So far, so good here in Capetown. What a wonderful city. The warm sun and cool breeze have been so inviting and comforting. Table mountain, and lions head tower over our hostel in all of their majesty. The fog rolling over in the mornings and evenings are breathtaking. Our hostel is wonderful and the staff have been very welcoming and friendly. On Wednesday we went out to Rhodes memorial for our welcoming “ceremony”. We met our staff from Educoafrica and learned all of the projects and programs they offer here in South Africa. What an amazing organization. The memorial itself was gorgeous and situated on a beautiful hilltop with views of the city and ocean. Cecil John Rhodes was one of the first colonizers in S.A… so the memorial was bittersweet. Sitting on the hilltop overlooking the land he conquered stirred some up some emotions for me. Situated in the most southern country, the memorial faces the country of Africa and, to me, symbolized this man looking into Africa and claiming the country as his own. He was the first, but definitely not the last, to come and take from the South African people. We had a powerful conversation discussing this memorial and what it represents. This was a powerful way to start our course.
December 1 was World AIDS day. What an experience being here for this day. In the morning we headed to the Haven Night Shelter. This is one of the agencies that our course will be working with and will be my placement for the job shadowing days. The staff welcomed us and gave us a brief history on the shelter. We were given a tour of the shelter before we headed out. We walked through the bunk rooms and met some of the residents living there. Honestly, the tour felt quite invasive to me. The women were very kind and happy to see us, but I felt that their privacy was more important than our tour. Our time at the Haven overall was very informative and I am eager to shadow the social workers there.
Our next stop was Robben Island. Nelson Mandela called was forced to call this horrific place home for 18 years. Wow. What a powerful experience. We took a coach tour around the island. The churches were beautiful and the views from the rocky coast were stunning. Watching the waves crash and the penguins waddling around were almost enough to make one forget the terrible things this island once stood for. I struggled with this irony for most of my time on the island. The beauty that I captured with my camera was home to a very ugly system for a very long time. I understand that this place is a historical area that many are eager to experience, but I did not want to be a tourist today. My heart was heavy as we walked through the prison. Our guide was a former prisoner on Robben Island and his stories were chilling and heartbreaking. The prisoners were beaten and tortured, forced to work in unbearable conditions, and fed very little. What struck me the most was the way the guards tried to divide the prisoners. The country was divided already during apartheid and the prison furthered this division amongst prisoners. The black prisoners and colored prisoners (those of other non-white races) were given different food and different clothing. They were unequal, even as prisoners. The idea was to prevent relationship building among the prisoners and to keep interracial trust from forming. I had a hard time sitting with this. The end of the tour allowed us to walk down the “long walk to freedom” that each prisoner walked down when they were freed. That was powerful. We’re were graced with the presence of two whales, seals, and dolphins on the ride home. The wildlife lifted my spirits as I was reflecting on the heaviness of the shekter and island tours. What a day!
Friday morning, December 2nd, we started at the Department of Social Development. We met a few social workers and got an up close your of the courthouse. After a discussion of how the juviinile justice system and youth probation process works from the social worker, we were given a tour of the holding cells where boys are held before court. This was a very tough tour. Courthouses hit home for me in a number of ways and seeing boys behind bars was incredibly difficult. Emotions were running high for sure. Once again, I felt very invasive and that I was observing these boys at a vulnerable time in their lives. I was surprised by the large number of crimes committed by young boys in South Africa and disgusted with the adults that use them to do their dirty work.
After DSD and lunch, we headed to the Langa township. I was very surprised by the sense of community in this township. Those living with very little possessions were very rich at heart. We met a woman that serves food to young children in the township and teaches them to cook as part of an after school program. She feeds over 300 kids twice a week. I have so much respect for this woman. We were also given a performance by the young boys and girls involved in the Happy Feet Youth Project, created for youth to participate in after school. Their dances were fantastic and they taught us their “Africa” dance. They’re much better dancers than I am, but it was very fun to try the dance and to interact with these young men and women. After the tour we went back to our hostel to debrief and pack for tomorrows wilderness adventure.
The first few days here in Cape Town have been an emotional rollercoaster. I am struggling with feeling like a major tourist and invading the privacy of the people we have met. However, I am extremely grateful for this incredible learning experience. Its been a very eye opening and insightful couple of days, but the mountains are calling and we must go :).