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.