cape town, south africa

photographs and thoughts from a semester abroad

I’ve decided to keep my blog up for a few weeks just to write out what I can. I process by writing. And I really need to process before I get up in front of a group of people without anything to share but small snapshots and short stories. 

Back in the USA. November 21st, 2012

Flying Home

This was what i wrote in the airport on my way home:

What just happened?

This is the only thing I can think to ask.

Not the greatest method of debriefing but I’m trying.

What just happened?

Trying not to listen as cape town continues on around me. without me. the mountain will exist without me to appreciate it. The mountain was what I woke up to, what I watched the sun disappear behind, and the closest friend I had. I would tell her my trouble and she would tell me how small they are.

How small we are.

I don’t know what to say.

I feel like people will ask me pointed questions about what I have learned here, and I don’t have one short answer. Ask me about Langa. Ask me about Barcelona. Ask me about Pinelands. But if you ask me about South Africa I will stutter myself into a tizzy and give you the impression that I wasted my time. I didn’t waste my time—I just don’t have South Africa figured out yet. Five months is long enough to question but not to learn; long enough to adapt without really being at home. I was temporary, but fell in love without even knowing what I fell in love with. I couldn’t tell you whether I am ready to leave or not. I don’t know because I try not to think about it. I whispered my insecurities to the mountain. She responded with waterfalls. I responded with tears. I took my concerns out of the box for a brief moment  to tell the mountain.

She kept my secret well.

Boarding a flight to London Heathrow. 

Moving forward with hope. 

Stories are meant to be told because they inspire creativity, passion, but most importantly hope. 

“It’s hard staying in the township. You sit there during the day doing nothing, just greeting people as they go by. The most difficult part for me was when my little one would come back from school and ask me what I had done that day. I would mumble something too ashamed to admit that I hadn’t done anything really productive. Our children need to feel proud of us.So it felt good to have a sense of purpose during these past two weeks as I attended the Zanokhanyo training. Now I can tell my son that mama is doing something to improve her life. He was excited to see his mother doing some reading. I am so excited about the possibilities now. I’ve even told my sister, who has also been sitting at home doing nothing, to join the next Zanokhanyo course.” 

      —Nombuso


This is one of the many stories being told on Phambili’s Facebook page during their 50 Days of Hope campaign. They are worth reading just for the inspiration. It is easy enough to take 2 minutes out of your regular ‘news feed’ reading to read human literature that is inspiring and open and encouraging and honest. 
Like Phambili on Facebook to read a different person’s story everyday until the end of the year. 

(Phambili is the organization that Zanokhanyo and Umthombo stem out of, and is a partner with the Barcelona Orphanage we go to, called Unakho Children’s Home. http://www.phambilingethemba.org.za/)
The View From My Window 

The View From My Window 

Finished with finals, finished with school for the semester. 
Time to work on Phambili projects and finishing up my South African Bucket list.

2 weeks left.

Still not certain about this.

I’m not sure that I recall October or September. I’m not sure that I can satisfactorily answer the questions about what I have accomplished here or what life here is like. I am not sure my answers will suit everyone’s expectations.

I am, however, certain that I will not do it justice. You will have to forgive my feeble attempts at trying to explain how South Africa has been grafted onto my self.

Its the little gradual changes and the enormous revelations all in one. It is the unmet expectations and opportunity for patience. It is staring at the mountain and waiting for clouds. It is the people you love, the people you suspect, and the people you wish you could know. It is the acute awareness of skin colour and socio-economic disparity. It is, above all, something to be admired, questioned, loved, confused about, hoped for, and encouraged. It is such a work in progress.

I would have grown on my own but now I’ve grown differently. Like South Africa, I am also a work in progress—unsettled, uncertain, and unpolished. 

Grafted is the perfect term. 

I’ve had a lot of thoughts that I have put off because I am not sure how best to phrase them. 

I’ll take it bird by bird, one post a day for the last two weeks. Both for me to gather my thoughts and for you to understand what has happened in my life since I left in July. 

Two Hula Hoops in Gugelethu

Barcelona Basketball

ALMOST DONE.

Two finals down, last one is in a week. Rather than studying, I’m going on a road trip and camping along the Garden Route which is the southern coast of SA.

These finals were so intense I’m glad to be free for a bit to relax, explore, go hiking, be a beach bum.

The Black’s were so kind to me while I was buried in school work, and Leslie made me a cobbler as an early birthday present since ill be gone on my birthday. She’s so sweet. I don’t really want to think about how much I will miss them when I leave.

Now that I can read for fun again, I’ve started Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela’s auto biography.) its 744 pages. I can do that in 21 days.

Ill post pictures from my trip when I get back. I’m going with two American girls on my program, Katy and Julia. They are the greatest. Both brilliant and kind. I can’t wait to leave with them tomorrow for Garden Route! 

Last month in SA

Exactly one month before I land in the states again. This is my life until then:

October

29th — two major essays due and Sacred Texts final

30th — Religion in Africa Final

November

1st — my 21st birthday and beginning of road trip to garden route

5th — get back from garden route

7th - last final in Religion, Ethics and Human Rights

20th - board a plane.

And potentially a trip to Stellenbosch, a trip to cedarburg, and a music festival if i figure all that out. 

I genuinely can’t believe there is only a month left. 

Be not sad because all men
prefer a lying clamour before you:
Sweetheart, be at peace again—
can they dishonour you?

They are sadder than all tears,
their lives ascend as a continual sigh.
Proudly answer to their tears:
as they deny, deny.

—James Joyce

It’s been a while since I last posted. Reason: finals are coming.

This is my last week of classes, next week is all about essays, and the week after that I write my finals. 

A little over a month left. “That’s about all I got to say about that. ” —Forest Gump

La ilaha illa Allah.

—The Shahada, First pillar of Islam. “There is no god but God.”

Mundane Update

SO — finals are coming, feeling the stress already because all the major essays are due soon. Like the two due this Friday that I may or may not have started…

With only a month + a week + 2 days left I’m trying to make sure I get everything I wanted to do in South Africa accomplished. Working on planning a Garden Route road trip down the southern coast. I’m glad the currency conversion is working in my favor as well because petrol and car rentals are expensive. 

As far as work goes, I finished the bulletin board and will upload pictures of that tonight, also working on sending some funding proposals out today. I didn’t get as many done this week though because I keep getting absorbed into books. I told myself: “No more fun reading until I do class reading.” That resulted in homemade muffins, cookies, and granola bars. (and still not reading my class reading.) So now I’m back to reading for fun. Voluntary book count at… 6? I think?  

I’m excited about the adventures I’m about to take like the Garden Route trip and cliff-diving and rock-climbing and all the other things I’m planning to do in the next few weeks. 

I have the classic bittersweet traveler’s problem: I’m ready to go home but I’m not. We will see how I feel closer to November 20th. 

What google maps dont tell you

Google maps are brilliant—here’s point A, here’s point B, here’s how it’s done. They even throw in how long it will take, how many miles it its (or km if you prefer), and it will even let you avoid toll roads. But here’s where Google maps fail you:

Google maps don’t avoid the sketchy parts of town.
Google maps don’t tell you that after you turn right in 100 feet, there will be a man peeing that you will have to walk around.
Google maps don’t tell you exactly what that homeless man is doing hunched over in that alleyway.
Google maps don’t shy away from areas with prostitution, so you pass the women on your morning stroll as they count the earnings from last night’s work.

But it isn’t Google maps fault. They don’t know any better.

Google maps is the genius that has no common sense; it is brilliant, but not street smart.

Google maps were brought up in nice wealthy homes. How would they know about the mean streets? To them, streets aren’t mean. Just a means to an end. ‘You have reached your destination.’ (hopefully intact.)

There are sketchy parts of town everywhere. This isn’t to describe South Africa.

I rememeber Mom would lock the doors when we were in a certain part of Oklahoma City. When I was younger I noted that it was always after we passed a certain bridge. Now that I’m older, I know the bridge as I-235 as it goes over 23rd street. I live on 23rd right down the road.  

Google maps don’t lock the doors as we pass homeless people with signs, or limit how far I can wander from home or give me a time to be back by or have my best interests in mind.

Google maps share the same “anything is possible” approach that my mother brought me up with, just not the safe bubble-wrapped world to carry it out in.

We aren’t all that different, Google maps and I.
Except I should know better.

*****

Today I walked to Old Biscuit Mill, a market open every Saturday that has crafts and art and food and wine and just a wide array of stuff. I’ve been once, but wanted to go back so I typed it in to Google maps and discovered it was 4.5 miles—walk-able by my standards, and it would take me about an hour. I set off. I forgot how eerie the road was on the way there. First it was an industrial yard, which was empty on account of the weekend. Next it evolved into a few shops on the road. The conditions around me worsened as I walked over a bridge that overlooked a community. This was the best part of the walk. There were bright clothes drying on clothes lines and children’s toys strewn across the small yards that at least brought some color into my walk. Most of my walk was spent looking at the gray of the empty road, sidewalk, and sky. There were only a few people. Some you could tell hadn’t moved from the spot I found them. They slept there. Some whistled at me and I paid no attention. I wear a stern face and walk like I’m on a mission to avoid that kind of business. Some women I passed I think that was their business.

I got angrier and angrier the closer I got to the market. 

And I’m not sure I could articulate what my anger was at.

I reached a boiling point when as I was a few steps from the market a quiet voice said: “Molo sisi, can I just have a something just a little something I’m so hungry…” as he was holding his mother’s hand who was anxiously trying to get them through the crowd with another baby tied to her back with a blanket.

“No, I’m sorry.”

He looked down and trudged on.

Passed another lady sitting on the curb holding a baby and a McDonald’s cup asking for change.

“No, I’m sorry.”

Looks like I’ve got apathy down to an art form. Why do we say “No” again? To discourage begging? Because it does no good anyway? Because they will spend it unwisely? Maybe on drugs? Because if I give to one then who knows where it will end?

Decided I would take a taxi home when I finished shopping.

I walked into the market and was overwhelmed by the number of white faces I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen on the walk here. And they were all there to buy stuff. Just to buy things. And they were brought here quickly in cars which meant they didn’t really see what they passed to get there, just point A and point B.

I walked in the first store and didn’t want to buy a thing.

Where does this stuff come from?

The whole day, I bought only fair trade chocolate from Ghana and a coriander (cilantro) plant.

As I left, the woman was still sitting there hours later with her cup and her baby.

“No, I’m sorry.”

I can’t do this. I popped into a store, counted the silver coins out of my wallet, and walked back outside. She looked up at me, not even asking anymore. She knew the answer. I held out my hand and put the change in her cup. As she tilted it toward me, I saw the one coin that she was bouncing around was a 5 cent piece. Less than a penny after all those hours.

Maybe it’s just as well that Google maps don’t show favor to the good side of town, or detour to avoid the undesirable people, places, or routes.  We have the rest of society to do that for us.

I decided to walk home again instead of take the taxi. I’m not sure why.