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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Sunday chill, Township style

I am no longer a reverse-vampire. I have to say, having a car makes all of the difference in the world in living at Mama’s in the Township. I was renting a car here and there to get to meetings, and it just gives such a measure of freedom that my Dutch roomie and I decided to go halfsies and keep the car until she goes home next week. And yes, driving a standard on the wrong side of the road does make me feel cool.

Walking around here is really unsafe. The family we stay with worries about our safety a lot, and most of the people I know here have been robbed. I had lunch last week with a man who had been stabbed twice on the weekend. No one here is free. Looking over your shoulder and being worried about theft and violence is part of the everyday. It sucks.

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But that, of course, is only the crappiest part of living in the Township. I am much happier and having way more fun here than anywhere I’ve lived since arriving in SA. I’m making friends. I’m spending lots of time at Amazink and starting to feel like a welcomed temporary member of the community. And there are lots and lots of fun parts of life here, not the least of which is the amazing music (which will get a post all of its own one of these days when I get around to it).

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I have a friend here called Patrick who took me out on Sunday to experience ‘real’ Township life. We went to a shebeen – a tin-shack pub tucked into a narrow alleyway with a pool table and a jukebox mounted on the wall. From there, we were invited to his friends’ house for the rest of the evening. The front door stood wide open and people and kids and dogs wandered in and out continually. The music was blasting and people took turns gathering some cash and darting out to the shebeen for more of the giant 1 liter bottles of Castle beer that stood lined up on the floor for anyone to help themselves.

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Our hosts got me a glass to drink out of. According to Patrick it is not okay for me to drink out of a bottle after a man has, despite these all being communal bottles. I’m not sure if those rules apply to all women or just me. The lady of the house dug out a lovely crystal tumbler and washed and dried it thoroughly before handing it to me. At first I was embarrassed – I don’t want any special treatment! But I quickly realized that I would do the same thing for a guest that I wanted to make welcome in my home. That little house was full of laughing and singing and dancing. No pretensions. Just a ‘Sunday chill’ with neighbours.

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Patrick made me promise repeatedly that I would publish that he is a Legend. And he is. He took wonderful care of me the whole day and made me feel welcome in a part of Township life that I would never have known about otherwise. He treats me a bit like porcelain, which we’re going to have to work on, but I’m pretty stoked to be hanging out on the other side of the fence for a change.

Patrick is a Legend. Even if he wouldn’t let me take his photo.

 

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!

Happy Mothers’ Day from Mama’s House

Today is Mother’s Day, and a Happy Mothers’ Day to all you mums out there!  I have an incredible Mom. She is kind and caring and generous and thoughtful and funny and intelligent and a kick-ass cook. I am *some*  of those things, in very small measure. This is my Mom in one of the photos Kimberly gave me, along with my sister who is also an incredible mom.IMG_4396

(Mom is also an endlessly good sport with all the crazy nonsense I *encourage* her to do!)

I also learned, thanks to my lovely new Dutch friend, that this past Thursday was Freedom Day in the Netherlands, a day that always brings back powerful memories of my Grandmother who lived in Holland throughout the occupation.

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Frank and Jopie, looking dapper AF

My grandmother was a force of nature, incredibly brave and powerful, and one of my favourite people ever. When ever I wonder why I’m not more like my loving and gentle mother, I just think back to Jopie and am grateful that all that sass and ferocity skipped a generation 😉

On this mothers’ day I am missing my mom, and grandma, and my sisters who are also awesome moms, but I am happy to be living with this wonderful family and Mama whom I think would have gotten along with my Jopie very well 🙂

So, with gratitude and love I once again dig into The Greatest Gift courtesy of the wondrous Kimberly:IMG_4394

My mother grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario that holds a very special place in all of our hearts, not least of all because of the giant cow on the way up, and the tiny island that has been in the family for decades, where now the third generation of kids born in Canada is learning to swim and fish and be tortured by mosquitoes.IMG_4395Thank you again Kimberly, I love it!!! A big Happy Mothers’ Day to you and to all the mothers out there! xox

Poetry & Politics

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The arts and culture space in the Township

I had the privilege of attending the InZync Poetry Session last night at the Township’s incredible arts and culture space with Esme and the Dutch student who is also living at Mama’s. The venue was jumping, crammed full of mostly young people, white and black, all very cool and hip and arty. The line-up was pretty stellar, and included a Syrian now living in France, a Nigerian, South Africa’s Dissident Poet, South Africa’s Poet Laureate, and a number of exceptionally talented young local artists.

The caliber of the poetry was like nothing I have have ever witnessed before. Spectacular poetry. I was particularly impressed by the amateurs who performed. So, so moving and evocative and powerful. Clearly I am not a poet, because I am utterly at a loss to describe how bodily and emotionally and intellectually I was moved by their words and performances. (Obviously I forgot to bring my audio recorder, so I tried to catch some sound using the video setting on my camera).

I have had a number of conversations with various people over the past several weeks about the surprising (to me) lack of anger that I sense in many of the people I have met here. I feel that if I were living in a Township, after having been forced to leave my home community because the ruling minority decided that my part of town was ‘desirable,’ if I saw these prosperous gated communities and massive wine farms and old white people driving Bentleys and Aston Martins I would be PISSED. One incredible Mama that I met, who had been a social justice advocate at a time when her colleagues were being assassinated, told me that it takes too much energy and eats away at you to hold on to all that anger and resentment. Another incredible Mama told us about when people had to wear a large placard around their necks, known as ‘dompas‘ (literally ‘dumb pass’), any time they wanted to leave the Township to go to town; this while she hosted my dad and I for lunch in her home and laughingly encouraged me to keep trying to learn to cook chakalaka.

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A pink BMW convertible drives past Mama’s house in the Township

These conversations generally lead to talking about how the students are angry, and I have touched on the student protests already in a previous post, but I don’t think I have adequately expressed how PISSED they are. I got a real taste of just how angry some of the students are last night.

The poets spoke about their anger at living in townships, about having been taught a history that glorifies their colonial oppressors, about being robbed of their culture and dignity, about the stupid wine farms. About seeing white people clutch a little more tightly at their bags and edge a little further away on the sidewalk when this particular young black man approaches. There were lots of fists clenched high in solidarity and protest. There was singing and cheering. I didn’t understand all of it, as a lot of the poetry was in Xhosa, but believe me when I say that I felt it. And I know that I barely grasped a fraction of what was going on due to my total lack of understanding of what it is to be South African.

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In this photo you can see the white suburb on the right, wine fields, the farm manor house at the far left, and the shacks on the lower right.

At one point, a performer asked the other poet on the stage, ‘Do you hate all white people?’ as part of the dialogue in their performance. Without missing a beat, someone in the front row shouted, ‘YES!’ and the room erupted. There was laughter – the outburst didn’t feel hostile or threatening – but there were for sure a few ‘Damn straights!’ in there as well.

Now let’s put this in perspective (from my perspective): easily 40-50% of the people in that room were white. Two of the poets were white, as was the DJ. And the white poets spoke very evocatively about the need for change. In that moment I felt strongly how little some South Africans feel has been accomplished in terms of achieving racial equity. At the same time and upon further reflection, I’m fairly certain that a mixed-race crowd erupting into laughter and cheering at a statement of ‘I hate black people’ would literally be national news.

A short while later, the MC came on stage and asked that these discussions be held respectfully and without hostility. He said that these are issues that must be discussed, in spite of discomfort and awkwardness, but they must be discussed in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation. Afterwards, Esme told us just how rare these discussions really are, that honest conversations about race and all that implies, in her understanding at least, are almost taboo among many South Africans.

And did I feel guilty, standing there in the back of that room? You bet I did (thank you Catholic upbringing). Shame flooded over me when the young man talked about seeing white people grasp at their purses at his approach. I may not have pulled that exact move (I hope), but I have been guilty of wondering if certain black men in a crowd are looking for an opportunity to snatch something of mine. To be fair, my white skin stands out like a neon sign in the Township, and at any given point in time I am usually carrying enough sellable stuff to literally change a person’s life (I’m saying literally too much, but it’s true). I have also been robbed by young black men at least six times in various countries in Africa. And the family I am staying with is constantly advising against my leaving the yard alone, to the point that they come and stand on the sidewalk in front of the house to wait for the bus with me (yes, it feels exactly like kindergarten). On Sunday afternoon I wanted to bring something to a Mama who lives half a block away and had to be accompanied by Mama’s daughter and three little kids. Are they acting in an overabundance of caution? Probably. And is it unfair to the residents of this community, who have been nothing but kind and welcoming to me? Absolutely. But guess what the narrative becomes if something bad happens to me or any other visitor to the Township? What then gets told of what is ‘true’ about this community?

At any rate, last night’s experience at InZync is not one I will soon forget. It has given me a lot to ponder about race, rage, and the powerfully painful legacies of colonialism (one of which, of course, is my presence here).

 

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 🙂

Feeling like a boss

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The view from my new abode in the Township

I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling pretty good about life these days. I had a wonderful trip to Thailand, connected there with some truly inspiring and fun people, and now I’m back ‘home’ in South Africa, ready for whatever lies ahead. And I came home to friends! My dear friend Jane, who was my boss when I was an intern in Tanzania back in 2008, was travelling with the new crop of interns and I was lucky enough to get back in time to spend the day with them before they flew home to Canada. The first part of the day involved a lovely stop at a vineyard, including an oddly gendered lunch:

Then we decided to drive down to the coast and look at the penguins. Penguins!! I saw them once before on Robbin Island, but these guys were just waddling around right next to us. Penguins!

They’re such funny little things. We capped off the day with a gorgeous sunset over the Cape and a fantastic seafood dinner on the ocean. IMG_3996IMG_20160414_190501756[1]

I loved being able to spend the day with my friend and to get to know the interns, who are so full of ideas and energy and I was invigorated just hearing about the work that they are initiating in Durban and Dar es Salaam. They reminded me a little bit of that first crop of interns from so long ago 🙂CIMG1743

And I came home to mail!! Honest to goodness, in the mail, stamped and everything mail!! I am a lucky human.On that note, I dig once again into The Greatest Gift, feeling pretty classy 😉IMG_4002

IMG_4003.JPGAhahaha, so wonderful! Thank you again and again Kimberly!  You’re right – no one would ever mistake us for classy, but we do have more fun than ‘normal’ people, whoever they might be! xox

And this is now my room 🙂IMG_4004

 

A detour within a detour: Addis Ababa edition

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What’s life without a little drama? After a very long delay in Bangkok with a broken plane engine (take all the time you need with that one), I arrived in Addis Ababa 30 minutes after my other flight left for Cape Town. *sigh* This has never actually happened to me before. So I stood in an unmoving line for a lifetime, remembered how to use my elbows, witnessed some very undignified adult male tantrums, sat in a shuttle van in the parking lot for another lifetime, then arrived at my (comped) hotel only to wait for my room key to be fixed and for someone to know how to connect to the wifi.

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The view from my hotel room. I enjoy the bus.

But yay! I was sad when I booked my flights and saw that I would not have time to get out of the airport and explore, so surprise trip! The guys in my hotel are awesome and they connected me with a taxi driver/tour guide who would drive me around and show me the highlights. He’s a pretty cute young guy, if I may say so 🙂

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My new friend and his Lada taxicab. I have no idea how he keeps it running.

I tried to explain to these guys that what I would really like to do is to go to some central part of the town (my hotel is near the airport) to just be able to wander around for a bit, maybe have a bite and some coffee, and actually feel like I spent some time in the city, but I don’t think this translated very well. I decided to just roll with it – there’s something to be said for learning about what people think you want to see, after all.

My young friend kept taking me to these wonderful Orthodox Ethiopian churches – which I had had no idea was a thing – and while they were beautiful, enough is enough with the church thing. Outside of one he stopped next to a vendor and asked if I would like to have a Aksum cross. I awkwardly mumbled a ‘no thank you’ and we started to walk on, but after a few steps he turned back and bought me one! I was so blown away. That’s when I realized that his showing me the churches isn’t about the buildings (I think), but rather about trying to share with me how much they mean in his life. He must have thought I was a proper heathen because everyone else seemed to make quite elaborate gestures of respect and genuflection upon entering not only the church but also the church grounds, but I did behave myself.

We also visited the bones of Lucy in the drab little national museum and I was again struck by how much he wanted me to learn about his culture and history. To me the museum was dull – I would much rather sit in a bus station all day and watch the people go by – but I might be a weird tourist like this.

My favourite part of our interaction this afternoon, was how often my host asked to take photos. At first I thought he was asking me to take photos, when I wasn’t taking the requisite tourist shots, but then I realized that he himself wanted to be taking the pictures! He has a wonderful eye and we spent a bit of time talking about how the camera works.

He also caught this video, which I love. The little fella at the end was so curious about the camera and I was hoping to let him play with it for a bit, but my new friend thought I was looking for someone to take a photo, rather than looking to let that specific kid have a go.

Then, at the end of the afternoon, my host asked if he could take me out for dinner and a beer! Yay! We went to the cultural center, which reminded me very much of the restaurant where we had the conference gala dinner in Chiang Mai – lots of ‘traditional’ artifacts and ‘traditional’ dancing and LOTS of tourists, and it was a wonderfully fun evening. The dancing completely blew me away. This is me embracing the liminal ‘third space’ of tourism, lol. And shiro mmmm. I embraced lots and lots of shiro!!