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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

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