South Africa the Great

I feel like I’ve been a bit of a sad panda on here lately, always writing about the really challenging cultural and ethical issues that I am grappling with here. Believe it or not, I am still having a whole lot of fun!

Case in point, I met a man at Amazink last week who is new to the city and really enjoys hiking. I also happen to enjoy hiking (when it isn’t hard) and I’ve been too paranoid to go out on my own. New friend! What could possibly go wrong with me agreeing to accompany a tall handsome stranger into unfamiliar mountains?bundy

Jooooost joking Mom and Sam. He’s a friend of friends and a total gentleman. He took me to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve for a beautiful hike, the highlights of which were two waterfalls. The only feasible way to get to the second falls was to strip off our shoes and clamber over the rocks through the stream, which was almost better than the payout at the end. I’m embarrassed at how sore my thighs are today, but it was well worth it.IMG_4507IMG_4510IMG_4514IMG_4519

I also had the privilege of meeting and spending some time with a man from Germany who plans to spend the next 1 1/2 years driving his nifty little suped up Suzuki from Cape Town to Dubai. He is a filmmaker and has already begun sharing episodes from his adventures on his Youtube channel. Sadly (for me) they’re still in German, but he promises to have episodes in English soon. One of the cameras he has along for his trip is mounted on a drone. I had never seen a drone before in the real world (I’m a terrible luddite), and had to restrain myself from being as excited as the local kids, who came running from all sides when he fired it up.IMG_4500IMG_20160624_173547076[1]

I also had the great good fortune to have attended every single one of the Amazink Live shows for something like 7 weeks, with last night’s being the final show. Yes, it was exactly the same show every single week. There aren’t a whole lot of Friday night party options for a Mlungu living in a township. That being said, I loved every minute of every show and felt a little gushy as the last show I’ll get to see finished last night. The cast was terrific, led by the awesome O’Ryan Winter, even though I suspect that they thought I needed to get a life (yes, I was there often enough to believe that this is true). I especially liked it when they played my all time favourite song by Paul Simon, which I shared as my favourite song when the Lady of the House asked us to at the Reconciliation Lunch one week, and explained that I learned about South Africa as child while listening to Graceland with my Dad in the ole Pontiac Parisienne.

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I never did manage to get a good photo despite many, many efforts. You should probably just check out my German friend’s Youtube channel, as he filmed the whole show last night 😉

And now I find myself living at the Durban Hilton (what??!) for the next week for the World Leisure Congress. It’s a tough life. I’ve only been in Durban for a few hours, and it was dark when I landed, but the best part so far? There are lots of Indian people in Durban. Know what that means? Vegetarian food. Enkosi 🙂

 

Mis-Education

Yesterday was my friend’s birthday, he of the lovely pink house:DSC00031

When I found out about it last week I offered to do something nice with him to celebrate. Initially my plan was to take him out for dinner, as I would at home with any other friend. But then I remembered how I invited him to my house last weekend for a beer, as he had invited me to his, and he became really uncomfortable and asked to leave. I promise I wasn’t being a creep. It just wasn’t his element. So dinner might not be the best idea. Then I thought maybe a movie? Then he wouldn’t have the pressure of making one-on-one conversation with me for 2 hours and we could just enjoy a flick. But I still wasn’t sure…

He called me yesterday morning to see what the plan was for the day, and let me know that it would be better if we all just got some meat (always with the meat!) and chilled at his buddy’s place. It took me a while to come around to it, but he of course wanted me to come over and pay for the meat.

At first I was a little hurt that he was rejecting my offer to do something nice for him and was once again treating me like an ATM. I’m a bit slow sometimes, but I did eventually realize that he just wanted everyone to be together and that it wouldn’t be a very nice birthday for him if he got something that he was not able to share with his friends.

If I had known that I would have brought more cash with me.

But he danced around it and never explained his reasoning to me. I guess I should know by now.

We had a really lovely time hanging out all together and chatting. When it was time to leave, my friend gave me a hug and said “Thank you so much, you really made my day. You made me feel like I exist, like I am a real person.”

That made me want to throw up.

The scary thing is that that wasn’t the first time I have heard something like that, although never directed towards me before. That the simple act of wanting to do something nice for a friend on his birthday would elicit that sort of response makes me feel so sick and angry and sad.

This week I am working on the presentation that I will give at a conference in Durban next week. In an attempt to illustrate the complexity of the context related to tourism in the townships, I have pieced together some of the footage that my Dutch friend and I shot here in town. We wanted to show the difference between town – where the white people are – and the township.

On top of the video I plan to play an audio clip from one of my interviews. Despite having his permission to do so, I am reluctant to share the audio of his voice on here, so hopefully the transcript will do. I begin by asking him whether or not people living in the poorer parts of the township would want tourists to come and see where they live:

Kwame: Definitely. I think that the idea that a person that I see as a superior person or a person that is better than me, the idea that a person like that can come and walk in the same street as I live makes me, even if there’s no money it does something for my self-esteem.

Meg: Who is, who is the person that is better?

Kwame: Hm, a white person.

Meg: Really? Why is that?

Kwame: Well white people are better than black people.

Meg: Well [awkward laugh]…they’re not. Like, is that the consensus?

Kwame: I know that. I know that.

Meg: Okay, that kind of makes me want to cry a little bit.

Kwame: I know that. But the rest of the people don’t look like, don’t think like that. A person looks at you, you are white, they know that you have something that they don’t have, you are much better than them. You know. Financially, you know, your life is more together than mine, you have had a better life, you grew up in a house, I’ve never seen a house, I’ve always grown up in a shack that always leaks every single day.

Meg: Yeah.

Kwame: I, I’m, we have a single parent whereas white people have two parents, you know, I’ve never seen the inside of a car, whereas for a white person a car is something that is like nothing, you know. I’ve never had enough money to buy enough school uniforms to go to school.

Meg: Right.

Kwame: I’ve walked to school bare feet most of the time with torn trousers whereas a white person has never seen something like that. So for that person to be able to come and walk in the street that I’m walking in and be able to hold my hand and be able to come into my place before even, you know, she even gives me money, that is, means so much for me.

Meg: Really?

Kwame: You know, it means a lot.

Meg: Why? What does it mean? I’m trying to understand this, ‘cause you know I’m an outsider and I’m a white person so I…what does that mean?

Kwame: It means, it means…I’m a person too.

Meg: Wow. That’s really heavy.

Kwame: It means…people, people don’t look at me the way I look at myself, it means…some people realize that I exist in this world.

Meg: Okay. Just by coming to see where you live?

Kwame: People coming to see where I live, they, they, and they can talk to me.

Meg: Yeah.

Kwame: Because I grew up not knowing how to talk to a white person. You know, that there, these people are actually even making an effort to recognize that I even am alive, you know…is, is a huge thing, you know. That, that now these kids that we have now know what a white person is because they can run to them.

Meg: Yeah.

Kwame: Whereas I grew up not even being able to talk to a white person.

Meg: Sure.

Kwame: So it’s a, it’s that self-affirmation and confirmation of existence that comes with it as well.

Meg: Wow.

Kwame: I talk a lot, don’t I?

This is one person’s perspective, so please don’t take this as representative of what everyone or even most people think. It is horrible enough that one person knows this to be ‘true.’

When you talk about postcolonial studies, invariably it comes up that colonialism is finished and we need to move on and not dwell on the past. This is the long-term impact of racist colonial laws and policies. This is what is left over 20 years later. This is not the only ‘truth’ about this country, but nonetheless this remains.

Sad and mad.

 

The power of PhotoVoice

Bead work made by women in the township, Cape Town, South Africa

Beaded jewelry made by the women at the women’s center is sold to the tourists and the income generated is then used to support the other initiatives of the center, including providing hot food to others in the community and helping people with HIV/AIDS access medication.

I am in the process of transcribing the audio recordings from my interviews at the moment. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of experiencing this special form of hell, I envy you. For those of you who have told me about your own tortuous run through this mill, I now feel you.

That being said, the cool part of transcribing is that it allows you to really, really hear what people are telling you, free from the distraction of thinking forward to your next question or wondering if any of what a person is telling you is actually going to be helpful in the end. Helpful for me of course, because as researcher it is my universe that is central :-/. It is amazing to me how much I have missed of what people are actually saying to me because my head has been wrapped up in other gunk.

Thank goodness for transcribing.

As I listen to my conversations, I wonder if I have actually spoken about my research methodology on here. I learned something cool about my chosen methodology the other day, in conversation with 6 women involved with a women’s skills development program in the Township. My methodology is PhotoVoice: I ask participants to take photos related to tourism and then to tell me about why they took that particular photograph. Here is one that was shared with me the other day:

Tourism photography in the township, Cape Town, South Africa

Taking photos of ‘tourism’ in the township

I looked at this and said “Is she taking a selfie?” and everyone laughed. The woman explained that she took this photo because to her it represented all of the opportunities to learn new skills and have new experiences that tourists bring. If I hadn’t come on tour and met them, they would not now be having this chance to participate in my research and get to develop their photography skills. Pretty cool.

This is the neat thing about this methodology. I looked at this picture and thought, meh. Then I got the story and it took on a whole new meaning, a whole new life. Likewise, the photos open up avenues for conversation and understanding that I would never have known or thought to pursue without their being introduced via the photos.

This is a car wash:

Car wash, township, Cape Town, South Africa

Car wash in the Township

The lady who took this photo explained that a tourist came to visit the Township and met with the young guys who were trying to get their car wash business off the ground. He went with them and bought a secondhand vacuum, the zinc siding, and a shipping container to store everything in. Now they have a successful and sustainable source of income. Long-term impact of tourism.

One of the people I spoke with gave me the old ‘hand-up rather than hand-out’ analogy. Tourists are in a position to give people a little, or a big, nudge that can help them get their initiatives off the ground.

Bead work, township, Cape Town, South Africa

A Mama doing bead work at the women’s center

The lady who took this photo explained that she posed this woman doing bead work out front of the women’s center because she wanted to represent how she had once been, sitting out front of her house beading with no job and no prospects. Then an American tourist came and created the women’s center (which, incidentally, is home to the groovy community garden I wrote about earlier) and now she has a job and a place to go and be with friends and give back to the community every day. Big impact.

Cooking sheep innards, township, Cape Town, South Africa

A lady cooking sheep innards at her home in the Township

The woman who took this photo explained that this lady, her neighbour, doesn’t have a job and is trying to support herself and her family by cooking and selling sheep innards. She wants the tourists to come to her home and buy her food, to have a unique experience to try some local food and help her make some money. As much as I’m *enjoying* my adventures in meatland, I don’t think I’m quite ready for that one, but maybe some others will dig it.

For the women at this center there is no downside to tourism (I asked). The tourists give them an opportunity to learn new skills and have new experiences. And there is always the possibility that one tourist will offer to pay for a child’s school fees or help buy the tools to help get one’s business off the ground. Tourism will always involve imbalances of power, I don’t think there’s any way around that. Maybe, for these women in this community, tourism is filling a gap that their government has not been able to fill in terms of helping to provide pathways out of poverty. Maybe.

Children's library in the township, cape Town, South Africa

Donated children’s books in the women’s center. It was explained to me that this lady likes to keep the books neat and tidy so that the tourists will see that they respect and value their donations.

 

I have had other thoughts about tourism in the townships! If you’re interested in reading more about me trying to understand this particular brand of tourism, check out Touring the Township (and playing Andrea)Reflections on Township Tourism II, and Reflections on Township Tourism III. I’d love to know what you think!!

Youth Day and Reconciliation Lunch

Today is Youth Day in South Africa and a public holiday. This day was set aside to commemorate a dark event in this nation’s history: The Soweto Uprising that began on June 16, 1976. Young students and their allies took to the streets of Soweto (the largest Township in South Africa, located in Johannesburg) on this day 40 years ago to protest the government changing the official teaching language of some parts of public education to Afrikaans. This was perceived by many people to put black students at a disadvantage, as their focus would shift from understanding the content to deciphering the language of instruction.

Police responded to this protest with shocking brutality. The official number of people killed is 176, despite police reports at the time that only 23 had died, and others claiming that as many as 700 were killed. This is the photo most closely associated with the Uprising:

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Hector Pieterson, a 13 year-old boy killed by police in Soweto on June 16, 1976 (photo credit Sam Nzima)

Other communities joined in the protests, and by the end of 1976 more than 600 people had died. Although it was another 14 years before Nelson Mandela was released from prison, these protests forever changed people’s acceptance of apartheid rule in South Africa.

I think I have mentioned before that there is a white family living in the Township. They moved here in 1998, inspired by the spirit of reconciliation and a desire to do what was within their power to help heal the wounds of the past. This is so extraordinary that even today, 18 years later, their friends in Town introduce them as “the people that live in the Township.”

Every Wednesday the Lady of the House hosts a Reconciliation Lunch. She serves a full lunch (honestly, I can’t have breakfast on Wednesdays anymore) and the doors to her home are open to anyone in the community who would like to attend. Anyone. I have been going regularly and I don’t know that I have ever seen fewer than 30 people in attendance. Imagine. Opening your home to 30 friends and total strangers every single week and feeding them until they’re stuffed.

Steam bread, township lunch, South Africa

Steam bread and stew. Delicious traditional South African food.

The idea of the Lunch is to sit and eat with people that you would normally not have an opportunity to sit and eat with and learn about one another’s lives. The Lady of the House has a topic to discuss every week and everyone at the table must share their perspectives on the topic. Sometimes the topic is light and fluffy, for instance ‘talk about your best friend growing up and what you did together’, sometimes it can be quite intense and heartbreaking, such as when she asked us to share about our experiences with crime.

Sometimes I think the topic is going to be fluffy, as in ‘talk about your mother’ following Mother’s Day, and I end up crying at the table.

I always learn something. This week we talked about our hometowns. Several people spoke about growing up in the Township and how much it has changed in terms of safety since they were kids. A student from the University spoke about growing up in Joburg and living behind electric fences and having their family dogs poisoned by people trying to break in. One lady spoke about how lovely her hometown was because she was able to ride her bike to and from school without worry. That one really struck me. It never occurred to me that it would be a privilege to be able to ride your bike as a child without having to worry about what might happen.

I don’t feel that I contributed much to the conversation this week. Barrie was…nice?

I would love to ask the Lady of the House if she would make one Lunch topic about tourism, but I won’t because I don’t want to take away from the objective of the Lunch, even though I know it would be an amazing discussion. As it is I feel very lucky to have met such incredible people and to have had the opportunity to learn about the community in such a special way. On this Youth Day it is nice to reflect that the simple pleasure of sitting down and sharing a meal with one’s neighbours is no longer impossible, just special.

Playing dominoes in the Township, Cape Town, South Africa

Local dudes and students from the University playing dominoes together

Putting things in perspective

It is ironic that as my time in South Africa grows short I am feeling more and more at home in my adoptive community. Is that irony or is that simply the way that life works most of the time?

I was feeling like a real cranky-pants yesterday and today. So much so that it caused me to dig into the envelope that I never thought would be opened…IMG_2797It should say enough that I never thought I would need this one, and that I would find myself opening it on the plane out of curiosity, but here we are.

Yesterday could charitably be characterized as “frustrating.” I was dragged all over town and literally pulled in multiple directions by my friends. I was hit up over and over again for money from the aforementioned friends. I took another friend to the doctor’s and dumped a pile of cash to deal with his massively infected stab wounds because no one else in his life, apparently, would take him to get the medical care he desperately needed. I also made the mistake of giving someone the benefit of the doubt and caused a whole pile of grief because of it.

I am so tired of being treated like an ATM/taxi all the time.

Ironically, I feel like I have a newfound appreciation for the parents of teenagers.

And you know what all my carping and pouting and frustrated silences of the past couple of days have taught me? That I am a cranky bitch and feeling oh-so sorry for myself because I am in a position of privilege compared to my friends here.

A little bit of perspective goes a long way.

And, in case you were curious, talking to the lovely Miss A and these two beauties from Kimberly’s magic envelope helped me pull my head out from where it didn’t belong.IMG_4461

Playing with a different set of rules

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Township view

Ever feeling like you’re trying to play a game with the wrong set of rules?

When you go abroad through various programs, often you are forced privileged to participate in pre-departure cross-cultural awareness training. One of the games that really stood out for me was one where you would get all the students to sit together to play a game of cards. Each student is given a different set of written instructions for how the game is played, and they are not allowed to speak to one another as they play.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

It was interesting for me to see some of the students lose it when others failed to play according to their rules. This is a training session people, obviously there’s a larger objective at play. But I digress…

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Sunday chill at one of the original Township houses

My Dutch friend and I have been talking about the rules. Specifically, that we don’t know what they are. And everyone knows this about living and working and studying internationally. Everyone knows that culture shapes the way we perceive and interpret the world and our expectations and norms and blah blah blah.

It is still so, so frustrating.

There is so much that I don’t understand. And I know that I keep coming back to race like a broken record, but believe me when I say that it colours every aspect of life here. For me it is an awareness not of being one or the other, but of the ways in which it frames relationships.DSC00035

I have now had 4 or 5 people tell me, unasked, that tourism is good for the Townships because it improves racial relations. That it means so, so much to be seen by white people, to have an opportunity to interact with one another, especially for kids. There are two sides to this, according to my friends: one, that being acknowledged by white people means to a resident of the Townships that you exist, that you are also a person, and two, it provides an opportunity for black people in the Townships to see that white people are not monsters or deities, but that we are all just people who are equal.

I believe that both of these things are ‘true.’ I also believe that both of these things are at cross-purposes. How can the touristic encounter work towards a establishing a common humanity, while at the same time affirming another’s humanity simply by deigning to acknowledge them??

But this is by now a somewhat familiar frustration coming from me, no? I am still confused, but trying to wrap my head around it with the help of my Dutch buddy has been wonderful. It makes you feel less insane to be confused and frustrated with a friend.

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Essentials of the Sunday chill: box o’ wine, fuzzy slippers, and menthol cigarettes (they’re not mine Mom)

Other cultural confusions? My Afrikaans friend told me that many of her friends would be shocked, shocked to hear that I am living in a Township, going to shebeens, and joining in for Sunday chill. Not that they would find it weird. I think we can all agree that I’m comfortable doing weird things. But that they would be incapable of understanding why I would ever choose to do such a thing.

Also, I am struggling with how best to deal with two undoubtedly common frustrations: people hitting me up for cash, and people ‘falling in love’ with me. As to the former, I have resolved to ‘lend’ friends a small sum and let it be known that that is the limit (until I’m repaid at least, which has yet to happen). As to the latter, I (think that I) say very clearly that I am only interested in being friends and have no intention of engaging in any other type of relationship while I am here. People are still surprisingly persistent.

This is where we come back to the rules of the card game (you thought I forgot about that one, didn’t you?). I feel as though I am communicating as clearly as I am able (I also learned years ago that being coy gets you absolutely nowhere). And yet I find that some people persist, and I really can’t understand why. Also, being a Canadian, and being on the reserved and shy side even for a Canadian, I am amazed at people professing their adoration or asking for a sizable sum of money of a virtual stranger. I just can’t see one of my Canadian friends telling a girl he or she met an hour before that they are in love with her.

I’m not complaining – I know that I will be sad on the day that I realize I have become too old for persistent marriage proposals. And I am certainly not complaining that I am in an understood position of financial privilege, and I would be happy to share beyond what I do if I didn’t think it would create even more of a divide in my friendships. I’m just confused. It’s one of those cultural divides that I don’t know that I’ll ever quite understand.

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Beautiful view of the Township and the landscape

 

 

More Sibling Love

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Poor Christine was preggers when we took this shot of all of us drinking, so she’s behind the camera rather than in front of it 😦

I may have said this once or twice before, but it bears repeating: I have the most amazing family. We laugh, we sing, we drink in garages. As much as I’m loving life here in SA, there’s nothing like family.

I was feeling pretty apprehensive before coming here, mainly about once again upending my comfortable life with Sam, and not knowing what the coming months would have in store. As always, my siblings were there to give me exactly the support that I needed.

For my birthday A&B found a seal snorkeling safari in Cape Town and sent me on one of my favourite adventures ever. I have kayaked with seals in BC, but this was on a whole new scale. Duiker Island is home to about 5,000 cape fur seals, and you can go and snorkel with them. Fun!! The pictures really don’t do justice to how incredible it was to swim with literally thousand of seals darting all around you. Apparently I am a terrible photographer whilst snorkeling and tying not to drown from laughing. Sorry about that.

I can’t thank you two enough for what a wicked experience that was.

And I am STILL getting to explore the wonderful Christmas gift from Kimberly. Honestly, make a note people: time capsule presents containing photos of adorable nephies are the greatest gift anyone could receive (apart from a seal snorkeling adventure, naturally). Today, after a long week of transcribing and some pretty heartbreaking conversations about race in this country, I decided I could go for a little inspiration:IMG_4425I especially enjoyed the note reading “get ‘er done…or you could always be a Disney monkey” 🙂IMG_4423And now this is what it looks like in my room ♥♥♥IMG_4427Thank you again and again you pint-sized piece of love. I am better for having you in my life as well xox

And let’s also not forget those other awesome siblings – cousins! Love you Ann xoxIMG_4429

And now, for no reason other than I wanna, two more beautiful views of the Township. I never get tired of it. It’s a wonder I ever get any work done at all.IMG_4404

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