Friday, July 23, 2010

Final Thoughts on DukeEngage


I appreciate the nature of the DukeEngage Cape Town program for seamlessly combining and balancing intellectual stimulation, cultural immersion, and fun, light-hearted activities. I also appreciate Black Sash for providing me with an excellent internship experience that really catered to my interests and skills, while also providing me with worthwhile tasks such as conducting interviews of Sash members, writing biographies of them, and composing the first draft of an article for the ANC magazine. –Sarah

I appreciate the speakers that the professors have arranged for us to meet with throughout the entire program, as they have been enlightening and inspiring. Additionally, I appreciate the amount of trust that the District Six Museum gave the interns, as the Museum had confidence in us to help them with major projects. –Ibrahim

I appreciate the opportunity to integrate myself into South African society for a summer. –Samera

I appreciate the opportunity to immerse myself in diverse environments. I had the ability to see the dichotomy that exists in Cape Town—the wealthy area in which we live in our bed and breakfast, in stark contrast with the township of Manenberg in which I work every day. –Brandon

I appreciate, first and foremost, the opportunity to have participated in this program. It’s been a transformative experience that I cannot fully explain through words. I appreciate the people on this trip and the diversity of experiences that each contributes. Lastly, I appreciate the array of experiences that have shaped my time in South Africa. –Ubong

I appreciate the way that this program allowed me to have an educational experience that transcended the classroom setting, and I am looking forward to pursuing the new interests developed here and applying them in an academic setting back at Duke. –Will


I’ve been consistently impressed by our group and everyone’s willingness and eagerness to engage with the broader Cape Town community. I feel that we’ve really maximized our time here by participating in additional activities outside of what’s structured in the program. Some of my favorite things that I’ve done have been going to E-TV to watch a live news broadcast, and going to dinner with one of the original Sash members, who had Will and me over to her home for a home-cooked meal and casual interview. –Sarah

The amount of poverty in this world is beyond my comprehension. –Will

I have been impressed with the resilience of the displaced communities that District Six works with. I feel that this is something particularly unique to the displaced communities of the area. –Ibrahim

I notice that many of the issues facing South Africa are common to the United States and demonstrate global responsibility of all persons. –Samera

I’ve been impressed by how open many people in Manenberg are. I did not expect people to be so willing to open up and permit me to document them and allow me to come into their lives through documentary work. –Brandon

I’ve noticed that our DukeEngage program is very comprehensive, and I feel lucky and honored that I was selected to participate on this trip. It has shown me not only the beautiful side of Cape Town, but also the less fortunate side. I will never forget the images of urban poverty, the rumors of xenophobic attacks, and the grim realities of health in South Africa, and these realizations will remain with me back in the U.S. –Ubong


I hope that I was able to contribute something unique to my work placement, Black Sash, because they contributed so much to me during my two months here. –Sarah

I hope to pursue the new interests I’ve developed in South Africa in the future. –Samera

I hope to pursue documentary studies to a fuller degree and find answers for the ethical dilemmas involved in documentary-making that I’ve encountered while here. –Brandon

I hope to continue working with the information that I’ve learned here in South Africa and turn it into something valuable not only for myself, but also for the District Six Museum. –Ibrahim

I hope that I can adequately apply my experiences in South Africa to the Duke Community, and share my thoughts with people regarding what I have learned on this trip. I hope that future students apply to this program, because having seen the great impact it had on me, I’d like for others to have the opportunity to grow through DukeEngage Cape Town as I have. –Ubong

I hope that this program continues to further my personal development. –Will

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reflecting Upon Reflections (Sarah)

Each week, our group comes together for a “reflection session” in which we discuss powerful moments that have occurred throughout the week. We begin by talking about appreciations and observations, and then proceed with hopes and concerns. Last night, however, we focused on thinking about what aspects of our DukeEngage experience have impacted us most, and how they have shaped who we are. Lastly, we considered what lasting implications they will have for our futures back at Duke and beyond.

As I sat reflecting, I struggled to find words to portray what components of DukeEngage have changed me. There are many things that I have learned here, such as how learning can come in the most unexpected ways and places, the importance of taking initiatives, the benefits of immersing oneself into new experiences, and the virtues of being confident. But these things I suppose I had learned before, but through DukeEngage I was able to solidify their significance. But still, I knew there was something more that I was failing to depict. Then, I realized that was just it—the act of reflection, of taking every experience as something academic and intellectual, is what DukeEngage has taught me most. I now understand the worth of thinking deeply about various aspects of life that I encounter on a day-to-day basis—about societal implications, about race and class, about history and how everyone has a story to share, etc. In the past, I oftentimes succumbed to the temptation of thinking only superficially about certain things, or accepting them as normal. Prior to my arrival in South Africa, I viewed DukeEngage as a service trip, not as an academic trip. In that way, I have been surprised at how much I have learned: both factual knowledge and intangible lessons

Coming in to DukeEngage, I foolishly expected that I would be impacting others more than they would be impacting me. But now, I have realized that I come away from the program taking far more than I expected.


Football Fandom (Dana)

I’ll admit, I’m honestly not that big of a soccer fan - or I wasn’t, anyway. I actually didn’t really consider that the World Cup would be in South Africa when I applied to DukeEngage Cape Town. However, now I’m not just a fan, I’m a fanatic. Call me a fair-weather fan or whatever you want, but I’ve researched player biographies, perused scoring statistics, pored over newspaper articles - you name it, I’ve probably studied its intricacies in the name of my new passion. And think what you will, but I’m intent on continuing this newfound interest past the World Cup; I intend to follow my favorite players from the big screens of the Cape Town Grand Parade Fanfest to the small screens of dorm common rooms.

That being said, I’m not ashamed to credit the World Cup for this new enthusiasm. While purists will assuredly make the claim that true fans watch soccer beyond just championship tournaments, I’m happy to have been shown the error of my ways in my opinion of soccer, even if it does involve jumping on the bandwagon. The World Cup is the largest sporting event on the planet, and I’m just happy to be included. For incoming fans, there’s a certain image that comes with joining a sport at this stage. The hardened veterans who live and die with their team look down upon newcomers, because there’s a certain level of commitment that comes with being a fan, one that supersedes titles and trophies. But in Cape Town, with teams falling out of contention every other day, it’s only natural to pick a favorite from those left and cheer your heart out anyway.

I’m trying to justify a “better late than never” argument here. Perhaps it’s because I was afforded the opportunity to see the impact and presence soccer can have in a nation that I am now able to appreciate the passion fans invest in it. And if the World Cup manages to create a few more year-round soccer fans in this process it will have accomplished its mission, won’t it? FIFA is more than just a sporting association - it’s a company that prides itself on promoting its product, the sport of soccer and all its trimmings, to fans around the world - this tournament brings great sport and an increased market all in one fell swoop. And as much as the World Cup is a competition, it’s also a showcase. For players, the games act as a platform from which to market themselves and show off for possible new contracts. Just look at Landon Donovan - the United States midfielder parlayed his starring role on the United States team into a multimillion-dollar deal with Manchester United. As the players exhibit their best soccer skills to win new contracts, they win new fans too - myself included. In my (extremely) humble opinion, many Americans have severely misjudged this sport. Almost every other country in the world has already caught on - so jump on the bandwagon, prep your pride for the newcomer jokes, and start watching the other football.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Kombi Rockin' (Brandon)

“Do not rush me. You are late. I am on time.” This bumper sticker quote on the rear window mashed against my face as I struggled into the back of the van. I attempted to cram my hips into the crevasse of space left on the bench, head now squishing against the fabric lining of the roof stereo. A remix of “Rude Boy” was all I needed to cure my morning drowsiness. With a furious rev of the engine, we soon rattled out of the Mowbray station.

Half of his body extended out of the window, the wind jittering his hair, the assistant driver belted out to passer byres, “Meanenberg!” To those less suspecting, and looking somewhat lost, he interrogated them and verified whether or not they heard him: “Brotha, where you goin’? Meanenberg? No?” Jumping out of the vehicle in mid-stop, he chased down families on the street side, ever sure they acknowledged a need for transportation. He finally lumbered back into his seat, disappointed by the loss, but satisfied by the mostly full taxi.

Wads of R7 packages flowed into his outstretched hand. Thrusting his other hand into his pocket, he fidgeted around to find the right change. In midst of the collection period, the driver turned to meet the assistant’s eyes and directed with the side of his head a new customer standing at the next station.

The vehicle swerved over and slung open its door. The burly fellow at the station flicked the bud of his cigarette to the asphalt and stamped it with his heal. He ambled into the front bench and spread to fill the final space of the vehicle. Handing over the proper coins, he grinned to the assistant, gold front teeth glimmering.

Justin Bieber soon made an appearance on the radio station with his revered “Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh!” song. The driver cranked up the volume on the headboard station. Gradually, the song permeated its way through the rather stagnant group, first starting with finger taps and progressing to head nods. The burly fellow did not make much of it until the chorus. Head rockin’ with a fresh cigarette in his mouth, he embraced the soulful whines of the song. Only the little boy next to me seemed uncomfortable: he complained, “Dontchya think the music is too loud?”

Everyday I take the kombi, I know I’m going to have an adventure. Whether it’s the cramped interior, the reckless driving, the bumping music or the fanatic assistant driver, I know I’m going to have a good time. Add to that some Justin Beaver, and you got yourself a combination out of this world.

It is not surprising that American hip-hop has a large presence on international radio; however, even in a nation outside the US, having such a big guy jam out to a little Justin Beaver was something quite profound. In Manenberg, much of one’s status is defined by whom one knows and the respect one has (also known as “street cred”). Maybe I am overly critical of a twelve-year-old who happens to sing love songs, but I feel like this guy would have lost major “street cred” in the US if he had been caught doing what he did. The little kid has my respect, even if he was just annoyed about the volume.

Yet, possibly this just speaks to the contagiousness of catchy music. Even as I emerged from my cramped position and wobbled down Manenberg Avenue to the SHAWCO center, I found myself humming those lyrics. Baby was I ready to start the day.


Friday, July 9, 2010

In Awe of Nature (Dana)

Driving to the Cape Town suburb of Simon’s Town for dinner one evening, my fellow DukeEngager Chaele and I were discussing the incredible view of the city bowl as we drove a highway along the slopes of Table Mountain. We remembered the first time we saw the city lit up at night, and laughed remembering our initial awe and amazement. But as we looked out the window, I remarked how beautiful it was, even seeing it for the hundredth time. Chaele agreed, noting that living in such a gorgeous place can sometimes desensitize you to the beauty surrounding you - And then she said something that particularly struck me: “After a while, you forget to see it.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately - whether or not I still see the beauty in everyday things. Nature surprises you in the funniest of ways – I always thought I appreciated the trees and hills of New England, my home, and going to the metropolitan, commercial city of Cape Town it never crossed my mind that this would be challenged. But as our time in Cape Town continues, I find myself progressively falling more and more in love with our stunning host city. During our stay, we’ve had the chance to walk the shores of Muizenburg, Simon’s Town, and Camp’s Bay; climb Table Mountain and Lion’s head; visit the vineyards of Stellenbosch, and much more. Most of all, I think, I appreciate these natural surroundings. Every day as I walk to work Table Mountain is a constant reminder in the background of the wealth of magnificence Cape Town, and South Africa, have to offer. The environment surrounding the city creates an atmosphere of boundless significance for everything and everyone over which it presides, and it’s easy to see the beauty with which nature can imbue a place.

It occurred to me, however, that though I always enter a new environment with an attitude of wonder at my latest setting, I barely take the time to notice how picturesque my own hometown can be. As I think about it now, I nostalgically recall the Massachusetts foliage, snow, and Atlantic ocean - the very same ocean I marvel at on Cape Town’s coast. Hopefully, as I return home to a comfortable space of unlimited internet, television, technology, and everyday life, I don’t forget that.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Religio-city (Ibrahim)

I like to think that I’m somewhat of an adaptable guy, but, six weeks in, there are still things that I haven’t gotten used to.

I still haven’t gotten used to living in the shadow of Table Mountain. I still haven’t gotten used to living in winter again. And I still haven’t gotten used to hearing the melodic muezzin calling faithful Muslims to prayer in the Dutch colonial neighborhood where we live.

That has been, and remains, one of the most striking things for me about my time in Cape Town thus far. The demographics of Cape Town include a large minority Muslim population but it seems like their presence can be seen and felt on a much greater level. From our readings of Cape Town history, I understood that a large proportion of the slaves the Dutch East India Company brought to the cape came from the Indian subcontinent and predominantly Muslim Southeast Asia. In fact, District Six, the multi-ethnic district destroyed by the apartheid government had a large Muslim population itself (fitting I work in the museum dedicated to its memory I suppose). But it is not just that there are Muslims here that is so impressive to me.

What I am impressed with is the amazing level of tolerance and understanding extended toward people of different faiths here, Muslims included. The Muslim population in Cape Town is little more than 10% by some estimates, a number around or even lower than the amount of Muslims in the US and yet the population here is not nearly as suspicious of or prejudiced toward their Muslim conationals.

In Tamboerskloof, the Cape Town neighborhood in which I live, I’ve heard the call to prayer more clearly than in some of the Middle Eastern capitals I’ve been in and yet in Dearborn, Michigan, where there is a very large Muslim community, there is an incredible amount of public backlash from the non-Muslim, “American” minority toward playing the call to prayer there. In France, there was a large public outcry when a fast food store offered a halaal option on their menu because the French felt it encroached on their cultural values, but, here in Cape Town, it seems as though restaurants and grocery stores offer halaal options as a default even though Muslims may not make up the majority of their customers. Here, a woman walking down the street wearing a headscarf (hijab) will not draw nearly the same amount of suspicious looks, if any, as a similarly dressed woman in the US would. And here, the name Ibrahim does not arouse the dubious response it does in the US.

Speaking with people here, I’ve found that this level of tolerance does not exist simply because their constitution says it should (as ours incidentally does), it is largely a result of the apartheid era. As is well known, people in South Africa were classified according to their race, not so much their religion and so people of different religions often lived and worked in close quarters. Even further still, the struggle against apartheid saw Muslims working side-by-side with their fellow South Africans and so it was not uncommon for Christians to share a Ramadan feast with their Muslim neighbors or to even intermarry the faiths. Many people I’ve spoken with here and who I work with have told me that they have Muslim cousins, uncles and aunts and so they too are familiar with the practices.

And yet there are countless stories of prejudice toward Muslims in the US. In my congressional district, there is a conservative candidate named Dan Fanelli who has run public campaign commercials openly advocating racial and religious profiling. My family as well, underwent incredible trauma post-9/11. The stories of this trauma are heavy and many, but a “lighter” example of our adjustment to this prejudice is that my aunt, who used to wear a headscarf, now wears a special hat instead because of the looks she received in public.

And while many people here look toward the US as a bastion of democracy and freedom, I think the US has many things to learn from Cape Town and South Africa about how to live in a pluralistic society.


Elizabeth's Story and Elizabeth Storey (Chaele)

Monday evening, I went and found Elizabeth after work. One of the housekeepers at the Bed and Breakfast, Elizabeth is the sweetest lady, always welcoming us with twinkling eyes behind her glasses and a warm smile.
I was looking for her to get the jeans she had patched for me. I had actually given her the pants three weeks ago, but she couldn’t bring them to me until Monday, because she had been spending her time taking care of her sick mother. She was so apologetic, but I tried to reassure her it was completely fine. I kept trying to explain that I just felt bad she hadn’t been home for so long, and that made the fact that I’d been missing my jeans seem pretty insignificant.

I insisted on paying her 100 R, the equivalent of about $13.50. If I had gotten the pants patched at a tailor it probably would have only been about 35 R, but I wanted to give her the small token of my appreciation, and we’ve all witnessed how much our group tips mean to her every week. She refused at first, but eventually gave in, and I could see how moved she was. Her face lit up as she told me that she was going to make me beaded earrings as a thank you, and asked me what color I would prefer. She described the earrings she could make with great pride, and then pulled me into her small room to show me pictures of other earrings she had made. That led to her showing me pictures of former residents who had mailed letters and pictures after they had returned home, which then led to the explanation of the pictures of her family she had about the room. As she spoke of all these people and their stories with such care, I was struck by what an important place those seemingly small things had in her. I determined then and there that I would definitely send her letters and pictures after we went home.

As she showed me the pictures of her family, eventually she came to that of her granddaughter, and her voiced softened and paused. I think she was deciding how much she wanted to tell me. She slowly started to tell me a horribly sad story about her granddaughter, who had died in an accident after a school play when she was seven. I could see the pain on her face, and hear as her voice shook how difficult it had been for her family. Her daughter had gone to a mental hospital after the accident, which was two years ago, and had been there ever since. She told the story in such vivid detail it was agonizing, and we both had tears in our eyes by the end. All I could manage was a hug through my tears. She apologized for making me sad, but I shook my head, I was glad she had told me. We stayed like that for a while, our arms intertwined as we looked at the picture. I felt overwhelmingly sad, but was also so impressed by Elizabeth’s strength and so grateful that she had considered me a worthy listener of her story.

Eventually I had to go, and I left Elizabeth with one more hug, and a silent understanding that we were now closer than we had been when I had first come to see her tonight. I had to leave to meet the girls in the group, because we were going to drive to Simonstown and meet with another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Storey, for dinner. We wanted to hear more from her about her life and work in the anti-apartheid struggle, because we had realized when talking to her husband, Peter Storey, that she had been very influential as well. We had been right in our predictions that she had much to say, and the dinner was interesting and full of conservation. The way she viewed her work was interesting, because she simply said she had no other choice than to do what she did. In her eyes she was working for justice, and to stop or do otherwise simply wasn’t an option. I think the awe and respect we had for her resolve seemed to surprise her. She also spoke about how she connected to the struggle, and how she realized other people were affected so much more than she and her family were as middle class white people. She chose to use the stories of others as motivation; she took in their experiences with empathy that made her feel their injustice as if it were her own. She said that taking the time to feel what other people were experiencing helped her understand and persevere. I understood exactly what she meant, because Elizabeth had shown me just hours before how powerfully affecting empathy can be.

Needless to say, it was an inspiring evening. I spoke with two amazing women, and heard about the lives of two very different Elizabeths. I lay awake in bed that night recalling phrases, and remembering the faces of my storytellers. I cherished the unexpectedness of Elizabeth’s story, and the extra effort we made to hear the words of Elizabeth Storey. As I lay there, I felt how powerfully I had been moved, and I hoped that was something I would never forget.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

District Six Museum (Ubong)

Interning at the District Six Museum (D6M) thus far is best described as being first in line to the newest roller coaster ride in an amusement park; you do not exactly know what the experience will be like but you know you will have an awesome time, and your ride will pick up speed quickly (sometimes too quickly). Afterward you sometimes cannot wait to get off and feel like you will never get back on but you always do, and it is the best ride of your life! This roller coaster ride best describes the first month of my internship at D6M and with the other members of D6 Mafia (Dana Doran, Ibrahim Maali, Michael Blake, and Alison Kibbe). From my first day at D6, my bosses (if I must give them titles although this classification diminishes the communal, egalitarian atmosphere of the D6 workplace) had me working and working hard. D6M was undergoing efforts to expand the museum by adding the Homecoming Center one block away from the original church-turned-into-a-museum building and so us interns anticipated big days ahead of us as we would be assisting in this huge endeavor.

The exhibitions department, headed by a small woman but equipped with a vicious,spunky in-your-face-if-need-be attitude named Tina, was in the process of creating an exhibition about how forced removals changed, shaped, and transformed soccer in Cape Town and how soccer was used in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. The exhibition department also consisted of Chris, a kind and funny woman who always seemed to be busy with a thousands things to do by the day's end or panicky about the mistakes or aspects gone wrong in the exhibition (a sentiment felt by many at D6M including myself by the end of the process). Virgil, another guy with a sense of humor at D6, did tremendous work researching and compiling the information of the "Offsides" and "Fields of Play" exhibits of the new exhibition. Let me not forget to tell you about the other people involved in creating the new exhibition. Tina's significant other, Paul, along with the other members of the British Council, one of the sponsors of the addition to the museum, was involved in the year-long process of research and data formulation of the exhibition department. Other sponsors included Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD), a British NGO that works with the sport to promote equality and fight against racism, homophobia, and other negative aspects of society. And last but not least is the Scan Shop, colloquially called the Scam Shop by some. The shop equipped D6M with the laborers and the hands-on support to build and construct the new exhibition but not without its share of mistakes and setbacks that spilled over to D6 Mafia helping to reverse their mistakes (my hands and fingernails may never recover).

Along with the exhibition department, the entire staff of D6 put everything on hold in order to help the exhibitions department and make the June 15th deadline (a wonderful date with which to share my birthday). Thulani and Dean, guys probably in their mid-twenties from the Collections department, created and compiled the audio and visual material for the "Offsides" and "Fields of Play" exhibits. Additionally, Marguax, an archive curator, and Mandy, the head of the educational department and in charge of us interns, also spent their times lending a hand or two with whatever the exhibitions department needed to be done. Bonita, the director of D6, helped as well whenever she was not busy in formal meetings with the sponsors of the new exhibition, giving tours of the progress we were all making, or holding meetings with various groups of people (She is always extremely busy).

All of these people kept my days extremely busy during those first couple of weeks and extended our workdays, but Dana, Ibrahim, Michael, Alison, and I were happy to stay in order to help finalize the exhibition and establish our place at D6M. We even committed our Saturdays and Sundays for the sake of the new exhibitions (Dana cannot find a better way to spend her Sunday afternoons than painting massive swooshes on an entire wall). I remember initially disliking my first day; I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. However, this sentiment quickly evaporated as the D6 roller coaster accelerated toward my birthday deadline and I not only found more work to throw myself into but felt a sense of belonging and appreciation as I contributed to more and more.

The work of us interns varied as we found our places at D6M but we mostly shared similar projects and tasks. We all had our share of peeling plastic off of life-sized soccer player figures and endlessly scraping our nails at the burnt corners. Painting represented our initiation into D6 Mafia as we all had to paint at least one wall, cabinet, etc. during any course of the day. But Dana shuffled mostly between painting giant swooshes on one gigantic wall of the "Fields of Play" exhibit and organizing pictures and captions of various football clubs on digital frames that would be displayed in the new exhibition. Alison took charge on organizing closets and compiling information of various football clubs such as the Bayana, Bayana national team and the Cape Ramblers to display in boxes in the "Field of Play" exhibit. Alison also made the outline of the swooshes and did the early painting of them with Michael before Dana took over the project. They initially had difficulty with the out-of-scale rendering of the wall but they eventually overcame that obstacle. Ibrahim and I mostly worked together with our projects. First, we transferred material from old display cases and transplanted them into newer, nicer-looking displays. For our next task, we reorganized a display of the East Ends Football Association and the Cape Football Association. We then compiled documents and pictures for another display case for an exhibit highlighting the administration of Coloured football clubs. After each one of us D6 Mafia members finished our respective projects, we then took on assignments from cleaning the exhibition space, painting walls or boards, sweeping, reorganizing, recaptioning, etc. The D6 roller coaster really went into hyperdrive during this period as the final days before the grand opening of the exhibit were coming to an end. However, the June 15th deadline came sooner than we knew it as we all worked tirelessly hours before the 6:00 pm grand opening of the Homecoming Center. The grand opening was an amazing success that D6 Mafia, D6M staff, and contributors to the new exhibition shared with ex-residents of District Six, community members, and the general public.

Now that the new exhibition has long been completed, D6 Mafia now has new assignments as its members split up to help the museum in ways that capture their respective interests. From the very beginning, Dana expressed her interest in working with Mandy and the educational department so accordingly, she has been researching and organizing information about other sites of forced removals in South Africa and from that, helping the department develop educational programming/packets. Alison's new assignment deals with the Prestwich Memorial Project, a controversial site in Cape Town as the city decides how to deal with the ancient burial in the midst of development around the sacred ground. Ibrahim and I are working with the redevelopment framework of D6. We are charged with translating the information of how the area plans to develop with respects to equity, restitution, and living memory so that former residents understand the future framework of their community. Ibrahim and I are also helping the museum brainstorm ways to preserve the memory of two historic sites in D6 with regards to future redevelopment. Michael now works on the publicity of the new exhibition and helps the D6 staff with their projects as well. Between these responsibilities, he makes time to continue the research of his senior thesis as he establishes his second home at the archives. With these new tasks ahead of us, D6 Mafia only embraces optimism as we learn more about the living history of D6, conduct research in the various topics of our projects, and hope to leave the D6 staff the information they need to restore justice to an area destroyed by apartheid.


Monday, July 5, 2010

South African and American Hospitality (Sarah)

Me and Mike atop Lion's Head

The past few days have been full of both South African and American hospitality, and a combination of the two. On Sunday, we celebrated the 4th of July with a South African braai by the pool at the bed and breakfast. Bob arranged the event, complete with a grill, veggie burgers, sausage, chicken, vegetables, and traditional malva pudding to commemorate the day. Celebrating an American holiday in a foreign country is not new to me, but nonetheless it felt strange. I suppose that’s because, in the past, when I’d celebrate Independence Day overseas, it’d be in the presence of dozens of other Americans from Embassy families. But here, only our DukeEngage group met (with the presence of Mike, the other Black Sash intern, and Michelle, who’s on an independent project in Hout Bay). After the braai, some of us went to Long Street to continue the celebration. But, the street and clubs were mostly empty, and there were only a handful of others adorned in U.S.A. apparel. That was somewhat startling, though not entirely unexpected. (However, I will admit, the desertedness could have also be attributed to the fact that it was a Sunday night). It was interesting, though, that the American holiday went so unnoticed. I expected at least moderate recognition of the day, but there really was none at all. It was just odd to think that, while I was sitting at a quiet, empty bar in Cape Town’s “going out” hub, people back at home were watching fireworks and socializing. But, celebrating the 4th of July in South Africa gave me a new perspective. It made me realize how much pride I have for my national identity. And while I always celebrate the fourth at home, I didn’t realize how much I appreciated it for its patriotic quality. Yet, despite the lack of fireworks or large crowds, I still felt a bond to the other Americans I passed on the streets, and America itself from afar.


As I’ve mentioned previously, Will and I have been working on a living history project through Black Sash to document the stories of the original Sash members. So far, we’ve interviewed 13 women. There are many more whom we’d like to interview, but unfortunately we’re running short on time and likely won’t have the opportunity to complete all of the interviews that we’d like.

Tonight, Will and I were invited to have dinner with a Sasher, Candy Malherbe. Born in the U.S.A., she moved to South Africa in the 1950s when she married a South African man. Candy has demonstrated the kindest hospitality toward Will and me, from inviting us to tea at her house several weeks ago, to cooking dinner for us tonight, despite the fact that she is over 80 years old and has Polio. She is an incredibly intelligent and well-informed woman, and we were able to talk with her not only about her time in the Black Sash and South African politics, but American politics as well.

Her generosity was obviously not expected by Will and me—this is a woman we had never even met a couple of weeks ago, yet she invited us to her house for tea and then for dinner! This hospitality in South Africa, exemplified by Candy’s actions, made me so appreciative of all of the kind people we have encountered in South Africa, particularly through our Black Sash interviews. These Black Sash women invite Will and me, complete strangers, into their homes. They serve us tea and biscuits, share their stories, and demonstrate genuine interest in our lives. I’m not sure whether this hospitality stems from their love for the Sash, South African principles, or just a kind nature. But, regardless, none of it has gone unnoticed.


The Power of Image (Samera)

I dig magazines- I read them at the gym, I read them at the doctor’s office, and I read them on long airplane rides. Safe to say, I brought a load of American magazines with me for the 24 hour flight from home to South Africa. Recently, I was reading a magazine to kill time before dinner at the b&b. Any expert of magazines knows that they are saturated with advertisements and this magazine was no different.

I was looking at an advertisement for Covergirl advertising their new mascara that matches your eye color. Makeup’s not my thing, but I digress. They had four product varieties- for blue eyes, green eyes, hazel eyes, and brown eyes. There’s nothing usual about that. However, I lingered on the fact that each of the model eyes they used seemingly came from white models. There was no one featured with a darker hue to match the varied eyes. I stared at the advertisement for a long time and reflected upon the supposed trivial nature of advertisements. Yet, it’s not so trivial.

Advertisements reveal a lot about the values and representations that a culture projects. One of the things I immediately noticed when arriving in South Africa was that advertisements overwhelmingly used black models. From products ranging from food to detergent, black images were used. Similarly, I appreciate that black hair care products aren’t relegated to the “ethnic section” of the hair product isle. Small things like that not only recognize people for their purchasing power, but normalize their experiences as not “foreign” within their own nation.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

M’hudi (Ibrahim)

South Africa is the seventh largest producer of wine in the world. The industry is nearly as historic as the first European settlements, having been in production for 351 years. And thus, almost as long as there have been racial distinctions and separations in South Africa, there has been wine.

And just as the government of South Africa had long been the refuge of whites, so has the wine industry. The Western Cape, which is the historic wine producing region, has a centuries-long history of white family-owned vineyards and the most famous area within the Western Cape, Stellenbosch, has historically been an Afrikaner stronghold (the University of Stellenbosch produced a long list of apartheid-era prime ministers).

So I was surprised to hear that this last Sunday we would be going to what was likely the only Black family owned vineyard in the Western Cape.

M’hudi is the only black-owned vineyard in Stellenbosch and, apart from the area’s history and demographics, it is unique in a number of other ways as well. The father of the family, Diale, originally wanted to own a cow farm, despite being a professor of English literature. But when he ended up with a vineyard in historic Stellenbosch he convinced all of his children, many holding advanced degrees, and his wife with her masters in psychology that they could be successful in viticulture, despite knowing nothing about it.

The family was incredibly warm, talkative, and hospitable. As their presentation began, they told us about the massive learning curve they were up against, how they tried to learn viticulture from books on the Northern hemisphere and then how they tried to take the advice in these books and just do the opposite (since it’s the southern hemisphere). It’s probably safe to say that they may have underestimated the winemaking process and why so many vineyards are established from a family tradition of passing down experience. I was really impressed with how dedicated the family was to breaking into this historically white industry and breaking the stigma associated with local wine among the rising black middle and upper class (if they drink wine, they prefer foreign wine without the associations to apartheid that Stellenbosch carries).

Even more than all of this, it was most interesting to hear about the amount of cooperation and assistance they received from their neighbors. Diale mentioned how one afternoon two casually dressed white men appeared at their door and offered assistance and a mentorship. He described how he had fears of similarly dressed apartheid era security forces but was relieved to hear what they were actually there for. And while I’m sure this gesture doesn’t signal the general attitude of the average Stellenbosch resident toward black-owned vineyards, I thought it was still an interesting attitude shift in the new South Africa.

Some of my colleagues mentioned that it’s not every day you hear SWOT analyses, Paulo Frieri, and Abraham Maslow at a vineyard tour but it’s definitely not every day you go to a black owned vineyard in the Western Cape.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Across Manenberg Avenue (Brandon)

“We must go to the grave,” directed the priest to the young, colored assistant. He picked his face up from its resting position, stood up and followed the priest into the back of the church. Their white garments flapped lightly as they descended into the shadow of the hallway.

The procession was on schedule: visiting hours had taken place, and the hearse was on its way to the church. An afternoon sun bore down on the mass progressing towards the center. Seeing the approaching scene, the kids who were trying to wrestle for a last scrap of donated food soon dispersed to other streets or the adjacent field to play soccer. A momentary quiet had fallen on the grounds.

The rusty gate creaked open to let in the arriving crowd and dusty, white vehicle. With the trunk opening, people awkwardly bulged and converged to make room. Eventually, most started heading into the church foyer and then to their respective seats. Whispers of hot conversation escaped the entrance and wafted over the haze of now settling dust.

Although that morning I had plans to start my photography project on a soccer, educational program in the Manenberg township, I found myself engaged with a setting much less light. Auntie Susie, one of the older volunteers at the program, had plans to go the funeral of a man whose mother she was well acquainted with and invited me to come along. The man had been involved with the program that I was currently working for, and I thought it would be important to find more information about the situation.

Before the priest had to speak to the entering congregation, I got a chance to meet him. He had studied at a Catholic institution in Pretoria for a time. His ability to speak Afrikaans preempted him to be placed in the primarily Afrikaans speaking township of Manenberg. He explained to me some details related to death, saying that Richard, the man who died, had been murdered by his fellow gang members, the so-called Bad Boys. At the age of 14, he had dropped out of school and at some point became integrated within this group. Richard was “a quiet guy” who did not always find time to hang with the gang; the priest also mentioned the possibility some homophobic tensions that could have ostracized from the group. Supposedly, Richard had done something to tick the gang off a little bit (or as Auntie added, he had done something “naughty”) and was murdered in response. Luckily, the man’s sister had seen the guys who had committed the crime and was able to report them to the authorities. He had died at the age of 20.

“All rise,” directed the priest this time to the mostly colored audience. In a mix of interchanged Afrikaans and English, he ebbed the tension in the room with an unfaltering tone in his sermon. “In my interview with the family, I learned that he loved to wash the dishes and the chance to cook dinner for his mother,” the priest debriefed, gazing down to meet the eyes of parents. “He was a little different. But Jesus loves everyone, even for all our differences.” Relinquishing the pulpit for other speakers, the priest requested a couple of people including Richard’s sister to say a couple of words. The dark strands of her hair tied tightly in a bun, she promptly made her way to the front. However, only an echo of feeble whimpers rang throughout the room as the girl pressed up on the microphone. She soon bounded off the alter, hands balled up around her mouth.

And then to the graveyard. Croaking sobs. The priest standing stoically, the rhythm of his words conducting the convulsing crowd. To the hymn of greener pastures, the crane lowered the coffin, submerging into its dusty cavern. “And from dust to dust”.

Two days after, I am still finding it difficult to reflect on the event. It certainly emphasizes many issues within the community including violence, the gangster culture, school dropouts and dealings with sexuality. In terms of its relation to the service organization, it provides an interesting counterpoint to the organization’s proposed alternative to the gangster culture, as one of the volunteers was involved this culture. However, in regard to how I feel, I am still coming to grips with the situation. Hopefully with time, I will know how to assess better what transpired.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First "Soccer City," Now Soccer Nation (Will)

At "Soccer City" in Soweto

Even in South Africa, I have developed what amounts to a normal routine.

I wake up in the morning around 7:30 a.m., eat breakfast, arrive for work at 9 a.m. In the afternoons I leave work around 4 p.m. and I’m back home by 4:30 or so.

But today something was different.

After returning home from a typical day working at Black Sash, I stepped into my room and flipped on the TV. To my surprise, there wasn’t a soccer match being shown.

The World Cup has been a constant companion during our group’s time here. While we’ve enjoyed following the action, meeting the fans from around the world, and celebrating the success of the national team Bafana Bafana, I think it’s safe to say we’ve had at least some doubts about whether this global spectacle has been a positive influence.

Now we’ve reached the quarterfinals of the competition. Eight teams remain alive and there are only seven games left to be played. This is a rare chance to stop and reflect on the meaning of this commotion without the distant buzzing of vuvuzelas in the background.

For South Africa as a nation there are plenty of issues at stake. FIFA’s decision to allow the world’s largest sporting event to be held in an African nation was monumental. The build-up to the Cup raised plenty of questions, and as my fellow intern Sarah Krueger outlined, many questions still remain.

The impact the World Cup will have on South Africa is one that we have all deliberated over during our time here. It is a question that will be debated endlessly by politicians, economists, and foreign observers for years to come. In addition, the influence this sporting event has had on our DukeEngage is an issue that our group has also discussed.

It had the potential to be a tremendous distraction - think March Madness on a global scale – but I believe we have turned it into a positive force for our program.

The event itself has been a key talking point for several of our guest speakers, many of whom were extremely critical of its effects on the poor, on infrastructure, and on the justice system. The topic is almost unavoidable in conversations about current events and has thus helped bring to light a range of different issues that we have discussed with our guests.

Secondly, our group has found experiences that integrate soccer with society in a meaningful way. We attended the opening of two exhibits that explored social impact of soccer in South Africa, especially in relation to race and poverty. The soccer “kultcha” photography exhibit at the University of Cape Town explored the meaning of the sport in the townships and the Cape Flats. A new exhibit called “Offside” at the District Six museum delved into the relationship between soccer and racism, framing the sport as a force for unity and integration around the world.

To me these two exhibits show how members of our group have worked on projects that, rather than ignore the presence of this massive global event, instead attempt to use the World Cup as a touchstone for constructive dialogue.

I’m proud of the work our group has done relating to the World Cup. We’ve avoided the distracting elements and made the event a part of educational framework. And I know when I look back on my time in South Africa, soccer will be one part of the many incredible learning experiences I’ve had.

That being said, I can’t wait to watch Germany vs. Argentina face off in Cape Town this weekend.


The Beauty of Unintentional Learning (Sarah)

At Mhudi Vineyard

This past weekend, the group took a trip out to Stellenbosch, an area renowned as the home to South Africa’s many vineyards. We visited a black-owned vineyard called Mhudi. The owners gave us a presentation in which they discussed, among other things, some problems plaguing their company. A current obstacle against which they are battling is the perception that their wine is of a lower quality simply because the vineyard is owned by black South Africans. But after our wine sampling, none of us doubted the quality of their wine.

Later, we were served a traditional South African lunch, complete with Kudu sausage, lamb chops, and many local vegetables that are not found in the U.S. While we dined on a beautiful veranda overlooking the mountains, a band entertained us with many songs on marimbas.

Yesterday, the group climbed Lion’s Head, a mountain in Cape Town. From the summit, we watched the sun set over the city of Cape Town. The view was amazing; one could see the city of Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the ocean. Climbing down in the dark was slightly treacherous, but fortunately there were no major falls or injuries.

I have come to really appreciate the additional excursions that our group takes on the weekends, and during the week. They are an invaluable asset to our program, and the trips augment our academic experience greatly. Prior to arriving in South Africa for DukeEngage, I assumed that the trip would be almost solely service-based. And while that is a huge component of our program, I have been surprised and appreciative of the plethora of academic experiences we have gained. From meeting with community leaders to reading South African newspaper articles, I have learned so much. But I have also found that, even when an activity may be ostensibly unrelated to academics, the experience somehow still manages to help me grow intellectually. And to me, that unintentional type of learning is the best kind.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Shift in Perspective (Chaele)

Chaele atop Table Mountain in Cape Town

Venturing to South Africa for a couple months has certainly provided me with a new lens through which to view the world. Coming in, I don’t think I knew exactly what to expect. This probably helped me roll with the punches as we flitted from monument to museum in Jo’burg, and then got settled into our work and World Cup routines in Cape Town. I was ready for adventure, and I was not too worried about the unexpected.

Halfway through, I’m still not too worried about the unexpected, or what experiences and adventures I’ll have over the next four weeks. So far, Duke Engage has been amazing; I’m excited to see what comes next. That said, however, I’ve also realized how much my time here has affected my perspective. As we’ve encountered people and events that have heightened juxtapositions between poverty and wealth, race and identity, and corruption and success, I’ve found myself devoting a lot of time to reflection, in order to try and wrap my mind around all the complexities of the situation.

Through our group endeavors and my work, I’ve researched and thought often about apartheid and its continuing influence on the people here. As we drove back to the B&B yesterday, after spending the day experiencing the success story of a black, family owned vineyard in Stellenbosch, I saw countless rows of crammed ramshackle huts that served as people’s homes in the informal settlements. As we drove for miles and miles through this, the idea was reiterated that in some ways South Africa has come so far since its recent history of struggle, but that in others, it has such an inconceivably difficult and long road ahead. This is a harsh reality that has become much more real to me the more time we spend here.

Some of the conditions we have seen here have been shocking in their severity, and I fight my disbelief to try and see and understand the circumstances accurately and clearly. I’ve also realized how often those difficult problems go unseen or unmentioned in everyday society simply due to the demands of reality. For people who live here, much of their time is spent worrying about daily concerns like making dinner, going to work, cleaning the kitchen, and walking the dog – as is the case for nearly any society. On the other hand, I come through Duke Engage, with a somewhat unique position. I have two months to observe, absorb, and see Cape Town, but I come knowing that sooner rather than later, I will leave.

This circumstance has helped me understand more objectively the difference between how I think and see here, versus how I think and see in the States. I realize that I am more impervious to societal problems when I am at Duke, or at home. I have other responsibilities, and concerns, and distractions. Before I came, I didn’t see my world through the same intensely focused lens that I have used to view South Africa. It may not be possible for me to constantly use the reflective, academic, change-oriented lens that I have used here back home, but I do think it is possible to use it more consistently than I have before. Why not study and confront problems in the States in the same interested and undaunted manner as I have studied and confronted them here? One of the striking things about being here has been the immense number of similarities and connections that we have become aware of between the histories of South Africa and the United States. I will certainly have plenty of material to consider when I return home if I choose to utilize this new way of interpreting my surroundings.

I think this new perspective adds another dimension to how I can view my world, no matter where exactly I am geographically. I look forward to utilizing this new lens for the next four weeks, as well as continuing to take advantage of it thereafter.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Black Sash: An Inspiring Internship Experience (Sarah)

Black Sash women participating in their signature silent protest

When I applied to DukeEngage, and was then accepted, I had no idea where I would be working. I had seen placement options listed on the group profile on the website, but I was unsure as to which would suit my interests best. A few weeks after I was accepted, Karlyn e-mailed me and said that Black Sash had requested to work with me. So, I complied—excited, but still uncertain if that would be better for me than the other sites.

Now, after working at Black Sash for almost a month, there is no doubt that I am in the right place. The work that I do for them aligns exactly with my skills and interests, and is precisely what I hoped to do in Cape Town. I have gotten to write a press release, grammatically and linguistically edit reports that will be used for health care reform, help organize events, and, best of all, to conduct interviews of original Sash members. This interview project that Will and I are working on is intended to honor the contributions made by the original Sash members to the organization, and to record their stories. We have been interviewing women individually, recording the entire interview. We then type up a transcription of the interview and write biographies of each woman that will be uploaded to the Black Sash website. The transcriptions and audio will be archived at the University of Cape Town. Listening to the stories these women have is fascinating; they are some of the most inspiring and courageous people one could ever meet. Typically, Will and I go to their houses to conduct the interviews. So far, they have all lived in beautiful areas of town, so it’s been nice to see more of Cape Town and the surrounding suburbs. Today, the woman we interviewed had bakes us homemade muffins that were delicious. So, it’s been a great way to really get into the community and explore.

On Friday, Will and I went to a tea with the oldest Black Sash members. Everyone in the room was over 80! They meet on the last Friday of every month to discuss current politics and enjoy time together. They took a keen interest to us, and in our project. We were with them for 2 ½ hours and easily could’ve stayed longer. We were able to ask them a lot of questions, and the responses were great because they were all eager to share their stories.

Next week, Will and I were to interview a woman named Lettie Malindi, one of the few black women in the Sash during the early days. However, we learned today that she died over the weekend. That really added a new sense of urgency to the work Will and I are doing. One of the women we interviewed had Alzheimer’s, another had Polio, and many others are very ill and in constant pain.

I am so grateful to Black Sash for providing me with such a wonderful internship experience, I really could not have asked for more!


Random Musings (Samera)

Being in South Africa has been an interesting experience. Although, I don't think I have experienced as strong of a cultural shock as some for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I have been confronted by extreme poverty before as I have spent a considerable amount of time in another, less developed African nation. Also, this is not the first time that I have been confronted with racial issues. Personally, I have always found the politics of race and race relations fascinating and often find myself reading random related journal articles for the fun of it- but I'm a geek like that. I often wonder what the others think when (probably) newly confronted with these issues. Sometimes, I get mad that it requires an out of country experience for many to realize such global problems- and these are global problems that no nation is spared of. Often times, people will reiterate that these issues are not far from home- I think this is an important point to make.

Such reiterations constantly makes me wonder why in America are issues of socioeconomic and race related poverty so easy to escape, while my fellow Duke Engagers are so aware of it here in South Africa? Yes, in Cape Town- you see homeless people asking for money or food on the touristy Long Street- and we feel pangs of empathy. Yet, I feel such empathy is vacated once we see homeless people on our local Ninth St. in Durham. Personally, I've been mentally wrestling with how do you show dignity for those who are in extreme poverty. After all, we all deserve the respect that humans are entitled to. This stems from the fact that the socially conditioned practice of ignoring the visible poor leaves me cold. I can't fault Cape Town though, this is the socially conditioned practice everywhere- if not worse in some places. Though much thought has occurred, I haven't figured out the appropriate way to interact with extreme poverty.

Additionally, my time in South Africa so far and specifically Cape Town, has awakened in me new areas of academic interest. Trust me, my prior mentioning of reading up on race just scratches the surface as to the amount of reading I do. Interacting with South African society via work and play has introduced a whole host of questions that only academic articles can answer (my form of personal education). One speaker we had peaked my interest in "Coloured" identity in SA and another made me wonder about perceptions of HIV/AIDS in the nation. My workplace (as well as the practices of South Africa's own president, Zuma) have me wanting to read up on the legal practice of polygamy as it seems so foreign to me. Overall, I'm excited to explore more parallel issues between the states and SA as well as find more random topics of personal interest.


Friday, June 25, 2010



Working at Black Sash, an organization which for much of its existence had a membership base of all women, has inevitably pushed me to consider gender issues. Recently, Will and I have been interviewing original members of the Sash about their experiences with the group, and I have found their persistence and courage to be very inspiring. These discussions have provided me with an additional lens through which to view South Africa and the world, as I contemplate with awe the gravity of their actions during apartheid. So, it was through this process of thinking that I come to reflect on an incident from last weekend.

On Saturday, the group took a trip out to Simonstown to visit Peter Story and his wife, Elizabeth. Peter was a minister who was very outspoken against apartheid while it was occurring, and believes strongly in bringing politics to the pulpit. We met in Peter’s church, where he sat at the front of the room, facing the rest of us who sat in the pews. While he answered questions from the students and told us about his life, his wife sat in the back, a spectator like the rest of us. Occasionally, though, she would chime in to correct a statement her husband had made, or to add in a couple of sentences of commentary on events Peter forgot to mention. But, quickly, she would be cut off, returning to her silence. After the talk was completed, we all went out to lunch together at a restaurant on the beach. I sat near Elizabeth, and as I talked to her, I realized that she, too, was an active figure during apartheid. She had stories of her own to share, but it seemed to me that she was not given the opportunity to do so because the focus was often placed upon her husband. While her husband was undoubtedly a paramount figure during the apartheid era, I began to feel increasingly disconcerted by the fact that Elizabeth’s story was seemingly cast aside, taking a back seat to Peter’s. I’m not sure whether that was the fault of our group, of her husband, or of societal norms. But, it left me feeling slightly uncomfortable, confused, and unsettled. I felt that she should have been merited her own conversation, rather than being reduced to interjecting randomly during her husband’s story.

Was this something that happened to her often? And to other women? I certainly don’t think that one would typically see a wife being the focal point of conversation, with her husband sitting in the background. And that troubled me, again prompting me to consider how gender roles still plague society.


At some point in my academic career, South Africa and the issues that its colorful history raised became somewhat of a cliché to me.

In middle school and high school it seemed like I read countless books about the Apartheid era. Maybe this was some kind of trend that swept North Carolina educators in the early 2000s. And while I recognized the importance of the issues raised in these works, I was tired of discussing the same themes year after year. At some point (perhaps as I watched “Colour of Friendship,” a cheesy Disney movie about Apartheid-era race issues, in 7th grade) I lost interest in South Africa. Its historical significance had taken on a level of triviality for me.

My Duke Engage experience has shattered that impression. I’ve been reintroduced to the complexities of this country through hands-on experiences, fascinating guest speakers, and two outstanding professors. It’s been an eye-opening program and it has sparked my interest in reading anything I can get my hands on about South Africa.

I’ve particularly enjoyed reading “Beyond the Miracle,” a book which tracks the nation’s development following the election of Mandela, authored by the renowned South African journalist Allister Sparks. I was also excited when The Economist magazine published a “special report” on South Africa a couple weeks ago in advance of the World Cup. Sparks, who once wrote for The Economist, was one of our guest speakers for this program. Hearing his perspectives in person, combined with reading his book and The Economist’s report, gave me a social and economic picture of what the country looks like today.

That picture isn’t quite as rosy as my middle school lessons made it seem. South Africa is at a crossroads. It has undergone a miraculous governmental transition from a racist regime to a functioning democracy without enduring a civil war or widespread violent conflict. But it is still plagued by corruption, massive unemployment, and a devastating AIDS epidemic. There are some who feel that, despite hosting this year’s World Cup, South Africa is on the verge of a collapse. It is the superpower of the African continent but many indicators show that it is not far from descending into the Third World.

This is an exciting time to be working at a South African NGO. I know that as an individual I cannot expect to singlehandedly change the course of a country, which I know relatively little about. But I am hopeful that I will be able to be part of the movement that keeps South Africa on the right track, prevents it from being engulfed by poverty, and reminds the world of the stunning historical achievements that occurred here just 16 years ago.


Throughout our time in Cape Town I have consistently had varying revelations and impressions, not only about South Africa but about myself. Over the past week in particular I had one memorable impression - not necessarily about the specific culture and our placements, but about service in general. Driving from the metropolitan city bowl of Cape Town to its surrounding townships and settlements, it is impossible not to be taken aback by the degrees of variation in levels of affluence. Simply put, though an air of slow racial and socio-economic development pervades the enitre atmosphere of Cape Town, seeing the impoverished neighborhoods of its outskirts is both startling and devastating. This past Wednesday, one of our co-workers at the District Six Museum took us on a tour of this area - and seeing such poverty is debilitating, let alone living it. I personally found it extremely discomfiting, and then I felt uncomfortable with that thought in itself. I wondered, or rather am still wondering, whether it's possible my own societal comfort levels could prevent me from fully participating in service. Though I'm still struggling with this consideration and probably will for years to come, hopefully my time here in Cape Town will further help me learn to understand and embrace such discomfort and utilize that emotion to propel myself into more wholistic service.



Flying into Cape Town 3 weeks ago now (amazing how time flies) it was difficult to not be struck by the immense beauty of the place. At the Southern tip of Africa there rise these gorgeous granite mountains, out of the lush green of the peninsula, carving said peninsula into numerous picturesque bays where the crystal blue sea meets pure white sand at the foot of these mountains.

We’re fortunate enough to live in Tamboerskloof, an upscale suburb nestled in the “city bowl” between the mountains and Table Bay and within walking distance of downtown. Walking to work everyday through the City Bowl, it’s hard not to catch yourself admiring Table Mountain in its massive flat glory dominating the landscape to your right.

It’s also hard not to notice the predominance of whites living in this area.

On Wednesday though, we were taken by one of our managers at the District Six Museum into the other former “group areas.” Mandy, our manager, drove us out of the City Bowl area into the townships. Driving through Athlone, into Langa, Bonteheuwal (sp?) and Gugulatu the difference in scenery was immense. We’d left the beauty of Table Bay and driven into the Cape Flats, the dusty flatlands that house the townships mentioned above. Just like everyone else, I was immediately struck by the stark poverty I witnessed in these areas compared to where I’d just come from and to where we live. One thing that I kept in mind during the whole drive, though, was how government policy intended to keep these people, these “others” under the thumb of the apartheid government. These were the areas were many former District Six residents of different races (District Six was located on prime property in the City Bowl) were relocated to and because they were of different races, former neighbors were placed into township group areas miles apart and separated by rail lines and highways (to keep the different “groups” from meeting and cooperating). And on top of that, the government had the sick humor to name much of this tenement housing after places and streets in District Six.

Toto, we definitely were not in the City Bowl any more. It was amazing to me that just on the other side of the mountain, not more than 30km away, the government was able to effectively dump all of these different people in order to keep the most prized areas for what they viewed as the most prized race.