Jan. 15th, 2012
Our day started out very early in the morning, we had to be ready to go by 8:30am. It was a bit rough because some of us were tired from the activities from the day before and it was pretty hot by the time we had grabbed a light breakfast. However, we were ready and excited to get to our bike tour. We went straight to Lebo’s Soweto Back Packers where our guide and bikes were awaiting. Before the tour could start we tried out the bikes for size as well as for safety, we had to make sure that the breaks worked. After we all had our “perfect” bike we were off and it was a rough start because we went up hill for a few minutes, for those of us out of shape it felt like a very high mountain, our legs were a bit wobblely by the time we reached the group.
On our first stop our guide gave us some background on the township of Soweto. He first asked what we knew about Soweto and a few people answered things such as the student uprising of 1976, the movie Tsotsi, which won an Oscar, and some other interesting facts. Our guide told us that in addition to all those things Soweto had its own soccer team, the Orlando Pirates.
Then he informed us that Soweto is one of the most famous townships in the whole world and in the African continent, it has over 4.5 – 5 million people living there, it is divided into 38 suburbs, covers 120 square kilometers, there are no tall buildings but a lot of hills which makes it difficult to see the entire township. We stood in one of the suburbs - Orlando West.
The suburb of Orlando West is home to 2 Peace Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They shared the same street, common vision, fought for the same cause – Freedom and liberation of S Africa, but did not live in the same neighborhood at the same time. Another well-known person whom Orlando West was home to was the late Walter Sisulu, Secretary General of ANC (African Nation Congress), oldest political party in S Africa, which is celebrating their 100 years this year. Walter Sisulu was a mentor to Nelson Mandela, Sisulu recruited Mandela to the ANC party and he gave Mandela his first suit, Mandela’s first wife was a cousin of Sisulu. Walter Sisulu was married to Alberta Sisulu, she was known as the mother of Africa, she was very influential as well.
Another famous or well-known person from this area was musician Solomon Linda (sp) who wrote the famous Lion King song, in the Jungle the lion sleeps tonight, etc. The song came from Orlando West musician Linda and it took Disney five years to pay off the realty, this song was also used in Coming to America.
This is the home of many soccer players because during apartheid Rugby was more segregated and was for whites, however soccer was more available to all there weren’t that many restrictions on race mixing, no limits. Soccer became very popular in Soweto/Orlando West and it is the home to one of the giants Kaizer Chief’s
The tour in itself was awesome. We got to go through various parts of the township and learned about the different social class systems they have. There are three classes – first, second and third. The third social class used to be hostels for men during apartheid. These men were brought into the city from the rural areas by the government to work in the mines but during apartheid the government also used them as instigators and informants on the ANC actions and so on. The third class housing is actually on the outskirts of the Soweto suburb of Orlando West, so even then there is some separation between the classes. During apartheid people from Orlando West would not step foot in that area because it meant trouble. This section was also problematic in the sense that when the government brought people to this area it was only men allowed since they would need to work and they were brought over for short and long periods of six to twelve months at a time.
Additionally, you could tell the different class systems by the built of the homes. The third class homes/housing are the majority of the shacks, they are still not as well structured as the other homes/houses. The first class homes are full standing structures with working bathrooms inside the homes. However, the guide told us that some of the “nice” homes were sort of from old money and if the homes were maintained it meant that money still existed or that the families still had some money. The gates of the homes/houses at the end of the tour had beautiful gates and they were not for security reasons but instead to show them off.
At this stop we were able to have our first treat of the township and that was their locally brewed beer. Consumed from a cardboard carton into a plastic glass at a shebeen called “The Shack” in Soweto near Johannesburg during a cultural tour of the township. It is a Sorghum beer, which is indigenous opaque traditional African ale, brewed by a loose collective of South African brewery organizations using maize, wheat, water and yeast. It is not sold in bottle shops but is widely consumed in the black South African townships. It looks like a watered down strawberry milkshake with a few loose bubbles of pinkish white head. The aroma has a pungent yeasty lactic acid sourness and the palate is grain-like and sour with a thick grainy texture and medium body. There is no hop presence and the degree of sourness and alcohol content varies with the age of the brew (the fresher the better according to our guide). Like tasting your very first lambic beer, the palate needs to adjust to it and after a while you can consume it quite easily. Though I did not have the pleasure of tasting the beer, most of the other students enjoyed the taste.
After the beer stop and little bit of Zulu dancing where Andrew, main coordinator of trip, fell as he tried to dance, this was seriously hilarious! We moved on to have a township treat – cow cheek with pop, pop is like smashed potato but made out of corn/corn starch, has no real taste but combined with the cow cheek it is amazing. Most of the students enjoyed the cow cheek that was seasoned at our own taste with salt and/or paprika.
We continued our tour by going through the township and eventually heading towards the student up rise of 1976 museum/site, where there were a few monuments to commemorate the youth struggle during apartheid. The day of the up rise was July 16th, 1976. This site occupies the most famous picture of the up rise where Hector Pieterson was carried by a young man named Mbuyisa, who until today no one know if he is still alive. The site has a commemorative stone that Nelson Mandela unveiled on June 16th, 1992 in honor of Hector Pieterson and the other youth who lost their lives on that day as well as those that took the risk and were courageous to stand up against apartheid. The memorial site is very meaningful especially since it is right on the corner street where Hector was shot. There is a quote on one of the stones that reads “To honour the youth who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom and democracy”.
After this powerful site we went on to have some lunch. We had Kota’s, which were very similar to the Gatsby’s except that these one’s had egg on top. It was really nice treat. We moved on to check out Nelson Mandela’s old home, now turned into a museum, and then Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s home. Both homes are now located the same street that has also been labeled as the Nobel Laureate Walk. It was really nice to end our tour here because it was very uplifting. It was nice to see the change that these people had made even though they lived in the largest township of South Africa.
Finally after our 4 hour bike tour and possibly 3mile bike ride we headed to the airport. We arrived with plenty of time to relax before boarding. It was a nicer ride back to Cape Town and it was still sunny when we got home. We made it back just in time for some of Ivy’s home cooked meal. And Andrew successfully made it through his first complete airplane ride.
Jan. 14th, 2012
Today we had a very packed day and it became a very emotional day for me. We started of by going to Constitutional Hill in the heart of Johannesburg. I was a bit confused when we got there because I was not sure why we were getting a tour of the jail first, which later made sense when we went inside Constitutional Hill.
Here is a link that shares the history: http://www.sa-venues.com/attractionsga/constitution-hill.htm
I was dumbfounded and overwhelmed from what I learned on this day. Walking into the jail there were quotes by Mandela that read “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails”, “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals”. This statement was not far from the truth. We walked into the jail and the immediate things you find is the pots used and description for the meals that were served for the inmates based on their racial categories. It was really insane to learn of how black Africans were given some type of energy drink so that they were able to endure the hard/harsh labor but yet received very little in food. This was not much different from what I learned from Robben Island, but it is still difficult to think that the prisons were that unhumane. Also, most of the meals that black Africans did get to have were technically all the left overs or waste from the White prisoners meals.
The meals were not the only thing that shocked me. On the tour I learned about the bullying that would take place, black African prisoners were treated like animals and were bullied by the guards. They were made to strip naked in the court yard when they came back from working to ensure that they were not hiding anything in their bodies, they had to the airplane dance (which not sure if it makes sense to people), they were also forced to jump up and down, bend over and so on, so that they can expose all areas of their bodies to ensure nothing had been brought in to the prison. It was a very dehumanizing act and cruel. It made me sick to my stomach to think that people were capable of such acts. One of other things that really shocked me was the location of the bathrooms/washrooms. In the same location where prisoners would sit in silence to eat and were stripped naked to be checked the bathrooms (or lack there of a room) were located as well, they were pretty much in the front. They were not fully covered spaces. If any of the men were to squat to do their business the other men would most likely see it and smell it. Additionally, showering was something that did not occur to often because there was a point when water was not really available. This led to a great deal of diseases and sicknesses to spread, there were a lot of unnecessary deaths at this prison. It was horrible. However, the bond these men created was one to be commended. When the men were able to see their families and some of the laws became a bit lenient, families were able to bring some food, the prisoners would share their food with the other prisoners, it was difficult to break the spirit.
After we were in the prison we walked to Constitutional Court, which is located literally feet away from the old prison. Actually, it is part of the prison in a way. Today the site of South Africa’s Constitutional Court (the highest court of the judiciary), but formerly known as “the Fort,” one of South Africa’s most infamous prisons. In Jess’s words: Today the country’s Constitutional Court shares the old foundation of the prison and the Fort’s remnants have been converted into a museum with tours and the exhibits described above. Now a national heritage site, the entire complex is riddled with symbolism representing South Africa’s confrontation of its past, its project of reconciliation, and its promise to uphold human rights as mandated by its new constitution—considered one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.
To end our guided tour we were invited to enter the constitutional court itself, currently not in session for the holiday season. The court building is constructed from bricks that once made up the holding blocks of the prison. While a large beaded new South African flag hangs from the wall at the left side of the court room, a window on the right-hand side makes visible the old prison staircase still standing just outside, ensuring that the past is not forgotten when working toward the future. To learn more of Constitutional Court check out: (www.constitutionhill.org.za)
In addition to the prison and the Constitutional Court, we walked around and checked out the women’s prison and Mandela’s cell were we found a lot of his written work. It was a really exciting thing to experience.
Jan. 13th, 2012
Today was a long day in my opinion. We did not go back to Beautiful Gate in the morning because we said our goodbye’s yesterday. Today we were headed to the Red Cross, where we had taken the tour of the day before. We were the first one’s to be dropped off since it is so close by to Obs. We met up with Robert and headed to the children’s waiting area. We then were escorted to the Conference room which we used as the play/entertainment room for the children. The purpose of our visit today is to help out in the waiting area. There are children who have appointments to be seen for a range of medical issues that can be from a monthly check up to getting some test done to determine their illness.
It was fun to be in the waiting area. After maybe 10 minutes of getting there and setting up a few children started to come in. We pulled out the coloring books and the Jenga game. There were more volunteers than children and so we started to play Jenga. Then after a few minutes this little boy, who claimed he was like 5 years old or something like that started to play. It was funny because we were going to be the coaches and “help” him out and he ended up being a really good player. He would just pull the blocks off like nothing and not think twice about his choices. He ended up winning at least 2 games against one of the volunteers. It was really nice to see him be that delighted. Towards the middle of our game there were more kids in the room and one of the little girls was given a tea set, she offered us tea and we accepted so then we played tea :) Being at the hospital was a lot of fun. I was pretty scared in the morning because I was not sure what to expect and I thought that it might just be too hectic for me to deal with. I mean I have not been around children for a long time and then to do so in a setting like this made it really weird, more than anything because I wasn’t sure if I would know how to react. Thankfully it all was better than I thought and I enjoyed seeing the kids have so much fun coloring and playing Jenga.
After the hospital visit we went home to get ready because we were headed to Johannesburg for the week end. There was a lot of cool and informative things that we were going to do. It was of course a very touristy packed week end. The flight was a bit nerve wrecking because there were T-storms when we came into Jo-burg and I could see them through my window when we were landing and the wind did not help as it made the plane move a lot more than it should. We finally made it on the ground, sound and safe! We headed to Ghandi’s Back Packers. Ghandi had stayed in this hostel/back packer in the past. The hostel was huge. Everything seemed very modern. We walked in and the first thing you see is a pool then you go into the house, a small hall way that leads to the kitchen and then another door which takes you outside to the backyard were there are rooms. We stayed in the large room which has a number of bunk beds, yes there were like 12 girls in one room and yes it was bananners! However, we did get some sleep a bit after we got to the back packers. I was tired!
Jan 12th, 2012
Today we went to the Red Cross in the morning and took a tour of the facility. We had the opportunity to take the tour because of Jawaya, one of the speakers that came last week. She works there in her role of public health administrator of some sort. We visited most of the children areas, where were informed that the hospital was being renovated and that they have the most advanced cancer treatment facility for children, and these services are provided through the national lottery. I also learned that this is the only major specialized children’s hospital in the country, yes the entire country. There are other tier hospitals/clinics that take care of minor health related issues including common check ups and so on, but the Red Cross is where more critical illnesses, including those that do not have a name or are not sure exactly what is wrong are taken there to get some type of answer and/or get handled. The hospital was going through some changes, which I was excited for because when we went on to the old part of the building which had not been renovated yet the atmosphere was not too pleasant, you could tell that there was a need for a renovation. With the renovations also came changes such as more space so that mother’s could stay over night with their children in case some of the health issues or related injuries required the mother to come back and forth, some of those areas included the children whose illness are still undetermined/unknown. In the cancer section the children also have space for their family members to stay with them but there is also a communal space where mother’s have opportunity to do fun activities with their children or on their own so that they can distract themselves and let some stress out. It is very nice area, you can tell that most of the appliances were new and that it is well maintained. The clinics that Robert and Jawaya run are more to demonstrate/teach parents that they can stimulate children and get them interested in other things that do not include a lot of physical activity. A lot of the activities that they do are coloring and puzzles.
After the tour we headed to our volunteer site and it was really sad. Today would end up being our last day at the site. When we got there it all seemed very calm and as though none of the children were there, but the little one’s were there. It was nice to see them since we had missed them the day before. When we got to the cottage only a few of the little one’s were awake, within like 15 minutes they were all up and running. We got to play soccer with them. It was primarily the 4 year olds and under, so the toddlers. I was really happy to be able to play around with my little men, yes my little men. There are three of them Inantando, Pelele, and Inga..they are just the most adorable little men I have ever met. They fight and cry but they have the loveliest smiles ever and they give you the strongest hugs. It was really sad to say goodbye to them. I think it was Pelele whom understood my goodbye a lot more than the rest of the boys, when I said goodbye and hugged him, he hug me harder than other times but then he put his face down on the bed and did not want to look at me again, Inantando on the other hand smiled and waved back at me, like cool I’ll see you tomorrow. It was so sad. I really felt sad when I left. They are really amazing little people, so full of love and playfulness. Though I don’t know their full history (emotional and physical) they are a very lovely and lively bunch of children. They high five you, hug you really tight, and sometimes if they like you enough even blow you kisses and/or just simply plant you one on the cheek.
It is funny to say that I was sad because I know that 2 weeks is not enough time, but at the same time there is some attachment that evolves during that time. I think more than anything because of the age of the kids and because of their innocence.
After we said our goodbye’s to the kids at Beautiful Gate we headed back home. When we got back Ivy was finishing up our dinner. Tonight’s dinner was a bit more special than the other nights, we were headed to Beth Uriel Home for young men. This home is specifically for young man that may have been living in the streets or simply needed a more disciplined space to live because their homes were not able to provide that, which could have been for many reasons that were at times out of the control of the family. The young men in this home range from the ages of 18 to 25 years of age. In S Africa someone can be considered a young adult until the age of 30, after 30 years of age you enter adulthood. I really liked going to Beth Uriel more than anything because the young men seem to be doing good things and have an understanding that it was not just for the betterment of themselves as individuals but for their community, they all stated wanting to go back to their communities and be more involved and show that change and better things can be accomplished, they want to be role models. It was nice to share a meal with them and learn more about each one of them. I sat next to a young man who had gone to NYC through the YMCA and though found it exciting he also noticed some of the inequalities in the simplest things such as noticed that in Brooklyn there were a lot of fast food places and wondered where do people get fresh fruit and vegetables? After only a week in NYC his skin felt rough and greasy, he pretty much felt that it was due to so much fast food and that he would not eat that much fast food ever again. This young man is now in college pursuing a degree in human resources, he would like to work for a non-profit or an agency like YMCA in either the US or in S Africa.
Here is more info on the home: http://bethuriel.co.za
Jan. 11th, 2012
Today we went to Beautiful Gate at 11am or so because the kids started school and there was going to be little need for us in the morning. It was really weird to go in so late because when we got there the little one’s were asleep and so we did not have anything to do. We then had our lunch and by the time we were done and the little one’s were awake and had been fed, we had to leave. It was a very short and a bit of pointless day.
We were picked up early because we had a busy evening ahead. We had to catch a 4pm boat ride to check out the seals. I am not going to lie, the drive from our site to Camp’s Bay (I think that is where we went) was really long, we passed the wineries and other gated communities. I think going through the hills and the gated communities, which can be about 10 or 15 minutes from our sites are clear examples of the social and economic inequalities in this country. The majority of the people that can be seen in the area are white and if you see any Black Africans they tend to be in some type of work uniform, they are definitely not owners of any of the homes or businesses in that area. These are things that I notice without thinking about it; it gets to me to see such inequalities.
However, once we were at the bay and ready to board the boat it was exciting. I am going to be honest; I really had no idea what we were doing. I was completely out of it and did not realize that we were being taken to check out seals in their “natural habitat”. The view as we left the port was amazing. We got to see some seals on our way out of the port and then some in the water, as we were getting closer to the destination. Though it was an amazing sight, the smell was overtaking. I felt the smell of seal and fish was knocking me out, it was just so strong. I did, however, enjoy the sight of what could possibly be hundreds of seals in the water and on the rocks just relaxing. Once we got close and the boat was turned off some of the seals seemed to be showing off, they were jumping out of the water and/or on their side and had their hand/paw/fin out, sort of waving at us. It was a great sight! When we started to pull away we also got to see dolphins, that was amazing all on its on.
After we got back to the port we had dinner at a “fancy” seafood place. Our table overlooked the water and while waiting for dinner we got to see dolphins again, it was pretty cool. This is were I begin to feel my privilege and try to tell myself that I have not done anything and that I can enjoy some of these moments, though it is extremely hard. While dinner was lovely and very yummy, there were comments made by some members that truly made me come back to reality. Their comments were insulting and what bothered me the most is that they did not even realize it or were concerned with the complete silence and change of facial expression 2 of the people at the table made. It is just disheartening that they cannot see it for themselves and I am just too tired to point it out. Nevertheless, the evening ended better when I went and chatted with other students.
Jan. 10th, 2012
Today was another day at Beautiful Gate, however today just felt a bit different. We got there early because on Monday we got there in the afternoon and we were informed that the children had not started school yet – a lot of miscommunication taking place. Either way, today we were there by 9am. I was super happy in the morning, just in a very positive spirit and smiling. When we got to the site the children ran up to us and hugged us, it felt good to feel wanted and more than anything needed. I took in my arms my little man as I like to call him and he wanted to go to the swing. The swing is made out of a rubber tire, or the tire from the cars, it is very creative. I put him on the swing and began to push him; there was another little girl who wanted to be pushed as well so I took turns pushing them both. They were loving it, they were giggling and when I started counting they started to count along. It was hot though, really hot. I think I pushed them on the swing for like an hour and then they had their snack, though the little girl did not want to get off the swing. After snack, one of the other volunteers asked the older kids if they had the drums and if so to bring them to the yard. They brought the drums and we played with them, I have no drum talent whatsoever. The little girls were trying to teach me some of the songs the can drum and I was just not getting it, though I did try to do some danza songs it still did not work, the girls did not enjoy my beat. We took our lunch break and then we headed back. By the time we got back it was the children’s lunch time. We helped the mama’s feed the children. I got to hang out with a little girl; she was pretty much bold and had very twinkly earrings. She was extreme adorable. I was holding her and playing with her. We started a kissing game, were I would kiss her and try to tickle her. She would hold my face with her tiny hands and move my lips all over her little face and her neck, it was so lovely and endearing. It was then that one of the workers there told me, “she loves you”, and I said yes, but more than anything in a kind way. But he looked at me and told me that this little had been abused before she came to Beautiful Gate and that it was abuse that is now more psychological and that she was disturbed mentally and that for her to let me play with her and give and receive kisses really did mean she had an attachment for me.
It was really then that I realized what we were doing here. I mean I knew we were here to help and alleviate the work for the mama’s and other workers especially since so many were on holiday, the kids/children may not have holiday or go home since they may not have one. I was taken back to realize how just a simple game of kisses or holding this little girl really close to me could really mean something because some of them don’t know what that is like. I played with the children and truly gave my attention to them, when I spoke with them or played with them there was no other person in the world but them, and to simply hug them or give them high fives for doing something nice was a big deal. It honestly humbled me and taught me a new lesson on love and what it means to give and receive it.
After we got picked up we went on a mini hike to University of Cape Town, Jess (the daughter of the program coordinator) went to school here to get her Master’s degree. It is a beautiful campus, very large and mountainous (there are a lot of stairs). UCT sits on a hill and it oversees the city, it is beautiful. The mini hike was more when we went up to Memorial Road, or something to that extent. But once there the view was worth it.
When we got back we had a two guest speakers and we had Gatsby’s for dinner. A Gatsby is an amazing sandwich that is composed of French fries (chips), sausage links or chicken, green peppers, potatoes, pineapple and something else, they are huge!! It super amazing, however very heavy on the calories. The Gatsby was accompanied by a samosa.
The speakers – Patty, a professor from UCT and Kate, a PhD student from UCT, spoke on the issue of Tuberculosis (TB) in South Africa. Patty was amazing at helping understand that accessibility to medication and other services for people affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as those that are in some type of TB related medication. It is very interesting because it goes back to the issues of apartheid and the inequalities still lingering from it and how so many poor Black Africans are still having to struggle to receive health care but more than anything she highlighted their resiliency and the importance of support groups and community. I greatly appreciated how she spoke of taking care of the person holistically and not just about the medication but also about the psychosocial aspect of the persons illness and the value on spirituality for these communities. Kate gave me a new understanding of TB and the immense impact it has on those already affected by HIV and AIDS, she reminded us that HIV and AIDS are not necessarily what is killing people but instead other common viruses/bacteria’s such as TB that because the body is already weaken by HIV and AIDS makes them more vulnerable to TB and death. She also spoke of how easy TB spreads, especially in townships that were of course established by the government and within the townships people share bathrooms, or better yet toilets/port-o-potties, yes this is what we see at large festivals or at the fair, and they use them as communal toilets, meaning that TB can be spread so much easier. Also, the fact that most people in townships may have more than 5 or 6 people living in very small quarters and/or with very little ventilation makes them a higher risk. Their talk was extremely eye opening but also reinforced the issue of inequalities based on the aftermath of apartheid and the close tie between race and class.