The GoGlobal Blog

Category: Marquette University (Cape Town, South Africa)

The Truth and Reconcilition Commission

The Truth and Reconcilition Commission

Hello friends.

My time in South Africa is coming to a close (I leave a June 13), so I want to use this entry as a chance to talk about a topic that I find interesting and I’d like to touch on, as it’s an important part of South African history.

I want to talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Commission post-apartheid that was employed rather than a trial to deal with both the perpetrators and victims of apartheid. We were lucky enough to speak with Mary Burton, one of the seventeen people elected to be a commissioner, meaning she heard peoples’ stories and decided whether or not to grant amnesty to perpetrators and listen to victims’ stories. The Commission was unique in that it operated under the idea of restorative justice rather than retributive justice, meaning that it had no focus on punishment of perpetrators, but rather forgiveness and truth. The Commission was structured so that survivors and perpetrators alike were eligible to apply to tell their stories. Perpetrators could receive political amnesty and survivors could finally tell their suppressed truths and stories. Some intended for the TRC to help victims cope. The basic premise of the TRC thus was that in exchange for truth, reconciliation and healing would be granted to the families of the victims of apartheid. Indeed, that reconciliation would be granted not only to the victims of apartheid, but to the perpetrators as well. The TRC is often criticized for not being focused enough on punishment and not achieving true justice for victims; however, there is much to be looked at and considered.

I admire the way that Mary Burton spoke about the TRC because she seemed to give a very honest and holistic view. She acknowledged both its successes and failures; gave it the credit it deserved and admitted its failures. My understanding of the TRC in the South African context is one of a committee that had a very difficult job and did it to the best of their ability. I think that they could have done more and I think that people’s’ critiques of the TRC as not being fair enough to the victims and giving them the justice they deserve are valid, but I think that it is almost impossible to judge how they went about this extremely difficult task. Mary highlighted the successes of the TRC in that it did bring some families closure and justice, like a story she told about a family who located their child because of the investigation of the TRC. However, the TRC also had many failures in that it failed to punish all the perpetrators of apartheid and therefore fully acknowledge the harm done to the people. I think that the biggest thing I have learned about the TRC through talking to Mary Burton, reading Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness is that the TRC had an incredibly difficult job and carried it out to the best of their ability based on the circumstances. Yes, they did not bring justice to all families and that is not okay considering the heinous crimes committed during apartheid, and therefore the TRC deserves to be criticized. However, it given the circumstances, it may have been impossible to create a system that was conducive to “perfect” reconciliation.

There is also the question of if the TRC occurred too quickly, if there should have been more of reducing poverty and unemployment rates, and perhaps if there had been more of a focus on this, South Africa would be in a better position today. However, I understand and respect why they wanted to reconcile immediately. Once apartheid ended, Mandela, Tutu, and other leaders had one concentration: moving forward together. This did not involve promoting a country where black South Africans were angry at all white South Africans and refused to live in harmony. This involved focusing on strengthening the country as a whole and forgiving its past, while remembering it so as to not let it happen again in the future. I think that this is a strength of the TRC, because by nature of it being a committee based in reconciliation, it is inherently focused on forgiveness and restoring amicable feelings between two groups. The immediate period after apartheid ended was a very delicate time – is what I get from Tutu and Mary Burton – all of the leaders had to be careful to not focus on revenge but rather a better future. If they concentrated on revenge, the country would fall apart. So, I know that the TRC has many faults and it did not fully properly do its job in restoring justice to all, but at the time, it was perhaps their only and best option.

This question of a how a country moves forward after a period so awful and inhumane has come up before, like in Germany post-Holocaust. In both situations, there is the delicate question of how do we punish those who have committed horrible acts while focusing on keeping our country in tact? It’s a question that no government has mastered. But, considering the time, I think that it is admirable that the leaders did not focus at all on revenge and this is a strength for South Africa in the post-apartheid era. It’s constantly interesting to see how South Africa has been able to move on after apartheid, and forgiveness is a huge part of the country’s aims. It’s very impressive and perhaps something that individuals can apply to their own lives as well.

In other news – about a month ago, the entire country of South Africa’s bus drivers went on strike demanding higher wages. The effect was enormous with thousands of people across the country unable to get to work/school/anywhere because the lack of transport. The social worker at my service site had to leave at 5:45am to arrive at work at 9:30am – that’s how bad the traffic was. Mr. P, our program driver, had to wait much longer for taxis/other form of transport that are typically less efficient to be able to get to where our bus is and pick us up. The bus drivers held firm and refused to cave, ultimately giving their wages a 9% increase. The strike was definitely necessary but I was thrilled to see so many golden arrow buses back on the highway last week and bringing people to work.

As for me, I am leaving for a five-day trip to Namibia tomorrow where I will be camping, seeing sand dunes, and driving through the desert (we’re driving there and flying back)! I’m extremely excited but very stressed as we are in the midst of finals season at school. Not much else is new other than trying to fit in a lot before we leave in just a few weeks. The feature photo for this entry is me in Kirstenbosch Gardens, some lovely gardens behind Table Mountain with fantastic views, after me and my friends had a lovely picnic last Friday. I’ll be back soon with more updates about my time here. x

Visit to Robben Island

Visit to Robben Island

Hello friends. Long time, no talk. Lots has happened since my last post.

First of all, my body is very sore as I am writing this as on this past weekend, I completed the “three peaks challenge,” in which I climbed the three “main” mountains here in Cape Town (Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head) in one day. It took about eleven hours and was very physically taxing but definitely worth it!

Since I last wrote – notably – I went on visit to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, along with many other political prisoners during apartheid), went shark cage diving, and travelled to Johannesburg. I have much to tell you about interesting guest speakers we’ve had in our classes, people we’ve met, our trip to Johannesburg and other activities but in this entry, I’d like to focus on our visit to Robben Island.

Visiting Robben Island is a valuable and informative experience that everyone should partake in if they go to South Africa. As I mentioned, it is where Mandela was for the majority of his imprisonment, and a imprisoned many political prisoners during apartheid, like Robert Sobukwe, the first president of the Pan-African Congress (PAC), a prominent breakaway movement from Mandela’s party, the African Nationalist Congress (ANC). The experience of visiting the island is very unique. All of the tour guides are former prisoners of the island, meaning that they’ve chosen to stay on the place filled with horrible memories and which serves of a constant reminder of a system that once oppressed them so violently. It is incredible that they are willing and able to do this, and makes the visitors’ experience much more valuable and impactful. We first took a boat out to the island – we’ve been meant to go a couple of time before this, but trips often get canceled because the boats can’t sail due to bad weather, wind, et cetera. Once we got to the island, we waited to take a bus to enter the prison, where we met our tour guide.

Our tour guide told us that he was imprisoned for acts of terrorism and sabotage, but did not tell us the specifics. He then explained to us the categorization process that was used to classify the prisoners. People were either White, Indian, Coloured, or Black. He talked about the difference in food that was given to different groups of people, but he also said that even though people were given different food they all shared it together whenever possible. He told to us that the room we were in was a general population block that housed roughly fifty prisoners. The room would have been extremely packed had fifty bunk beds and fifty men been in there. We left the room and walked through the prison to an open area outside. There were pictures showing what it looked like during the apartheid era, including staged propaganda pictures of the prisoners that were circulated to make it look like they were treated humanely, which was not the case. Here, our tour guide told us about the many political prisoners who had gone missing during their time on Robben Island and how their bodies had just been found in 2013 in a graveyard in Bellville (in Cape Town) that was strictly reserved for white people only. This was very shocking and showed us how the effects of apartheid are still very much alive today.

Next, we went back inside the prison into a block of individual cells. This is where we got to see Mandela’s cell (pictured). You can see how small it was, with only a cot, table, and trash can. It was obviously very powerful to see how small the cells were, that these people had to live in for so long, but honestly, I think that regardless of how much you learn about life in the prison, it’s ultimately impossible to internalize their experience being there.

Mandela’s cell.
Mandela’s cell.

We then left the prison and got onto another bus to see around the island. One very interesting thing that we got to see was the quarry where they worked. In the quarry, there was a cave (pictured). The prisoners would regularly eat lunch and converse in that cave because the sun’s heat was too unbearable. Our tour guide detailed how important the conversations in the cave were by telling us how it was the only spot that they could speak freely without any fear of being recorded secretly. This is pretty cool as it was where the first meetings of the new government met, even before they left prison.

Cave.

In the lime quarry, there was a pile of rocks that were neatly stacked near the cave (pictured below). Our tour guide explained to us how it was created in 1995 after Apartheid had ended and Mandela was president. Mandela and all the political prisoners that were still alive had gone back to Robben Island to celebrate their freedom and remember all the injustices of the past. Mandela had laid the first rock down and the rest of the former prisoners followed, creating this pile of rocks of all different colors, shapes, and sizes. The pile symbolized the diversity of the country and the coming together of all the people within Robben Island as well as the greater South Africa. This symbolic act showed the forgiveness that was in the hearts of these people who had been so unjustly and inhumanly treated.

Throughout our visit, a few of us kept having this conversation about how these men were able to come back to Robben Island, a place that had been such a painful part of their lives, to work as tour guides. Every day they were forced to relive a moment in their lives that I am sure they wanted to forget. Someone actually asked our second tour guide if it was more therapeutic or traumatic for him to come back to the island. He said that it was definitely more traumatic for him because every day he was forced to relive his worst experiences. The tour guides were given no therapy or counseling when they were asked to come back and that has not changed over the years. It’s amazing that they still willingingly come back everyday and tell their experience to visitors. Obviously this cannot be the case always as many of the former prisoners are older and as time goes on, there will have to be new tour guides, so I feel privileged that I was able to get this experience.

I’ll be back soon with more about our trip to Johannesburg and more fun, educational, and interesting things! See you soon. x

Top of Table + Approaching Community Development

Top of Table + Approaching Community Development

Hello friends. Welcome to the fifth installment of my blog during my semester abroad in Cape Town.

Firstly, I’m going to add some pictures at the end of this post of my trip to Zimbabwe / Zambia / Botswana a couple of weeks ago. There’s not much else to say about that trip other than to describe it in one word: euphoric. Victoria Falls is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, or likely will experience again in my life, and is generally quite amazing – I would recommend to anyone. Enjoy the photos of rainbows, waterfalls, and animals I’ll attach!

One notable thing I did during these past two weeks was climb Table Mountain. Despite seeing Table every day while being in Cape Town, I hadn’t yet been to the top. We made it up on accident; we started on a different trail quite far from Table, and walked around Devil’s Peak – the mountain next to Table – and ran across a trail (Platteklip Gorge) that would take us to the top of Table. We’d already been walking for about four hours in the very hot sun at that point, and we were all basically out of water, so the hour-long steep hike up was difficult. As per usual, the payoff from the views at the top made the five-hour day completely worth it, and we made it up in time to watch the sunset, which was…. good. I run out adjectives to describe the skies here, so I often resort to simply calling the incredible and beautiful sunrises and sunsets I see as “good,” rather than taking the time and energy to make a sordid attempt to actually give them an accurate representation with words. So the view from Table Mountain was good. Hiking, in general, is one of my favorite things to do here – the walk just around the mountain always gives a different perspective of Cape Town.

Other than finally making it up to Table, we’ve gotten back into our school and service routine, while going to various excursions on weekends. I visited two markets in the Cape Town area – Old Biscuit Mill, which is in Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town that isn’t far from Observatory, the neighborhood where we live, and incidentally also where my service site is located. The other market we visited was the Hout Bay Market (in Hout Bay), which is about thirty minutes away. If you’re coming to Cape Town and looking for recommendations, I would highly encourage you to visit either of these markets as there was lots of good shopping and food.

Last week, we visited Lotus Park, a township in Cape Town, and talked to a community leader named Fraser, about his work and his development efforts in Lotus Park. It was very cool to hear about real community development efforts occuring in Cape Town. We have been learning about community development in our Grassroots Leadership class theoretically, so it was refreshing to actually hear from a person who works with a community on a daily basis and has been working on a project for a long time with success. He emphasized communication with the community itself and the people who have real knowledge about what should be changed. The main thing that is emphasized in our Grassroots Leadership class is people-centered development, in which the members of the community are consulted and thoroughly involved in changing their community. This is a bottom-up approach, and is preferable to a top-down approach which is usually a bunch of people who don’t know about the community attempting to implement policies that don’t actually create the change that is needed.

Fraser’s approach reminded me of an organization I worked with in Peru, which promotes indigenous peoples’ rights in the Andes. The organization was formed in conjunction with the native peoples because the communities were passionate about sharing their heritage and way of life with outsiders. They also wanted to form relationships with the communities around them in order to help their biocultural heritage and promote agrotourism. The non-profit organization uses representatives from each of the communities in order to implement tourism programs that are true to their culture and beneficial for the indigenous people as well. They constantly communicate with the indigenous people when thinking of new programs and trying to fix problems. This model, which is sort of a mix of both a top-down and bottom-up approach, I think, is an ideal way to approach community development, and can translate to development efforts in my own communities. It is similar to the approach Fraser spoke of in terms involving and valuing the local peoples’ input, encouraging them, rather than coming in and taking over as an outsider.

While it was very cool to talk to someone who has had a large hand in transforming a community and our conversation gave me hope for our own ability to help our communities, talking with Fraser also made me realize how incredibly difficult it is to implement change. We (referring to the students in this program) all have big ideas for how we want to help marginalized groups and create change on a large scale, but we have to realize that often we can’t focus on those big ideas, and instead we should look at concrete ways in which we can make a difference, like focusing on building a community center. It was eye-opening to hear him talk about the process and the length of time it took to build one building – the practical elements of that, like obtaining permits and building one wall at a time.

So yes, that’s all. Hope the little note about community development perhaps makes you think about the difficulty currently facing those attempting to create change in underprivileged communities, and the most effective way to do so. Again, enjoy these pictures from Victoria Falls. See you in a couple weeks. x

Mid Semester Break + District Six Museum Visit

Mid Semester Break + District Six Museum Visit

Greetings friends. Welcome to my fourth blog entry.

Apologies for the lack of posting last week, but I have a good reason – I was in Zimbabwe the past week! Our school had their mid-semester break so myself and thirteen other of the students in my program planned a trip to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls itself was an incredible sight. We visited both the Zimbabwe and Zambia side of the falls and left each absolutely drenched but entirely satisfied and amazed. We also managed to go on a safari that took us through Chobe, Botswana, where we saw elephants, hippos, giraffes, kudus (deer-like antelopes), monkeys, and more! I also went on a helicopter ride over the falls and embarked on a bike tour. It was all around a great trip, and it was nice to get out of Cape Town and see a different African country, as Zimbabwe was completely different from Cape Town. I’m currently in the process of gathering my pictures from the trip but I’ll have photographic evidence next post!

The couple weeks leading up to Zimbabwe, I attended Cape Town’s carnival, hiked to Elephant’s Eye cave, watched the sunset at Signal Hill, and visited District Six museum. I’d like to talk some about our visit to District Six museum, as it was a very interesting place. District Six, located near downtown Cape Town, was one of the largest communities to be forcibly removed by apartheid laws. On February 9, 1966, the government enacted a law declaring the area, then a vibrant mixed community, a white only area. Today, the museum serves as a gathering place for those who used to call the area a home and a memorial for the lives destroyed by the apartheid regime.

We were fortunate enough to get a tour of the museum by our program driver, Mr. P, who spent his early childhood in district six, until apartheid laws forced his family to leave. He spoke passionately about how he was evicted from his home and forced to travel hours to get to school thereafter.

I’m attaching a few pictures here from the museum that illustrate the state of Cape Town during apartheid. This was especially shocking for me to see as this was the first time I’d actually seen what apartheid looked like. I’d obviously heard about it and read about it, but actually seeing the signs separating races made the history of South Africa more real.

A quote displayed in the museum from President Thabo Mbeki: “The forced removal of our people from District Six has come to symbolize everything that was wrong about the system of apartheid and white minority domination. We are renewing ourselves as a district, as a people, and as a nation, giving back to all our people their common heritage without the distinctions of race, color, and gender.”

See you next week. x

A departure from Cape Town

A departure from Cape Town

Hello everyone. Welcome to the third installment of my blog in Cape Town.

My last two weeks have been relatively routine, with weekend activities including the Cape Town Pride Festival, visiting various coffee shops in the neighborhood, and, most notably, a venture outside of Cape Town to Hermanus (about two hours away) to attend a retreat. We returned from the retreat this past Sunday after two nights away. We stayed in cabins at the Volmoed Retreat center in order to meet with the author of a book we have been reading: Reconciliation: Restoring Justice by John de Gruchy. De Gruchy lives at the retreat place full time and spends his time writing more books and connecting with those who visit. We had three one-hour conversations with him over the weekend, not just about the book, but about his life and his political and religious views. Reconciliation looks at reconciliation in the Christian faith and applies it to the Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa post-apartheid. It’s mainly sort of promoting the Christian way of reconciliation. He’s written many more books, all of which are centered around his Christian Humanist way of life and his views from that lens. The conversations we had with him were relatively interesting, although I wish he would have been more upfront about his own stances, as that is what I, personally, was most interested in – the way that he specifically views the world now and how his book fits into the picture as well. Regardless, it was interesting to meet a South African author and discuss his book and his writings a bit.

Over the course of the weekend, we went into the town of Hermanus (the retreat center was in the countryside) and explored – it’s right on the water so it was beautiful – we spent time around the property we were staying, and my friend and I went on a sunrise hike on Sunday morning (pictured). In Hermanus, we saw a large group of seals, and at our home we saw lots of baboons! The place we stayed was picturesque – we were surrounded by farmland, so it reminded me a lot of the US midwest, minus the mountains; there was a waterfall not too far from our houses, and we could see all of the stars at night. The hike my friend and I went on was incredible; we had some trouble finding the right trail in the 5am darkness, but eventually made it to the top and watched the sunlight over the mountain. I’ve never really watched or valued the sunrise until I came here, but I guess it teaches you that you don’t notice the absence of light until the light comes, which is something I’d never experienced before.

Also in the last two weeks, we’ve had some amazing guest speakers come in, including the former mayor of Cape Town during the 1990s – Frank van de Velde – and an influential woman affiliated with the Amy Biehl foundation, which seeks to help with education of youth. She was incredibly inspiring, talking about joining the ANC during apartheid and going against the law, and also speaking out against her own situation and demanding better education for herself at a young age. There’s one constant thing I’ve heard from many South Africans, which is the power of education. “If our kids are educated, they won’t be oppressed,” she said. While I’ve always been pro-education, I’ve definitely taken for granted in my life my access to quality schools and now my ability to continue my education at a four year university. I’ve never thought of education as a tool for change; it’s always just been something that I need to do to eventually get a good job. And I think that in the US, that’s the general view that many people would hold. But in South Africa, the people that I have talked to emphasize the role of education in liberation. One of Nelson Mandela’s most famous quotes is “Education is the most powerful weapon which you and use to change the world.” This makes me view education differently, and provokes thought about how needed it is in the US right now.

Other than the retreat, my last two weeks have been largely “normal,” with school and service. Our spring break is in two weeks and myself and fourteen other people are all going to Zimbabwe, staying at a hostel, and planning activities from there – which will include a safari, zip lining, and much more! My next post will likely be before that trip.

I want to use this entry as an opportunity to talk a bit about race. Being here is a completely different experience from the US as here, whites are a minority population. In classes at the University of the Western Cape, it’s not uncommon for there to be no white people, other than those in my program. We had a group discussion about race last week, and it was interesting to discuss our experiences here so far with dealing with our white and American privilege (the majority of the people in my program are white, so when I say “we,” I’m talking about the other white people), and how we are all forced to be more aware of our privilege being here. One comment stuck out to me was when someone pointed out that she only recently realized that we (the people in our program) were the only white people in one of classes. Because we’re white, when we walk into a room, we never really have to consider if there are other white people, because we’re always protected by our skin color. This is in contrast to, say, black people in the US, who are constantly aware of how many people in the room look like them. I thought it was especially interesting that even though we were a minority in that class, it didn’t really matter because our white skin always means we still felt safe and included, which is not the experience of many other races. I always have the protection of my skin color, regardless of the situation. I constantly am forced to think about my privilege being here, more so than in the US. At home in the states, as a white person, it’s easy to brush off privilege, and go to a space where you don’t have to think about race or your identity and pretend it’s not a problem. But here, we don’t have that option, so I know that this experience will make me more aware when I go home. My views on race and my own privilege will continue to develop during my time in South Africa, so I’m sure that I’ll have more to say later, but I did want to put that out there and perhaps encourage you, if you’re white, to check how often you’re actually aware of your own privilege in the US.

Apologies that this entry was a bit jumbled. See you all soon. x

First Days at Service Site

First Days at Service Site

Hello again. Welcome to the second installment of my blog here in South Africa.

The thing that I want to focus most on in this entry is my service placement. I am working with St. Anne’s, a shelter for domestically abused women and children. It’s a nonprofit organization that takes in women and their children (aged 0 to 5) who have suffered domestic abuse. They are given housing, daily childcare, food, and a variety of resources to deal with their circumstances – they all work with St. Anne’s social worker and are helped through legal processes, doctor visits, and anything else they might need. Additionally, the shelter provides skills sessions for the women, like jewelry and candle making, job preparedness, and computer training. They also have individual assessments and group therapy sessions, and outsource to counselors and doctors to get each client the help they need. All of the steps in place at the shelter are geared towards helping the women work through their trauma, and prepare them to leave the shelter and become employed, and take care of their children. The women are usually there for about four months, and as needed, St. Anne’s has second and third stage homes separate from their main house and offices.

While I am here, I am mainly working with the social worker, Coleene, assisting her in whatever she needs. With her, I will mostly be helping with administrative business – filing, data entry, contacting ex-residents for various reasons, etc. However, apart from administrative duties, I will also have the opportunity to help with the skills workshops in the shelter, probably running or helping on on computer skills or career readiness sessions. I am very excited for this hands-on aspect of my work here, and hope that I get to know the women and help them through these projects. I may also get to see more of what the social work department does, through sitting in on conversations with the women and possibly accompanying them to court.

I’ve been to work at St. Anne’s three days now – I was placed nearly two weeks ago now, and go every Tuesday and Thursday. To give you an idea of what my week looks like, I go to normal classes at the University of the Western Cape on Mondays and Wednesdays, am at St. Anne’s from 9am-3pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and go back to UWC on Fridays for two classes specific to my program – only with the 17 other people in my program. My days at St. Anne’s so far have been largely introductory, and spent getting oriented to the people and the organization in general. It’s an interesting atmosphere because the staff and the shelter itself are housed in the same location. The shelter consists of two buildings, one with the front office/reception area attached to it, and the main house beyond that, with bedrooms and a kitchen. The second building has more bedrooms, a kitchen, the crèche (where the children spend their day), and the skills room, computer lab, and staff offices. So while I have been working mostly in Coleene’s office, I’m very connected to the shelter itself, and I’m excited to hopefully soon start seeing the skills labs and becoming involved.

One of the benefits of working within the shelter rather than separate from it is that I’m able to get to know the entire staff – not just the administrative and social work departments. As part of my orientation, I am sitting down with different people and getting to know about them and their role. One of the most intriguing conversations I’ve had, since I got to South Africa in general, was my sit down with the day house mother, Rabecca. As house mother, she develops a very strong relationship with the women as she, in addition to cooking and delegating their schedule during the day, helps them heal and become the best parent they can be. The thing that most struck me about our conversation was her emphasis on deeply caring for the women and their well-being, as well as the difficulty of this task itself. “It’s about humanity,” she told me.

She wants to be able to connect with the women in any way that they’ll let her, and push them to their highest potential. This perhaps seems like the obvious job of a house mother, but the way she spoke about her job made me realize how incredibly rewarding her role is. She didn’t mask or pretend that it wasn’t difficult, or that she struggled with it at first, but now she has been at St. Anne’s for a little over two years, and realizes that she will always be learning and finding out more about herself through the women. Her emphasis about showing respect and humanity is what stood out to me most about our conversation; I am excited to be working with an organization that directly impacts so many woman and has staff that care deeply about the outcome.

A note about service – a common criticism of students studying abroad is the “white savior” narrative, in which students think they can come and save a community, even though they are only there for a short period of time and cannot make a deep impact. This often comes out of “white guilt” as well, in which students seek to help only to make themselves feel better about their inherent privilege. I like the program that I’m in because we do stay in one place for about six months, so it is a longer period of time, but still, it’s not enough, and it’s difficult to justify our being here – do we have genuine intentions? Is it right for us to work with these organizations or schools for only half a year, only to pick up and leave? And there are problems with this, I’m not going to say it’s a perfect program. But instead of thinking about our service sites as organizations or schools that “need” us, rather Melikaya, our program director, encourages us to constantly take the time to step back, listen, and learn, rather than always jumping in with ideas and suggestions. The truth is that we don’t know enough about these communities to pass judgement or often even give our opinions. Rather, Melikaya reminds us that this is an opportunity to learn from another community and their way of doing things, and apply what we observe here in South Africa to our work in the US. The service work we do here should be a continuation of what we already partake in in the US, and we should continue it with even more passion and knowledge when we return. So, it’s not perfect, but we are still able to help how we can, and ultimately, hopefully, it is a mutually beneficial experience for us and our site.

Besides my first few days at my service site, my last two weeks have consisted of a music festival in the beautiful Kristenboch Gardens, a sunset hike up Chapman’s peak (pictured), a sunset boat ride at Cape Town’s waterfront, attending a wine festival in Stellenbosch (a suburb about half an hour outside of Cape Town), seeing Black Panther (would recommend), and continuing with my four classes. Other news – update on the water crisis – Day Zero has been moved to July, which is exciting, but we must keep the same water conservation efforts we’ve been practicing since we got here in order to keep pushing it back. Additionally, you might have heard that South Africa went through a transition of power, with former president Jacob Zuma resigning on February 14 as a result of large pressure by his own party, and Cyril Ramaphosa (Zuma’s vice president) being newly elected. I’m still learning about South African politics, but briefly, Zuma was president for nine years, but his presidency was riddled with scandals, including him being charged with rape in 2005. He currently has 783 charges of corruption against him. All of the South Africans I’ve spoken to speak poorly of Zuma and are happy about this transition of power. One of my professors even compared Zuma to Trump! Again, I’m still learning about politics here, but that’s a short summary of what has been going on.

So yes, there’s my one-month update here in Cape Town. I’m appreciating this city more everyday, and hope to keep exploring, hiking, and learning. See you soon. x

Introduction and First Two Weeks

Introduction and First Two Weeks

Hello. This is the first entry in my blog for my semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of blogs. Or college students studying abroad, really. I find us annoying and often ignorant with a tendency to come off as observers of the world rather than participants, as if we have a right to judge the countries we enter for a few months. So, to the best of my ability, I’m going to attempt to avoid clichés and whatever other perceptions you have about college students studying abroad, and try to use this blog as an opportunity to try to challenge myself to make insightful comments about South Africa’s social and political climate, especially in relation to the US, or insightful comments about whatever comes along, invoke thought in whoever reads this…. or at least attempt to do something along those lines.

Also, I don’t know how to blog. I am determined not to fall into a pattern of just stating facts about my whereabouts each passing day, because I don’t find that especially interesting. Regardless, bear with me as I try to figure out my thoughts and opinions every two weeks, and excuse me while I find my footing as to how write these entries; hopefully they will be sufficient.

To start, I should probably establish some basic facts about why I’m here and the details of the program. It’s a Marquette University program and it’s focused around service learning. I’m here with 17 other students from various Jesuit universities (Creighton, Fordham, St. Louis University, St. Joseph’s, Loyola, and Marquette are all represented, as well as one student from Austrailia). We all live in one house in the Observatory neighborhood in Cape Town. Twice a week, we’re at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), taking two to three classes of our choosing. Another two days a week we work at service sites, which range from non-profits to schools in Cape Town. And on Fridays, we attend another two classes that are through the Marquette program, so they’re the same for everyone and they consist of us 18 students only. At UWC, I’m taking an ethics class about human rights discourse and an African literature course. I have not been placed in my service site – we have visited a few and will continue to visit sites in the next week or so before we make a decision.

My first two weeks have consisted of a few days of orientation at UWC, introductions, a visit to a beach (it’s summer here!), the first week of classes, learning basic Xhosa (one of South Africa’s eleven official languages), and other adventures to explore neighborhoods and downtown Cape Town. I’ve also climbed two mountains in the past two weeks. The first was Lion’s Head, a relatively short hike (30-45 minutes up), in order to see the sun rise (pictured). I don’t think I’ve ever sat and witnessed the sun rising before, but here I watched it rise over the mountains and it was…. peaceful. And easy. And nice. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from a Spanish song – disfruta las cosas buenas – enjoy the good things (cheesy, I know, but good advice). The second hike up a mountain we did is called Skeleton’s Gorge. It’s a part of Table Mountain, but I’m honestly unsure exactly where it lies within Table Mountain National Park. This one was longer (about two hours up) but perhaps even more rewarding than Lion’s Head. At the top, we found a lake to swim in and the most beautiful scenery under a blue sky. I don’t think I’ve ever seen skies bluer than Cape Town’s. 

Cape Town is beautiful, of course. The 90 degree weather is a nice break from the zero-degree midwest winter I came from. The people are friendly, and the students at UWC have been welcoming and happy to get to know us. You’ve probably also heard that Cape Town is experiencing a serious water crisis. This is something that we’ve been very aware of before and since we arrived, and we, as well as (hopefully) everyone else in the city, are conserving water to the best of our ability. The limit is 50L per person per day. We’re taking two minute showers, reusing water for flushing toilets, and not doing laundry as often as usual, among other alterations of our daily routines. When we got here, “day zero” – when the dam levels drop to 13.5% and the taps are shut off – was mid-April, and last I heard, it’s now been moved to mid-May, so that’s positive. We, as a group, are fortunate in that we have the money and resources available to us so that we will likely be okay regardless, but we are aware that not everyone is as lucky as us, and the entire city is already experiencing the effects of low water levels.

In the next two weeks, I will get into my classes more and begin to get back into doing homework and keeping up with readings, and also, hopefully, figure out my service site. I also hope to get involved with a club or sport at UWC and make some friends at the university. UWC is surprisingly quite similar to large universities in the United States, so the campus feels very comfortable and familiar. It, however, is certainly different as it has a rich history in the struggle against apartheid, opening in 1960 for colored people only. I look forward to learning more about the university and its history. This upcoming week is also probably the last week where we will have more free time as we’ve not been placed at service sites, so I also hope to continue to explore Cape Town’s neighborhoods and sights.

Like I said before, I’d like to use this blog as a way to think more deeply about my experience here in Cape Town. However, since these first two weeks have been mostly introductory, I’m going to use this first entry as an opportunity to simply talk about a quote that resonated with me this week, and that pertains to my future experience and development as I continue my time here. My African literature professor included this quote in his lecture. It’s by the author of the book we’re reading (Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie): “In some ways, the amount of humanity and dignity the world allows depends on what race and class and gender you are.” This basically serves as a summation, I think, of what I am trying to combat in my studies and eventually through action in my future career, whatever it may be (I’m majoring in Advocacy and Social Change at Loyola). I’d like to keep this in mind as I continue my experience here in South Africa, a place which has such a recent history of oppression based on race, and is a country that is still struggling from the effects of its past. Adichie is completely correct here in her assertion that race, class, and gender, are huge contributors to how one is treated and the opportunities they are allowed. I might even add more categories to Adichie’s list – sexual orientation, for one. The extent to which these categories affect each person’s life is something that I am learning about more each day. Clearly, Adichie’s words outline one of the most serious problems of today’s world, and I know that I will begin to understand this quote more deeply and become even more motivated to combat this as I begin in my service site here and learn more about South Africa.

See you in two weeks. Enjoy the good things. x