Memorials, NGOs, and Crime

Thursday, my program took us to several memorials and to an NGO. The memorials were really interesting. Two were in Gugulethu, a township, and two were in Athlone, an area that had been designated for coloreds during apartheid.

The first was for the Gugulethu 7, a group of seven boys brutally killed by the police. These boys had been infiltrated by the police, and were planning on blowing up a government building. The man who told us about it was there, and had been with the boys, but had lived. The second was for Amy Biehl, a white American activist doing her Fullbright in South Africa. She was caught in the middle of a riot in Gugulethu, and because she was white, it was assumed she was an oppressor, rather than a human rights activist. She was stoned to death. The third was for two people named Colleen and Robbie, but to be honest, I could not hear enough of the explanation to give a good overview. The last monument was the Trojan Horse monument, dedicated to several children, ages 15-20, who were shot by the police during rioting.

These monuments painted an image of exactly how complicated the apartheid system, the anti-apartheid struggle, and race relations could be. For instance, the Gugulethu 7 were on their way to blow up a government building when they were ambushed. Why? Because they had been trained for violence by two members of the police that had infiltrated. Only one had been trained before the infiltration. Amy Biehl had done nothing explicitly wrong, but she was white and therefore presumed the enemy. The rioters were caught in the riot mindset, an murdered an innocent women. An incident similar to the Trojan Horse incident happened in a black area, and when the colored families of the Trojan Horse fiasco were asked to meet with them, several made racist comments, in spite of both groups being oppressed by apartheid. There may have been a clear “good” and “bad” during apartheid, but neither side was purely one or the other.

After the monuments, we divided into groups to visit an NGO. I went to a community center connected to a church in Gugulethu. The center has several programs, including hospice care, HIV/AIDS outreach, and an after-school program. The space was gorgeous. The building was sprawling, with beautiful paintings on the walls and lot’s of chic cinderblock (it doesn’t sound chic, but it is). The best part, though, was our guide around the center. He answered all of our questions, and he was also really intelligent. He told us he had only recently learned English, but his use of the language was impeccable. He gave us a really good overview of race relations in SA. He asked us what we thought about SA before coming here. He was clearly brilliant, and trying to finish his degree. I loved him.

Sunday is my last day in Langa. I’m really sad to leave. My family here has been so wonderful. I love the area. I actually quite like Langa life. I’m excited for the next two weeks though—Simon’s Town, where the Cape of Good Hope is; Tshabo, where I will be showering in a bucket (literally) and learning how to bead (so excited!); and Buccaneer’s, where I get to see some wildlife! No idea what my WiFi will be like—definitely none in Tshabo though—so I may not write for a bit. When I do, it will be 49934904904 posts at once, or a wicked long entry, I’m sure.

Cooking in Kapa

Everything here is just different enough for it to be an experience. For instance, Wednesday night I decided to cook my family dinner. Now, I am not a cook by any means. I went through a phase in middle school where I cooked almost every weekend, but then I stopped until this summer, when I pretty lived off of pasta, eggs, baked chicken nuggets, and food from the Foggy Bottom Roti. It’s been years since I’ve cooked for anyone but myself, and when I did cook for my family, my mom was always there to help with figuring out portions and such. I’ve never cooked for more than three people. So, I obviously decided to play it safe. I decided to cook pasta, with a cheese sauce I’d never made before (but cheese sauces are so easy), and my baked chicken nuggets, which I do love. I went to the local grocery store and bought all of the ingredients—and hot cross buns for dessert—including “cut” chicken, which I assumed meant boneless, since I couldn’t find a single package that proclaimed it’s breasts had been deboned. When I took out the chicken to cook, however, it had bones. Now let me tell you, I am awful at deboning chickens. So, I changed my plans and put shredded chicken on top. I simply shredded it first (because really, how do you even cook a chicken with bones? How long does it take?), rolled it in eggs, breadcrumbs, and seasoning like I do my nuggets, and cooked it. Then I made the pasta and sauce, threw the chicken on top, and served! You know, it wasn’t half bad, I think. The family seemed to like it. Apparently my mama, who didn’t eat with us, had it for lunch and then asked for it again for dinner! I’m still skeptical about my cooking abilities, but at least I didn’t poison them. Like I said, I had never cooked for so many people, so there was a ton left over too. Tonight, (I’m writing this on Thursday), it looks like my sisi is using it in what she’s cooking! I probably should have put some hot sauce in it though. Everything is better with hot sauce. PS I’m breaking up Wednesday and Thursday into several blog posts because just TOO MUCH HAPPENED.

Meat, Meat, Meat and the Sea

Sunday and Monday were absolutely lovely. Sunday was actually nasty—when I got back to Langa, it was pouring, so I laid in bed and watched reruns of what few shows I have downloaded on my computer—but to be honest, it was kind of nice to just veg out and watch HIMYM. Also, Sunday I had tripe for the first time (the last few days had a serious meat theme going on).

 

Monday was a national holiday, so I had NO SCHOOL. I woke up and did some homework, but then my sisi and her friend took me to Mzolis. It was quite the experience. You see, Mzoli’s is a famous braai place in Gugulethu. Braai is what South Africans say is barbeque, but it’s more like grilled meat drowned in delicious sauce, not the southern kind of BBQ. Gugulethu is another township. The place was absolutely bustling—it was overflowing, and someone told us it wasn’t even completely full. My sisi knows the owner, so we didn’t have to wait in line for long (although, in the 10 or so minutes we were there, I managed to get asked out by a guy older than my Dad…and his 15 year old son was there, ew). We struggled to find a seat, so we talked to some more of my sisi’s friends for a while. This guy was in a motorbiking club, which is pretty neat. After we found a seat, I went to the back to wait for our braai. The room was steamy and smelled delicious. I was handed our heaps of meat, and I took it back out to our table. While I ate, I was able to watch people from all over Cape Town eat, dance, and sing together. It had such a fun atmosphere.  I even met a guy from Durban who knew about the Claremont Colleges! They played a great mix of music, too, from American top 40 to local songs. I also saw a sign that Soil, a really good group from around here that my younger sisi showed me, is having a show on Nov. 2. I’ll have to look into it as a potential pre-birthday celebration! Anyways, after I was full to bursting with ribs, pork chops, and sausage, we left Gugs—or so I thought. Really we went to another braai place. This one was nameless and less famous, and sold chicken. We didn’t eat it yet, thankfully. I thought I was going to pop already!

 

Instead, we traveled to Sea Point and took a long stroll along the coastline. Sea Point is one of the really ritzy areas of Cape Town, and the views were beautiful. It seems to be the one place around where you can’t see Table Mountain, but you can see other hills. The water is gorgeous, too. My sisi and her friend started to talk business, so I let the sound of their Xhosa and the waves roll over me while I zoned out. It was just so nice! I hadn’t really had alone, contemplative time since leaving the States. It was exactly what I needed (even though I wasn’t technically alone).

 

After the rollercoaster that was Saturday, Sunday and Monday were just perfect, I think.

Robben Island

Saturday was an intense, emotional day. It started off far too early for a Saturday morning. A van picked us up at around 10 a.m. to take a tour of Langa, the township we’re currently staying in. I had been dreading the tour. I don’t think the people who live in the township want their lives to be on display, and I had a feeling that would be the general effect. I was somewhat right (more on that soon!) but the tour was still better than expected. We started off at the Langa Civic Center, which was pretty neat. They have a stage for performances and a pottery studio. In the pottery studio, artists craft the most beautiful bowls, mugs, and plates. The paintings on the ceramics were beautiful.   They even showed us the plates they had made for a Leadership program at Georgetown. The center also had a store. I didn’t have enough rand on me to buy anything, but I will definitely be going back before I leave Langa. They had beautiful artwork, jewelry, mugs, sculptures, and more.

 

The tour then went to a museum for pass laws and the resistance against them. This was also interesting, and I was starting to think I was going to love the tour, if we continued to focus on the history of Langa. Sadly, we didn’t. We instead walked through the township. I was fine when we went to a braai (barbeque, but really grilling) restaurant, and when we bought fat cakes (essentially fried dough). I didn’t mind learning the history of each area of the township. I enjoyed learning that the area I am living in is so nice it’s considered the Beverly Hills of Langa, because that gave me some context to put my homestay experience in (also because SOCAL). I liked seeing the new flats with solar panels. But I really hated going into one of the old flats. It had a historical context—these were once single-sex hostels for men forced to leave their families to work in the area, and now several families live in them and share certain spaces, like bathrooms and kitchens—but people still live there! I could see a woman doing dishes, and a few other residents walked in and out. It was at this point the tour seemed to turn from being a historical backdrop of our current lives, to being a show. When tours go through NYC or LA, the only people gawked at are celebrities. You never go into people’s homes to look and say “Oh look, this is how people here live their lives!” The only parallel would be the Real Housewives series, but those people sign up for that kind of gawking. I can’t be 100% sure, but considering several people seemed surprised or confused to see the Americans in their flat, and since we stayed in the communal area, I assume they were not asked.

 

After the tour, we went to Robben Island. I went three summers ago, and I did not expect to be as touched emotionally as last time, since I assumed I knew what I would be told. I was, of course, completely wrong. Our guide was a former political prisoner. He was recruited to the ANC at the age of 15 (fifteen!!! Makes me feel very slow in life). He joined a rather militant, young faction. He was angry. He wanted to destroy white people—all white people—but his training taught him that whiteness wasn’t the enemy. His training taught him that blacks were complicit in the system, too, as guards, police, leaders of the Bantustans, and more. He engaged in a few assignments, including blowing up a government building. Several were injured. He was charged with being a member of a banned organization and terrorism. He was in prison for 10 years, eight of which were on Robben Island. He was active in the prison soccer league, Makana (note: I recently watched a really good documentary on soccer as resistance in the prison system during apartheid. If you’re into that stuff, let me know and I’ll try to find the name of it!). He was considered a sort of leader in the system. He could discipline prisoners for talking too much to people they shouldn’t trust, etc. This was a power granted to him by the other prisoners, not the prison. One day, when his father was coming to visit, he was called into the warden’s office. His father had been shot 8 times by security police.

 

At this point in his story, the tour guide had to collect himself. As someone pointed out during a class debriefing, it was the first time all 24 people in my group were silent for a period and for the same reason (we have a bit of a problem with talking during our lectures). This is why Robben Island will always be powerful for years to come, even after several visits. The size of the cells will remain the same. The soccer field will look the same. The boat ride will always be sickeningly choppy. But every time you come, as long as you get a different guide, you will get another piece of the puzzle, one more horror story. I don’t condone violence. I don’t entirely approve of what my guide did. But how can I understand what he was going through? How can I judge his actions? I’ve told his story rather clinically, but when you hear him tell it, you’re on his side. You can tell he is a good man, who did commit a terrible act of violence, but only because he thought it was necessary. Still, it is this complexity that makes post-apartheid SA so fascinating. In the aftermath of apartheid, there was a Truth & Reconciliation Committee, which, as one of its functions, held amnesty hearings. Many of the people who came forward for amnesty were fighting for liberation, but had committed actions they wished they had not needed to do. I have no idea if my guide came before the committee, or if he wishes he hadn’t had to blow up a building, but I could tell he knew he needed to and would rather not have. I think his character can be summed up in the fact that, when he was released, he asked one of his former guards and his family over for dinner (and no, he didn’t poison him!)

 

The physical presence of Robben Island is in itself an interesting case study for apartheid. The views from the islands are gorgeous. The waters are crystalline. Table Mountain is just in the distance.  The city of Cape Town can be viewed easily. Imagine the pure psychological torture of being stuck on that island for years and years, so close to the land you love or lust for, but cut off indefinitely. The Island is also an interesting case study for post-apartheid reconciliation. People still live on the island. Many of these people are former prisoners. Many are former wardens and guards. They live in seeming harmony (which actually seems to make it an exception among post-apartheid South Africa…). I can’t imagine.

 

I still haven’t had time to process the entire day. Last night (I’m writing this on Sunday), we went out in Cape Town. It was a good way to unwind after such an emotional day, but it also meant I couldn’t think about it alone or anything. Hopefully, tonight I can process and reflect. I don’t think the day will yield some big conclusion or idea, but it was certainly a day that changes your perspective, even if just a little bit.

 

 

 

My Secretly Cool Accent

Yesterday, my program visited a variety of schools to figure out to the best of our ability the education system in Cape Town. We were put into groups and we visited a variety of schools, including public and private schools, and the school I spent a day at the last time I was here! I went to the girls’ school with three other students. Even though the school ended up very different from my own schools, it kind of made me miss Concord and Claremont a bit…

The school itself was beautiful. Like every other place in this ridiculously gorgeous area, it has a picture perfect view of Table Mountain. It had green quads and pretty buildings. I hadn’t realized how much I missed having a campus, green places to study, and quads or circles, until I was in the grass contemplating the morning. Seriously, I miss tanning in Claremont or circle chilling a lot right now.

The inside reminded me a bit of MX. The reception area was so similar to the Terry Room, which, for those of you who have never been to MX, is a sort of living room area with old yearbooks and things. It has a lot of the history of the school, as did the reception area of this one.

Something reminded me of CMC, too—TEA TIME. It was a lot earlier than CMC’s and it lacked the chocolate-covered strawberries, but free tea and coffee is free tea and coffee. The parallel did not escape me…I wonder if the boarders (they have a few) have snack time at night, too? I have been missing my free daily food…although our program has been keeping the market below our classroom in business the last few weeks. I mean, the States don’t have my favorite chocolate bar, so I have to get sick of them while I’m here… Helloooo study abroad weight gain!

Anyways, at the school we went to gym and three history classes. The last history was pretty straightforward. We simply sat in on the class and listened to a lesson on the atomic bomb. The first two classes, however, were fascinating. The first one was essentially a 9th grade honors class, and the second an on-level 10th grade class. The following commentary will be from both classes, but I want to mention that we noticed a distinct difference in the level of discussion. I am not sure how much can be attributed to the extra year, where the girls may have become more self-conscious, or the difference between an honors and on-level class, but the 9th grade class was far more animated and chatty. They seemed a bit smarter or more uninhibited.

This was not a part of their current curriculum, but for our benefit the teacher had us discuss race and race relations in SA. We talked a lot about “the typical colored,” which is the term the students and the teachers used. A colored person in SA is essentially someone who is not black, white, or Indian. The term had been used in a nonjudgmental way the last few weeks, and I understood it to mean no offense. It certainly does not mean what it does in the States. However, this was my first real conversation with people who were considered colored, and I found out that some do find it offensive, because of the stereotype associated with it. Now, “the typical colored” is clearly a stereotype, because these girls did not identify that way at all. We learned all about the stereotype. They said colored tend to have a funny accent, four front teeth missing, and weird dance moves, all of which they demonstrated for us. They also, however, claimed none of these attributes for themselves, proving that a stereotype is certainly never entirely true.

Also, I have never been complimented so much on my accent. It’s funny, because to me—and I think most Americans I know—I don’t have an accent. Sure, I occasionally get a southern twang on words like “accent” and “ben,” and I use wicked weird slang I’ve gathered from Georgia, Massachusetts, and California (and various friends from across the country), but I generally sound pretty typical. Moreover, I usually think American accents are so boring, compared to others. Today, however, all four of us kept getting comments about how cool our accents our. Girls would turn around and tell me they loved my accent. So congrats, Amurica. We may think our accents are boring compared to South Africans, Brits, Australians, etc…but they’re secretly just as cool!

 

After the visits, we went to a lecture at UCT on social justice. What interested me the most, however, was discovering UCT’s Refugee Rights Unit. I think I want to do my independent study on refugee women in CT. I either want to focus on HIV/AIDS or gender-based violence. This seems perfect, as I need a GWS credit and I would love a stepping-stone for an IR thesis. I was glad to find a potential resource already!

 

When we got back to the program center, we had a chat about who can identify as African. The lecturer did not give us a conclusion, but he did share with us some interesting tidbits. Here are some things you should do:

  1. Google “I am African.” “I am Gwenyth Paltrow.” Essentially, Gwenyth Paltrow did some culturally appropriative, paternalistic ad about AIDS, and a woman countered in the most hilarious way possible. I’ll let you see it for yourself.
  2. Google Image all three separately: “North America.” “Europe.” “Africa.” Why yes, the first two consist of maps and flags, whereas “Africa” features images of people in traditional dress, lions (FYI, the only exciting animal I’ve seen since getting here is a zebra—another thing that made me miss MX!), and yes, even Michelle Obama. Because she’s black, you see, so obviously she belongs in a Google search of Africa. I have loved that photo of her ever since Melissa Harris-Perry spoke about it at CMC, but my goodness.

All in all, today was great. Even though I stuck to my resolution to write more frequently, my post was still really long—sorry! Hopefully my post after the long weekend will be shorter…but let’s be real, I talk a lot and I write even more. It’s weird to think of what I’m missing in Claremont…like foam! Friends, y’all had better have an even better time than usual, so that your stories are awesome enough for everyone abroad too!

So, have an awesome time at Foam (or for non-CMCers and those abroad, doing whatever you’re doing), don’t wear nice flip-flops, and report back on Monday!

“Everything that’s gone wrong in the world involves us. Humans.”

That’s a quote from a tour guide at the District 6 museum (more on him later).

Now that my days are mostly filled with classes, I’ll probably be writing a lot less—more like once a week or so. The past week was absolutely incredible. My classes are interesting. It’s a lot of theory I know but have yet to learn in an academic setting. I’ve barely started my GWS sequence, and who in the IR department talks about kyriarchy? Plus, now everything is in the context of South Africa. It’s also been nice to learn about things from new angles. The lecturer we had for a talk on South African politics, for instance, gave me an entirely different perspective on parliamentary systems. BUT that’s all very nerdy and probably very few people reading this care, so I’ll talk about the more fun things now…

Early last week, we went to the Steve Biko Memorial Lecture. Steve Biko was a leader in the Black Consciousness Movement during apartheid, and he was killed in prison. The lecture was awesome. The lecturer talked about different narratives surrounding South Africa, and Africa in general. He also discussed the problems South Africans (and Africans in general—he wasn’t South African) still face today, as well as some other things. I really enjoyed the talk, and I heard a rumor it was available online, if anyone is interested!

This was also my first time at UCT. It is gorgeous. The walls are all ivy covered and the views are unbeatable. It’s up on a hill and you can look out over Kapa. I’m glad I chose my program—not at a university, but at SIT’s program center—because I wanted to see more than just one SA city, I wanted/needed to do homestays, and I needed to make sure my classes fit my IR focus, human rights (#cmcproblems?), but I’m still really excited for my ISP time so I can hopefully hang out more around UCT.

On Thursday, we went to the District 6 museum. This museum is thought-provoking—I think my favorite one in SA thus far. I was fighting back tears the entire time (a common theme in museums and performances here, I think). District 6 was a multicultural area of CT until the forced removal of all non-whites in the earlyish 1900s. According to the stories, everyone, all races, religions, ethnicities, etc. lived in perfect—or near perfect—harmony in District 6 until the removal. Our tour guide was one of the people forced to move, so it was really emotional and touching. The tour guide was really poetic. He said that all humans bleed the same, no matter what color your skin, eyes, nose etc. look like, which I found touching.

After the museum, we drove up to the actual District 6 area. They had knocked down all the buildings, so it’s still an empty space. They are allowing people to move back—for a price—but few people can afford it and, of course, their original home is no longer there. Something really interesting is that there are a few really nice buildings there, but they were built when the Queen was coming to visit to hide the desolation and destruction. Essentially, the government knew that what they were doing was wrong and that they would have to cover it up.

One thing some of us talked about though is how apartheid is nothing new or isolated. Similar instances have occurred all over, from the Holocaust to Jim Crow. People just keep letting these horrible instances occur. We act like we learn, but we don’t. Everyone condemned the Holocaust but allowed similar ideas, if different methods, to continue on in their own societies, through segregation in the south of the US, apartheid in South Africa, and so much more.

On Friday, we learned a lot about Xhosa culture, especially the importance of family. Xhosa families are huge, not because they have a ton of kids, but because what we consider extended family they consider brothers and sisters, in some cases. For instance, a father’s brother is also a tata, and his children are sisis and bhutis, not cousins. This is not the same for a mother’s family, though.

Marriage is a family matter in Xhosa culture, too. If two people want to marry, their families negotiate the wedding and the lobola (the number of cows the man pays the bride’s family; although usually Rand—money—is paid now they still negotiate in terms of cows). This is because a marriage is not between two individuals but two families. This has an interesting effect on divorce, as well. While two people can legally divorce, the Xhosa culture won’t recognize it, because the families have not divorced. You also can’t marry within your clan (an extension of family, essentially…so I’d compare this to how you probably don’t want to marry your cousin, although a clan extends far wider than that).

When I came home on Friday, I found I had gained two new sisis for the weekend. On Saturday, one of them showed me around all of Langa. It’s such a lively place on Saturday afternoons! The weather was brutally hot, but everyone was out and talking, buying food, etc. Langa has a train station and a minibus station, which is good to know. My sisi was making fun of the town center, because of the layout. All of the hair places are on one street, all of the places to buy chicken on another, etc. I also noticed that every cash & carry store has a Coca-Cola picture on it, and is painted red. It reminded me of Atlanta.

Saturday night, some friends and I went to Biko’s Quest, a show at Artscape Theatre in Cape Town. It was incredible. I realize I keep using that term to describe everything, but that’s pretty much how I constantly feel. It was a contemporary dance show inspired by Biko’s life, and they would occasionally read his writings. Their dancing, the costumes, and the music were absolutely gorgeous.

I think a contemporary dance show is the best way to portray Biko and the Black Consciousness movement, aside from maybe his own writing. Black Consciousness was all about psychology: the psychology of being black, the psychology of oppression, and how to get past it. Their dancing was also very psychological. You could feel the pain, the tears, and the death. There was a powerful scene where they reenacted the Hector Pieterson death, which occurred during a student uprising in 1976. The uprising was supposed to be peaceful, but the police began to throw stones and then it turned into a riot. They also had a scene where various dancers told the story of certain people’s deaths in prison. The names added up, and also put names and stories to a particular part of the apartheid museum where they simply hung maybe 200 nooses. In this scene, the dancers kept dying, over and over and over, for every name.

The variety in the dances was also incredible. One of the earlier songs was almost sock hop like. It was very fun, like a party. At the end of the show, they did a tradition Xhosa dance to the women’s anthem. First of all, how great it is that there’s a women’s anthem? Also, the dance was incredible! The audience was so into it. There was whistling, shouting, and clapping. It was a phenomenal finale.

So, this week was clearly amazing, just like the last. I always tell myself I’ll have a shorter post than the last time…and then I never do. Whoops. Maybe I’ll try to post more frequently and then have shorter posts…we’ll see.

Igama lam nguCaitlin

That phrase means “my name is Sisipho (a gift).” Sisipho may be my Xhosa name, given to me by my new Xhosa homestay family, but that is more how I would describe the family and the last few days.

Before I describe my wonderful new family, I need to describe Friday night and Saturday morning. Friday night, we went out to a pub to celebrate my friend’s birthday. This pub experience exemplified to me how diverse and international a city Cape Town really is. Aside from the horde of 25 American college students that I was with, there was also the owner—an Irishman—and a table of people from all over the country and the world. One man was from Scotland, a few others from Josie, one from the Eastern Cape, and even a guy from Atlanta! One of the ones from Josie, Fidel, was telling me all about the differences between township life, rural life, urban life and life in other areas. It’s always intriguing to see how other people react when I say I’m about to stay in the township of Langa for three weeks—they are consistently horrified and terrified for my well-being! I had heard before coming that non-township South Africans had serious misconceptions about the townships, and these reactions—along with my initial experiences in Langa, which have been lovely—have completely proved the point.

Saturday morning, we woke up very early to climb Lion’s Head, which is a mountain just next to Table Mountain. The hike was gorgeous. I took so many photos, and I know words cannot do it justice, but I’ll try. The amazing thing about Cape Town—which this hike exemplified—is the incongruence. In the US, you never see a gigantic, sprawling city situated on pristine beaches, at the valley of gorgeous mountains. You may have small ocean-side cities, or cities situated in valleys or between mountains and oceans, or ugly beaches near a huge city, but you never see a beach, city as pristine, natural, mountainous, and gigantic all at once. Cape Town is just like that, however. It is indescribable, but I just think it’s the most beautiful city in the world.

The hike, however, was rough. I enjoyed every moment of it, mostly because of the view and because I haven’t been running as much as I should. It was great to get a workout in, although my arms and back are pretty sore. Why? Because Lion’s Head is more of a hike/climb than a simple hike, especially on the way down. At some points, you pull yourself up or down by chains and hooks. Going up was fine, but as some of you may know, I am genuinely terrified of heights when I am in charge of the motions I make. I am fine on a rooftop or in an airplane, but climbing down mountains or even getting on an escalator freaks me out. Until I was embarrassingly old, I refused to take escalators and would freak out if I needed to take one. So, the climb down was not very fun, although it was good for me. I did, however, enjoy how friendly the other hikers were. Whenever I would be paralyzed by fear, someone would inevitably instruct me on what to do and encourage me.

At one point, I was struggling on a portion with ropes and chains, when a really good-looking guy asked me if I needed help. I had just seen a ledge to step on, so I declined politely, all while noticing how he bore a striking resemblance to a certain handsome actor I wanted to marry in middle school. Seriously, guy was good-looking, but it seemed highly unlikely that Will Turner/Legolas/random dude from that awful movie Elizabethtown/Orlando Bloom would be in Cape Town, hiking Lion’s Head, asking me for help, just when I was there…so I continued on. Really, you never think the celebrity doppelgangers you see are the actual celebrities until, of course, your program instructor and a few other students reach the bottom of the hike with stories of how they got pictures with Orlando Bloom. New life rule: from now on, if I think I see a celebrity, I ask. On the other hand, I can now say I was totally nonchalant when speaking to Orlando Bloom, former man of my dreams. Just playing it cool, I guess.

Anyways, after the hike we moved into our homestays! My new family is so wonderful. There are five women (I’m trying very hard not to give names on this trip) plus myself. I’m still figuring out the family dynamics, since I’m not sure what is acceptable to ask. One of my sisis (sisters) is just a couple of years older than me. I haven’t quite figured out the others’ ages yet. My program gave me an info sheet on the family, but all I’ve been able to figure out is that the sheet is pretty much completely wrong. The sisi around my age works at a store owned by another sisi. She travels around the world, buying clothes and bringing them back. Family members also run an event service, hosting events mostly for the elderly. The mama (mother) unfortunately had a stroke recently, and is not doing well, so I think the others take care of her. I know a little girl, a cousin, (age 2!) is here all day weekdays until 5, and sometimes later. I hope she stays later soon, because I get home at 5:30 but I want to meet her! She’s a cousin’s daughter.

Last night, I mostly settled in and chatted a bit with the family. Today, everyone went to church. The family is divided into two churches, but I went to the one in Langa with one sisi. On the way, we talked about birthdays and I mentioned how funny it was to be turning 21 in a country where no one cares. She informed me that actually, people do care. She said families that are still traditional—whether Xhosa, Zulu, or Suthu—view 21 as the age where girls become women. They have a big celebration, with major gifts (often a car), and they slaughter an animal and give the woman the skin. You only get this celebration if you have been a “good” child. If you have been pregnant or have done anything else the family views as bad, you don’t get the celebration. Also, she told me more “Westernized” (her word) families tend to celebrate 21 the “Western” way.

The church service itself was an experience, to be sure. One thing I love about African churches is how engaging and spiritual they are. Everyone gets involved in some way. I have now been to I think 3, and that is a common pattern, although all have differences. Today, there were constant shouts of “Alleluia!” and “Amen!” and they often had you turn to your neighbor and say things like “Neighbor, I must go forth and spread the word of God.” The lesson was on bringing people into the church and into the word of God, and at the end they divided us into groups and gave each group a number of people to bring to the next service. The pastor said I specifically needed to bring one friend (Hey SIT! Anyone want to go to church with me on Sunday…? Maybe?) I feel like this adds an aspect to church life that many American churches don’t have—accountability. They did say a lot that I disagreed with, but it was fun and everyone was nice.

Cultural faux pas are the worst. The director told us that we would mess up something in the culture and everyone would laugh at us and we would be embarrassed. Yep, just happened. A friend of the mama came to visit and we’d been talking to her for a while when I realized I did not know her name. I asked as politely as possible, but she got on to me, telling me that I am a visitor and she has to be the one to ask me my name. Whoops. I apologized, thanked her for telling me, and told her I was still learning all the culture. Unfortunately, I understand just enough Xhosa to know that she is currently telling everyone else about it. She keeps repeating, “What’s your name?” and laughing. There was a long conversation between her and my sisi in which I never heard my name but I heard my program name. She doesn’t sound happy. I feel bad, but no one told us! Literally, the only conversation I can even have in Xhosa is asking someone how they are and what their name is. Ahhh cultural misunderstandings, I guess I have to get used to you.

I’ve already noticed so many misconceptions about the townships, or at least this township, and the families within them, or at least this family. It is clear to me that even if these prejudices and ideas tend to be true, they are not universal. I bet several of them aren’t even true at all. I may write more about those later, but for now, a sisi is cooking lunch and it smells way too good to keep writing! It’s considered rude to smell food here (the one thing they did tell us), but it is a struggle because everything smells so good!

Hamba kaluhle (go well!)

Caitlin