The Changing of Seasons

Cape Town was in the middle of it’s winter season upon my arrival last August. The relentless winds and the cold nights made the warmness provided by my bedding a welcome comfort at the end of the day. As winter faded the weather warmed and I experienced, for my first time, a Southern Hemisphere spring.  At the end of September the wild flowers appeared in every open field as life within the environment as well as in the people began to heighten.   

The muezzin’s first call to prayer of the day, marking the break of dawn, progressively became earlier and earlier. From around 6 in the morning during August to half-past 4 in December. The heat increased and instead of hugging my sheets at night I began to toss them aside trying to keep cool. As new years approached the drums of the neighborhood minstrels, famous to parading down the road on New Years day in bright and eccentric uniforms, could be heard across the road. 

As the paraded down the roads of Cape Town I was traveling the Eastern Cape and experienced the more tropical weather to the north. Cape Town in January and February the beach was a cool and welcoming activity for after work and on the weekends. Always full of laughter and activity bringing together the diverse communities in the common pursuit of escaping the heat. 

But now. As my time in Cape Town grows shorter so do the days. And the cool nights remind me of first arriving in the strange and foreign city, not knowing anyone or anything and full of anticipation for the months to come. Now, that the seasons have come full circle I am not longer looking forward, but instead reflecting back on the past eight months I have spent living and working in Cape Town. 

Sooner than I realize I will be departing this now familiar city, and looking forward to the next adventure that life has in store. Knowing I will look fondly upon my time here, and miss the people and the places that have now become my family and home. 

 

Yet, every moment counts and I still have more adventures in store before I leave. This will be my last full week at Heatherdale Primary and I will have to say good bye to the students and teachers I have worked with these past months. And, by recommendation of my host parents, I still have to visit two historic sights in Cape Town: Robben Island, the place were Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held by the Apartheid government, and The District Six Museum, the building dedicated to telling the story of forced removals in Cape Town. 

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The Great Gatsby

One day, after arriving home from a long day at the Primary School and Children’s Home, I sat down to dinner with my host family. That day they had decided to order food for the evening and I saw them carrying a two foot long wax paper parcel that they placed on the kitchen counter. When they unrolled it, an extra-large subroll was revealed that they quartered into equal portions. They gave me one fourth on a plate with a fork and knife and asked if I had ever had a “Gatsby” before. Examining the mammoth sandwich  I said no, as I started to deconstruct the contents: Inside was a mixture of greasy hot chips (french fries) smothered in sauce, with fried Hake ( a popular fish in this area). I had, had fish and chips before, but this formidable cuisine was a match for even the most carnivorousness and voracious American stomachs. I did not even manage to finish my quarter of the sandwich.

The food that I encountered that day is a native to Cape Town and was first developed in the coloured community when shop owners would put all their leftovers from the day into a large subroll. It is now a staple of Cape Town’s fisheries eating and as I soon found out the combo of fried Hake and hot chips was a tame version of the Gatsby.

You can get hot dogs Gatsbys, bolongy Gatsbys, chicken, lamb, and even the monster combo of masala, steak, egg, and cheese! I have not dared tried these monster versions of such a large sandwich, but it is a combination of food that I was shocked by and felt that certain fellow Americans of mine would be impressed by it’s large, greasy, and yet delicious combination.

This food is very common especially in impoverished neighborhoods of Cape Town because it is cheap to buy, and fills satiates many people. Now, I cannot mention this giant food without raising some social issues that are associated with the frequent consumption of such unhealthy and non-nutritious foods. In Cape Town it is not only Fisheries that are common place, but fast food joints such as McDonalds and KFC are also common dinning options. As a result of unhealthy eating South Africa has one of the highest rates of non communicable diseases: obesity, heart disease, and diabetes  According to some rating South Africa is the third most obese country in the world and the government has been trying to find ways of combating unhealthy diets and lack of nutrition in their country. So though though I thoroughly enjoyed my encounter with a Gatsby it may seem that the popularity of such foods in South Africa is having a detrimental impact on the nations health.

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Bafana Bafana

Last Saturday the African Cup of Nations kicked off with a match between the host country of South Africa and a visiting team Cape Verde. The African Cup of Nations is a continent wide soccer tournament that takes place between all qualifying African Nations. The last time South Africa hosted this tournament was  in 1996 when the South African national team , known as Bafana Bafana, won the Cup of Nations. This win took place the year after the South African Rugby team, called The Springboks, won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 (a victory that is the basis of the movie Invictus). Both of these sport victories came to represent unity and national pride for the newly Democratic, yet still deeply divided by its Apartheid past,  South Africa.

Now in 2013 for people of Cape Town the African Cup of Nations and Bafana Bafana is a divisive  issue.  Intriguingly Cape Town’s soccer stadium, one of ten used in the 2010 World Cup, is supposedly not being utilized for the Cup of Nations because ticket revenues would not cover the expenses of hosting the event.

When watching the game with residence of my neighborhood, an area known in Cape Town as a “colored township”, there was little belief for the home team, that in the eyes of many South Africans has been struggling to perform, having lost two friendly games leading up to the Cup of Nations. For members of my community the topic of Bafana Bafana and why there are no games being hosted in Cape Town revolves  around race.

During the game I brought up how I thought it was strange that Cape Town’s Stadium is not being used for any games. At this a few of the men showed open outrage at the topic. Saying “Don’t talk about that man, oh man, don’t talk about that”. Then after taking a second to collect their thoughts one of them said to me “You see, we don’t want them here, if they come here we kick their ass”. He went on to explain that he did not like Bafana Bafana or the South African domestic teams because, in his opinion, they played poorly and this he contributed to the fact that Bafana Bafana and domestic soccer is composed of majority black athletes. He said “You see the blacks don’t let the coloured people or white people play in their leagues”. He then added that “the blacks” were good at playing soccer but they did not know how to manage a team and that they excluded good players based on race.

Another man added that he loves to watch cricket and rugby, but when it comes to soccer we would rather watch the English Premier League then his local domestic team. To prove his point he took out his smart-phone and, as he tapped on the touch screen, explained that Manchester United came to Cape Town to play Ajax (Cape Town’s domestic  team) a few years back and he and his son went to the game dressed in the colors of Manchester United and not his own cities team. He showed me the photo of his son wearing bright red and gold hat and scarf adorned with a lion crest, and in the back ground you could see the stadium’s seating was a patch work of mostly red and gold. He said to me, South African soccer is so bad, here in Cape Town we would rather support an English team, then our own local team.

Then another man began to tell me a story about the 1996 Bafana Bafana team that won the African Cup of Nations. A story that I have heard multiple times since being in Cape Town. He explained that the 1996 South African team won because it was only ten percent black, and seventy percent white and coloured. In past versions of the story I have also heard that the team’s positions on the field were divided by race. It was explained that the white people played defense because they are strong, have good team work, and are organized. The coloured people played the mid field because they are good at passing and all around the strongest players. And the blacks played the forwards because they were the most flashy, independent, and best at striking the ball.  It was even added that the 1996 team won because they were split up according to their race.

These racial based explanations for the performance of the national soccer seem to parallel racial divisions that can be seen in all parts of South African society and politics. As I have discussed before the Aparthied government divided its people into three racial groups: white, coloured, and black. People were prevented by law to live and associate with people from different racial groups. From the examples above it is evident that people in South Africa still divide people based on these racial groups, and attribute stereotypical characteristics based on race.

Further the explanations above reflect regional differences within the country. Cape Town and the Western Province are different from the other provinces in South Africa in that it is governed by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and not South Africa’s ruling party the African National Conferences (ANC). Many people in Cape Town, especially those in the coloured community, do not like the politics of the ANC and view the party as corrupt and leading South Africa to economic  ruin. When people in Cape Town speak of South Africa they do so in such a way that draws a clear line between them and the rest of the country. As is evident in the statement above where the man stated that “we don’t want them [Bafana Bafana] here [Cape Town]”.

Also adding to racial divisions, many people in the coloured community feel their oppression under the Apartheid government has been forgotten by what they view as the black dominated ANC. They feel that Africa’s ruling party only supplies fund to increase the infrastructure of black communities and forget about the hardships that face the coloured community.

So it is clear from soccer to politics that racial divisions from the Apartheid past still dominate the perspective of many people in Cape Town.  Though these divisions are deep and will continue to divide South Africa for years to come there is still signs of national unity regarding Bafana Bafana. Regardless of race and associated stereotypes  it is clear that people in the community in which I live clearly want their nations team to win the African Cup of Nations and still show much pride and support for their team. For example it is common to see people of all racial groups wearing a Bafana Bafana jersey on game days, and everyone I know either watches the games or monitor the scores by checking in with friends or update via the internet. So though there are still deep racial divisions, national sports are still a point for a country that has faced deep social divides in the past to unite behind and to share common ground.

Update: Bafana Bafana made it to the quarter finals and will be facing Mali on Saturday.

Bafana Bafana put up a great fight during the game but lost to Mali 3-1 during a shoot-out after an extra time 1-1 draw. 

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Transkei

On Christmas Day a friend and I departed from Cape Town on Intercape Bus line and began the long journey meandering along the cost line to the Eastern Cape. In total the trip was twenty hours and we traveled through some of the most stunning scenery that I have ever seen. In the sleepy hazed induced by traveling long distances we climbed the high mountains over looking the Indian Ocean with the parallel white waves breaking along the shore line. The first half of the journey was through the area called the Garden Route which is made up of the mountain ranges, lush forests similar, and the wide open ocean. As the trip proceeded and I drifted in-and-out of sleep the terrain leveled out into rolling hills and the forests where replaced by open fields, farms, and villages made up of the unique round mud huts with thatched roofs that is distinctive of the area referred to as the Transkei. 

Politically though still a part of South Africa it local governing body is the traditional tribal chief of the ethnic group that populates the area. Socially it is an area that is known for it’s abject poverty, lack of infrastructure, and little access to health care and education. During my time their I stayed at  Backpackers hostel that was run by the son of a minister that has lived and worked with the people of the Transkei his whole life. The chief agreed to give his family usage of a beautiful plot of land located near the beach and in return the Backpackers would hire locals to work and promote tourist industry for the area. 

During our time their we explored the local community and chatted with the residents that could speak English. It became clear that the people of the Transkei survived mostly off farming the land and handicrafts that they would sell to the vibrant tourism industry that existed. Many people spoke about the hardships of living in such a rural area. Some discussing alcohol abuse, others of traditional practices that sound shocking to myself and my Capetonian friend. 

One was the practice of Lobola of the Xhosa and Zulu cultures. The western equivalent would be a dowry, and is the price a man pays the father of a female that he would like to marry. One man that served as a tour guide on one of our trips along the country side told of his experience with the practice. He, a man in his thirties, said when he was in his late teens was dating a girl from the same village as her for a year or so. With out his or her knowledge another man, who wanted to take his girlfriend as his wife, went to negotiate Lobola with the woman’s father. The father and the other man discussed how many cows, the customary payment of Lobola, he would pay to take the women as his wife. Once the negotiations where settled male members of the girls family where sent to collect the daughter to be married off. This occured while our tour guide was at work and he heard from a friend later that day the woman he was dating was married off to another man. He heard that she was forcibly taken by male members of her family, literally kicking and sceaming, to the marriage ceremony. The tour guide told us that there is actually a saying in the villages that if you hear a woman screaming it is because she is going to her wedding (it being common practice for the women to have know idea who and when she is married). 

At the end of story he said that after the marriage he got a message from his former girl friend saying she wanted to meet with him. However, he said he would never see her again because it would be shameful for him to be seen with another mans wife, and it would be the cause of much gossip in the village. And possible cause the women’s husband to take action against him or his former girl friend. 

Upon questioning, he told us that Lobola was still common in the Transkei and that many of the people that move to cities such as Cape Town still practice this tradition. Except that sometimes money is used to replace the cows as payment. We also asked him what his feelings on the practice of Lobola and he told us that he was against it. Adding that if he has daughters he would give them their freedom and not sell them for a Lobola. 

That day he also showed us how some of the local women prepare corn meal by grinding it by hand between a round stone and a flat stone. Compared to Cape Town the Transkei felt like we where transported back to an old era. We also discussed the common trend of people living the rural villages for cities like Cape Town looking to escape the poverty and in search of jobs. As I have heard in the past many of the informal settlements that surround Cape Town are made up people that have moved from the Transkei. It being the holidays it was also popular for young people that moved to Cape Town to return to their village and visit their extended family and parents they have left behind. As is commom with many rural people who move to cities in search of work, money earned is often sent back to their family who still live in the rural area. We heard from a few people visiting the Transkei from Cape Town that coming back to such a rural area where they must work on the farm is very shocking experience after living a city life for years. My response to this was, though I found the area to by physically stunning, is that I could not imagine myself living on a farm and laboring in the fields each day to be able to harvest enough food to survive. 

After spending a week living in the Transkei on the stunning and rugged land I had to travel back to Cape Town to continue my work volunteering. But the people, culture, and natural scenery of that land has left a last mark on my memory. To see pictures check out: http://imgur.com/a/6ZAGk

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Merry Christmas from Cape Town!

It is the eve of Christmas here in Cape Town and it is a warm 73 degrees F. Yet the warm whether does not stop people from celebrating the festive season. My host family has a fake Christmas Tree and has decked the front of their house with lights and decorations. You can feel the energy in Cape Town start to rise as we head closer to the New year. 

My time at the Re.think Leadership’s Camp went by all to quickly. Here is a link to the photos from that week [http://imgur.com/a/6UbUW]. We started off with just staff members going to the camp’s ground to prepare for the campers to arrive. During that time we all got to know each other and in the days time we prepared and reviewed all the programs. The next day all 52 campers arrived bright and early, excited, and nervous for what was to come. The staff wasted no time and had all the campers sit down in the main hall where the camp director went over the “camp’s culture” and the campers where encouraged to provide how they would like the camp culture to look over the next few day. Since the main part of the camp is discussing social issues with the campers, this part of the process that establishes a safe and open environment is crucial to having a successful camp.

Next the campers broke of into the dialogue or discussion groups that the other staff where in charge of and I began to prepare for the art program I was to run later in the day. Once they where finished being introduced to the dialogue groups the campers came to me where I introduced them to “Mask Making”. Each camper made a mask mold of their face out of plaster. When the mask were dry each camper had to paint their mask. Designing the inside of the mask to be inspired how they see themselves, and the outside of the mask to be inspired by how they think the world sees them. When the painting was done the campers broke into dialogue groups and discussed how they designed their mask. 

The last activity of the camp that I ran was creating a group poem with in the dialogue or discussion groups. Each camper came up with a line about one thing they learned at camp and together the group got to construct a poem made up of all the things that people learned while at camp. Then when they where done they got to write and decorate their poem on a piece of canvas. 

Before I knew the camp was over the campers where going home. The staff only got a few hours of sleep each night so I have spent the last few days catching up on lost sleep. I will see all the campers at the first Urban Transformers followup meeting that will take place on January twentieth. 

 

With Christmas morning I will be departing from Cape Town with the one of the directors of Re.think Leadership to explore the Eastern Cape’s shore line. One of the mos impoverished areas of all of South Africa. Many of the Informal settlement’s in Cape Town are made up of immigrants from the Eastern Cape, who fled the abject poverty and high unemployment rates for jobs in the city. The goal of the trip is to get a first hand experience with the living conditions in this area and familiarize ourselves with the everyday struggle’s facing youth in that area. Along with being the poorest the Eastern Cape is said by many South Africans to be the most beautiful landscapes in the whole of the country. So along with learning from the people, I have the pleasure of experience the natural beauty of this area first hand. 

 

I wish all those who celebrate a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Rocking New Year!

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Re.think Leadership Summer Camp!

Starting tomorrow morning is Re.think Leaderships Summer Camp! I have spent the last month in the organization’s offices helping them prepare for camp this year. Among other things, I helped develop Monitoring and Evaluation Survey’s for this years participants, help prepare for the staff training weekend, and help look at the camp programming to assure that all the activities will be inclusive for a participant that uses a wheel chair. It has been a lot of fun working with Re.think and everyday has had it’s own set of challenges and problems to be solved. 

Tomorrow the sixteen staff members will meet at the office in Claremont and from there we will all make the hour long trip up to Franschhoek where we will continue staff training and preparing the camp ground for the arrival of the participants on Wednesday morning. So tonight I am packing my bags, charging my camera and getting ready to have a good nights sleep in preparation for the week long camp. 

The purpose of the camp is to serve as the start of the Urban Transformers Program and aims to engage high school students from diverse socio-economic classes all around Cape Town in a dialogue about leadership and social issues. The camp hopes to empower and equip the high school students to take action to better their own community. With activities that are all about dialogue facilitation and as staff we are suppose to serve as guides to help the diverse participants talk about social issues that they face in heir everyday life and what they can do to change them. I will have the honor of acting as a facilitator the youth of Cape Town. I am nervous, because as a foreigner I am not as in-tune with the social issues that affect Cape Town, but I am excited for the challenge of being able to engage with these youth in such a unique environment.

I will keep the blog and my imgur account updated with all the busy activity this week! 

Here is the link to my imgur account: http://kellehem.imgur.com/

I added photo’s from the trip that my colleague Orli and I made to the Camp site to see what modifications need to be made for the participant that we have that used a wheel chair.  

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Photographs!

At long last, there is now photographic proof of my time abroad.

Here is the link to my imgur account where you can view the images:

http://kellehem.imgur.com/

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