Safari

I went on Safari through the Aquila Preserve and it was AWESOME. Highly recommended to anyone visiting Cape Town! It was a two and a half hour drive but they picked us up right at our hotel and took us out to the preserve which was a stunning drive. I hesitated to go on Safari here because it isn’t a true African Safari as it is on a preserve, not out in the wild. However, this preserve is nearly 25,000 acres (40 square miles) and still growing. Also, it is a honorable organization that has rescued it’s animals and never rests in its fight against poachers that illegally trespass to harm them. The rangers all have a deep knowledge of the plants and animals that they house, which they rattle of with unbelievably fast recollection as they, themselves, take you through the Safari. Trust me, you hardly felt that you were within gates. Most importantly, it didn’t seem like the animals felt that way either.

Myself and another on my trip, Molly, were the only two to make the journey. We went on both the classic Jeep Safari ride and then on a whim decided to go horseback riding through as well. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. As she said “When words don’t do it justice, there are pictures!” And since my pictures don’t do it justice either, I’ll just have to throw in a few of hers…

Full list of animals we saw: Hippos, Elephants, Elands, Springbok, Giraffes, Rhinos, Zebras, and of course, Lions.

P.S. Ask me to see videos and hear specific stories of the elephants charging our Jeep, getting a flat tire just before the lions den, if you want to know what Rhino dung smells like, fascinating facts about the animals, and other details!

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District 6/Robben Island

District 6 Museum

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District 6 is the site of one of the most notable forced removals of the Apartheid regime. The museum chronicling this heinous relocation is a church which remarkably still stands above the bones of the community that once called this area home. Many of them continue to refer to it as their home, but District 6 does not exist anymore. It was demolished. Half was reconstructed as a suburban residence for more “desirable” tenants. The other half remains an undeveloped wasteland.

Our guide in the museum grew up in District 6 before it was destroyed in the 1970s. He sang choir in the very church the museum now inhabits, the very place we stood. He was classified as “coloured”, which here means that he was multi-racial. He identified himself as such as well as the majority of those who comprised District 6. It is still a widely used term in South Africa from my experience however there are some indications that its use is being called into question. Our guide, like many others I’d met, did not shy away from the term. He talked a lot about color. He talked about how it was wholly insignificant. He stated that it didn’t matter if one was brown, white, blue, green, … or pink. It is all pointless derision in a world we are meant to share.

Our guide was endearing and amusing all while taking us through his own story and the painful past we were surrounded by. At it’s peak, District six was home to one-tenth of Cape Town’s population. It was a lively community mostly comprised of families of former slaves and Malay people brought by the East India Trading Company. The intersectionality, particularly prevalence of interracial relationships, led to the government declaring this active, developed, and primly located area to be a slum. Shortly tImage result for district 6 south africa then and nowhereafter, forced removals began. Whole families were relocated to a bleak, out-of-the-way, plot carrying all they could fit of their lives in a single suitcase. The area, their lives, their furniture and belongings were razed to the ground leaving only places of worship to survey the ruin.

The museum now houses numerous artifacts which had been recovered from the wreckage. Tea cups, cabinets, recipe books, and other signs of life are repositioned to emulate what it was meant to be like. Poetry about pain, confusion, and transition decorates the walls, the floors, and tapestries. The museum has many placards which attempt to describe what happened here. To me, it felt like a memorializing vigil following a death. The lives lost and deemed unimportant live on through this church and through the voice of tour guides like ours who were there. I felt a sense of urgency for this story to be told and retold long after those who witnessed it themselves have passed. Broken china, baby shoes, and photographs have been cemented into the walls. While time proceeds their stories remain ensconced there.

Robben Island

The next place we went was to the V&A Waterfront to board a catamaran for our much anticipated trip to Robben Island. The V&A Waterfront is the center for shops and restaurants overlooking the harbor. It is upscale and beautiful. The harbor was filled with colorful ships and seals that dipped in the water and hid in the buffer tires. We walked around for a bit but soon rushed over to the catamaran, knowing we’d be there later and not wanting to risk the potential of being left behind. Half of us doped up on dramamine, we boarded for the 45 minute ride out to Robben Island.

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After a breathtaking trip across the water with some of the most awe-inspiring views I’ve ever seen, we docked at Robben Island. Our boat filed us off onto the same platform that once received political prisoners such as the African National Congress activist Walter Sisulu, Pan Africanist Congress founder Robert Sobukwe, and of course Nelson Mandela. 

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Rolihlahla was his birth-given name, which is significant because culture dictates that a child is beholden to the meaning of their name. Rolihlahla literally means “pulling at branches of trees”, colloquially it means “troublemaker”, or more formally “one who disturbs the established order.” If that isn’t a premonition then I don’t know what is. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for political agitation and threatening to overthrow the state. He was 44 years old, married, and father to several children that he loved dearly. He spent 27 years a prisoner, 18 years of which were spent on Robben Island.

Mandela has said that he went into prison an angry man but through consternation and deep thought he found peace. His spirit was weakened by his dwindling connection to family. For 18 years he slept on a single mat on the floor, the windows barred but open to any condition outside. He, and the other political prisoners, remained separated from the general populous to ensure the absence of any semblance of hope. Prison guards ruthlessly attacked prisoner’s dignity and self-worth at every opportunity. They would humiliate them, tamper with their letters to and from home, and deny them basic needs of survival. When media outlets came to the island they quickly reassembled the prisoners, made it seem that the work they were given was far more humane than it truly was, and fully clothed Mandela to propagandize the facility. In actuality Mandela spent every day in a pit mining limestone without any proper protection whatsoever. The limestone was so bright it nearly blinded the prisoners, leading to Mandela having to get reconstructive surgery on his eyes following his imprisonment. The treatment of Mandela and the other prisoners of Robben Island led to the UN to amend their Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, first constituted in 1957. They called the revision the Nelson Mandela Rules in hopes that the treatment he suffered could never be repeated.

Examples of Propaganda Images
Left: Mandela speaks to a reporter. In actuality prisoners, particularly black prisoners, were never given this much clothing. They typically wore only a pair of pants.
Right: The first row of prisoners are those on criminal charges. They are breaking limestone into smaller pieces in the yard while the back row of political prisoners sew. Limestone was never brought to the yard, sewing was not labor forced on the political prisoners. They all did hard labor and were never permitted to be together on the premises.

We took a bus tour of the island seeing each facility. Robben Island began as a leper colony. Once the disease claimed the lives of the entire colony officials came to the island to declare it the site of a maximum security prison. The colony was buried in shallow graves and construction began on the island. We saw homes for the guards, the warden’s home, and solitary confinement cells that were later used to house guard dogs. Our bus narrowly avoided crossing turtles along thin lanes and waddles of penguins sleeping in the underbrush.

(Penguins are called waddles when there is a group of them on land! EEEEEEE!)

Image result for invictus poemWe pulled further inland to the quarry where Nelson Mandela labored every day. Little did I know, we were looking at a major site of education. Many of the prisoners were uneducated. They learned to write by drawing letters in the sand during their work. Mandela did all he could to procure books on history and philosophy for the prisoners to study. The place has been emotionally reclaimed from a place of cruel forced labor to one of resiliency.

We also had the harrowing experience of seeing the cell Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in. Here is where he quietly recited the poem Invictus to empower himself and the other prisoners with the belief that while stripped of all else they were still the masters of their fate. It is impossible to imagine what it was like, even after baring witness to the conditions he actually endured. The most unbelievable aspect to me is the fact that he nurtured no bitterness to his captors. In fact, he used his time on the island to seek enlightenment and allow the experiences to become integral to his political and moral positions proclaimed later in life.

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At the end of the day we got back on the catamaran. Table Mountain could be seen clearly from almost any point on the island. Nelson Mandela regularly looked to same view and is quoted saying, “During the many years of incarceration on Robben Island, we often looked across Table Bay at the magnificent silhouette of Table Mountain. To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return.” As our boat drew further away from the dock the visage of Table Mountain over Cape Town became clearer. I turned around to see Robben Island quickly receding into the distance, a dark shadow of our collective past.

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CAMST/Capetonian Adventures

Breakfast with Dr. Jansen

Dr. Jonathan Jansen is a rare and inspiring occurrence of human that is simultaneously understanding, deeply intelligent, and hysterical. Following our surprise attendance to his book talk, we had the honor of hosting him at our bed and breakfast. From the moment he sat down to the beautiful breakfast prepared by An African Villa staff he had us drawn in with incredible insight and falling back in fits of laughter.

He instilled us with the immediate need to care without constraint. Love another person without question, without regard for how they look, pray, love, or where they come from. This experience as a whole has solidified in me the reality that whatever the variation of life may be it is inconsequential to how they should be treated. Despite how the world and it’s arbitrary regulations may seek to divide us, love is the most important practice. One may garner an immense amount of material wealth, but live ignoring the universal, painful truth – you can’t take it with you. Dr. Jansen’s simple solution, “So give it all away!” Learn to love, leave that behind instead.

Perhaps Dr. Jansen was doing a fair bit of catering to his audience, like any great orator. He acknowledged that race relations, and the whole world for that matter, are changing rapidly. He attributes much of this to women. Looking around the table at all of the powerful women I’ve shared this experience with I was frankly unsurprised. He told us one of the small ways in which he has come to realize this,

When a baby is brought into a room – any baby at all – all women share the same sentiment.
Awwwwwwww!

Now when that same baby enters a room, but this time filled with men, they all stand and rush to declare, “That isn’t mine!”

For this world to stand a chance, separations cannot be sustained. Leadership means going against the grain and doing that which people do not expect. When trying another’s morality you must remember to look upwards to the environment that created such an individual. This goes for all institutions be it a university, country, or family. Dr. Jansen happily admits that his son has grown to be better than he himself had endeavored to be. This is because the environment his son was raised in allowed him to extend farther than those before him could. Maybe we are meant to exceed expectations and leave a world a better place at the very least through undying efforts to improve ourselves.

A major topic of discussion was ‘Reprisal’. This classically describes a function of culture following warfare in which life and land is reclaimed by the initial proprietor. This can be seen on through a smaller and more modern lens as means of solidifying racial division and maintenance to the status quo. There are several tactics which accomplish this. The first is ‘The Stare.’ The noticeable pause taken by those that witness a disruption to expectation. As if one simply cannot believe what they are seeing with their own eyes. Dr. Jansen exemplified this as the elongated glare that is often directed at those engaging in an interracial relationship. The second is ‘The Snipe.’ This is a vocalization of contempt which masquerades as meer inquiry. The final act is ‘The Snub.’ Socially, this could be as simple as overlooking an invitation to the ostracized to partake in ‘normal’ activity. Historically, this describes when a discriminatory law is repealed but the practice continues anyway. Here is where the pretense of scientific practice, an exactitude of discrimination, weasels its way into society before anyone thinks to question the model behavior. Social reform quickly decays to “as you were.” In this sense, Reprisal makes legislation unnecessary as people tend to take it upon themselves to police their preferred narrative.

The tendency of Reprisal extends far beyond those either perpetrating it or on the receiving end. Perspective is developed from “what you learn on your mother’s knee.” The home that you come from, the school you attended, and the religion you were raised under are all integral aspects of who you are. Interestingly, these facets of the fabric of ‘you’ are also completely outside of your locus of control. It is our duty to create an environment which enriches children to become better, to exceed expectations. To do so, offer a counterargument for every story meant to describe ‘normalcy’. Encourage “border crossers and margin testers.” Look to the exceptional and study that which does not make sense. Never forget that the children are always watching, therefore they are becoming.

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The Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science, and Technology

Following breakfast, we rushed off to our next appointment. This rather set the pace for the day. We drove out into the country, ears popping as we entered a new mountain range. Deep in a valley, the location and building once occupied by a juvenile detention center, now sits The Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science, and Technology.

At the end of Apartheid the Education Act required that all learning must become mainstream. This did not, however, account for reform schools leading to their abrupt closure. The owner of this particular estate, which at the time housed four reform schools (one for white boys, black boys, white girls, and black girls, respectively), offered an endowment for the revitalization of the location. This would encourage funding towards youth development in the area. In an odd turn of events, the previously uninvolved US claimed the reform school for white girls. The school for black boys up the mountain became a police and justice academy as well as focus on rehabilitation and life skills education. Following a global and national trend towards science education the final facility was bought in order to further these interests. Thus, the academy was born.

IMG_9839In the states we are all familiar with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) route. The principal of this academy jokingly offered his condolences to American education for being so far behind, as at this academy they are practicing STREAM. This stands for Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Aviation, and Mathematics. You’ll come to agree that this academy is a monumental accomplishment. Through generous funding they offer incredible bursaries for learning for students from areas of poverty. I could hardly believe my eyes at what knowledge was made available to them. The success of this program is in part due to funding, but also incredibly dedicated and knowledgable teachers, motivated students who are tested to create a robot using their phone in an two-day period in order to get in, and a passionate principal. These students achieve heights that is seldom offered to every population in the country. Quite literally, as the school has produced four pilots already and currently has eight rising. For their first two years of operation they had a 100% passing rate. Since then their lowest year of matriculation was in 2012, with an 89.7% passing rate. The principal toured us through the campus, where the students are invited to live, and then treated us to a presentation of their methods. This school was truly a masterful achievement which ensures me that the world has not heard the last from South Africa.

Groot Constantia Winery

Realizing our prime position in the mountains where many of the wineries are fixed, we devised a plan to go to a winery for lunch. Little did I know that it would be the oldest winery in South Africa. Groot Constansia, founded in 1685. There we enjoyed Pinotage, a South African wine blend, and “the best chardonnay in the world.” We walked around the vastly spreading vineyards past signs warning of Baboons. We had an amazing meal in the restaurant… I ate Kudu. It came highly recommended by the waiter and I just had to try something out of the ordinary. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Since being here I also ate an Ostrich burger and lots of local seafood!

Table Mountain

Not wanting our incredible Cape Town adventure to end we rushed to the Table Mountain cable car to reach the top of the mountain just before sunset. It was breathtaking. There we saw Mountain Dassies, mountain ranges extending out past our view, and the whole of Cape Town all the way out to Robben Island.

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Green Market

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While we didn’t fit this in on this particular day, while I’m going over some of the side activities we did, Green Market was a fun one. There we bartered for our “curios”. If I do say so myself I had a knack for it, as some of the venders referred to me as “tough lady.”

Cape Town has proven itself to be a city of adventure, abundant culture, and endless possibility. I have had an unbelievable experience with the people, the neighborhoods, and omnipresent visage of Table Mountain. It’s funny to think that this place that never seemed within my reach now keeps re-entering my daydreams of my future.

Ikamva Labantu

Thursday morning we drove into the landlocked Gugulethu township which presents an uncanny comparison by way of appearance and systemic difficulties to those surrounding Jozi. This township, once one of the most uproarious locations of Apartheid, continues to be marked with hardship and despair. In the face of such destitution the community admirably bases itself in tranquility and peace. The meaning of Gugulethu is “Our Pride”. This attitude exudes from the people and their children’s facility, Ikamva Labantu – The Rainbow Centre.

We were connected to this care program through Infinite Family, the same supporting foundation of Nkosi’s Haven. When we arrived I wasn’t sure what to expect but that I’ve become accustomed to this being par for the course. As our bus pulled off the township road and into the fenced-in facility I was pleasantly surprised to find it comparatively well-resourced and artfully decorated. We were given a tour by the leader of the organization. The grounds were a truly impressive given the circumstances. On Nelson Mandela day they had welcomed some volunteers who had freshly painted their courtyard with the colors of the South African Flag and began installing intricate murals. Art is a highly present expression of culture in every area we’ve visited. We stepped into their office which had a table lined with brochures to promote their mission, a small kitchen directly adjacent, and a large, chair-lined meeting room. We continued down the corridor passing a playground on our left and the center for Early Childhood development on our right. The effort that had gone into this space was obvious. It reflected many research-based and practically planned education centers I had seen in the United States. The walls were filled with colors, educational material, and student artwork. The rest of the center was dedicated to Child and Youth Enrichment. There was a technology center with about a dozen computers and several classrooms. I was caught off guard by their questions posed to us on improving their ability to approach the students with individualized education plans of their own design as well as lessons on life-skills, academic support, and educational aspects related to aspects the students enjoy, such as their sports and free time. These are currently explored and utilized theories in the states that they are already beginning to incorporate into their after-care program.

The women who run this facility work with consistent effort to provide for their students, all of whom belong to the surrounding township, both academically and emotionally. We began by introducing ourselves and then broke into our typical routine of introducing the “True Colors” personality quiz and discussing some “best practice” features of education. We later went on to do similar procedures with a group of teens from the program. They took the “True Colors” quiz, played our games, and laughed along with us. As we regrouped to come up with more activities for them to partake in one of the children came up to us and said that they wanted to teach us a game. Of course we all excitedly agreed. We played Master-to-Jack, a game of memory and song which has been stuck in my head ever since.

The most enthralling aspect of our day happened early while we were still sitting with the staff. This is also the note I will leave this post on. One of our group, Dr. Darcella Sessomes, had the amazing forethought to ask the women sitting around us if there was one thing we were to take back to the states to tell people about South Africa, what would they want that to be. The women looked around modestly as they thought. However, it didn’t take long for one to answer. Once the silence was broken it seemed the answers flowed through them all.

“Tell them where we live.”

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Dear Reader,

They want you to know where it is they actually live and what their community looks like. They do not live in houses, they live in shacks which leak with rain and disassemble when the wind blows. They have no money for heaters come winter.

There are entire families cramped into one room. Shacks are shared by a multitude of tenants. The admirable beliefs of their society have them take in one another, cousins and community members alike. The elderly live along with the community, providing care for children while lacking in the very care they themselves desperately need.

There are no jobs, most people are not working despite their dire need to. Most in the community have never been educated. They have no skills. They have no qualifications. They are a community without work so they have no food. They cannot feed themselves or their children. The money that is made by those with work are never enough to sustain them. The economy is stubbornly inflated. Their dismal wages hardly afford to make a dent in the suffering of their families and communities.

“We are struggling.”

The community works to provide what little they have for their children. However, there is nothing for students with disabilities. If they have a learning difficulty there is no way of meeting their needs. They will stay in the community, without a chance of becoming educated.

Dashed of hope at a young age, children begin to abuse substances. They do drugs and drink alcohol to cope with the unhappiness that they will live to inherit from their community. The caretakers at the facility try to teach them but in the end it is the child’s decision. If they do not see the point of getting help then they won’t. Young learners stop returning to this facility without notice on a daily basis.

HIV/AIDS status is not disclosed to the caretakers. When a child is sick they have no way of knowing until their visible symptoms present themselves. At this point it is too late. They don’t get to the hospital.

Beautiful women turn to prostitution to fend of the hunger that threatens them and their siblings. They have dignity, they are doing what they never thought they could. But they do this thinking of their babies. There is trafficking and killing. They ask you to never stop praying for this province to become a better and safe place for their children.

“Some are bad, but there are more beautiful stories.”

Crime is inherent to any impoverished country. Do not let that stop you from coming here. Spend money here to help them grow. Many people work to entertain you with song and dance. There are many areas to encourage you to come. If you can, donate to the orphans and their schools, it is their community’s greatest hope.

Through all of this pain, the women also want you to know, and I can concur, that this is a beautiful country. They are deeply proud of their province and prodigious heritage. This is evidenced by Mandela day, which I had the luck of witnessing for myself. This tradition, which touches the hearts of every South African, brings out the best in each community and individual. The history of Robben Island lives in all of them. They are artists, fighters, and ones who hope without measure. This is a country born in the crucible of democracy.

“Above the struggles we’ve been through I look to Cape Town and we are still strong. Tomorrow is a new day, anything can happen.”

If you would like to donate to this organization, follow this link.  http://ikamva.org.za/donate-now/us/

I know that I’ve now linked to several organizations to donate to. The blog I am writing is required by the program as well as a way for me to communicate my experiences, not to encourage donation. However, in my experience, these are incredibly worthy organizations that have withstood overwhelming circumstances. I link them to you in the hopes that if you feel a particular connection to one of these locations or an interest in helping in general, this is an extremely valuable and direct way that you can make a significant difference.

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For reference I’ve attached a picture of some of my spending money while in South Africa. First reason, because the Rand is a super cool currency. Second and most importantly, pictured is R150. This covers, for example, almost 20 children’s yearly tuition charges at Teboho Trust, or many important school supplies, sanitary products, and shoes which are all desperately needed by learners. R150 is currently equivalent to $11.50 US dollars.

Anything can help.

As always, thank you for reading.

Cape Town

Goodbye to Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa. A city of tourism that bats its eyes at the intense wealth disparity then quickly forgets as they move on to their next pleasantry. Mercedes-Benz luxury cars, fountain drink cups rattling with change, an economic powerhouse built on the backs of gold-rush era slaves. A place where you are regarded as either brave or nefarious for being out after dark. After only being there for what felt like a moment we were off to Cape Town.

Image result for cape town driveWe boarded a flight to this sister city, connected by interests of cargo and globetrotters alike. I saw out the window a drastic difference in scenery. I marveled at the verdant green shrubbery and trees amidst tall orange mountains. I stared in silence until the woman next to me, a “Joburg” native, tut-tutted at the same view. She commented in disappointment, “Nothing what it used to be.” I asked how she meant. She informed me of the crippling drought affecting the country. I was surprised, having been in the country for nearly a week, that I hadn’t heard anything. The country is in the crux of a crippling water shortage which has parched the dams and reduced water usage to 18%, still declining. This winter, the season which is typically the rainiest, has seen the driest weather in a century. The effects of this severe state of affairs will be felt nationwide for at least 3 years and much longer for the Western Cape.

After thinking about it for some time I couldn’t help but to begin to associate my ignorance of this mounting situation with my lodging. I was staying at a very nice hotel in one of the most affluent boroughs of Johannesburg. My stay was picturesque. Bottled water was free in the lounge, I was welcome to use any facility at my leisure, and I enjoyed long, hot, showers at the end of the day. I enjoyed all of this half the time without even knowing I was enjoying it. It was just what was indebted to me by virtue of my debit sitting at the concierge desk. I was blissfully unaware. Like I said, my stay was picturesque. I had managed to afford to frame myself in a world where climate did not apply to me. I wonder what it would take to force all walks of life to salvage their resources, as prosperity is hardly sustainable.

From the moment we landed I was, and enduringly am, wiped out. Our new driver for the week, Derek, picked us up from the airport. He brought us to our new temporary home, An African Villa. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate this absolutely charming bed and breakfast at the foot of Table Mountain until I had a nice rest. However, we were told to unpack in 20 minutes and arrive back downstairs, ready to drive an hour and a half down the cape … to go to a bookstore. Now I love bookstores as much as the next guy but to say I was less than pleased at these plans was an understatement. A bookstore, now? Really?

Nevertheless, like the loyal sheep I am, I slumped back on the bus. We drove down the cape, which was breathtakingly beautiful though at the time it elicited nothing more from me than a yawn. At long last we pulled up to a small bookstore just off the harbor. The air was salty and cool. We stepped inside to what was already a packed audience. Our professor slyly smiled at us and told us to grab ourselves some complimentary wine and find a place that we’d be able to see from.

A slightly less riotous version of myself stood in the back of the room with a glass of Chardonnay. I scanned the room, gathering clues. There were two unoccupied seats in front of the crowd. So surely there would be a speaker, likely an author. However, unlike other book talks I’ve attended in the US there was no display of books from any particular author. The most perplexing detail was the crowd itself. The room was filled to the brim with middle aged to elderly white Afrikaners. This was not the demographic I had become accustomed to engaging with while in South Africa. While it may be improper to insinuate, the reality of this situation is that the population of the room was the very same population I had learned was on the opposite side of Apartheid. It took me a moment to shake off my unfounded apprehension and realize that I may have had “an in” with these people. They might as well be my grandparents had circumstances, language, culture, and just about everything else been different. I turned backwards to face the elderly couple behind me and put on my most grand-daughterly smile and asked the very specifically phrased question, “So are you looking forward to this?”

The husband answered, “Well, I actually was until a bunch of young people came in and effectively ruined my evening.”

I looked back at him apologetically. ABORT, you idiot. Thank god I hadn’t asked my real question, “So which old white guy was I dragged here to see?”

The man’s wife lightly slapped his hand and smiled back at me. “I am so looking forward because every time I’ve heard him speak he’s had such wonderful things to say about the country. The things that Professor Jansen has done for education are really astounding.”

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Jansen! We were seeing Jonathan Jansen! This is the author of Knowledge in the Blood, a required text in preparation for this course. He is an esteemed professor and South African native that withstood the effects of Apartheid and has since written many books on the transformations being undergone by the country’s education system, government in general, student body, and population at large. I was delighted. Partially, because this meant I would be able to navigate this conversation with much more ease. Mostly, because I was so excited to hear more from this incredible figure, in person and in his own country. Admittedly, it also had something to do with the success of my meddling and dashing of Dr. Clarke’s plan to keep us in the dark.

This discovery began a rather interesting conversation with the couple about their lives and occupations. The woman was a founder of Training and Resources in Early Education (TREE), a non-profit organization which works to educate children in rural areas who would otherwise not have access. The man worked in a game preserve where he was taught to identify trees with his eyes closed by feeling the bark and smelling the leaves. I couldn’t resist but to ask them what their lives were like during the Apartheid era. The man resolutely stated that they fought against the government. He remembers the day a neighbor grumbled about the constant cuts in power (a common issue here) but bemoaned the fact that they, my conversation partners, never seemed to lose it at all – even on their telephone line. Shortly after he began to notice on a daily basis that the same van parked across from their house. He learned he was being watched by MOSS, an organization designed to spy on those who are known to resist government legislation. So, one morning not unlike any other, the woman made tea and the husband walked outside, knocked on the window of the van, and invited those inside to enjoy a drink with them for they had nothing to hide. The same van was not seen again afterwards.

Without any further ado, Jonathan Jansen walked out and sat before the a crowd fixed in admiration. He discussed his new book As by Fire: The End of the South African University. Following the event I bought myself a copy and had him sign it. He was in on the surprise and laughed at his chance to trick the Rutgers students. This book chronicles the aggressive reaction that universities have had as a result of the tumultuous economic, political, and social environment wrought by a country in turmoil. His discussion on the book brought up questions of justice, appropriate reaction, and institutional change that are common throughout his work. At the end of his discussion he opened the floor to questions which the crowd seemed poised to partake in. I’ll do my best to appropriately represent the opinions of Dr. Jansen and the crowd.

The involvement of students in protest has become a national issue following an unprecedented escalation in disorder. This brought about talk of any specific university’s influence on their student population. In their history, during Apartheid and otherwise, protests had not mounted to the degree of violence and disdain for social order which they have now. The elders of the community are left asking how things have gotten to this level in, what seems to them, such short notice. At the University of Cape Town, among others, there have been intense criticisms of the increasing fees and a call for nationwide “decolonization” of the curricula. In short this means that no longer do the students want to be taught the lessons which have been mandated by their oppressors but a more inclusionary view from their heroes and their heritage. This has incited a string of protests that resulted in the death of one individual on campus in the last year. Colonialism, though it has been publicly denounced, continues to affect daily life and institutions throughout the country under the guise of being the standard of higher education. This continues to marginalize histories and knowledge of various communities into the category of “other” and therefore less worthy of attention. Dr. Jansen agrees with the decolonization of South African education as, frankly, they are no longer a colony. However he fiercely opposes the loss of the right to education. A university is meant to be a stronghold for higher-thinkers. When met with such violence they no longer become a safe haven for knowledge. Riot gear has become commonplace, professors fear going to work, students fear school. This cannot happen. This is not something that can be changed by political leadership as it would require an upheaval of government as a whole.

“If you think that you can eradicate racism, you cannot.”

Institutional racism is prevalent and will remain. Institutions change remarkably slowly. The student movement – the student heart – is a powerful and effective force. However, when a protest can be twisted to represent propensities towards racism, classism, sexism, and ultimately violence then the cause is lost. Political parties that would seek to advance their own agendas take particular interest in the unrest of students and manipulate this. Diplomatically, there is great value in distraction. It’s true that learning institutions must be held accountable and must morph to the times and learners present. They cannot continue to justify themselves under the pretense of proper educational practice without continued reformation. The reality is that this does not happen overnight or even, in this case, within 30 years. Moving forward, attention must be drawn to increasing government funding because there is simply not enough. Student protests, in general, tend to be non-racist which is a meaningful example to the rest of the country. Dr. Jansen recognizes the need for such agitation, however continues to advocate for each individual’s right to education despite any circumstance. This includes circumstances which make universities an uninhabitable space by means of misconduct and scare tactics. 

Jonathan Jansen’s conveyance of reflection was an honor to be witness to. In case anyone was wondering, like the entire crowd was at this event, Jonathan Jansen does not intend to run for Minister of Education in South Africa. In fact, he equated the likelihood of such an event as being as probable as finding Osama Bin Laden alive and well.

Nkosi’s Haven

Based on my little understanding, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) violently destroys the body’s ability to fight off infection. It causes a spectrum of disease which ruins the body in stages. The first stage is acute infection, followed by clinical latency, then the penultimate emergence of it’s final symptoms known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. It is transmitted through bodily fluid exchange, unsanitary needles, or from mother to child. Though this is a global pandemic, South Africa is home to 50% of the world’s HIV/AIDS infected population. There is no cure. The stigma associated with this diagnosis is nearly as harmful as the condition itself. Historically, this Image result for nkosi johnson and gail johnsondiagnosis in an individual has spelt out condemnation to a life of being ostracized, victimized, and being harmfully portrayed as threatening and abhorrent.

The need for an inclusive and accepting community for affected individuals has been evidenced by the treatment of figures in our own US history such as Ryan White. In South Africa, this person was Nkosi Johnson. He was the longest surviving child born with HIV in South Africa, living to the age of 12 years. He championed the rights of children with HIV/AIDS and dreamed of a facility which would allow them to live without being separated from their mothers, like he was. Together with his foster mother, Gail Johnson, Nkosi’s Haven was founded in 1999. The Haven has since freed its inhabitants from prejudice of those who misunderstand the implications of such a diagnosis coupled with the comfort of an affectionate community. Nkosi’s Haven is now home to over a dozen mothers and around a hundred children. Not all of the children are HIV positive. Some are children of mothers with HIV and roughly half are orphaned because of its results. The staff and volunteers work tirelessly to provide health care, accommodation, and a sense of home to these severely impacted residents.

The compound was a beautiful testament to the fortitude of South African spirit. Settled along a hillside, it functions entirely as it’s own community. The inclining pavers lead us from our trusty bus to a modest reception room. From there we walked through the kitchen, dining halls, and into the main living area which consisted of a room with many couches and a dance floor. The room was chilly and brightly colored. We had arrived early so we spent some time discussing the day over coffee with one of the officials from Infinite Family, Zoleka Petse. Infinite Family is a program developed to remotely pair children of South Africa with mentors. Through the advanced use of technology this organization connects the participants in hopes of developing responsible and resilient learners in a rising South Africa. Zoleka is a soft-spoken and kind woman whose commitment to her position seems only rivaled by her love of country. She and Gail Johnson welcomed us and prepared us for what to expect that day.

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They assured us that the compound would be much busier than usual, as this day was Nelson Mandela day. This meant that internationally, to commemorate Mandela’s life of giving, individuals would complete 67 minutes of service (one minute for each year Mandela was a public servant). People from the area would be visiting Nkosi’s Haven to do their part in service to those less fortunate, just as Madiba had. We saw three young girls washing the windows and mopping the deck, many people dropped off donations, and others planted new additions to the grounds. The tradition was humbling to behold and one that is indicative of the lasting effects that this incredible figure has on the country.

After some time the children began to file in. They ranged from adolescents to late teens. Some were in their early twenties or had transitioned from being members of the community to leadership positions themselves. I readied myself with a smile and approached them, remembering the ease of connecting with the learners of Teboho Trust and hoping for similar results. However, the difference in these young people was palpable. These children were not subject to recitations of prayer nor were they prone to song. Some were sick, most were downtrodden, and they seemed leery of us. In the comfort of my own circumstances I had entered their home with unfounded positivity and the ridiculous notion that I had something to impart to them. I was thrown off, I felt my jubilant greetings fizzle in my throat.

I am so grateful for my wonderful colleagues. They lead the group in a “True Colors” personality quiz and then sorted them into groups based on the color that best described them. I joined the green group which was determined to be “the analytical thinkers.” My colleague Amanda and I discussed with them the importance of this personality trait and how it could relate to their future careers and aspirations. We also counseled them on using social media wisely. We then reconvened as a whole group.

We realized that we had more time with them than expected so as my colleagues worked on our next activity the duty of stalling fell on me. I am also so grateful for Dr. Amy Lewis, one of the best professors I’ve ever had, for teaching me an icebreaker that somehow works across cultures! With great trepidation I walked into the circle of children. I called over their conversations that we would be playing a game. As the chatter continued I shifted nervously until some children came to my aid, one in particular shushing his peers insisting that he wanted to play the game. I regained my composure and called out the directions. They must come up with an animal that starts with the same first letter of their first name. It should also be an animal that they feel describes them. Luckily, some of the other students understood the directions and were able to explain to one another in their own languages. We then went around the circle. The first child said his name, which I sheepishly tried to repeat (only to utterly fail) and then he said his animal. To my relief and great excitement, the room erupted with laughter. The children laughed as their friends compared themselves to animals and agreed with the traits that made them a dog, a snake, a Siberian tiger, or a hyena. The game had worked, at long last the ice shelf I felt keeping myself from them was broken.

In the time allotted my colleagues had managed to piece together light-hearted and wildly fun activities for everyone to enjoy. We played an ingenious game called ‘Me Too” which spread the message of similarity between us. Then we played a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” tournament which taught teamwork, encouragement, and frankly, that competition is a language we all understand. In the midst of the organized chaos one of the more reserved boys from the group kept approaching me to tell me words from his language so I could try to repeat them. I looked around the room to see many children smiling, laughing, and playing. The room, once chilly, felt much warmer.

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Following the activities we were led on a tour by one of the children of the community. She took us from the living area through dining areas, past the offices, and into the medical center. This is where the mothers and the children affected by HIV/AIDS receive their treatments. There is also a sick bay where they may rest if they are feeling unwell in any way. Our young guide then showed us where they do their laundry, the bakery, and past the home for the mothers. As we continued on our tour up the hill a child I recognized quietly followed our group. This was the same child that insisted on playing my silly animal game, one I cheered for in the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” tournament, and the one who asked me to repeat words in his language. His name is Solomon.

We entered a room which was their art facility. Reader, if you know me at all you’ll know I was pretty excited to see this room. It was inspiring. The walls were covered in beautiful murals. The bright, young, girl leading our tour mentioned that this room was loved by the children and they may come in here when they were sad to draw. “Like Solomon does,” she added. Almost simultaneously my group laid eyes on an incredible self-portrait hung on the wall. We all gaped at it in admiration. One of the facility leaders said, “That’s Solomon’s there.”

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“Solomon drew that,” I let slip in disbelief. Solomon smiled shyly as we all turned to him and offered our compliments.

We all filed out of the room. Noticing he remained with us I walked up to Solomon and complimented his drawing again and told him that I, too, love art. I told him that I even used to study it and that he could too. I’ll try not to be melodramatic, but this kid looked at me with such immense understanding and an obvious desire to connect. He asked me what had happened and why I let art leave my life. This sparked a conversation which lasted throughout the rest of the tour of the compound. I looked on at the therapy centers and designated homes for the children but was suddenly imbued with greater interest in trailing behind with the young person walking next to me, opening himself and letting me into his world. He told me about what it was like to live in the compound, his family, and his disconnect from others. He told me how he wrestles with himself to be kind when he feels he cannot understand the actions of others and always control his responses. He told me about the loss of his mother. He discussed how difficult it was to get to know someone for a short time then never see them again. He also mentioned that he was sad to be 14 years old, as he has been waiting since 10 for a mentor of his own. As we walked and shared we started to find ourselves saying “me too” to one another. At the end of the tour he remarked that he couldn’t believe how similar we were. He had been through much more than I could withstand, but in a lot of ways I shared the same sentiment. I excused myself from Solomon and made a beeline for Zoleka.

If all goes well with my application, when I get home from South Africa I will be completing my training to become Solomon’s mentor. We will meet remotely on a weekly basis and be in touch over email for at minimum, a year. Throughout my time in Africa I have been disturbed by my inability to do more for the profound people and places I’ve encountered. This seemed a small contribution to make. So, dear Reader, if you made it through this rather long post then do me a favor, keep me accountable. This young person all but said that he needs someone. Don’t let me forget the voice from somewhere that told me that this may have been the reason I came here all along.

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Thank you for reading.

If you would like to make a donation to Nkosi’s Haven you may find the link to their facility here.

http://nkosishaven.org/

If you also have an interest in the mentorship program  with Infinite Family, or would like to make a donation, please follow this link here.

https://www.infinitefamily.org/

 

(Inspired by) The Apartheid Museum

Image result for apartheid

Today was spent at the Apartheid Museum. Informational post incoming, but I hope you understand the reasons why I decided to discuss Apartheid rather than my reaction to the Museum, which was, in short, a depressing, maddening, and deeply moving display.

Apartheid:
noun.
The system of segregation in grounds of race in force in South Africa (1948-1991)

Continue reading “(Inspired by) The Apartheid Museum”

Teboho Trust/Hector Pieterson Museum

We woke up at the crack of dawn to the sound of birds chirping. Pretty typical morning until it hit me that I probably have no idea what those birds look like. My roommate, Julie, and I promptly headed down to breakfast with the rest of the group where I had the best orange juice I’ve ever had in my life and I grew up in Florida…drinking Tropicana… Continue reading “Teboho Trust/Hector Pieterson Museum”