So how about instead of The Bachelor next season there is a set of parents, and instead of the batch of bachelorettes there are a bunch of orphaned kids. And the parents have to go through all these processes to see which kid they want to take home with them.
First of all, I’m not sure if parade is the right word. I used it while talking to a police officer…at the parade…and he looked at me as if I had two heads. Parliament opened in Cape Town last week so there was a parade down Adderley Street to mark the event.
Zuma would be making an appearance, and Mandela was in the area. We got there at 4:30 with the understanding that the events wouldn’t begin for at least another hour. The streets were bare aside from a few parents with strollers and other international students.
All I could think was that if Obama were to be making any sort of appearance, the streets would be packed. I understand Zuma isn’t the most popular man in South Africa right now, but he is the president, nonetheless, and I’m sure he does have supporters out there somewhere.
Two hours later, when the first section of soldiers started to march down the street, there weren’t many more people in attendance than there had been when we arrived.
I saw Zuma. He was in a vehicle reminiscent of the Popemobile with one of his wives and other important people. He was waving to the crowd that was there, and it was pretty darn exciting. Even if I didn’t get to see Mandela (apparently he snuck in earlier), I got to see the president of South Africa. How cool is that?
Even if Zuma did not make a public appearance the parade would have been neat to watch. There were bands and the military marches, and there were horses, and bagpipes. Just your average parade. I feel like in my town back home that would have generated more interest than the opening of Parliament featuring President Zuma did here in Cape Town.
I’m quite fortunate to be able to be in Cape Town as a student. I have many opportunities here and most of them highlight the positive aspects of this city. Like the rest of South Africa, though, Cape Town has had its fair share of problems. I don’t want to be ignorant to this history, so I’m trying to expose and inform myself as much as possible. As a part of the exposure I went with a group of friends to the District Six museum about a week ago.
Under the apartheid government in 1965 over sixty thousand residents of District Six were forcibly removed to create a ‘whites-only ‘zone in Cape Town. The people were moved to the Cape Flats and had to start their lives anew. The museum was very informative. I left knowing so much more about the issue than I did coming in. While I felt that it served as a great platform to teach people about the forced removals, I also felt that the museum served as an excellent forum for ex-residents to come in and talk and to remember. There are many physical remains scattered about the museum. Street signs, paintings, books, toys. All of the items were carefully placed among the historical bits to further enhance the emotional experience. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to find out one day that you have to leave your home, your memories, your neighbors…
My favorite part of the museum was the art tiles located in the back room. As part of the open forum aspect of the District Six museum blank tiles were given to ex-residents who could then write poetry or create artwork on them. The tiles were then placed into the floor of the museum so as one is walking through they can see the emotional impact that the removals had on these people. Along with that were sheets hanging from the ceiling of the museum, onto which residents could sign their names and leave their mark. I found it interesting that not all of the feelings from the residents were resentment or anger. Many people spoke fondly of their new lives in the Cape Flats, or looked back on their life in District Six with positive recollections. It must take so much strength to be able to find that silver lining.
Today there is a project in the works to get some of the former residents back to District Six. Right now the numbers are small, about twenty or so homes were built and people given the rights back to the land. There is some hope that within a matter of years over a thousand former residents will be able to return to their homes. The process is slow, there’s a lot of issues arising as to who gets to move in first, who actually was a resident of District Six, etcetera etcetera. The museum is assisting in this process by making more and more people aware of the wrongs that occurred under the apartheid government. The District Six museum is one of the better museums that I have visited, and I would highly recommend it.
Yesterday I went on a township tour. We walked in a group of thirty around to township of Langa. The experience was incredible. To start off we went to the community center called Guga S’Thebe. The center has an afterschool program that teaches kids music and the arts. As we were walking out these five boys were playing marimbas and drums, and we were invited to sit for a performance. They really were great at their instruments, I was very impressed. There was one boy who would step forward to talk to us about the program and the songs, and although I never met him before I was really proud of him. He was about ten years old, and it couldn’t have been easy to talk in front of the group of Americans. I feel like we could have been intimidating, but that didn’t stop him. He and the rest of the boys just did their thing and played. Everyone was cheering and calling for encores. I hope that our support gave them all a big ego boost, because they sure deserve it.
Next we took a visit to the AIDS awareness center, stopping along the way to look at the beautiful artwork around the township. The center is called Love Life and I believe it’s only a month old. They provide AIDS awareness to the entire community, and they offer sex education for teenagers. There’s a clinic that treats STI’s and provides contraceptive counseling, a radio station that allows people to call in and anonymously ask sexual health questions (in between Alien DJ’s house music), and the game room. The game room seemed to be the most popular section of the center, and I think that’s great. Instead of wandering around on the streets the kids can go to this safe environment and play some pool with their friends.
Walking along the road to go to the shantytown one man stopped to ask our guide if any of us were for sale. A few minutes later while browsing the curio store a woman informed me that if I didn’t purchase one of her necklaces she would go hungry that night. It was rough to turn her down, but if I didn’t stay somewhat callous I’d be a greater target than I already am, being an American.
Towards the end of the tour our guide took us to a ‘club’ to try a taste of African beer. We went inside one of the shacks and sat down on wooden benches. We were given some sorghum , which is what the beer is made of. Next our guide went on to explain the uses of the beer. It’s present at any big ceremony in the townships – births, weddings, etc. There’s only 2% alcohol in it, but it’s supposed to make you well when you drink it. Not drunk, not tipsy, just well. That’s the only way he was able to describe it. To drink it everyone sits in a circle and a metal bucket full of the sorghum beer is passed around. In the club we were at generally just men sit and drink it while talking about their problems. When it got to me it was only three sips in, so the bucket was very heavy. I almost dropped it. It didn’t taste very good. It was milky, but bitter, but with a slight bite. We were offered seconds, but I denied.
After that we went outside and experienced one of the most fascinating parts of the tour. As we left the club a group of little kids outside took notice of us, and started to scream and run towards us. Some of them wanted to play, some of them were cupping their hands for money, some would grab our bags or cameras. These kids were thrilled to see us. They would climb on our legs and hold our hands and swing around. They were laughing and hugging everyone. Maybe they were just being friendly and curious, or they could have wanted gifts. I’m still wondering how these kids who were three or four years old already knew to expect things when a group of white people show up.
While it was an incredible experience and I’m glad I went, I felt a bit uneasy about participating in poorism. I’m sure our presence helped the local economy, but at what price? Will the township (if it isn’t already) dependent on outside help to survive?
Along with the division of wealth in Cape Town comes a diverse city full of great opportunities to its visitors. There are different people, different architecture, different languages, and, my favorite, different foods. I could go to a fancy restaurant on the waterfront and order the fish of the day, or I could go a little deeper into the city and try some oxtail among other various African cuisines, I could stay in the suburbs and get a taste of the different fast foods, or I could go to a township meat shop and enjoy that special sense of community that exists only in the townships.
When I first heard that I was going into the township for dinner with my house I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I had been in a township before and noticed that meat wasn’t handled as carefully as it was back home. Along with my reservations about the potential pitfalls in sanitation I wondered what the place could possibly look like. We were a group of thirty plus kids going, and I didn’t know how any restaurant could deal with accommodating us, much less one in the townships. All of my concerns seem so silly now after the experience.
Mzoli’s Meat is located in the township of Gugulethu. To get there, we walked to the taxi station in Mowbray and took one of the minibus taxis over. For those of you who do not know the taxis are not traditional taxis, those are called cabs. These are vans that drive up and down Main Road and pick up people standing on the side. There’s a man who hangs out the window and whistles and screams where the taxi is going. They’re notorious for being unsafe, due to the fact that they can pack twenty + people into a vehicle meant for sixteen. So with the extra people the taxis are weighted down and scratched against the tires. The taxi to Gugulethu was my first experience, and it was better than I expected. I was hesitant when the driver took out a wooden plank to create an extra seat, but we got everyone in and we got to our location without any problems.
When I first saw Mzoli’s it just made so much sense. There are round tables with plastic chairs beneath canopies and overhangs. You order your meat at the butcher and they will braai (barbeque) it for you on the spot. The braai takes about three hours. Everyone I was with was wondering what the hell we would do for three hours, but the time passed so quickly. To start off the wait, we all indulged in something to drink. Mzoli’s only sells beer and only by the six pack, so you can guess where that led us all.
At most restaurants you go with your group and you sit at your table and socialize among yourselves. Mzoli’s isn’t like that. There was music playing, people were dancing, there was mingling among all of the tables. Maybe it’s the fact that there were only six-packs, everyone had enough beer that the concept of self-reservation no longer existed. Not that that’s a bad thing. It was really nice how everyone sitting outside waiting for their food could get along so easily.
When the food came out we were all starving, so there was a mad dash to get something on your plate. The meat is put in a giant bowl and everyone just goes in and grabs what they want. No utensils at Mzoli’s, it’s back to basics. Someone at my table requested a knife, and the server just pointed to his teeth and smiled. There was chicken, beef, and sausage, and everything was delicious and tender, and absolutely worth the wait.
While the food is excellent I would have to say my favorite part about Mzoli’s is the atmosphere. Every single person there – the customers, the cooks, the servers – everyone was agreeable, and it put me in a great mood for the rest of the day. How nice would it be if every restaurant could allow their patrons to lose all reservations and simply enjoy themselves? I can only laugh that I was concerned about this place, and for what reason? It was in a township? The more time I spend in Cape Town the happier I am to see my preconceptions be proved false. A lot of people look at the townships and think that the people living there are different. And maybe they are. At least at Mzoli’s they know how to keep people happy and entertained better than anywhere I’ve been to before. I’ve been told that the majority of white people living in Cape Town would never go to Mzoli’s, much less a township. I can’t imagine why. I have my thoughts and uncertainties but I would never let that stop me from experiencing anything.
I was fortunate enough to return to Mzoli’s just yesterday, and I was happy to find that my first experience wasn’t a just a good day for the restaurant. It seems that I’ll be able to count on Mzoli’s for a good time with good food any day.
4 February 2010
(We don’t have consistent internet here…so I’ve been writing blog posts and saving them, hoping that I can get them up before I get home.)
I’m in Cape Town…I’ve been here for about 2 and a half weeks and it’s been completely wonderful. I’m having a very difficult time keeping a journal of everything that’s going on, so I have no idea how I’ll be able to keep up with a blog, but I’ll try to find a way. I feel as if this post will be an overview, I can’t get into much detail on anything or else I’ll be here forever, but as classes are starting tomorrow, I feel that now is an appropriate time to try to get a regular schedule going, including updating this blog.
I really love Cape Town. I find it incredible that a city this big can be so diverse.
There’s a very big division of races, and among that division exists a division of social classes. I was told this at orientation and thought that things were being exaggerated, but from walking around campus it’s clear that they’re not. People group themselves with their own kind. Some tensions exist, but for the most part this segregation is just something that happens and exists, and nobody that I’ve encountered minds it all that much.
The division of wealth is very obvious as well. The first thing I saw after leaving the airport was a township. Houses that were made out of plywood and sheet metal were all crammed together into this little community. Before I had the chance to let that poverty set in to my mind the scene changed, and I saw a golf course with a group of what appeared to be wealthy old white men driving around on a golf cart. It’s shocking to see these things, but it’s a part of everyday life here and many citizens of Cape Town have a positive outlook of what’s to come.
Some smaller observations about living in Cape Town: There’s no ketchup, words are repeated (yeah yeah, hey hey, now now), time means nothing, speed limits mean nothing, internet is expensive, and Americans are adored.
The first week here was CIEE orientation. We learned about South African culture, a bit about courses here at UCT, as well as participated in activities to help form friendships and things like that.
The second week was UCT orientation, which to be frank was quite boring. However boring it was, though, it was necessary. It feels like the goal of the entire week was to prepare us to register for courses, and no matter how much I knew about the process nothing could have prepared me for the queues that made up registrations. Three hours just to sign up for classes. It was hectic. But I’m signed up for:
Policy and Administration Conflict in World Politics, Introductory Political Economy, and Gender, Sexuality and Political Debates in Africa.
In between those two orientations was move-in from the temporary CIEE housing at Graca Machel, a residence hall on campus, into a house. I love my house. I love the people, the structure, the location, the atmosphere, the view. I got very lucky, especially considering this had been my second choice. The walk up to campus is a little rough, but I’m hoping that it will get easier given I’ll be doing it nearly every day at 9am for the next few months. While close in distance the UCT campus is on the base of a mountain, so there are many hills and many steps. All that combined with the fact that it is summer here and temperatures are about 80 degrees F. I shouldn’t be complaining though. Walking uphill in the heat has got to be better than walking around ice patches in the snow.
Tomorrow is ‘mock lecture’ day. Classes start, but not really. No one has given me a straight answer (those are hard to come by around here) but I’ve gathered that it’s a business type of day. Go over the syllabus, sign up for tutorials, etc. Along with my three classes I’ll be doing some volunteer work. While nothing’s official yet, there are two sites that I’m going to try to work with. The first is an organization that helps refugees and people seeking political asylum. There I would be assisting with paperwork and things like that. The second is a little more hands on – it would involve me teaching students in a township about journalism and photography, hopefully giving them the skills they need to start their own newspaper. I’m hoping to keep myself busy – there are so many opportunities here that are not available back in New York, and I’d like to help out as much as I can while I’m here.
Since I have to wake up early in the morning, and I’d like to post this tonight, I suppose that’s all I can write for now. There’s definitely so much more that I have to say, and many more experiences of mine that I’d love to share, but I’d like to let the stories come as they do, and not force them out just for the sake of writing them.
Cape Town is pretty ayoba, I can see myself enjoying every second spent here, and I am quite fortunate to have this opportunity.
(Link to my Flickr account)
Tomorrow I leave for Cape Town. It’s 10:12 PM here in New York and my flight leaves in about twelve hours. I should be sleeping but it’s slowly starting to sink in that I leave the country tomorrow for FIVE MONTHS. The combination of anxiety and excitement is preventing me from sleeping..eating..packing… Luckily Cape Town is a modern city so anything that I forget to do here I should be able to do there. Right now I’m trying to take everything one step at a time. So currently my biggest concerns are:
-Getting through the airport/customs
-Not getting sick between now and getting off the plane
-Finding CIEE in the Cape Town airport
Just a bit of background on what I’m doing: Currently I’m a sophomore at Marist College. I’m studying abroad at the University of Cape Town through Marist…which goes through a program called CIEE. This program goes from January 19th to June 5th. CIEE sets me up in Cape Town with classes, living arrangements, cultural experiences, community service, etc. I am the only person from Marist going this semester, so I arrive knowing no one. Many people find that to be unnerving but I’m looking at it as an opportunity to branch out.
Hopefully when I arrive I have access to the internet to continue to post my adventures, but until then, totsiens!