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

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

 

 

Reflections on Race

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Homes in the informal settlement in the township

I’m feeling very conflicted about what I’m coming to lean about tourism in the townships. I still feel that it’s wrong somehow and I can’t shake that. But all of the people that I’m working with are telling me how good it can be for the community. Everyone seems to be in agreement that the stereotypical notion of tourists embarking on a bus and riding throughout the township with their noses pressed against the glass is wrong. Several people have made reference to the zoo analogy. And yet it seems that everyone feels they are involved in some other form of tourism – that they are doing it properly and in a way that is good for the community.

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A rooftop garden. Income generation, nutrition, and education all rolled into one, funded by the NGO that is funded by tourism.

Prior to living in South Africa I had never really given much thought to the concept of race. Maybe more than most privileged white people in Southern Ontario, maybe less. Here it seems to be all I think about. Why oh why did I spend so much time reading about postcolonial theory and not a word of critical race theory (that was for Rich 😉 )? Not that CRT would really help me wrap my head around the complexities of race here. I could live here a lifetime and never really understand, not from a white person’s perspective nor from a black person’s. So comes the question that I’ve begun to ask in my research: Is township tourism good or bad for racial relations in South Africa?

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Tourists and seniors interacting with one another at the seniors’ center in the township, also funded by the NGO

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The man I met with yesterday, who is a tour guide with an NGO that uses tourism to fund dozens of community development initiatives in several townships, believes that the answer is an unqualified Yes. The tours bring people together to share their humanity and learn about one another. This value is so central to what they do in his organization that over the holidays in June and December when many, many people return to visit family in the Eastern Cape, they don’t run any tours at all. Their tours are not about shacks and squalor, but about people learning about one another.

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A tourist from France with the daughter of one of the tour guides. He told me that he always brings the tourists to see his home because they are curious about what it is like to live in a shack.

Another tour guide told me that while his tours do not directly support the community, many people who learn about the township through the tour will return as volunteers or will start NGOs or will make donations to the community. One German couple sent back many thousands (if not millions) of rands to transform the tinshack educare (pre-school) center into a multi-story facility that would not be out of place in my home community in Guelph. And who can forget the ‘sheeps’ head lady‘?

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Her life and the lives of hundreds of others are changed for the better in a very real way because of tourism. So why is there still a bug in my butt about it?

I ask about dependency. What does it do to a community to embrace tourism because the white people who come might give them stuff? I’m told that people believe that since the tourists are in a position to help, and they want to, why shouldn’t they?

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A tourist wanted to help out after visiting the seniors’ center. He contracted another organization in the township to make blankets for all of the seniors to help them through the coming winter.

And yet…

I went to the Africa Day celebration at Amazink yesterday. My friend Bongani led the singing of the national anthem, because his “friends from team Canada”  were present 🙂 And there were lots of speeches, lots of which I didn’t understand. But again the anger shone through, loud and clear. The anger and pain of the elders as they spoke about their horrific experiences under apartheid. And I mean horrific – reading about it in no way prepares you to hear firsthand about what people had to endure. And the young people are angry about the lack of change that they see having been accomplished since 1994. In these black spaces I truly feel that no matter what is being said or presented or even believed, learning about the Other will not be enough to undo the damage that has been done here. The distrust and the hurt just run too deep.

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My neighbour the barber. He was given a donation from a tourist to buy the shipping container that now houses his barbershop

I’ll keep digging at it. As I said to my friend yesterday, if these things were simple or painless they wouldn’t make much of a study. I feel that my head and my heart and my imagination are hardly big enough to contain all that I am learning and struggling to understand here, but I’ll keep at it.

Coming home is going to be very difficult.

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*As before, please be aware that all of the photos published on this page were taken by the study participants, and the participants and the people who appear in the photos have given full informed consent to have their photos published and used for the purposes of this study. I would respectfully ask that other people not reproduce these photos for other purposes.

Reflections on Township Tourism III

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I have finally begun collecting some data from my participants (yay!), and as expected (once again) nothing has gone as expected. I thought that I was being clear in asking participants in the study if they would take pictures in the community, with the cameras that were given (and once again, many many thanks to all you beautiful folks who donated your cameras!!!), of what tourism is and what tourism could or ought  to be. I’ve left the question deliberately open-ended in order to allow for a multiplicity of responses and perspectives that I could not have anticipated as an outsider to the community.

The first woman I met with arranged for me to speak with several people in the community who had experiences with tourists, including the ‘sheeps’ head lady,’ a man who sells arts and crafts to the tourists, and someone who lives in one of the old residences. She also brought along her friend to photograph me as we made our way through the township. Hm. I was really just going there to give her a camera, but we can roll with this.

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The ‘sheeps’ head lady’ tending her fire

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Interviewing the ‘sheeps’ head lady.’ She told me that a couple from ‘Swederland,’ a couple that she does not remember meeting, decided to pay the school fees for her two children after having met her on a tour. Her children have been attending private school now since 2011.

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The front room of the apartment of the man who sells arts and crafts to the tourists is crammed to the ceiling with his wares.

The second man I spoke with took it upon himself to conduct a full community survey. I really hope he didn’t think I asked him to do all that work, but awesome! He conducted interviews with dozens of people around town, and sent out opinion polls on Facebook and What’s App that buzzed with responses the entire time we spoke. He had even typed and printed out four pages of responses from the interviews that he conducted in the community! Again, really not what I was anticipating, but so cool!

I have to say, I was feeling a little dismayed at what I perceived to be a lack of criticality regarding the socio-cultural impacts of tourism among the people I spoke with. Maybe this was due in part to the fact that one of my main methods of meeting participants was through engaging with the tours myself as a client? Or maybe I am completely wrong-headed about the whole thing – the financial impact of the tours is very evident, and maybe this is enough to make them be wholly valued by the communities? Maybe I’m just being too pushy with my own perspective that the tours can be harmful?

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This man, who has a physical disability, spends quite a bit of time outside the local liquor store, which is across from where many of the tourists park their cars. He has taken it upon himself to protect the cars, chasing away would-be robbers and vandals. For this he receives no ‘tip-out’ from the tour guides, and the tourists have no idea the role he plays in keeping their valuables safe.

But, then I heard another tourist say that ‘Everyone back home should go on a tour like this’ and I felt all of my insides clench. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get on board with the notion that we all ought to go look at other people’s poverty for our own edification. And I saw repeated examples of both tourists and the guides reinforcing negative and harmful stereotypes about the Township residents, for instance that young African fathers are not present in their children’s lives. I went back to my proposal in search of a little guidance and grounding, and re-encountered this gem of a video:

Camps Bay Reverse Township Tour

So it is not just me.

One man told me that people in the poorer parts of the Township really want tourists to come through because it means so for much for them to have ‘superior’ people walking through the same streets that they walk. When I prodded for an explanation, he told me that the white people are the superior ones, and that some people feel that to be seen by white people, to have a chance to interact with them, means that you are a person too, it means that you exist. Holy Fuck. Please bear in mind that is this (hopefully obviously) not what I think, nor is it what he thinks, but rather what he thinks other people think (I think). Tourism is not responsible for the racial disparities in this country, but hearing stories like that doesn’t make me think that it’s helping a whole ton either.

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This lady owns a shebeen in the Township. She doesn’t like seeing the white tourists walk past, because her pub is unlicensed and she is afraid that one of them will report her to the police

Another told me that some people will come to the Township to film their music videos, because it makes them look edgy and ‘fresh’ – that they pay the residents a paltry amount of money to act a certain way for the cameras – ‘thuggish’ – and that to him this was exploitative and abusive, as many of the people did not know what they were consenting to, they just saw an offer of money. Some musicians, like Skrillex for example, have come to the Township and have stayed and mentored young local artists, but to my young friend others just come and take and perpetuate negative stereotypes about the people who live there.

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The residents of the Township gathered to take part in a music video.

Lots of the people that I meet in my day to day tell me that they are studying tourism – I mean lots and lots of people. It’s a bit astonishing to tell you the truth. But then you see how much more money those involved in tourism are making than many other people in the community. And in parts of the community where many people struggle to make a living, you can imagine how divisive and political these imbalances can become.

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This young lady is studying tourism at her high school. Like many people I have spoken with, she views tourism as a field in which she has the potential to make a very good living.

Please keep in mind that I have only formally interviewed a handful of people, and have casually chatted with many others, so don’t take anything that is said here as some sort of conclusive statement about the ‘Truth’ of Township tourism – only a few early observations that have stood out in my mind. I would love any feedback from others’ experiences or opinions on the matter!

*Also please be aware that all of the photos published on this page were taken by the study participants, and the participants and the people who appear in the photos have given full informed consent to have their photos published and used for the purposes of this study. I would respectfully ask that other people not reproduce these photos for other purposes.

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Recycling in the Township

 

Interested in reading about some of my earlier musings about the role of tourism in the Townships? Check out Touring the Township (and playing Andrea) and Reflections on Township tourism II. Thanks!

Travels with Dad

I have been a little more remiss than usual of late in posting to the blog. My dad is visiting from Canada and we have spent the past week touristing it up to the max. So far we have visited Table Mountain, Robbin Island, the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay, the Cape of Good Hope, penguins(!!), Camps Bay, the Slave Lodge, the vineyards of Stellenbosch, the aquarium, and all about Cape Town’s wonderful city center. We are both exhausted! The weather has been wonderful, apart from one day where we had a kick-ass storm that truly demonstrated the power of winds that blow unimpeded across the ocean from Antarctica.

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The view from Table Mountain

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Dad at the aquarium

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Nobel Square

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Mandela’s cell, Robbin Island

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Trying to avoid killing the penguins

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The Cape of Good Hope, from Cape Point

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Standing at the edge of the world

Our travelling about the city has also included some time spent in the Townships. I was eager to get back to reconnecting with people after my segue in Thailand, and Dad was curious to learn about the places that I was aspiring to work in. We arranged to join a tour that was being offered through a local not-for-profit organization. This was the first tour that I have encountered here that was a side project whose stated objective was to support the community building efforts of the NGO, as opposed to being primarily about tourism. The tour took us to three different Townships and four community projects: a community garden, a women’s economic empowerment collective, a creche (pre-school), and a senior’s group.IMG_4138IMG_4143

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The kids really enjoyed Dad’s bionic knee

IMG_4148 This is the audio of the senior ladies singing us out. I thought we were going to have to drag my Dad out of there.

I think Dad had a really great experience in the Townships, and has been talking a lot about how startling it is to see these communities and the degree of poverty that is visible as you drive down the highway from the airport, and then to contrast that image with the warmth and welcoming nature of the people that we met.

For me, it was great to get a chance to reconnect with the people that I hope to work with over the next few months, and I was able to give five cameras to people who have agreed to take photos in support of my research project! Back in Canada, friends and family donated ELEVEN digital cameras to me before I left to give to people in the Townships. People are so awesome 🙂 The idea is to ask Township residents to take photos of their experiences of tourism in their communities, both good and bad, and then tell me about the photos they have chosen to take.

I am VERY excited to see what people will choose to share with me. I have explained my objectives as clearly as possible, I think, while also trying to not proscribe what I want people to tell me, and I’m trying not to stress about ceding control of what information gets produced.

One young man said to me the other day, “I wonder what they [the tourists] think about us.” This is exactly what I wonder too, only from the other side!!! We are going to have some fun chats he and I. Can’t wait to see where we go from here.

So, only a few days left with Dad, and then back to work full time. We’ve been cooking a lot in the Mouille Point apartment that Dad rented for his visit. Tonight’s dinner consisted of an oddly-gendered beer (am I allowed to enjoy it, seeing as how I am neither a champion nor a man?), South African staples of samp, spinach, and sausage, Dad’s dessert, and a sunset over the ocean 🙂

Reflections on Township Tourism II

IMG_3000I have spent the better part of this week in Cape Town going on various Township tours. As was expected, my research has not been unfolding as expected. My contacts at the university have been (shockingly) busy with their own lives, and without their intersessions it is not possible for me to simply wander into the Township and ask people if they want me to research them (I’m being deliberately glib here – I can’t tell if that comes across to people who don’t know me – but that is obviously so wrong on so many levels).

So in the absence of local facilitators, I am trying to meet people by engaging in the tours and chatting with people over the course of our time together, and then asking them if they would be interested in hearing more about my work. Given my deep ambivalence and discomfort in participating in the tours, this has resulted in some pretty awkward moments.

Take this awkward moment, for instance:DSCN0015

Despite my active participation in the tours, I am trying to quash my impulses to recreate some of the more disruptive of tourists’ behaviours, such as sticking my camera in people’s faces and focusing my lens on the more egregious examples of people’s poverty. The lady who was conducting the above tour kept insisting that I take my camera out, finally resulting in this mess – my quasi-vegetarian self posing for photos with the local braai man, admiring his meat. The camera flashed repeatedly on this busy corner on a Friday evening, and a lady standing nearby kept remarking that I was afraid – nope, just profoundly uncomfortable. I’m already likely the whitest person for miles around – why call more attention to myself with a brightly flashing light?

Another moment of deep discomfort arose when our shiny white tour van stopped on a bridge to look at the poorest part of the Township – rows and rows of shacks erected in a literal swamp.IMG_3384

As we sat there with the 4-ways on, the guide came over and opened the van door, insisting that we take photos. In retrospect I really could have said no thank you, but in the moment I hurriedly did as I was told and put the camera back away. I wish I could express the contemptuous look I was given by one of the passersby on the sidewalk.

I can tell that my reluctance to take photos and perform my tourist’s role is upsetting the balance, and I’m trying to compensate for this by buying things that people are wanting to sell to the tourists and taking photos that feel less confrontational. I’m not sure if this is the right answer or not.IMG_3002

As I reflect on these experiences, and attempt to wrap my head around expressing some of this muddle at the Tourism Paradoxes conference next week, I find myself returning to the notion of shame in the tourism encounter. If you’re interested in a super fascinating (and not too academic-y) read about emotion and the postcolonial potentiality of shame in tourism (there, now I’ve made it sound academic-y, I can’t help myself. But trust me – it’s great!) take a look at Hazel Tucker’s article Recognizing Emotion and Postcolonial Potentialities: Discomfort and Shame in a Tourism Encounter in Turkey.  And I share this article in part because it theorizes about the potential positive power of recognizing the emotion and embodiment of shame. I want to be clear that this posting is not about beating myself up, but rather about exploring one’s emotions honestly and trying to learn from them.

I feel shame in having participated in the tours, in taking photos of how strangely the Other lives – for instance, did you know that many people in the Townships (and likely elsewhere in South Africa) consider sheep heads a delicacy?IMG_3369

There is shame in spending so much money on the tours – more than double the one guide’s monthly rent in her nice apartment in one of the new residence buildings – a one-bedroom that is home to 9 people. Even though I know that the tours are creating income for people in the community, the chasm between my way of life and Theirs – while not my fault, and not something I can feel guilty for – still feels inhumanely wide.IMG_3372

There is also shame in knowing that I share these stories and these photos, in part, because I hope that it makes me look cool and edgy, to explore a space that is so foreign to my everyday and that few people will ever have an opportunity to see.

I’m chasing another notion about shame as well. I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet, and maybe other people might have some insights about this. I think that there may be shame involved in this type of tourism – maybe only on my part because I’ve overthought it, but maybe for others as well – because I, as the tourist, would feel ashamed if I lived there and people were coming through to take photos of my poverty. It is as though I am imposing my shame on the community’s residents, or what I imagine my shame (and therefore their shame) ought to be. Because this is the whole argument against this form of tourism, n’est pas? That people living in the communities are being treated like animals in a zoo, and that ‘we’ would not like to have people taking photos of ‘our’ homes and passing commentary on how we live. But is this a fair statement to make, is it reflective of how people in the Townships feel? Not having done any real data collection yet, I can say that many of the people I have met have expressed pride in their homes, and are happy that people want to learn about their communities. Then again, perhaps this is just something that is told to the tourists, and is not reflective of their real feelings on the subject. I did have one South African friend warn me that people here have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid when it comes to promoting tourism as a pathway out of poverty. Anyway, I’ll keep chasing this notion of shame and see where it leads me. Any feedback or thoughts on the subject would be most welcome 🙂

And now, for no reason apart from possible interest, here is a short (bumpy) video of what it looks like to ride in the front seat of a taxi-bus through part of a Township (keeping in mind that the Townships are home to millions of people and this only represents a very small fraction of the community).

 

Interested in some of my other musings regarding the role of tourism in the Townships? Check out Touring the township (and playing Andrea) and Reflections on township tourism III

 

Touring the Township (and playing Andrea)

IMG_2903Monday February 29, 2016

This weekend’s trip into Cape Town was quite eventful and a study in contrasts. I think it goes a long way towards exemplifying some of the contradictions and complexities that are a part of living in South Africa (that was for Meg – I like alliteration too 😉 ).

I took the morning train in yesterday morning. Despite having been sort of vaguely warned about the dangers, it seemed to me that the only real danger being talked about was in taking the train before or after hours, and that riding during the day presents no problems. I was for sure the only white person that I saw on the train the entire journey, and it got me once again thinking about the racial segregation of space. At home I would take this train all the time! It was clean, more or less efficient (it was only half an hour late), and got me dead into the center of the city without having to deal with the ordeals of traffic (read: lunatic drivers) or trying to sort out parking. All for the low low price of CAD $1.75. Seems like a no brainer to me.

I planned this trip into the city expressly to participate in a Township tour. I booked my tour online (for Monday morning – they run a Gospel tour on Sundays, as opposed to the regular tour that runs the rest of the week) and not being familiar with the layout of the city, I looked to the company’s website for guidance as to what part of the city I should find lodgings in. The website advised that they would come and fetch people as far away as Camps Bay, but no further out. I read this as: they come to Camps Bay. So that is where I should stay. This is not the only part of this trip wherein I should have done a better job actually reading what I was getting myself into. I found a great deal on Hot Wire for a room in a villa near the beach (yay! Beach finally!) and took a taxi once I had my fill of wandering around Cape Town (more on that later, maybe – that city is a really wonderful place to explore!).IMG_2817

Turns out I’m not so much Camps Bay people. I thought I was out of place at the university, with all of the willowy blonde giantesses, but now I have officially found the place where the beautiful people congregate. To be fair, it was a little like walking onto the set of Beverly Hills 90210, so that was exciting for me (only I was being played by Gabrielle Carteris). Camps Bay appears to be everything that a wealthy seaside resort ought to be – lots of restaurants and cafes with patios spilling out onto the sidewalks, kids playing drums and dancing on the beach, massive crashing waves (but a wicked riptide, apparently. I didn’t see anyone in the water), and luxury cars cruising up and down the waterfront strip.IMG_2850

This is what it sounds like when you’re walking along the waterfront:

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As an aside, Hot Wire is a wonderful thing! Check out this place that I was able to stay at! I’m usually more of a hostel kind of girl. Now, how do you (as me) contend with the reality of that room, knowing that the purpose of my visit is to go to a Township to see how the poor people live, or in travel brochure-speak, see the ‘reality’ of life in the city? Is this not also reality? Or is it less valid as reality because it is a reality available only to a few?IMG_2834IMG_2844

On Monday morning, I was picked up at the villa by the charmingly effervescent Sabrina, who was to be our guide for the day. Sabrina is a former resident of the Township, although she now lives in a different part of the city with her husband. Our tour group eventually grew to 7 as Sabrina navigated the minibus (silently shrieking ‘tourists’ everywhere we went) throughout the various neighoburhoods of the city (turns out, I was staying the farthest outside of the city center). As we drove, Sabrina told us about the history of the Township, which was founded in the 1920s as single men immigrated to the city from the Eastern Cape looking for work. Single room dormitories were constructed and colonial regulations regarding movement, later to be replaced (and made more restrictive) by the apartheid-era Pass Laws, regulated whether or not these men’s families would be able to come and visit with them, as well as when (or whether) they would be able to return home for a visit. Eventually, demand in the city for female domestic workers led to the government permitting wives and children to join the men in the Township. It probably goes without saying that housing facilities were not adapted to meet the changing needs of the community. Eventually, rooms that were originally designed to house one man became home to multiple members of one’s immediate and extended families. Intolerable crowding and an utter lack of privacy (this is the one that struck me as an unanticipated shock – privacy. Imagine never being able to close a door?) led to many families constructing their own habitations from whatever materials available outside the dormitories.Today, most residents commute into the city for work, spending about 25% of their incomes on transportation, although it is estimated that 35% of the population is unemployed*.IMG_2898

The improvised shacks seem to be made of just about anything – the ubiquitous corrugated tin, pressboard, shipping containers, I even saw what looked like an old refrigerated trailer converted into a home. Electrical connections are improvised and are often cited as fire hazards, although I have not seen any evidence of recent fires. In some areas there are blue porta-potties to service the families that have no private facilities. Super gross, and totally inadequate for any person to have to use long term (think about the johns at the end of a weekend festival. Bleh. Then think about only having access to that). That being said, they are provided by the city and are maintained weekly, and can only be an improvement over the holes in the ground that overflowed when it rained that I was used to seeing in Dar es Salaam. And do I think that by making that comparison it somehow makes it okay? The houses that I saw also had municipally supplied garbage bins and the truck comes and empties them weekly. Another luxury that my friends in Dar would have been happy to see.IMG_2905

In this first part of the tour we drove around the community and peered through our windows at the vocational school, the youth center, and people’s homes. I felt like a real creep – totally conspicuous in the air conditioned front seat of the big white van with the tour company’s logo emblazoned on the side. Like we didn’t want to get our hands dirty or sully our clothes by stepping beyond the glass.

We finally stopped and got out of the van to join Joshua, a young man from the community who was taking over the next part of the tour. Incredibly, it actually got worse from there.

The first stop on our walking tour was a lovely preschool. About 20 children between the ages of 3-5 were sitting on a carpet as Joshua explained that the teacher had identified a need for preschool education as well as English instruction in the community. Joshua had all the children stand and come to the front of the carpet. As we tourists stood in a semi-circle around them, the children were made to sing 6 or 7 songs for us, complete with hand gestures. This to me felt so exploitative and abusive that I felt my eyes welling with tears (which anyone who knows me will tell you is not so unusual an event – I’ve been known to cry in movie trailers. But still), and I had to move to hide my face from the children. Here we are, interrupting their school day, and they are being made to perform for us like little trained seals. What lessons are these kids learning from this? Do their parents know about this, and if so, what must they think? I can’t imagine any of the parents that I know back in Canada would be happy to hear that this was happening in their child’s classroom.IMG_2896

Just when I think it is finally over and we can get the hell out of there, Joshua tells us to brace ourselves because now he is going to tell the kids to hug us. As soon as he says the word, all the kids rush forward and clamber into our arms and laps. What the actual fuck? Some kids were even shoving one another to get closer. One little boy repeatedly tried to kiss me on the lips, a little girl kept touching my face, my nose, my eyelashes. This went on for way too long – at least 10 minutes. Did the other tourists know that this was going to happen? Is this part of the appeal of this particular tour?

Before going inside, Joshua told us it was perfectly okay to take photos of the children. This is something I had not thought twice about in the past, but now makes me deeply uncomfortable and is something I would prefer not to do unless asked. He did say that it was important not to take photos of people in the community without first asking their permission. He also advised one of the tourists who asked about contributing to the community that is was important not to give anything to children in order that kids not learn that they may be given things by white people, potentially leading to paternalism, dependence, and begging, and instead to make a donation to an NGO or a social service agency in the community.

After the preschool we walked through the community and saw a wide range of living conditions. The community has advocated that no one should be moved out of an inadequate living situation without being moved into something more suitable, and there are a number of new housing developments where families have been relocated. There are also a number of really lovely homes, in an area known as the Beverly Hills of the Township, where people have been successful and have chosen to remain in their home community. There is no denying that there are too many people living in truly abhorrent living conditions, but it is also true that a significant number of families in this community have done very well for themselves and have chosen to remain in their home community, a part of the narrative of life in the Townships that I think may be often overlooked by the tourists who visit there.IMG_2910IMG_2907

One of the other tourists noticed that the words ‘Real Phandaz’ were spray painted throughout the community. Joshua explained that Real Phandaz means taking action to improve your situation, showing entrepreneurial spirit, moxie if you will, and not sitting around waiting for the government to solve your problems or give you a job. Everywhere in the community there is evidence of Real Phandaz – car washes that consist of a few buckets of water and a little home vacuum, grill on the side of the road featuring all kinds of meat, and convenience shops and beauty parlours operating out of shipping containers.IMG_2900IMG_2902

On our way back into the city, we made a quick stop at a monument dedicated to 7 anti-apartheid protesters shot and killed by police in 1986 (known as the Gugulethu Seven). I am left wondering about the actual changes that have been felt here since these young men lost their lives. Apartheid, the Pass Laws, and the Bantu System have all been repealed. But ethnic segregation is still alive and well in people’s living environments, and some of these homes do not seem fit for human habitation. From what little I have seen, recent governments have made substantial efforts to provide decent and affordable housing for people. But there seems to be little movement towards the dissolution of physical racial divides. People work together and share space in that sense, but how can people come to know and understand one another when their living worlds are so far apart?

Also, I have to say that I did not see any evidence of this tour benefiting the community. There were jobs created for Sabrina and for Joshua, and surely for other guides, but no mention was made of reinvestment back into the community. I took it for granted that that was a central component of all of such tour operations, but perhaps that is not the case.

 

Interested to read more about my reflections on the role of tourism in the Townships? Check out my subsequent posts, Reflections on township tourism II and Reflections on township tourism III. Thanks!

 

*Can we all please acknowledge the grossly inadequate historical reckoning of the establishment of the Townships presented here, due (in part) to the constraints of this form of communication and not from any lack of concern or caring on my part about the importance of all of the nuances related to this history?

A (not so) secret confession

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Meghan in Nairobi in 2009

It is interesting to think about working with Edwin and his colleagues in the visual arts department. I consider myself to be a social justice scholar (without ever, ever putting it in such terribly lame terms, but you’ll see where I’m going here) who is using art as a research methodology, almost as an afterthought. Edwin and co. are artists, using art to work for social justice in the community. It might be parsing, but it might also be very interesting to see how we come to work together from such different starting positions. Edwin gives very clear indication that this is his focus and objective, without ever coming out and saying anything so lame as ‘I’m working towards social justice.’ (Also, if it seems as though I am talking a lot about Edwin on here, it is because I know virtually no one else here yet).

So…, I’ve decided to go on a Township tour. This is something that I have struggled with, and it even came up as a question at my proposal defense back in June. As much as my research is about learning about local perceptions and experiences of tourism, and I hope that I will be open to whatever they may be, my own feelings are that the tours are exploitative, paternalistic, and maybe even a little morally repugnant. I have decided, however, that it would be unjustifiable for me to attempt to critique and take an arbitrary moral high ground over something that I have no first-hand experience of.

Now here’s the dirty secret part (or maybe it’s not so secret as I think it is): I’m looking forward to it. I am fascinated by these communities, as would be obvious from the fact that I chose this area of study for my PhD research. I cannot pretend that I am somehow morally superior to any of the other tourists who choose to participate in these experiences. I find these communities fascinating – I want to get out and walk around and talk to people and take a million photos. Where does this compulsion to consume the Other come from? Is it just innate human curiosity, or it is something more sinister? Could it be the desire to witness a way of life that us so materially inferior to one’s own? (and by materially inferior, I of course mean on a purely quantitatively economic scale).+4w5536

It also comes to mind that these questions might be completely inane and self-serving. There are many things that I feel are morally wrong that I don’t question – for some reason child prostitutes in Thailand comes immediately to mind – that I would never feel compelled to ‘sample’ in order to decide for myself how I felt about it. I know that the comparison is hardly apt, but it bears thinking on…1935249_300995705117_5312299_n

Of course, I like to believe that as a regular, everyday tourist I would never choose to participate and support this particular brand of tourism. I just wouldn’t. But even this is being disingenuous. Because of course the truth is that I do get to enter these neighbourhoods and interact with people for reasons that I have determined are justified, and not merely about curiosity. Do you see the difference? Whereas the ‘tourists’ tell themselves that the $$ that they pay for the tour is supporting the community, allowing themselves (perhaps) to assuage their guilt about their voyeuristic intentions, my being there is legitimized by the fact that I am there for business, not leisure. Does that make my voyeuristic intent any purer? Not a chance. Do I tell myself, same as everyone else, that my being there is helping, and that in turn I am come away changed for the better? You betcha. So I cannot hide behind my moral proclamations that the intent behind the tours, from the tourists’ side, is wrong because I know that I share the same intent, in my heart. Now I feel as though I’m trying to justify myself. I’m really struggling with this.

The truth of the matter is that I have been in slums many times and none of the fascination has worn off. I’m not sure what that says about me, or what is at the heart of that.