Thursday, February 12, 2009

Week 2: Take-Offs and Landings

Leann Vice-Reshel, Maggie Broad, Nathan Cahn

Monday marked the end of our Soweto home-stay. We left our home-stays and traveled with the group to 17 Shaft. 17 Shaft is an organization that works to train youth in vocational skills. Their mission statement asserts that “17 Shaft Training aims to alleviate poverty through skills training and job creation by implementing projects aimed at empowering marginalized groups such as youth, women ex-combatants and disadvantaged sectors of South African communities.1” In addition to all the goals laid out in their mission statement, 17 Shaft is playing a pivotal role in job creation in South Africa. This is something that the country is in desperate need of, given the high rate of unemployment among its citizens. We were also able to see other forms of job creation during our stay in Johannesburg, such as workers who are hired to sort plastic bottles out of the trash rather than having separate recycling bins. While at 17 Shaft, we were given a tour of the facilities and the current projects to give us a feel of how they function. The sight of the organization is on a former gold mine, as well as a former meeting place of political leaders. One project we were able to see was a building the staff was in the process of constructing. Additionally, because of 17 Shaft’s proximity to one of the World Cup stadiums, the organization will be hosting some spectators of the Cup.

We then departed to one of the three capital cities of South Africa, Pretoria. We visited the US Embassy where we met with a public relations staff member. She informed us of the embassy’s role in terms of international relations, such as establishing exchange programs. Some of the embassy’s recent work has been on combating ignorance of HIV/AIDS issues. For instance, they have begun testing young children, in order to instill a sense of normalcy to the tests, thereby reducing stigma associated with the disease.

The next stop on our Pretoria visit was the Voortrekker Monument. The Monument is in commemoration of British colonizers, now known as Afrikaners, who made the trek from Cape Town to Pretoria in the mid 1800’s. While the monument is a source of pride for many Afrikaaners, it has been the cause of much controversy amongst the non- Afrikaaner South Africans. The monument has been called a “fascist” symbol and the controversy has been heightened by the fact that the monument sits atop a hill overlooking Pretoria, reminding South Africans of that moment in history. A large tomb rests just inside the monument to honor those who died on the journey to Pretoria. Each year on December 16th, Afrikaners gather at the monument to celebrate their forefathers’ exploits and watch as sunlight strategically shines at an angle that lights up the tomb. The Voortrekker Monument can easily be related to many monuments and holidays found around the United States, such as Mount Rushmore,Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. Similar to the Voortrekker, these are all symbols of one culture’s colonization and domination over another culture.

We then ate lunch and met with a linguist professor from the University of South Africa who spoke with us about white identity in South Africa. Born in S.A. of German ancestry, he tried to explain some of his predecessors’ actions and thought processes. He spoke of three prejudices (gender, race, and nations), which played a large role in the formation of white identity. He claimed that apartheid was not exclusively a South African problem, for there are instances of social division all around the world. He also claimed that South African church and state were not connected, as opposed to other historical accounts we heard. The overall reaction to his discussion amongst the group was split.

After we left the monument we traveled to the South African Parliament, a grand building overlooking monument. On the Parliament’s hills we reflected on our experiences in South Africa, commenting on the implications of race and wealth. We returned to That’s It! and then flew to Namibia.

On our first full day in Windhoek we were taken on a tour of the city. On the tour we saw Katatura, the former black township from the time of Apartheid. Similar to Soweto, Katatura has a wide range of economic situations (hardships and triumphs). Both Katatura and Soweto have areas of extreme poverty situated directly next to areas of wealth. It is not uncommon to find a nice house across the street from a house built out of sheet metal. One single road separates the black, colored, and white townships created during Namibia’s apartheid regime. After leaving Katatura, we drove to a hill to look over the informal settlements of Windhoek. For at least two miles in either direction, sheet metal houses could be seen glinting in the sun. Among the shacks we could see one medical clinic, a church, and one small schoolhouse.

The next day was Friday and that meant Katatura Quest. Students were split up into groups of three and assigned a tour guide from a local student leadership program. These groups went to areas around Katatura such as the Soweto market, a political opposition’s headquarters, and other points of interest in the area. This experience was very rewarding because we got new insight into the community. We were no longer one large group of white American students parading through an area, affording us a better chance of being accepted into the community and getting the chance to directly with locals. With less attention placed on us, we became more comfortable in the community. After this, many students took the opportunity to go to the local shopping mall. Prices here are very different from the US. The exchange rate has been hovering around 10 Namibian dollars to one US dollar, which makes it very cheap to buy things such as food, phone cards, and jewelry: cheap for us Americans that is. Price levels are very high for many Namibians, making necessities difficult to acquire and luxuries out of the question. Outside of the mall you can see the way in which many Namibians make a living, selling “air time” or extra minutes for your cell phone. This reflects our learning of the many different opportunities that have been created to increase job opportunity in a country where unemployment is a very serious issue.

1 comment:

Megan Lee said...

ah, the first days in namibia. :)