The time here in South Africa is flying by! I want to write about all of the little details of each day, but I know that it would be far too long and take way too much time to write. However, our first couple of days here were a nice orientation to Cape Town. We got a tour of the University of Cape Town and the surrounding area (gorgeous), attempted to visit the beach (too windy to stay long, but also gorgeous), and we were introduced to the other side of Cape Town in a township called Mandela Park where our teacher, Nate, lived and worked here about ten years ago. Although we weren't able to spend a lot of time in any of these places right off the bat, it was very clear how this country is full of drastic contrast. We walked about 20 minutes from the intense poverty of the township past multi-million dollar homes to the beach. However, if someone didn't leave any of the tourist areas, they would never see the reality that 80 percent of South Africa actually lives in. We'll be spending more time in a township near the end of the trip as we do service and learn in a larger township called Delft.
Then, after a crazy New Year's Eve celebration in downtown Cape Town, we departed for the mountains for a retreat with Educo Africa, an organization that usually takes kids from the townships who have gotten themselves into trouble and re-connect them with nature and help them to heal. It was an amazing experience. I can honestly say that I've never been anywhere more beautiful in my life, and when we got there we watched the sun set on the mountains, and, get this - they took away all sense of our time. That means no watches or cell phones, and they would tell us it was "half past two" if anyone ever asked what time it was. For me, this was a radical change from my normally down-to-the-minute-color-coded-google-calendar-dominated life. It was a chance to just breathe and reconnect with myself, the reasons that I'm here, and bond with the other people in our group. After the retreat, I truly feel refreshed and that I am mentally and emotionally prepared to deal with some of the more intense topics that we'll be discussing in the days to come.
We got back yesterday, and then this morning we visited the District 6 museum, which is a place to remember massive forced removal of anyone who wasn't white from Cape Town. These people were forced out of their homes from the government and transplanted from places those families who had lived there for generations to land outside of city limits that had virtually no resources for them to continue living the life that they wanted. It was a powerful experience because our tour guide was actually someone who lived in District 6 and was forcibly removed. Following District 6, we were able to explore downtown Cape Town a little bit and visit Green Market, where I bartered with vendors for the first time in my life and got some souvenirs for myself and my family and friends. I can't wait to see what the rest of this trip has in store for us.