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The Rainbow Nation Comes To Life

Friday, June 5, 2009

From #DSAS09 Iowa Group Pictures

The morning wakeup call in South Africa must be the obnoxious sound of birds squawking through the window and the buzzer of the alarm in your ear. Let me tell you, it was quite unpleasant, but it did get me out of bed and into a nice warm, refreshing shower. Once dressed warmly for the day, I went down to breakfast to find that the South African breakfast is quite like an American one. Scrambled eggs were there along with a wide variety of fruit and some sausage and bacon that looked a little different then it did the United States but tasted much the same. From there we went to a lecture hall in the building next door which is now a school and used to be a prison. How fitting. Sometimes school may just feel like a prison. But this buildings walls were quite thick, a least 2 feet in some places.
The lecture was probably one of the best I have ever been to, quite informing and interesting. And allow me to clarify something from my last blog. The word Coloured here simply means of mixed origins, such as Asian or Indian. In South Africa the word is not used as an insult. The word native here is an insult though and it would not be considered one while in the United States. During the lecture I also learned a lot about the history of the Apartheid. I found interest in the fact that South Africa has only been a democratic nation for the past 14 years. This means that while I have been alive, their freedom struggle was occurring. Also, most of the people that I have talked to here so far have been part of that struggle. I thought the information about how South Africa is the most diverse in their ecological system and is home to the fastest (cheetah), the largest (elephant), the smallest (shrew), the tallest (giraffe), and the most spider, snake, and scorpion species than anywhere else in the world.
After the lecture we were able to visit one of the Black townships called, Langa, meaning the sun. Here I was quite surprised and shocked at what I saw. As we listened to the tour guide speak about the township in which she lived as she walked us through it I found it amazing that with all the resources we have people can live with so little. After the Apartheid, the government went into townships such as this one and started to rebuild. The government then ran out of money and were left to tell the people we will finish when the funds come available. Many of the people have lost hope. Rebuilding the townships present another issue, though. Once the housing is rebuilt the cost of living there goes up. Some people cannot afford these higher costs and therefore have to find somewhere else to live. In each house of the township about 3-4 families live. Inside the house there is a shared dining area among the families and a room for each of the families to live in. The families come together to take care of electrical and other costs. To say to least the township houses are quite small. Outside of the housing units I saw clothes hanging on the lines and trash spewed all over the ground, because people didn’t have the resources to sweep up trash after it spilled over when putting it into the garbage cans. In this particular township at least 35% of the people were unemployed. As the guide explained they were not sitting around and doing nothing, they were out looking for jobs and places they could make money to help support their families. While there the children of houses came out to greet us. Our guide explained that they were saying, "Here come the White people." This was an excitement for them and they posed for all the pictures we took. There was also a small shop in that township where many of us bought homemade jewelry and other handcrafted items. While leaving the township our in country associate told us something that really made me think. He said, "This is not about a way of life, this is about survival."
We next stopped at another township that had a story of a woman that was quite inspirational. This townships name was Khayalitsha. In this township there was a lady by the name of Rosie. In order to understand the story of Rosie I need to explain the living conditions of Rosie. Rosie lived in a small shack. About 1/3 the size of a school bus. That is where she cooked, slept, and lived. This shack did not have air conditioning or heating, it barely had a door. All of the places where people live in Cape Town are quite close together especially in the townships. One night in a shack next to Rosie’s a candle was tipped over and the neighbors shack caught on fire. This fire spread like dominos and soon more than 300 shacks in the township were gone. Rosie escaped safely, but then went back inside the blazing shack to grab her to children. While doing this Rosie received some quite serious burns on her neck and arms. The burns were still visible when we saw her today, 20 years after the fire happened. The true inspiration I found in this lady was more than overcoming not having anywhere to live. It was the mere story of a lady who has a dream that someday no child will go to bed with an empty stomach in Cape Town. Each and every day Rosie gets up at 4:00a.m. to start the meals she cooks for the children. She cooks all day long feeding the children breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At first a local Catholic Church was helping her pay for all of the supplies, but now the church can no longer afford to help and she is left to pay for it all by herself. She receives day old bread from the bakery each day for free, 25 trays to be exact. At each meal she feeds anywhere from 200-350 children in her tiny little kitchen and shack. The children love Rosie and standing there watching everything this amazing lady uses to cook, pots and a small fire lit stove, the scene made me fall in love with this amazing lady too. Hopefully someday Rosie’s dream will come true.
After visiting these townships I feel thankful and way over privileged for what I have in my life. I realized that it is small people with big hearts, like Rosie, that make the world a better place to live in. Though what I have experienced in the townships is quite hard to describe, I know that today’s experience will affect the person I become in the future.
For lunch we went to a local church that cooked us up a traditional African meal. There was a beef stew, cabbage, butternut squash, and some delicious pudding. The people at the church explained how important the church was to the township in which it sat. At the church people from all colors and kinds came to rejoice. No tension rested there as everyone was accepted. Throughout my journey through the townships I was quite impressed with everything I saw regarding how accepting people were to White people. This proved that the Apartheid truly was over. I was also surprised at how close high income housing was to the townships, practically across the street. South Africa is becoming a nation of one.
Today’s weather though was still bad. Due to the cold front that was moving in on the coast the guides decided to not risk going out to Robben Island because they weren’t quite sure we would be able to get back. Instead we did a backup plan for incase the weather is still bad tomorrow and we can’t go on the cage dive. We got a scuba diving lesson in a pool of the South African coast. The pool was outside and with a temperature of less than 60 degrees I can be the first one to tell you that the water was anything but warm. The water was about 55 degrees and even in a wetsuit I was freezing. Scuba diving was amazing, though, even if it was in a pool. The ability to breath underwater gives me indefinite possibilities. With the lessons we received today, our plan is if the weather is still bad we will go to the local aquarium on Sunday and scuba dive in their exhibits. After our dives the nice helper of the instructor gave us all hot chocolate to warm up on our bus ride back to the hotel. There we washed up and got ready for dinner at a great local restaurant.
At dinner I ate a Prego Role. By far one of the best foods I have eaten since being in South Africa. A Prego Role is merely a steak coated in a tangy barbeque sauce on a bun. The chips "also known as fries" that went with it were also quite delicious. At dinner Robben Island came to us, as the principal of the school on Robben Island came to speak. It was interesting to find that only 22 children attend the school there and these are grades first through seventh. For these children there are 3 teachers. The children at these schools learn the basics and due to the budget cuts no longer get any of the arts. Although learning the basics does include learning all of South African’s 7 languages. And I thought it was hard learning 2.
As my day in Cape Town came to an end and the rain continues to pour on the roof, I guess all I can do is cross my fingers for some good weather tomorrow to participate in the cage dive, a once in a lifetime opportunity to see nature at its best and at only one amazing and culturally astounding spot in the world, Cape Town, South Africa.


Liz said...

We miss the blogs. Know you have been busy and under the weather, but are hoping to see a new posting soon. Safe travels to Joburg. Sure you are anxious to start your adventure there as well.

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Essential Programs Details

Duration 12 days
When June 2nd - 13th, 2009
Focus Wildlife Research/Conservation
Political History