The Community

May 30, 2011

Today was our first day on project, so I can finally do what I came here for.  We started the day with a small tour of all the project sites.  I can finally see the differences between here and America.  When we made it out into the townships, things were a SHARP contrast.  People were out in the streets, buildings were shoddy and cramped together, cars and garbage were strewn everywhere… it was the exact opposite of the tourist city of Cape Town.

Now, if you don’t know, townships in South Africa are remnants of the apartheid.  While blacks were allowed in the city for work and some other daytime activities, they were forced to leave at night.  If they had homes, they had to leave them and move elsewhere.  This led to a congregation of black people in areas outside the city.  They built homes out of whatever they could and stayed there.  Unfortunately, even after the apartheid ended, many people who were forced into these townships have not been able to build or even rebuild their lives and are effectively stuck here.  However, many choose to stay in townships for the sense of community and understanding.  Some areas in some townships are actually very nice neighborhoods.

However, the township of Red Hill does not have any of these.  During the apartheid, a kind man opened up his property for black people to build a community in a relatively safe area.  This community became Red Hill.  Of course, since it is private property, certain rules and restrictions are in place.  Permanent buildings are not allowed to be constructed.  The most stable buildings in the settlement are actually shipping crates, which make the schools and the library.  Other buildings are made of wood, corrugated roofing, and other simple but weak building materials.


Despite all of these impoverished conditions, the people were beyond friendly.  The children were excited, the teachers were welcoming, and the community members were all glad to offer a smile and a wave.  One of the project managers explained how everyone is on an even playing field in richness.  While we are rich in money and materials, we’re kind of poor in kindness.  It’s the opposite here.  The lack of material wealth is made up for in community, friendliness, and happiness.

This afternoon we went to the Masiphumelele library to read to the children.


I had two who were friends and didn’t speak much English.  First I read a book to them, then they brought me a book in Xhosa.  I told them that they would have to teach me, so I watched them sound out the letters.  Thanks to that, I can now read (but not understand) some Xhosa.  I’ve learned the clicks although I can’t really make the sound.

  • Xh — a click in the back of your throat, sounding like a K (or something like that)
  • c — a frontal click, maybe like a ts or like your making a tisking sound.
  • q — the click made by suctioning your tongue to the back roof of your mouth

After reading the book to me, we worked together to read an English book.  They read me a repetitious page and I read them the longer pages (so we would be done in time).  I was interested that they weren’t able to pronounce a lot of letters or phrases.  The little boy was unable to pronounce “th” and rolled every r, and I had to teach them how to read th, ph, ch, and sh.  Thinking about it, English is a very difficult language.  At least in Xhosa every letter only has one pronunciation.  English is just… kind of crazy!

Tomorrow morning I’ll be working at Red Hill pre school with three other girls, then work with one girl in the afternoon at the animal shelter socializing cats.


About jessinsafrica

Hi, my name is Jessica MacKinnon. I am driven to work to make the world a slightly better place. I was really excited to take that motivation to somewhere I thought really needed improvement. What actually happened, though, was that I instead became a better person.
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