for a semester program. South Africa is an amazing country that has so much to teach the world and myself. I don't want to leave!
I got my debit card stolen. Long story short, I let my guard down and thought the guy was showing me how to work the ATM. As I waited for my card to come out, I relized I had been played. I'm glad that only my debit card was stolen ( and so far $185) because it could have been so much more could have been stolen. I'll probably get a refund for the stolen money and a replacement card for free. So for taking advantage of three unsuspecting American girls, three men got away with roughly R2800 or $400. All I can hope is that they needed the money. I lost a hundred dollars at Morris this past month. I feel more stupid about that one as it was completely in the open for anyone to go into my purse and take but it's making me question why I am so trusting of people I don't know. I guess it's just my need to want to please or help people. But really, I want to talk about forgiveness. The Truth and Reconcilliation Commission (TRC) was created to help heal the atrocities which the country faced during Apartheid using a process by applying for amnesty. I mean, in the long run, I think that the TRC will help bring South Africa into a more community-like state. I really believed that the TRC was the best thing that could happen to South Africa after Apartheid ( aside from the world cup being here last year), until we watched Bill Moyer's Facing the Truth: Part 1 in class. When I was able to see the families and friends of people who's lives had been taken during Apartheid their pain became more real. I think it would be extremely hard to forgive someone for not only killing your loved one, but for applying for amnesty just because they believe they won't have to go to jail. None of the families in the video had been apologized to by those applying for amnesty.
Forgiveness is hard. A country can work toward a better future by accepting the problems of the past as the guilt can be spread across plenty of people. I find it hard to believe that individuals find it so easy to forgive the wrong-doers. I believe that with the support of a community, one can find it easier to forgive as they will have someone to fall back on through the difficult times that may lie ahead. I'm not really sure I have ever forgiven someone for a large issue.
Yesterday we went on a safari!!! The second I saw that big ole elephant walk right past our 4x4 I was so excited that I literally didn't stop smiling until I realized how much my face hurt. We then went out for Courtney's birthday which was super fun. Today we went to the Waterfront, where we spend a LOT of time, and had breakfast with Nj. Afterwards we went to Robben Island. It was really eerie. I could tell that there was such rich history surrounding the island and I was really just a great experience overall. After almost getting sick on the ride back to the mainland, a few of us went out for dinner and shopped around ( I got a swimsuit top!).
I also decided that I'm not leaving South Africa. :)
I want to continue my last entry just a tad. After that extremely heavy experience in Delft, we went to class at the University and added some more weight. It is productive weight though that will only make me stronger. I learned more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa. I witnessed the truth, both powerful and ugly. It was an Act that aimed to heal a nation and have a new beginning. I won't go into all the details, but if you don't know much about it, look it up. I believe that if the United States did something similar to confront the ugly truth about our country, many people would benefit. The main idea is about forgiveness. Desmond Tutu' stated, "There is no future without forgiveness." In my heart, this is true. The TRC allowed oppressed Africans for the first to tell their horrific stories in front of the whole country. It allowed perpetrators to apply for amnesty for the wrong they have done to others by telling the whole truth, in detail. The video I watched in class on the TRC was heartbreaking but real. Forgiveness is not easy and many times, oppressed families did not forgive the oppressors for the inhumane and unspeakable acts against them. I can't say I blame them. If the police killed my 16-year old son and nine of his friends because they were freedom fighters, I think forgiveness would be a challenge to say the least. Or if the police stabbed my husband, 67 times and tried covering it, forgiveness would be a challenge. Or if the police mutated my genitals with electric shocks and raped me, forgiveness would be a challenge...
So the next day, I went back to Delft just like I said I would. I got my hands dirty pulling weeds to save the garden. I went on a home visit in the townships with a small group and was invited in with LOVE. It Lifted my spirits, Opened my eyes, Validated my feelings, and Enlightened my heart. The mother was a foster mom of a two month-old baby who was abandoned at a shopping mall when he was two weeks old. He was found with drugs in his system. She took him in and now will raise him until he is eighteen. She is also tending to a five-year-old boy who lost his mother. She is an incredible woman who has so much to offer the world and her family. Her two daughter, Jade who is 16 and Shanell, who is twelve...I fell head over heals for. They taught me how to dance and play hand clapping games! They were proof that life, even in a ten by ten square foot house with 8 people, is happy and home. I am blessed and very humbled to be able to experience what I am. It is truly awakening. My compassion for people is higher than the sky. I am slowly starting to heal on this journey, which is what I came for.
YESTERDAY, I went on a freaking safari! Mind blowing and breathtaking. I say lions, springbok, wilder beasts, hippos, giraffes, elephants, ostriches, zebras, and rinos! I was so close to each and everyone. (videos and pics coming soon) Less than ten feet from an enormous male and female lion. I cried when he looked me in the eye when I caught his attention by sniffling. The elephant walked right up to the vehicle within touching distance. I couldn't believe my eyes. I got to end the experience with a delicious buffet and pool at the reserve in the mountains! I am feeling quite content and think I could die happy now :)
Today was a little scary. We took a boat to Robbin Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. It was very intense, and HOT. Hence why I got heat stroke...put on a stretcher into an ambulance...and rode the stretcher on the boat back to land. It was a strange experience. My body didn't really feel like my own. My body cramped and tingled until my vision spotted out. Luckily, I have amazing people on this trip who helped me and kept me from panicking. THANKS...you know who you are! I am doing better now...just tired, sore, and weak, drinking nasty salty rehydration water, and putting a little food in my belly.
One last thing...Ubuntu. It is a South African concept I have been learning about and witnessing here in this beautiful moral country. Simply put..."I am me, because of you." It is the idea of togetherness. It runs deep in my heart. I would like to live more of my life in reflection of this concept. I feel like in America, that is hard given that we are such and individualistic society. I can start with my friends and family. The article I read has a sentence that says, "Africans do not divide the world into secular and sacred - all life is sacred, and each part inextricably bound through the whole to all the other parts...there is a connectedness between all things and all events. Also, "Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind." These speak to me. Just food for thought.
HAVE A GOOOOOOD NIGHT <3
Growing up raised Roman Catholic and attending the school hugely affected my own thoughts on religion and spirituality. Although I was confirmed Catholic at the age of 15, I struggled to grasp what I felt most of the other students at my school possessed -- faith. Constantly attempting to make logical sense of what I was learning and supposed to take at face value in Scripture and Catholic doctrine classes, I grew incredibly frustrated with trying to find my place in Catholic faith. Eventually, graduating from the school and attending 2 different colleges helped me to see that I didn't need to 'fit' a particular box, nor was faith something measurable. However, I have found that in the past year and 1/2 since transferring to University of Minnesota, I have not made time for the deep philosophical ponderings which used to occupy much of my mind.
Being heavily involved in the LGBTQ community initially drove me further from my cultural Catholicism (though auras of guilt as a byproduct of my Catholic upbringing is something I've found never quite leaves -- apparently a trend amongst some Catholics, haha). Nonetheless, I've come to have serious problems with the ways in which mainstream gay and lesbian activists often shame religious folks as universally unaccepting and full of hatred, escaping balanced analysis and allowing dehumanized dismissal of a huge population who is seeking to provide love and support. Not only that, but many peoples' religious beliefs play a central role in driving their civic and community organizing.
Within the context of South Africa, therefore, I've found myself very drawn to former Archbishop Desmond Tutu's words on forgiveness and the spiritual drive toward true social justice. At its root what Tutu writes is that we as humans yearn to live respectfully with each other. "To work for reconciliation is to want to realise God's dream for humanity -- when we will know that we are indeed members of one family, bound together in a delicate network of interdependence. If we are going to move on and build a new kind of world community there must be a way in which we can deal effectively with a sordid past."
In no way does Tutu trivialize the terrible horrors perpetrated by the apartheid regime. Rather, he condemns them wholeheartedly. I have had some difficulty with Tutu's words given my own understanding of the irrevocable damage which white supremacy, capitalism, and other interconnected systems of oppression wreak upon people. Forgiveness is not at all an easy task, and it seems an imbalanced and unfair burden to place upon folks experiencing marginalization most immediately. I am still working through this, but it is safe to say that here in South Africa I have thus begun to see more concretely how spiritual beliefs can provide a powerful lens for engaging in compassionate and challenging dialogue with others. Given my own constant learning process for ways to enact genuine relationships with others -- especially in the context of working toward something to better societal conditions and life in general -- South Africa has been helpful in my own quest for meaningful, respectful spiritual expression.
What a weekend full of excitement! I feel like I've done so much since I last wrote a blog. I also feel like the things I've done since my last post have made such a different type of impression on my experience here than that of the Delft Health Center visit. I continue to be in love with Cape Town. Despite my debit card getting stolen at an ATM Friday evening, I have no complaints about anything--except that I don't want to leave!
On Friday morning we continued our work in the gardens at Afrika Tikkun. It was much hotter and I think I got a little dirtier than on Thursday, but again I had a lot of fun pulling weeds and dead vegetables out of the ground. We then split up into a few different groups to make some home visits within Delft. It's one thing to walk around the streets of this township, but it's another thing to actually walk into a home and meet families who live there. My group went to a few different houses. It was really great to meet people that Afrika Tikkun does work with. The first family we met was really great--the mother recently turned 50 and has 11 children. We spent some time inside with them and went out with some of the younger kids to play jump rope and other games out in the street. It was really refreshing to be active in a playful way. We went to a second home, but the mother wasn't home so we only met a couple of the kids for a brief moment. We stayed in the neighborhood for a bit playing with kids who were around. That was very fun. More jump rope, some soccer, and face painting. Again, reverting to a state of child hood innocence especially in a place like Delft was just what the doctor ordered.
One million people live in Delft, that's the population of Rhode Island. That's a lot of people. I wish I could meet all of them, but the few I met on Friday were all lovely. Hopefully I'll meet some more when we head back there tomorrow and for the remainder of this week.
We had the day off on Saturday and I headed out on an African Safari! I took a million pictures, but they won't do justice to the actual experience. To be that close to such beautiful animals was incredible. I saw lions, elephants, zebras, rhinos, giraffes, and more. We went out for 2 hours or so and midway took a break to stretch our legs and sip on champagne. I'm very excited that I can now say I've been an on African Safari. I had a great time with the 8 girls who all went. After the actual safari, we were treated to a delightful buffet and a dip in a very refreshing pool. It was quite luxurious. What a contrast to the work we're doing...On the drive back we saw some baboons in the road! That was really exciting. One was just chilling munching on a snack on the highway median. Pretty cute. Don't worry though, no attempted baboon attack was made.
Today we headed to the V&A Waterfront where we had a few hours of free time before our tour of Robben Island. I went to the aquarium with a small group which was really fun. I added some more animal pictures to my growing collection since being here. I grabbed a quick late breakfast and delicious smoothie before boarding the boat to Robben Island. What a place. We first went on a bus tour around the island. Our tour guide was truly great. He has shown political figures from all over the world around Robben Island and has met some incredible people. We were very luck to share in his knowledge. The tour of the island and the prison was a bit surreal. The stories are so real, but it was very hard for me to imagine what everything actually looked like at the time it was functional. It's a beautiful island in a totally gorgeous setting talk about juxtaposition with the cruelty of the prison there. I've heard a lot about Nelson Mandela's jail cell and seeing it was really cool. What a man. I cannot come up with the words to describe a person like him. It's been an honor to be in a country that he suffered in, but rebuilt and nurtured it after the worst time in its history.
It's heartbreaking to me that we have just about a week left. I've waited for this trip for so long and now we are entering our last week. Cold Minnesota is not looking too appealing right now, so until then I will enjoy every second I have here and have confidence that I will continue to be moved and touched by everything that is South Africa.
Hello friends and family. As I'm sure you've read, the chains of head and heart have been disrupted for all the students. Oie....my plan is working!
It's been a challenging week for all. South Africa, if you were to ask me, is a mirror image of our comfortable United States; however, the mirror is convex...or concave...however you see it. In Cape Town we get to see the bent edges, which show us the extreme conditions of both happiness and sadness. Race, class, poverty, healing, beauty, charm, hunger, economics, wildlife, diversity, and so much more, explode in front of the students so that they are forced to bare witness to everything that is both observable and things that are...well...internal. As you've read, we all think it through in our own way. But...it is healing. It's scraping away at the layers of circumstances and people who have wronged us and taking it all back...to reclaim our lives.
We began our service-learning last week in Delft with the NGO Afrika Tikkun. Afrika Tikkun works toward the transformation of South African communities by caring for volnerable children and orphans in townships. They foster empowerment by providing holistic services focused on children from one year to 19 years of age, and their families/guardians. Delft is a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, known for its substandard schools, lack of jobs, and high rates of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. The population is near 1,000,000 (loose estimate) and is 73% Coloured (South African term for "mixed"), 25% Black, almost no whites and 1% Indian. Most of Delft consists of government housing projects and informal settlements (shacks).
Anthea Jansen and the rest of the staff at Afrika Tikkun has once again provided my students with an incredible opportunity to bare witness to everything the township is - how it lives and breathes - as well as up-close and personal experiences with Delft community members, and leaders. The experience itself is likely somewhat Schizophrenic for the students. Townships are both beautiful and vibrant, and at the same time, horrific. Since in our normal lives we are "fish in water" and don't recognize what we have and don't have, this opportunity allows us to see what's in the water.
Students started class recitations by looking at "community" and how globally, community involves "people;" and, community is not easily defined and involves aspects hidden to us - such as space and time. We learned that community is messy; it is "individuality" which is inclusive; it is humility and witness; it exams itself; it is motivated by belonging; and has a spirit. It is imperfect. It "just is" as some students have mentioned.
We then dived into the world of "lived-experience" which is essential to social justice work (working towards a more just world). Lived-experience is awareness of the mundane and taken-for-granted experiences in a person's life. It's not "a person with HIV/AIDS" but a person with HIV/AIDS who has to get up in the morning, struggle with a painful body and mind most of the day, take medications, feel ill, walk to a clinic, waiting to be seen, wondering, fearing, hoping, realizing that 12 minutes feels like forever, and...well...that they didn't eat breakfast so they're hungry. It's "everyday-ness." Something we all take for granted but are truly the building blocks of who we are. By paying attention, we can see more "pixels" of a human being; and, like a computer screen with many pixels, the image or "resolution and clarity" of that person's life become more clear. It's a powerful concept.
We are now working on the South Africa philosophy of Ubuntu (I am who I am because of you) and Reconciliation. There is no "truth" to these questions but they have certainly given the students an alternative reality to the one we are accustom to in the United States. There will be more on this for the students in the near future.
I have really enjoyed all the students. They are a resilient bunch and their tolerance of ambiguity has been very helpful to me as I conduct this train. They have really began to focus on simultaneously changing both themselves and the communities they serve. They are all working towards improving their lives. They've been reflective and willing to take risks. There has been some external drama out of our control but they have all met those challenges with great patience and understanding. Pretty awesome!
As we enter our final week, I thank everyone who has followed this blog and entered comments that the students love to receive; it's like a letter from home. Onwards!
Nate Whittaker (Instructor)
For the past couple of days, we have began some really challenging work here in South Africa. We have started to go to the township, Delft and attempt to help the people of Afrika Takkun, which is an organization put together to work with the community of Delft. For those of you back home who I have not explained it to, "townships" are the poverty stricken areas that many blacks and coloureds were forced to relocate to during Apartheid. There are still an overwhelming amount of people living in them, and most of them live in shacks made out of tin and wood, while some have small concrete/brick houses. The first day we went to Delft, we visited a health care clinic, which was an especially moving experience for me. One of the first rooms we visited held several bedridden patients; only they did not have enough beds, so some were placed on mattresses on the floor. We also walked through the HIV, tuberculosis, and womens/maternity clinics. We had to squeeze through the hallways where dozens of patients were sitting along the walls, with little stickers on their hands, indicating their place in line. I felt so terrible; I can't even imagine how long these people have to wait. I have often complained about the long wait times in the emergency rooms at the States, but after seeing all those patient people who were suffering from diseases I will probably never encounter, I don't think I ever will again. I was more aware of the lighter color of my skin, and my American privilege than I ever have been; walking down those hallways I felt like an awful tourist, gazing at a zoo exhibit. However, I did meet one of the most inspirational people, Sister Kiewiets, who was giving us the tour of the clinic. This woman works so hard at that clinic, selflessly giving her time to those who would not be able to afford a "regular" clinic. She was an amazing woman!
Other than the clinic visit, we have helped Afrika Tikkun by pulling weeds from their garden, and visiting homes of people who live there. Everyone at home knows that I'm not the biggest fan of kids, so I didn't get an extra charge from being with them, like many of my cohort did. I could not help but feel saddened about the poor conditions these people were living in, the smells, the cramped spaces... and the animals. Seeing the dogs and cats of Delft broke my heart; many of them were emaciated, and I saw some with lesions who looked ill. The hardest part was that I was not allowed to touch them, because they are known to carry diseases. I just wanted to give them a little attention, and a lot of food. Though I know that we were appreciated for being there, I still felt completely powerless to do anything to help.
However, as Liz (one of the lovely women who work for Afrika Tikkun) reminded us, its not all doom and gloom. We have to remember that though the conditions may look terrible to us, many of the people living there seem genuinely happy. I saw their eyes light up in a way that I've not seen in most Americans. So, I am trying not to pity them, though it may be difficult for me. I am learning a lot here, and I appreciate what I have more than ever. Though I may be a poor college student at home, I am wealthy here. I am grateful to have my health (well mostly, lol), an opportunity for education, and my friends, family, and pets. I realize there are some material things that I can live without, and you don't have to have any money to be happy.
In addition to the townships, we've also visited the slave lodge, the district six museum, Desmond Tutu's cathedral, and lots of other interesting places in town. Combined with our social justic classes, I feel so inspired, and a bit confused about what to do with my life. I can't believe I only have about a week left here. Though I miss you all back home, I don't want to leave Africa, and I would absolutely wish for anyone to be able to have this experience; I am so grateful.
Today was our second working day in Delft and it started out the same as the first day but ended completely different. Like before we worked on the gardens and if we are not completely done we are almost done. We weeded and pulled out garbage. The garbage is over powering in the township; chip bags, glass bottles, cans, packaging, etc. Everywhere you look there is garbage and often there are horses and dogs scattered through out the fields of garbage. But we worked very hard as a group and the garden will be ready in time for planting. The second part of the day we got divided up and did home visits. I was with four other girls and we went to a home of foster parents. Only the mother was home, her husband was at work, and she has two daughters of her own and then three other children living with her. One boy who was the youngest at 7 months was put in her home when he was found abandoned at a supermarket, drugged up and almost dead at two weeks old. I held him the majority of the time and I did not see him smile or even change expressions while I was there. He did fall asleep in my arms for about 30 minutes. One of her other foster children that she is only having for a couple more days is around 8 and his mom and sole care taker died in a car accident a couple of weeks ago and they have yet to tell him but he will be told in a couple of days when he goes to his permanent foster parent. The other three children (2 of which are hers) were girls and they were between the ages 11 and 16 and completely fluent in English. The middle girl told us how she loves Justin Bieber and all three of them showed us their spiritual dance they perform at Church. The oldest girl talked about how she would fall over if she ever had the chance to meet Barack Obama. I was the only girl there with blonde hair and the three eldest girls all came up to me and said they love my hair and wanted to touch it. It was wonderful seeing life in the townships. They were all so excited to see us and before long there neighbors and their children came over to the house to talk and play with us. They were all so proud of what they had and were so open to show it with us. We might have a chance to see this family again next week and I really hope that we are able to.
Today was a really good day. I have been blessed, not only today, but within my life in general with the healing power of the human spirit.
Yesterday was our first time in the township of Delft. We spent time gardening at Africa Tikkun and then ended our morning in the townships by touring the hospital in Delft. It was quite a humbling experience to see so many sick people waiting to be seen by a doctor with really no promise of getting that opportunity anytime in the near future. Although nobody is turned away at the hospital... the truth is that there simply is not enough people or resources to help all the people who are in need immediately. Despite being exposed to these conditions, I found that I did not experience the emotional struggle that my fellow classmates were experiencing. This reaction puzzled me. Furthermore, I stuggled with even being able to be present in the moment I was in. I found myself reverting to memories of my past... not immediate memories, but more distant ones.. ones that I have long since put away.
As the day went on, I really began to struggle with my lack of emotion at the hospital and the longing I was feeling for the distant past. I tried to fulfill this longing by conjuring up my more immediate memories. This past year of my life has been an extraordinary time. Since I've moved to the Twin Cities... I've truly felt like I belong. But yesterday, I could not conjure up that feeling of belonging that has been in my soul over the past year. I felt totally disconnected with all that makes me happy. This was not a good feeling. I was scared that I had somehow lost my connection to my life back home.
Today... I feel completely different. I can see now that perhaps these struggles with my memories had to do with my personal coping mechanisms that I may have used to block out the sad things that I witnessed at the hospital. Furthermore, I not only rid myself of the negative feelings that I had yesterday... but I had a very happy day.
I think that I owe this happy day to the power of the human spirit. We once again spent time in Delft and began our morning by gardening. But after we were finished with that, we actually got to go out to some homes in Delft and interact with the people. Although these homes were in poor condition and could bring anybody sadness, I did not feel sad. I didn't feel sad because the people that we encountered were not sad. We got to play with the kids of the township and they were so vibrant and so full of life. It was impossible to not feel some of that fullness myself.
It is the vibrant lives of these youth that have reminded me why it is that I have felt so connected to my journey in Minneapolis. I am reminded what it is that I want to do with my life and why I have felt that I am where I belong. I can feel my connection to my life back home once again. And I owe this rejuvenation of my own spirit to the power of the human spirit of the people that I was blessed to interact with today.
Perhaps this idea of ubuntu... the idea that a person is a person through persons... is really on to something. I am what I am today because of the people that I've encountered.... this even includes the people that I've encountered today. I may not know the names of those kids... but they will always be a part of my being. The bit of human spirit that they lent me today will always be with me in someway.
5 January 2012
So, more about Nate Whittaker
We leave our houses at 8h30.
We get to Afrika Tikkun at 9h00.
We volunteer until 13h00.
We have class at 15h00.
We leave class at 17h00.
We have Talking Circles at 20h00.
It's not bad. It's just intense after coming from the mountains with no regiment or regard for time.
So, Afrika Tikkun. What an absolutely phenomenal place! We work with Anthea, who is similar to Aggie, the housemother at Isithembiso. It appears that she and Liz, along with Michaela, are the inspirational glue that holds this place together. Obviously, I'm sure there are others, but these are just the ladies we are working specifically with.
On our first day there, we did some orientation and got familiar with some of their programs. They have computer and art rooms for kids. They have women that work in the kitchen and make one hot meal for anyone within the township. For free. They also have a social work system. They deliver meals. They do house visits and set up family plans. Everything they do leaves me speechless. Today, on our first real day of service at Afrika Tikkun, Anthea told us that they needed help with the garden. Now, I'm not a real rough and tumble, dirt under my nails kinda gal, but I've been to an indigenous farming conference, so I get the idea.
The Bean and I headed off in
one direction and just started pulling weeds. As I was pulling out these
evasive plants, I was just noticing the amazing root structures that they had.
Between the ball of thorns and snails that I had to encounter, I really started
enjoying myself. I'll admit it; I think that having an actual garden someday
could be more than just a fantasy.
While the weeding was physically taxing (I was getting sun blisters), it was nothing compared to the emotionally taxing second part of our morning. We left the safe space of Afrika Tikkun and headed to Delft Community Health Centre. There we had a tour guide, who everyone has taken to calling "The Sister That Showed Us Around." She was such an inspiring woman! She has three children and works 13 hour days, 7 days a week. Her phone is always on, at church, while she's asleep, I'm sure even in the bath. She doesn't do it for the pay, or the benefits (if there are any), she does it out of her passion for the people. She was telling us stories of the youth with STI's that she sees; they don't come in until there are warts covering their genitals, until it is literally the worst that it can get.
Her stories tug at your heartstrings, each and every one of us touched by the words of this angel among us.
She then brought us on a tour. We saw
everything: the resuscitation room (the er, essentially), the HIV care sector,
the TB hall, the ante-natal care, the pediatrics...but most of all, we got to see
the people. As we walked the crowded
corridors, it was hard to look people in the face. It was hard; who were we to
have the gift of opportunity to be able to walk these halls and see the reality
behind the statistics? I don't deserve to see the line of babies that need
vaccinations to be able to grow into healthy adults, or the adults that are
sitting and waiting for their 12 minutes to pass after they've taken the HIV
test to find the results. Why do I get to see this?
Why was I the one who was fortunate enough to be the only one in the ER on New Year's Eve? I was so humbled by this experience. There are no words to describe to look in people's eyes at the health centre. Although some are sitting in queues longer than I have ever had to wait in the hospital or clinic, these people still manage to be the most beautiful assortment of people I have ever seen. This is their reality. They have to wait in these queues and lay on mattresses on the floor. This is hard for us Americans to cope with, but life in the townships isn't all doom and gloom. Life happens there. Beautiful, happy, vibrant life. Passion for life and exuberance I first experienced when I visited my friend Zianda in the Red District of PE.
While visiting the Delft Community Health Centre may have been emotionally difficult, it is also uplifting. The fact that anyone in Delft can hop in a taxi and head down to the clinic and receive care for free is amazing. South Africa is doing many things right that the US is missing and health care is one of them. In fact, this morning, Rick Santorum said "People die in America because people die in America. And people make poor decisions with respect to their health and their healthcare. And they don't go to the emergency room or they don't go to the doctor when they need to," he said. "And it's not the fault of the government for not providing some sort of universal benefit. Mr. Santorum, how would you expect unemployed people without health care to go to the emergency room? And who do you expect to pay for that.
America, we've got some lessons to learn.
(Here is the link to the article written about Rick Santorum and his beliefs on health care: http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/santorum-no-one-has-ever-died-because-they-didnt-have-health-care/politics/2011/12/06/31304)
We went to Afrika Tiikun in Delft today and helped in the garden. It was fun and easy. The tide changed soon after. We walked through the township all the way to where the hospital clinic was located. We were introduced by, since I can't remember her name I will call her, Sister. She explained what they did at the hosptital and everything that they had to offer the community. Free or basically free healthcare for anyone who needed help. She described some things that she has seen or experienced there that if I were to ever go through that, do not know how I would go to work again the next day. But she was passionate. She was willing and able to help. She was brave. I walked past an continuous line of HIV/AIDS patients, TB patients, pregnant patients, pediatric patients...and saw first hand. I looked into their eyes. It is easy to feel pain and pity when you get thrown into something you have never seen in real life and only read about. It is easy to feel doom and gloom in these moments. It is easy to cry and feel suffocated. It is NOT easy to remember in these moments that this community is their home. It is not easy to always see the beauty in these moments. it is not easy to feel at peace. But all of the things that are not easy to do are necessary. It will take me time to adjust my heart first, but I have hope that after my experience tomorrow and the next week in Delft, I can do what is not so easy. This is their life and they are proud to have what they have and not dwell on the have not. Just because they may lack the materials that me and so many others are privileged to have and take for granted, does not mean that they are inferior because of that. They are strong...they are moral...they are survivors and thrive.
Its almost impossible through writing to describe my thoughts, emotions, sights, and feelings, it doesn't do it justice. So I am sorry you will never fully understand what I have seen or experienced. The lessons are important though so take from it what you will.
We have been talking about an idea called "lived experience" and its a simple idea yet so very complicated...especially in America. Its the being aware of space, time, body, and relationships. It is describing it mundanely. It is getting away from the feeling description into what is really happening. It is not taking the little things for granted...My lived experience today in Delft was extreme to me. I felt sick to my stomach...my sense of time was incredibly slow (I wanted to get out of the hospital), my relationships were distant, and my space was crammed. So the point is to try and remember your life and others with the small things in life. What are the women, men, and children sitting in line waiting to be tested for HIV/AIDS lived experiences like? How about in the 12 minutes it takes for them to get their results?
I'm not sure if that made any sense. I have to stop for now but plan on finishing tomorrow. The hospital is doing amazing things for beautiful people. I am going to wake up tomorrow, go to Delft, and do it again.
Everyone as one,
3 January 2012
Title: familiar places, unfamiliar spaces
Since Educo, we've been experiencing Nate Whittaker Boot Camp, and its been great. We got back on New Year's Eve and didn't waste time hitting up the mall at V&A Waterfront in search of accessories for the celebration. But, I didn't end up buying anything, which could have been a sign for my evening. I ended up going to Long Street with the rest of the group, but after a while, I wasn't feeling well. And it wasn't like I was sick from drinking the water or sick from being in a car, it was a pain I knew all too well: my friend kidney stone had returned. We haven't seen each other since August, but it made sense; I had been in the mountains, doing vigorous activity with little care about my hydration and I sweat a lot.
Two of my
friends brought me home while I was crying in pain in the backseat of the
cab. Luckily, one of my friends, Kasey,
who I happen to live with, had had a kidney stone before. She stayed cool and
calm and collected and there's no way I could ever repay her for being with me.
Nate ended up driving us to the hospital and sitting with me and Kasey after getting an IV and morphine and
anti-nausea medication. I was the only
one in the ER so I had like three nurses around me, rubbing my back and holding
my hand, calling me lovey. Evidently at
one point, the nurse had touched my back and I had thought it was Nate.
When we were
getting ready to leave to hospital, Nate, Kasey and I were the victims of
crime. That sounds so intense. Really, we walked out, Nate tried to start the
car and lo and behold, the battery was missing.
At 5 am, you really take the mundane things like car batteries for
granted. Since then, the car and the
battery have been replaced and the three of us made it home safely.
When I first visited Cape Town with Papa Shahz, he brought us to District Six Museum to learn about forced removal in South Africa. Great minds do think alike because I found myself there for a second time. This time, though, Nate brought us to the sites our tour guide had talked about, the Tech College, the flattened space where hundreds, if not thousands of homes used to stand, now hundreds of homeless people spend their days. The location is considered a World Heritage Site, but is littered with glass and well, litter. Third world South Africa located right in the heart of the First World Cape Town.
We hit the
ground running and headed off to St. George's Crypt, which was phenomenal.
Although, I don't remember a huge amount of the information provided for us
there due to my medication, I remember being in awe of how religion motivates
Another familiar place was the Eastern Food Market. I remember eating there when I was in Cape Town for spring break. Its sort of a bizarre bazaar for food with everything ranging from shwarma, which was delicious, to chicken fried rice.
We then hit up my second love in the world, Mr. Price. Of course I got some clothes and two pairs of shoes, but it's so cheap, who could resist?!
Today was rough and amazing at the same time. I'm not even sure where to begin. We went to the Delft Township and worked with the organization Africa Takun. The first task we did was help clear out their gardens and surrounding plant areas of weeds and over grown plants. The second part of our time here is the part I am struggling to come up with words to describe. We got a tour of the Delft Township hospital by one of the sisters (nurse) of the facility and the images I saw kept and continue to replay through my head. At first it was very uncomfortable, we were walking through the different hospital sections such as the TB waiting room, maternity ward, HIV/AIDS area and child ward, and it was definitely over crowded. All the chairs were filled with people sitting on the laps of others and standing around and all staring at us as we were led from place to place. I felt like an intruder and felt wrong looking at them but rude for not looking at them in the eyes. Soon being uncomfortable was accompanied by sadness and just being overwhelmed by what I was seeing, walking to the hospital I felt as if I was prepared for what I was going to see but I definitely was not. Now I think if I were to go back again I would have better mental preparation and instead of looking at the sadness be able to see the hope and progress they are making with being able to provide almost free health care and advanced services to so many people. The woman who led us around was one of the most inspirational individuals that I have ever met. She has spent 19 years of her life working almost 12-hour days to help run and improve the hospital. Her passion for helping the Delft Community was unbelievably amazing. As she gave us the tour she talked with many of the patients personally who were waiting to be seen and you could tell everyone really appreciated her. Along with one of my other feelings a feeling I had once the tour was over was a feeling I hadn't experienced yet on the trip and was surprised at the timing of it was being home sick. I really wanted to hug my parents and be surrounded by the familiarity and safeness of home. I was able to call home and talk to both of my parents, which helped me a lot, and also there are so many amazing people I am on this journey with you always lift me up and help me get through everything. The other individuals on this seminar are so unbelievably brilliant and well rounded and they have given me so many insights and thoughts to think about. Tomorrow is another day at Africa Takun and I think the plan is to do home visits, which I know will bring out a lot more emotions.
As we exited our tour of the Delft Health Center this afternoon and stood as a clustered group in near silence, the Sister who showed us around said 3 simple words that I will never forget: This is Delft. The mood was stiringly somber, but her tone of voice someone managed to sound hopeful, rejuvenated almost. She asked for our prayers and if for now that is all I can give the members of this community, I will certainly pray for them.
We headed out early this morning to head into the township of Delft to begin out first day of service learning. After an orientation and introduction yesterday morning, I was feeling ready to get my hands dirty today. We all worked together to the pull weeds out of Afrika Tikkun's community garden. Afrika Tikkun is the name of the organization we are working with, and yes for those of you wondering Tikkun in this title does in fact mean a sense of restoring and repairing. I learned yesterday that Afrika Tikkun was started and funded by a Jewish man. I have no doubt that I would have just as great an experience working with any organization that does work comparable to Afrika Tikkun, but for me there is something inexplicable touching about working for an organization that has a Jewish connection.
Some of the plants were thorny, the roots were stubborn, I was sweating, and there were snails everywhere. I didn't mind at all. We cleared the majority of a garden that otherwise would likely be sitting around unusable for who knows how long. We worked on this small project for a small organization, but we worked on it together and I pulling out just one weed felt incredibly productive.
We then took a 20-30 minute walk from Afrika Tikkun to the Health Center. Physically walking down the streets of this township was such an experience. I was so aware of my perception of everyone we passed, but I couldn't stop wondering the perception those we passed had of us. So many of them smiled and waved at us, but what was really behind those gestures? I suppose I'll never know...
We entered the Health Center and met the most inspiring woman I'll probably ever meet. She has devoted 24 hours a day 7 days a week to the people of this community who are in need for the past 19 years. If I heard and understood correctly, she answered someone's question about her own children and said that because she is watching over the people in this hospital she knows the Lord is watching over her children. Normally I don't think I would connect with a statement like this, but in this place and time I very much did. I wish I could recall her name, but I also know I'll hold on to her voice, her appearance, and her work for a very long time.
Walking through the hospital was extremely emotional. I've never walked through a hospital in the States, so this one in a township of South Africa was a lot to take in at once. I was very surprised at my reaction. Almost immediately after stepping into the first room I began crying. Although I definitely cry, I've never cried like this before. I've never cried so rapidly and so meaningfully. I cried my way through the entire visit. This is the first time I think I've ever cried for other people. I really struggled to let myself cry. I walked through the entire hospital with my sunglasses on. I didn't want the patients to see me crying. If they aren't crying, why should I be crying? I couldn't help it though. I was feeling. I was being human.
This is Delft. I return to that and will for the remainder of this trip. The Health Center was Delft because there is suffering and pain. The Health Center is Delft because there is support and life, old and new. All the services in the Health Center are free. That's incredible. I'm so thankful for the other people on this trip who have reminded me as the day has gone on that while it is okay to feel sad and slightly ashamed, it's important to keep in mind the vibrancy that does exist. Life in Delft is not all doom and gloom. Optimism and laughter exist there too, just as they exist anywhere else.
It was definitely heavy day. There is so much to think about, so much to process. I continue to be humbled and I continue to be grateful. Today was the first time in my life I've felt inspired. I've been waiting to find out what inspiration feels like and the first place I found it was Delft.
Tomorrow we return to Delft and will continue our work in the garden. We have the afternoon and evening free as well as a day off on Saturday. As much as this trip is about social justice, I think it's important for all of us to enjoy being here in this marvelous city and country. To take the stories from class, the readings, and the townships and take them with us as we move forward.
Love to all back home,
1 January 2012
Title: Comfort in Rocks.
dinner at the Obz Café, we went to Long Street. A group of us girls went to get
milkshakes at the Royal Eatery. We headed home and packed up for
bush camp. We met Mark from Educo Africa at our houses and headed up
into the mountains of the Western Cape. On the most frightening ride of my
life, we drove a good three hours, passing ostriches and listening to Matt and
Scott's woes with women. When we first arrived, we picked houses,
grabbed sleeping bags, unpacked the vans and explored our new area. Logistical
stuff. As we were given a tour, I thought to myself, this is a total
hippie compound, Morris people would be at home here. They use only
biodegradable soap, they have a biodigester they use, I'm pretty sure they
compost, they recycle everything. Just...very Morris. From that moment on, I knew
that I would be comfortable here. From hiking, to watching the sunrise,
to watching the sunset, to swimming in a little hole in the middle of the
mountains in Africa, everything blew my mind how willing I was to
participate. If someone at home tried to get me to hike in the
mountains or swim in a natural pool, I wouldn't think twice about saying
I just want to take this time to say a few words about Mark and his family. His kids, Emma (11) and James (7), spent a good chunk of the time on the mountain with us. They live in Cape Town and go to a Waldorf School, which is more like an arts school. We were so lucky for them to have the ability to spend some of their holiday off of school with us. They live with very little media influence; they don't have a tv or a computer. Its amazing to me how intelligent they are, and I'm telling you its not just the accents. I very much so envy their lifestyle. Without the influence of tv or computer, and being able to escape with their parents to the mountains, I can just imagine how close their family is.
After interacting with both Mark and his wife, as well as
Emma and James, I really began to miss the members of my family that aren't
here with me in Africa. While I will always talk about how fortunate
I am to have the Bean here with me, I cannot express in words how much I long
sometimes to be in Disney World with my parents and little sisters. It's so
strange how homesick I was when I first came here; a freshman, moving out on my
own to Africa. I was always talking (or complaining about one thing or another)
to my parents at St Cloud, but I lost all of that ability here. I, for once,
had to rely on myself. It was an eye-opening experience.
This is my second blog that I have written for class and it will be my first one while I'M IN AFRICA. I'm sure I could be on my third or fourth blog already, but we've been so busy in Capetown and I have been trying to do every possible thing in Capetown that I enjoy!
Like I said, there has been so many things that have gone on while I have been in South Africa that I don't even know where to begin for my blog. I loveeeee that it is summer time here, it has been beautiful the week and a half we have been here. I am burnt like a crisp but having the sun rays beat into my skin everyday feels amazing and any sunburn is worth it. South Africa makes me happy, I haven't been this genuinely happy in a really long time, this is going to make leaving so much harder. It's not just the weather that is making me happy. I am with amazing people that are here to do the same thing that I am. I know that we will all get something different out of this trip, but I guarentee that everyone will grow as a person in some way, shape, or form. The culture and people here are all beautiful too. There are so many different types of people in South Africa and they are slowly learning to all live together in a peaceful state. I aspire for the United States to grow like South Africa. Every South African that I have met so far has been awesome. They are culturally diverse people, they're open and honest, and they all have managed to teach me something about the country or myself. And I am so grateful for all of them.
One thing that I still am working on is time. The difference in how time works from South Africa to the United States. I am so used to having a watch on or being able to check my cellphone for the time whenever I would like. There is almost a clock in every room in my house or apartment and I am used to being on time or being early. Being on time is normally considered being late. I am a very relaxed and peaceful person, but time is a huge thing in my life. And it has been hard, especially at restaurants because it takes so long to get our drinks, food, and bill. I just have to learn and remember that time here is a cultural difference and to be patient. Patience is key in this country and if I get that down, I should be able to intergrate into the culture more.
I haven't blogged much yet because I keep forgetting that this trip is educational, not just a vacation abroad. I knew that I would end up blogging today - in fact, I tried to blog before we went out to Africa Tikkun about how I was ready to come in right with an open heart and an open mind.
Today we went and visited the Delft Community Health Center. We saw hundreds of people waiting for treatment. A sister who ran the whole center, who's name I forgot already sadly, talked to us before we got a tour. She said that they serve roughly two thousand people per day with roughly a hundred workers for the whole clinic. That was when I got emotional. I have been talking about going to medical school for almost five years. The past two months have been rough for me in my decision to go to medical school. This whole trip for me was about figuring out about who I am and what I want to do with my life. With every step I take in Africa, I feel myself coming together. From feeling powerful climbing a mountain with EducoAfrica, to visiting the Delft Community Health Center, to even just the simple fact that our classroom in South Africa is in the fucking medical school. I don't believe in God, but man is that a sign from above or what?
People travel for miles to get to the Delft Community Health Center just to get considered to been seen. That doesn't happen in the United States. Health care is so immediate that the idea of waiting is bothersome. The sister let us know that they just got a respirator for their "resuscitation room" or emergency room. Think about your breathing. Your lungs. We just learned about lived experience and taking mundane every day things for granted. Now that I've said something you're probably thinking about your breathing pattern.
As I was leaving I thought about how much I wanted to remember the Delft Community Health Center and the sister who lead us around. She was such a strong woman in the community in a role that almost demanded respect that I just couldn't help but want to be her. We were all hugging goodbye and as the sister and I hugged I was just so overcome with emotion I started crying. I let her know that I was going to medical school and that I would be thinking of her the whole way through. She and I hugged for a good minute crying to ourselves. When we said goodbye I said I would try to keep in touch via email and she kissed me on the cheek and said she was praying for me. We left the Delft Community Health Center and I couldn't help but think, wow, this woman has never talked to me, I've literally been in her presence for roughly fifteen minutes and who the hell am I to deserve her prayers?
I cannot believe that this trip has already given me what I need. Africa has given me hope for myself and my future.
Within fifteen minutes of both the guides' informative talks -- at District Six and the Crypt -- each stated that the major problem behind the terrible mistreatment and exploitation of people of color and poor folks was greed and selfishness. They went on to name these vices as both spawning and stemming from a capitalist economic system, one which is rooted in profit through exploitation, as well as privileging the individual versus communal good. Although I study capitalism within the confines of the academy -- doing my best to co-integrate what I'm striving to learn through community organizing with those studies -- it was compelling to me to hear folks talk about it so openly. As a mass in the United States, we're simply very close-minded to conversations on the possibility of socialism. Much of this is essentially linked to our government's representation of socialism as the enemy of freedom, typically understood through free-market capitalism (which we've already established is exploitative). The US government will hardly let US residents travel to Cuba, a place whose socialist government played an absolutely key role in the eventual overthrow of the South African apartheid regime.
How does capitalism then play out on the ground in the context of South Africa and the US? The extent to which people have gone -- and continue to go -- to displace others from their homes in order to achieve wealth for themselves is appalling and disturbing. Moreover, a careful eye to history reveals the frightening, great harm we can inflict upon each other in search of profit. One instance reflective of this damage is the basis for the District Six Museum: the Afrikaans (White Dutch) government's forced removal of communities of color from their residences through the Group Areas Act of 1950. Before pointing all fingers at the South African government, however, it is necessary to reflect upon our own nation's past and present abuse of people of color, poor people, and immigrants (among many groups systematically marginalized). Amongst other reasons, the economic prowess of the US is a result of our country's use of slavery as a violent system of unpaid labor, destruction of slave families, and genocide of the indigenous peoples inhabiting North America. We can therefore see that South Africa's designation of the diversity-rich District Six of Cape Town as White only parallels the construction of highway Interstate 94 in Saint Paul during the 1960s. The construction split through the historic Rondo neighborhood, home to a thriving Black community.** Similarly, since a tornado hit North Minneapolis in May 2011, newly developed homes are replacing destroyed homes at highly unaffordable prices for previous owners or tenants. It doesn't take much to realize that the economic disparities and challenges facing communities is obviously not some inherent pathological issue but in fact an intentional state-enforced deprivation, resulting from centuries of institutionalized white supremacy rooted in the vicious veins of capitalism.
For these reasons, evident throughout our trip have been the ways in which white supremacy and capitalism work together to weaken and break down families, which are necessary to the growth, health, and transmission of cultures and traditions. The pass laws of apartheid South Africa served to extract very underpaid labor from African and colored*** people exiled to the Cape Flats, or townships at the outskirts of cities. Having grown up in District Six, displaced in the 1960s, our guide Joe described to us that the apartheid regime's movement of people far outside the city brought longer days and more time away from family for these folks. Travel to and from the city, in addition to the need to find shopping in Cape Town -- due to the lack of shops accessible in the townships -- elongated the days and deprived working parents of sleep. How long does it take before people begin to break and snap at each other? Joe asked. The devil finds work for idle hands, he continued, sharing stories of increased gang formation and violence.
We'll begin service-learning in the township of Delft tomorrow officially, after orientation this morning. I am wholeheartedly looking forward to working with children -- I brought my jump ropes. The folks at Afrika Tikkun gave us a welcome and introduction toward recognizing what we and the folks in the township can learn from each other, emphasizing shared human solidarity. Not only that, but in the past week and a half, we've done a lot of reflecting and reading on 'coming in right' -- beyond naming privilege; rather further emphasizing the need to heal ourselves before being able to fully and effectively support others. Finally, as I addressed earlier in the post, we're relating what we're seeing here to larger worldwide patterns in the webs of oppression.
* Saint George's Cathedral Crypt, a place of memory and witness: http://www.archivalplatform.org/news/entry/st_georges_cathedral/.
** Visit the Minnesota Historical Society's website for more information: http://www.mnhs.org/library/tips/history_topics/112rondo.html.
*** A term used commonly in South Africa to refer to people who are not Indian, African, or White. See the history of South Africa's racial designations under apartheid.
So far, South Africa has by far exceeded all of my expectations. We have already had such a diverse experience, the $6,000 has already paid for itself in my mind. We have done everything from swimming in water holes on top of a mountain, going on a retreat with no technology, and sharing powerful stories that have changed all of our lives. The Educo retreat was one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced. It was perfect having the retreat right at the beginning of the trip because it gave our group the chance to really bond and become a family early on. I can't believe how fast the past week has flown by. I do not want this trip to ever end. I am amazed by how many different things we have seen in the last week. We have seen South Africa's most wealthy parts and their polar opposites driving past the townships. This is only the beginning and I have already witnessed the huge gap between the rich and the poor. Everything is unique and rich with history here, my brain is starting to get tired, just trying to comprehend everything that has happened here. Tomorrow is our first visit to a township and I can't even describe the feelings running through my mind. It will definitely be an experience of a lifetime and I can't wait. I will blog again soon and tell you all about the township experience.
The culture here is so laid back and care-free, it is contagious. I can already tell that I have become a much more relaxed person since arriving. I have been here for 8 days now and can honestly say that I will come back here again at some point in my life.
So long for now, have to get some sleep before the township tomorrow morning!
Wow so much has happened since I have last blogged. One thing that hasn't changed is my opinion on this seminar and that it is still absolutely amazing and that I feel so blessed and thankful that I am participating in this experience. I am currently lying on my bed and it is a little past midnight. It is actually raining right now and I can hear the soft sound of the rain through the walls.
Last Thursday we woke up early to catch a bus up to the mountains for a two-day retreat. The trip took 3 hours that also included a tour through two different townships. Our driver explained that how every township has a different feel and look. One of the ones we went through was almost a government-sponsored place. The South African government built small houses and schools for the community to use. The houses from the outside looked about my bedroom size and on average there is 14 people living in each house. This township our driver, Mark, said was more hopeful because of the growth and long term stability of what is being built. The other township we visited was completely made up of metal shacks. The outside of the house is made up of different things ranging from tires to boxes to metal sheets, anything they find they use. This community is struggling more than the prior one we saw and has less of a "hopeful" feeling. There was a field of random shrubs and bushes scattered through out that separated two sections of the township and Mark talked about how you would not walk across this at night because men would wait in the shrubs/bushes and grab individuals who walked by and rape them.
Once we finally made it we did some logistics such as choosing a house/bunk to sleep in and we talked about the guidelines. Educo Africa (the organization that sponsored retreats) does not believe in rules. We met Mark (my bus driver) his two children, Emma 11 and James 7, Wendy and Fernando. This retreat was absolutely amazing and one of the best experiences I have had in my life. One thing that they advised us and asked us not to do was look at the time. So for two days I never knew the time and that was a new and liberating experience. Not being stressed about deadlines and schedules was relaxing and peaceful- it was an experience I had never really felt before. The idea of trying to explain the whole retreat with the activities, the meanings, the stories, and experiences that I and the rest of the group went through seems very impossible, so instead I will just touch on some things. We watched the setting sun over African mountains and plains, we watched the sunrise over South Africa, we hiked two different times to two different mountain springs where we swam and talked, we did multiple team building activities such as building a time machine that is identical to other teams with out being able to see what we are doing and doing mental challenges, we stayed up late drinking tea and biscuits while playing the South African game called Thirty Seconds, we had fires, we shared stories, learned about the apartheid, social justice, and forgiveness from three individuals who experienced it, we stood outside for a long time watching for shooting stars and finding the southern cross ( I managed to see two shooting starts), and I know there are numerous things I have missed. The retreat was such an eye opening and community building experience and it has truly changed myself and my outlook on different things
We returned from the retreat on Saturday, which was also New Years Eve. New Years Eve was unreal. We all went downtown Cape Town on a popular street called Long Street. We ate some dinner and when it was close to midnight everyone from all the restaurants, bars, clubs, etc came pouring on to the street to count down. Once midnight came fireworks went off and everyone was shouting happy New Year to everyone and giving hugs to everyone close. There was also even a parade going on. That will definitely not only be a New Years celebration I will never forget but also a memory I will hold onto forever.
Sunday was New Years day and about 9 of us ventured down to Camps Bay- a very wealthy area of Cape Town to go to the beach. It was frustrating seeing the Hollywood homes looking over the ocean when there are many people a few miles away who live in metal shacks. It was interesting being on the beach it felt as if I was a celebrity. There were families, individuals, old people, young people, and moms coming up to my group and me to have our pictures taken with them. Our conclusion was that they knew we were American because we couldn't think of anything else. We laid out and talked and put on layers and layers of sun block. Another yummy thing I experienced on this New Years Day was a Gatsby. A Gatsby is a type of sandwich South Africa is known for and the one I had consisted of steak, egg, chips (French fries), onions, tomato sauce (ketchup) and lettuce. It was delicious and I hope to have another one before the trip is over with. During the evening a lot of people just hung out and talked it was a very relaxing way to end the holiday.
But for South Africa the holiday is still going on for January second. The day started out with us going to our first class session where the focus was on community. We had a good discussion on what community is and how we are a community. After class we went to the Minstrel parade, down town Cape Town. We watched different groups of flamboyantly dressed people march down the street singing, dancing and playing instruments. For dinner today we had a taco potluck where everyone brought different items and we all ate together.
So I realize this is a very quick catch up view for a blog but I needed to catch up since I have been so busy lately. South Africa is so amazing and I am so thankful I still have 2 weeks to continue to learn about South Africa and grow as a person.
My world is spinning. It's hard to continue like everything is normal after a day like I had today. We went to the District Six Museum and listened to Joe, who told us all about how thousands of colored and black people were forced from their homes and moved into the Cape Flats (townships). The whites did not want to be "contaminated" by blacks and strict laws governed the segregation all around South Africa under the Apartheid. After the museum, we walked to where the District used to be, and it is now just grass full of rubble left from destroying the homes. Most of it is a world heritage site now because of the protest against whites rebuilding on it. Activists took pouches full of the rubble and said, "This used to be someone's home, a family." This example is just one that saved the land. Now the government plans to rebuild so that people that were forced out, can come back. This is challenging not only because of money and resources but the mindset the oppressed. They were literally brainwashed to believe that they belonged in the Townships. This is devastating to me.
After that we went to the St. George's Cathedral Crypt which played a big role for the people in the resistance against the Apartheid. There we learned about the huge PEACE marches that took place in 1989 all over the country. I was only 2 months old. Police murdered children and adults because of the protest. Even then, the people stayed peaceful and demanded to have their humanity back. It was so very powerful. Desmond Tutu, a spiritual leader and advocate against the Apartheid, was speaking at the rally and wanted to prove that they are peaceful people by holding up empty hands, and that they are disciplined by being silent. It pains me to even think that they had to try and prove anything at all.
Lastly, we went to the Slave Lodge. This is where slaves were shipped to in Cape Town and auctioned off and put to labor. Men, women, and children. I imagine everyone knows to an extent the horrific realities of slavery. The slaves built everything. Cape Town is because of them. All of this was a lot to take in and process in one day.
I don't want to end on that note.
I went shopping after that at the Greenmarket, which is absolutely amazing! I got a lot fantastic authentic made African merchandise and art. I am excited to share it with everyone when I get back! I had a lot of fun bartering...I must say I am pretty good at it :) All of this is downtown Cape Town, which just yesterday was vibrant and full of energy and hope! It was the Cape Minstrel Carnival which is also called the Tweede Nuwe Jaar (second new year). Historically celebrated on January 2, the one day Cape slaves were given off every year and freedom of slavery is celebrated as well. So that was very uplifting!
I learned that real change takes many years...so being patient is extraordinarily important. Everything you do today does effect tomorrow, even in the slightest bit. So don't ever think that what your effort to help in any way is pointless because that would be foolish. Powerful things can happen when you believe in something. I believe in being human. Like Joe said, take everyone and prick their finger...what color is it? Until it bleeds different colors, we are all a part of the same HUMAN RACE.
PS- If you ever want to comment or have ANY questions...you are more than welcome to share that on here!
Alexa Nelson 1-2-12
I apologize to friends and family who I have not been in contact with since I've been in Africa, but, to be honest, I'm super busy here allll the tme. It's beyond amazing :) I will try to buy some more air time for my phone so I can call some of you. But, just know that I am safe and happy.
Since I've been here, we've been so many great things, but my absolute favorite was the Educo retreat we went to in Groot Winterhoek. We went way up in the mountains and camped in these little cabins. We went hiking, swimming in a water hole in the mountain, had bonfires, and ate all of our meals together around a big table. Its difficult to explain how fantastic this experience was, but I met some new people who were great, and I have never felt more close to nature than when I was there, sitting on a rock, watching the sun set over the mountains. I promise I will bring pictures back with me, but the internet is different here, and I'd rather just wait until I'm home for most of them. Until then, here is one of me hiking in the mountains.
New years eve was also a fabulous experience, as everyone went in the street for the count down, and immediately began hugging and shaking hands with anyone nearby, wishing them well for the new year. I would love to write more about the minibuses, and the markets, and everything else I'm seeing, but I'm afraid I'm quite tired, and have a long day tomorrow. For now, lets just suffice to say that I believe this is the most beautiful place on this earth.
Miss you all
"In a system like community, every part is related to every other part and change in one part will lead to change in other parts."
"In community a small action can have a very large impact... or vice versa."
Both of these quotes were taken from When butterflies flap their wings: Community and contradiction by Juan C. Moreno, University of Minnesota Executive Service.
For our first official sit down class while here in South Africa, we were asked to read the above text. This particular text, along with this particular class, focused on the idea of community and what it takes to create, build, and maintain a community. While discussing this in class, Nate asked us to discuss which ideas expressed by Moreno stood out to us the most. The two that I have listed above have stood out to me.
I have only recently really begun to understand the impact that my actions have upon others. I can honestly say that I have always had a heightened sensitivity to the feelings of others and that I try my best to not cause conflict or to do anything that causes any sort of physical or emotional harm to other human beings. However, I had never realized that even the smallest of actions... or the lack of action... can truly effect the world around me. Not only is this possible, it is inevitable.
The two quotes that I listed above really sum up this idea. The truth is.. no matter who a person is... no matter where they came from... no matter what their intentions are in any sort of situation... any actions that they make... or any actions that they neglect to take part in... can and will impact the people and the environment around them. This is so important to realize because it forces us to take the time to be aware of the consequences of our actions. By having a heightened awareness, we open our eyes to the realities of the world that we had never imagined before. In turn, this gives us ground to stand on in order to bring about positive change.
Awareness is both beautiful and complicated. It is beautiful in the sense that it opens us up to unknown worlds and truths. It is complicated because that sense of openess is also a call to action in cases of injustice or when something simply needs fixing. But we must not shy away from awareness. It is vital that we know the realities of the world. It is vital that we realize how we specifically impact the world. It is in this knowledge that we can begin to grow and to create a world that is worth living in.
28 December 2011
I have so many feelings.
I love being back in South Africa. I love being able to get a Hunter's Dry and go to Pick N Pay. I love getting a Steers Cone for R3.50. Buying Airtime. Buying internet. Buying electricity.
Everything feels so much more natural and comes so easy to me here.
My room has the only skylight in the house. it's pretty neat. I thought I'd miss having a roommate because I often get lonely in my own room at school, but I'm finding that I hang out in the living room with Kasey, Shira and Andrea a lot. I can walk outside and see Lion's Head Mountain from the road. The beauty of the nature here astounds me sometimes.
I keep thinking about the last time I was here. Obviously not in the same places, but similar. I miss PE a lot, but I'm partial to Cape Town. Living at Osborne is more independent than Annie's and we have a lot more space. I remember being one of the youngest in the group last time. One who was inexperienced with drinking and 36 hours of airports and driving on the other side of the road. Now its almost the opposite; I'm one of the veterans, helping people with what they should get for groceries, doing conversions in my head for rand, working the plug ins. I know I've only been here for less than 24 hours, but I'm considering not coming back. I was scared for this.
I woke up a little early and walked around Mowbray with Andrea, Shira, Scott, Carla, Daisy and Angela. We discovered that there are a lot of hair places around here. We found essential things like the indian restaurant and the laundry place. When we got back, we had a little time to hang out and at 11:30 we had orientation at the bed and breakfast next door. I sat in the sun so i could work on my base. After the 2.5 hour orientation, we were all starving. it was perfect that interstudy had planned a braai for us. There was chicken skewers, which kelly loved, boerwoers, and lamb steaks. it was alll so good. I've missed braais. We then packed up 3 minibusses and headed for UCT's upper campus. There were absolutely gorgeous views.
They then took us to PIck n Pay where we grocery shopped for food for when we return from our three day retreat. I picked up some candy, juice, naartjie sparkling water, pasta, still water, and vitasnacks! The bean and I finished shopping early so we ran across the street to Steers. We got Steers Cones, which are the absolute best ice cream in the whole wide world. It was like I was 19 again. Then some of us were hanging out in the kombi and Shira was teaching us all about keeping kosher. Legit stuff. She also doesn't like when you say jizz, like in excitment. Something I like to say....hnmmm. When we got back, we unloaded groceries and thennnnnn...we headed off to the liquor store. Bean and I got some a brutal fruit party pack, hunters dry, castle and champagne. everything i love in life. Now, we're just hanging out waiting to go out for Hana's 21st in Obz.
We engaged in activities that challenged the idea of community, power, relationships, race, class, and our spiritual connection to something greater than ourselves. We swam in water holes hundreds of Kilometers away from the hustle of the city. We walked through skinny paths of stone and rock through some of the most beautiful - and ancient - lands the world has to offer. We laughed...and cried. The goal was to begin healing....which in my mind....is the ONLY way to begin "tracing the footsteps of Social Change" in South Africa.
We're now back in the city preparing for Phase Two of the journey: recitations, excursions, and service in the Delft township. It started with a wild New Year's Eve. Many of the students went downtown to experience Long Street - a celebration like no other. Though I was not with them, I have been on Long Street for New Year's before and it is incredible. To think that the same streets mixed with a rainbow of human diversity celebrating a new year is very new to South Africa, is exciting. It was just over a decade ago when the diversity of Long Street was not allowed. South Africa's president Jacob Zuma was on TV last night wishing his fellow South Africans the best in 2012. Though not everyone cares for Zuma, I appreciated his message of moving forward, but most importantly, his very intentional recognition of this country's horrific past. To "never forget" as the wonderful people of this nation move forward.
Last night, someone stole my car battery of out my rental car. A reminder of where we are and that a lot of work needs to be done in terms of the "haves and have nots" in South Africa but I didn't mind too much. I have been witness to this nation's changes over the past 12 years and although it's sometimes difficult to see, as an outsider, it is quite clear South Africa has come a tremendous way. How exciting for a country that has a lot to teach the world.
Happy 2012 to all the friends and family of my students. They miss you all dearly but are having a wonderful time!
- Nate Whittaker (Instructor)