Week in rewind:
Class discussion on Monday was on crime and violence in South Africa. Anyone who has traveled here can tell you of all the ADT Security signs, electric wires and walled in homes there are. Every business has barred windows, every school is fenced in and every home is secured like Fort Knox. I picked up on this within being here for just a few days. It’s a real problem in South Africa, this is so because of the massive economic inequalities that exist here. In Cape Town there are a little more than 5 million people who call this place home, yet only a little more than 600,000 of them pay taxes. The small middle class here takes the brunt of economic downturns, where the rich will be fine and the poor really have nothing of material value to lose. Thus this disparity causes a large problem in the socio-economic sphere here. One one side of the street a family might have a nice home and a nice car, but on the other side a family may be struggling to survive in their shack. The latter sees what the former has and wants it as well. Thus people take extremes measures to obtain things that they don’t have but their neighbors do.
I have never been harassed so much in my life for money. Everyday I walk down the street I hear from a beggar “sir sir sir I’m not a bad guy, can you please spare some change?” I feel sorry for these people but it gets extremely obnoxious after a while. I must admit, I’m not use to being the minority for the single fact that I have never been one. It seems to be a hard truth here but white equals money. People of European decent here only compromise 9% of the population here in South Africa, and most have money. So when I walk down the street I automatically stand out and feel more vulnerable because anyone wanting to rob me probably knows that I have some kind of valuable on me that they would like. When I speak and they hear my American accent it only makes matters worse. Sometimes I’ll use a little defense mechanism to rid them of my personal bubble and act as if I don’t understand English such as, “no spraken die Englich hombre.” Usually works.
Tuesday and Wednesday I finished up two of my case studies. The first one was difficult for I didn’t really know the format the ladies at the PSP were looking for. I just played with it and by the fourth draft I finally got it. The second one went much smoother because I had a precedent to look at. The ladies at work told Krista and myself that they are extremely pleased with out work so far. We both have finished two and we each have two more to work on for the next three weeks we are here working. I feel that these case studies are very important in more than one way; they will serve to show the donors how important the PSP’s work is to the Western Cape’s primary schools. They will materialize into a consolidated book with all eight teachers in it, which, is important because it highlights and celebrates all of them for their hard work and dedication.
Wednesday we also had an interview with a teacher who has been in the profession for 45 years. Next year she is required, by national law, to retire. The kids respect her dearly and she is one of the most respected science teachers in the area. She had her kids do a project so that some of them would present in front of us Americans. I have never seen a class of 12-13 years of age so inquisitive and wiling to participate in class. Towards the end of the class Mrs. Adonis asked them if they had any questions for us. About 12 hands went up at once and they kept on coming, they were just so amazed that I was from The States. Once class was over and their inquiries were extinguished, half the class came over and shook my hand. The kids were great, but yet I felt for them. This kids may have been among some of the poorest people I will ever meet in my life. To see them succeed in school was a great sight; if they don’t then they will inevitable remain in the impoverished place they call home.
Thursday I went to work and afterward a lady from work had us over for dinner at her place with her family. She had a very nice cozy home. Her husband is also a teacher and loves map as I do, so we sat around getting oriented of each others hometown for some time. She made us butternut soup and a Cape Malay dish called ‘barootie,’ which the spelling is surely wrong, however I can assure you that is was delicious. Next she served guava pudding which is simply boiled guavas. Simple as it may be, they are very decadent. After dinner we sat around the fire and talked of politics, history, art, sports and South Africa. Needless to say I got my serving of South African culture that night.
Friday we had another interview with a very caring and polite young teacher. Friday was the districts last day of school before winter break so he was in a hurry to get stuff done before the three-week break started. However he found time for a quick interview and we got some good information from him so that we may celebrate him in an appropriate way. That night we went back to the Armchair so that we could hang out with our local South Africa friends.
Saturday Jim took us to Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia. While driving to these estates I felt as if I was transported to Europe, Africa was the last place I felt that I was at. Dutch architecture could be seen everywhere, multi-million dollar homes, rolling hills, mountains, vineyard after vineyard. It is the total opposite in every way and aspect possible to that of the townships. The two estates we visited, and where the wine visited us, are among the oldest wine estates in the Southern Hemisphere. Many of these houses, and the estates alone, are older than the U.S. colonies! Groot Constantia, which means Big Constantia, provided museums with many archaic wine devices used by the early settlers of the Dutch East Company. We then proceeded to tour and uncover the cellars and history of the estate. At the end, the testing awaited us with open arms. We used our eyes, nose and tongue to get the full experience of Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite wine. After Groot Constantia we meandered our way to Klein Constantia. The later is much smaller but the wine taste a bit better, especially the dessert wine.
Sunday was a beautiful day so why not shop and explore? The problem was every shop was closed, which was fine with me, I just wanted to get souvenirs and touristy things. Lucky for me those were the only shops selling anything, probably because they are open 365, rain or shine. Since its winter here and not peak tourist season I managed to bargain with many of them. For them it’s either take 40 Rand off their originally price or sell nothing at all. Guess its one good thing about being here during the winter.
After we shopped we made our way to the Company’s Garden. The Company’s Garden is right behind Parliament and is where people who worked for the Dutch East India Company made a garden for themselves. “The Company,” as they are known, were one of the most powerful trading companies to ever sail the seas out of Europe. The people of The Company were the originally European settlers in Cape Town. They used it as a strategic resting area for other travelers and traders sailing farther east. As history unfolded this area would be home to over 5 million people in less than 400 years. The Company’s Garden was a beautiful garden with many small animals wandering around and a great spot to capture pictures of scenery and historical monuments alike. The area reminds me of a smaller more secluded Mall in D.C. Around the Gardens was a nice assortment of museums. We got there too late too check them all out, however we did get to go into the South African Holocaust museum. This was the first time I have been to a Holocaust museum. It was a very somber and eerie place, as one can imagine. I think it is good for one to visit a museum or memorial like this. There’s so much that one can learn and reflect on of the cruelty man posses to each other at a place like this. It shows nothing good can come from racist ideology as can be seen in the Apartheid history here in South Africa. After we were all depressed we took the train back and called it a night.
We only have three weeks remaining, and by the time I write another blog we will only have two. I have come along way with my understanding, comfort, thoughts and ideas on Africa and the World alike since I have been here. Above all I believe that every citizen of the Western World should take the initiative to witness an informal settlement. For me, that has been the most dramatic impact on my outlook of life thus far.