Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From the Desert to the Beach: Cape Town

By: Jesse Rothman, Emily Johnston and Brittany Nivens

Week 16: December 1-7

When we arrived in Cape Town on Saturday evening we were all experiencing a rush of different emotions: sadness at leaving Windhoek, excitement for Cape Town, happiness and apprehension at the looming prospect of returning to the real world and to familiar faces. We were ready to learn, to unwind, and to begin to get ready to go home.

I (Emily) was very surprised by Robben Island as we docked in the harbor and I think that we all felt a mixture of emotions touring around in a fancy, air-conditioned bus with the troubling history passing by. I could picture how Nelson Mandela and his comrades felt in the tiny cells with few blankets and a bucket as a latrine. Reading Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom prepared me to see the living conditions, but I did not truly understand their working conditions until I saw the quarries. They worked in brutal heat in the summer and bitter cold in the winter, always mining only to retrieve stone to line the roads that would bring them to and from their homes to work. Although I was glad for the opportunity to see the Island, I felt weird as a bratty tourist in a place where so much suffering occurred.

We also visited the Triangle Project, which is an organization that serves the needs of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) communities of the Western Cape. I was excited to speak with the people there because this is an area of human rights that we had not really discussed this semester and I feel like it’s a problem that needs to be addressed in Namibia and South Africa as well as in the United States. At the Triangle Project I learned that every 27 seconds a woman or child is raped, killed or assaulted in South Africa which is an astonishing statistic, given the progressiveness of South Africa’s constitution. It is the only country in Africa where homosexual marriages are legal; this is something that isn’t even close to being done in the US. The director told us the story of a 19 year old woman who was stoned to death by 20 men in 2006 on her way home from a night club and the case has yet to go to trial, despite having an eye witness. Whether you believe that LGBT people should have the right to be married or not it is undeniable that violence against them is unacceptable. Whenever I catch myself being surprised by stories of violence or discrimination I flash back to all of the horrible things that happen in America everyday. While this is not comforting, it helps me realize that the things happening in South Africa aren’t all that different from things in the US and it saddens me to think the world can be such a dark, vicious place.

Our last group activity was a visit to Self Help Manenberg. This was a community based and operated self-help project located in a mixed-race or “colored” township of Manenberg. The apartheid regime created this township (along with others) after they forcibly removed colored people from their homes within the city and the community has a dark history of poverty, overcrowding, drug abuse, and gang violence. Into this bloody milieu, however, Self Help Manenberg stepped in 16 years ago and is now running programs in virtually all areas of society there. The dedication of the employees and the sense of optimism about the community were truly encouraging. Throughout this trip I (Jesse) have been preoccupied by the question of what to do. Manenberg made me think that sometimes you might just need to act and figure out the details later.

During this week in Cape Town we learned about things that we weren’t really exposed to during the semester, we were able to relax and to begin to process all that we have learned, and we began our transition back to the Global North, to materialism, to home – as Cape Town certainly seemed to be more culturally familiar than Windhoek. This semester has been unforgettable, challenging, fun, confusing, informative and it is hard to fathom that it has come to an end. It is now time to take what we learned back to our lives, to continue our inquiry from home, and to take action.

1. communal cell at Robben Island

2. CGE students at Cape Point – the most southwesterly point in Africa

3. Picture of Cape Town

4. Children at Self Help Manenberg

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