Well after a week of being back I definitely am having a harder time readjusting than I did adjusting to South Africa. Luckily I do have a few pretty great friends that were interested in hearing about the more important parts of our trip, but for the most part, it is difficult trying to explain the trip to people and to get people to really care about what I learned and what I took away from the trip. On a more positive note, I am definitely noticing continuing differences in the way I think and how I am even approaching my classes and projects in my different studios. I am doing an independent study in ceramics that is focused on taking functional objects to relay a social message. At first I was nervous about explaining my project ideas to my professor and getting a blank or discouraging response, but he was actually extremely interested to hear about my experience in South Africa and how it is influencing my goals in art and design. He has done several projects with strong social and political messages and understands the desire to use art as a tool to raise awareness in some way, so it is very encouraging to work with him after our journey in South Africa. I am also taking a Development of Africa class in which we have already talked about South Africa a few times and it already means so much more to me than it would have before this trip, since I can personally relate to the issues we are discussing. The classes I am least excited about, are the ones that I can least apply to what I've learned from South Africa. Basically, even though it has been very hard to come back, and as overwhelmed as I am from all the experiences we had in South Africa, this trip definitely made me more excited about life, and what I'm going to do with everything I've learned. I'm determined to try and do this trip, and all who were involved in making it possible, justice by making myself responsible for the knowledge I gained making a change somehow in the best way I can. Overall, there are really no words for how I feel and how this experience has affected me.
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Some of the readings that have challenged me the most, probably, were the readings on good intentions and Americans coming in to help in other/third world countries. It is sad but it seems like most people who help others help to make themselves feel better about themselves, even if what they did wasn't even the best for the person or people they helped. Also, sometimes people give what they would want to receive, which isn't always bad (following the golden rule is usually a great idea), but when you're giving from a first world country to a third world country, the standard of living are just factually not the same. Sure, everyone might enjoy a brand new pair of Nikes, but if the community doesn't have access to clean, running water, Nikes are not the best way to help that community. While giving can really make the giver happy, that is not the reason we give. We (especially as Americans) really need to pay attention to the situation and the context in which we are giving. What is the best for the people in need? Sometimes giving isn't pleasant and fun, it might even be painful, uncomfortable and messy but givers can't always be choosers either. If the best way to help a community is to clean public toilets all day long, as disgusting as that might be, we need to be ready to help in any way we can without complaining. Deciding to do your own thing instead of what you've been asked isn't truly helping. Hopefully I will remember this next time I'm asked to do something I might detest.
One thing I've been thinking about (in addition to so many other things) is my place in South Africa as a mixed/colored person. It has been really interesting and pleasantly surprising to see so many mixed people around Cape Town. While it is not at all justifiable to split up the population into three racial groups with different privileges or rights, it's interesting to me that mixed people were recognized as a group on their own. All throughout my life people have tried to tell me who I am or "which side" I belong to or relate to more and I've never understood why it's so hard for people to see me as a person, a mixed girl, not a half white, half black person whose identity is split down the middle. People always ask which side I relate to more, which side I identify with more, which side I hang out with more, which side I am attracted to more, etc. It's as though there aren't enough mixed people in the United States yet for us to create a new box to racially stereotype, so we have to squeeze mixed people into the boxes of stereotypes we're already comfortable with. When I was helping Anthea with the pamphlet on the computer yesterday, she asked to see pictures of my family and seemed pretty interested in the fact that my parents were an interracial couple. She said that the stereotype here is that if a black woman marries a white man, it is probably for money. She also said that while people might not say anything to your face, it is definitely not common and sometimes looked down upon to cross culture lines. She personally said she knows she can't control who she falls in love with, but she would definitely not look for it (it being an interracial relationship). While the modern US doesn't really have what you would call cultural traditions that prohibit interracial marriages, it is still also a fairly uncomfortable situation. I told Anthea about how many of my parent's friends told them their kids would have so many problems growing up as mixed children and how my dad's mom didn't even come to their wedding because of her disagreement with the relationship. While I have definitely had (and probably am still having) identity issues as the result of having a white father and a black mother, I would never ever ask for anything different. If anything I wish I had even more culture and heritage mixed into my family. I love having parents from different cultures and sides of the world. From the time I was born I have been exposed to so many things many people my age have never seen and I feel more well-rounded and open to other cultures because of it. If there's such a thing as "mixed-guilt" I would probably have it. Even walking through the township I am secretly happy and then almost guilty about the fact that until I open my mouth and expose my American accent, no one will ever look at me the way they look at the white students in our group. So many people have already told me that they would just assume I am a colored South African if they didn't hear me talking. Even though I am half white, I am most likely able to avoid the white stereotype here in South Africa. At the same time, in the US I am never seen as white either but then I am distrusted and mistreated by those who look down on blacks/Africans/African Americans. It's always more complex than I can explain, but being here has definitely given me a different perspective on how I identify myself.
I'm still overwhelmed, I don't think I'll ever find a better word for how I feel during this trip! Today was definitely hard for all of us, and like everyone else, so many emotions, thoughts and ideas were exploding in my brain. My heart was exploding, my brain was spazzing out, my mind was racing. I was touched by the Sister's feelings towards her work and her life and purpose in this world, and like some of my classmates expressed I began to feel (especially after walking through the clinic) that I will never be able to do enough. We see all the needs in Delft but what about all the other townships around Cape Town? What about all the other townships in South Africa? What about all the slums and poverty stricken villages all over the world that we have never even heard of, and may never ever hear of? There is an incomprehensible amount of need in this world and I am struggling with the emotions I have seeing one clinic in one township. Where do I even begin? I will never be a doctor so how will I use my talents and abilities to help others? How do I take something as superficial as my major in graphic design and help people all over the world? I would do anything to make just one person happy, but is one person enough? What is my potential and how do I maximize it? Along with all the indescribable emotions I am feeling I am filled with so many questions. I feel panicked, in a way, as if I am running out of time even though I am only 21 years old. I have already played out so many scenarios in my head about how I can immediately get started. I start to list places in my head, starting with South Africa, going on to Nigeria, then Rwanda, up to India, back to the US with everything I would have learned working and volunteering abroad, but the list never ends. There's always somewhere else that could use help, and who determines who needs more help than another? I have a tendency to want to do so many things that I never even start one, so my goal after this trip is to not forget this craziness in my head, and to make sure I actually do something to help, even if I don't think it will ever be enough. A little is always more than nothing, and I would be so wrong (for lack of better words) in doing nothing especially after this experience.
I can't even really express my excitement to be leaving for South Africa in a couple days. I have always been very interested in social issues and the differences in cultures across the world. With all its different cultures, backgrounds, and the turbulent history of social injustice, South Africa seems like the perfect place to learn about and experience the different issues I've been interested in, all in one place. I have always been particularly interested in Apartheid and how South Africa has come back from such a horrific history. I have also come to realize how critical and annoyed I am with America's super individualistic and consumerist culture. My mom (who moved here from Nigeria to finish school) always jokes about "these spoiled Americans" and how disrespectful Americans can be sometimes, but I didn't really understand how different cultures could be until I went back to Nigeria with her in 2000. Ever since then I have been aching to visit a different country soon, preferably an African country but pretty much anywhere in the world. Freshman year I took a War and Media seminar in which we watched a documentary on South Africa's conflict resolution and reconciliation which included footage of people not only apologizing and repenting of the horrific acts they had committed towards each other, but also families and individuals forgiving those who had destroyed their homes and families. That was where my first interest in South Africa really sparked. After watching Invictus in 2009 (because of my love for rugby) my interest in South Africa grew even more. I actually went to the library (in real life) to check out books on Apartheid and Nelson Mandela. Because I didn't have much time to read in addition to all my schoolwork (and also because of my graphic design background and visually stimulated mind), I ended up going through a book that was primarily filled with images from pre, post, and during Apartheid. Even the simplest images were gut‐wrenching. The looks on people's faces, the signs that were put up to designate acceptance of certain kinds of people, the physical devastation in the neighborhoods and the emotional devastation on people's faces. Even though I wasn't alive during slavery or the civil rights movements here in the United States, I felt as though I could somehow relate to these images, even if just through similar knowledge of my own country's history. I am so excited to finally experience this country for myself, to immerse myself in a new and different collection of cultures. I have always thought of myself as very culturally well‐rounded and open because of my Nigerian heritage on my mom's side but I'm really hoping that this trip will lead me to learn even more about myself and my views and in turn, make me a kinder, more understanding, more respectful and more selfless person than I am today.