June 4, 2011
Today started out a little frustrating. First, I woke up with my typical first indications of a cold. Great. Then, our first event of the day was postponed a bit due to a lot of people, including our leaders, being hung over. Even more beautiful. -_- Well, the plan was to do a tour of our leader’s township then visit Boulders Beach and Cape Point. Unfortunately, due to obnoxious plan changes, we were only able to do the township tour.
This tour, though, was amazing. We were truly able to see the other side of South Africa and the way the community works. The area was fairly poor and the lower side was built from wood, aluminum, roofing material, and other weak building supplies. Many buildings, especially shops and restaurants, were made from shipping containers.
The upper areas were nicer, but would still be considered small by our standards. We were shown a building that is known as a hostel. In each apartment type room, there is a shared living room, a bathroom, and four bedrooms. Each bedroom is occupied by four families. Note that these bedrooms are small. Very small.
The way this township’s community works, there are three divisions: upper, middle, and lower class. However, we were told that there isn’t any tension between the upper and lower classes. In fact, many of the upper class people started in the lower class and worked their way up to become doctors or lawyers. They chose to stay in the community to keep their traditions and to even help those still in the lower class. They are usually well liked in the community because they will offer overpaid jobs for people in the house and give a lot back to the community.
Because of this stability in the community, the crime rate is really low. Everyone is extremely friendly. The community is all out in the street talking, working together, and welcoming guests, even tourists like us. The extreme friendliness is strange to adjust to, and it’s very tough to drop the shields that I’ve built. If an older man came up to a group of young girls in America, he’d immediately be branded a pervert. In South Africa, he’s just being friendly. Since we were white and obviously unfamiliar with this all black area, people were extremely interested in us. They would chat with us, ask us questions, tell us stories, and generally be extra friendly.
Another group that was interested in us were the kids. Since the community was safe, children were walking around and playing in the streets. When they saw us, they would chase us down the street chanting “Avelu,” which we assumed meant “white people” or “strangers.” When they would catch up, they would hold our hands, ask us to play with them, or just chatter away in Xhosa or eventually English. This was beautiful and definitely something we lack in America… Trust and friendliness toward strangers, especially with kids.
Another amazing thing we got to see was a program called Happy Feet. This program is actually being run by one of our project leaders, Nathi, and a friend. It is a dance program where they teach underprivileged kids in the community to dance. They put together a team and actually perform in Cape Town in competitions. The kids put on a small performance for us, which may have been the best part of the day. The dance that they do is one that was made in the coal mines for the entertainment of the workers. Since they were unable to go out or have their own fun, they designed a rhythm dance from clapping, stomping, and hitting their caving boots.
This was all we did. Some girls decided to go shopping and some of us went home. We grabbed McDonald’s for the night, and I was intrigued to get some green cream soda on tap. For the record, it didn’t really taste like cream soda at all.