Saturday, February 21, 2015

diving headfirst into cape town

In our first three days in Cape Town, we visited eleven student internship sites. They ranged from hospitals to clinics to schools to community organizing NGOs. We toured a school originally dedicated to children with cerebral palsy that has had to cope with a recent influx of students with severe behavioral disorders - which the staff have no training in handling. We learned how the leading HIV/AIDS advocacy organization has expanded its focus to to gender-based violence. We talked with the director of a children's convalescent facility, where the measure of success has always been getting kids stronger and sending them home, which has had to adapt to survive: they have begun providing palliative care for HIV/AIDS kids. Those kids never go home. 

We met with a commissioner of the Independent Electoral Commission, which manages the country's elections. We spent an hour talking with staff members of Black Sash, one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the country. It's been around for sixty years. We visited the neo-natal unit of a community hospital and I swooned over the preemies. 

If I ever doubted that angels walk among us... I surely was reminded otherwise. 

Sister Hilary, in particular. She's the manager of a community health clinic that has had to post guards 24/7 ever since one of the five local gangs clipped their phone wires and destroyed their surveillance cameras. Sister Hilary was full of laughter and smiles. Or Camillo. Here's a guy who, not content with having parlayed his gospel choir childhood into an ongoing gig as a jazz musician, founded a music school to get teenagers started in the music business. His facility is carved out of a soccer stadium. 

These were mostly meet-and-greets for Kevin, and I just rode shotgun. A near-running joke was watching how many people Vernon knows. Vernon was our guide: he matches the students with their internship sites. Vernon's background is as a pastor, social worker, and community organizer. Wherever he goes, he greets people as "Brother", "Sister", or "Comrade", and is met with hugs and smiles. All over Cape Town, people love Vernon.

In addition to all of the above, we also visited two university campuses (University of Cape Town, and University of the Western Cape) and a variety of townships and neighborhoods, including informal settlements. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that. That's not rubbish on the side of the road...that's a great place to find building materials for the newest housing being cobbled together. Oh, and we attended two classes, observing student presentations, and went to one dinner party, a jazz club, and a braai (South African barbecue). And met approximately one gazillion people besides.

The whole experience has been beyond fascinating and utterly inspirational.  I feel like I've been here for weeks.

Some people, faced with a radical departure from their accustomed routine, will forget to eat. I do not understand those people. My body's response to unfamiliar environments is to eat. Extra, in fact, in case, by chance, starvation is imminent. My brain knows that's dumb, but my body is usually convinced that there will be no next meal, ever again. Fortunately I've managed to keep to the every-other-day running schedule. 

Today was the first opportunity Kevin and I had to goof off by ourselves. So we started with a tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was for eighteen of the twenty seven years he was imprisoned.

View of Table Mountain, with part of Cape Town at its base, from one end of Robben Island.

Let's cut to the chase. Here is Mandela's cell. I knew it was small, from having just re-read "Long Walk to Freedom" (his autobiography) but no, it's tiny.

By contrast, the facilities for the German Shepards used to keep prisoners in line? Each individual kennel looked bigger, to me, than the cells where the political prisoners were kept.

The kennels.

Mandela's window overlooking a courtyard.

Said courtyard.

Tours of Robben Island are conducted by former prisoners. Our guide was a student activist who was incarcerated from 1977 to 1982. Here he is showing us the daily food rations. As with everything under apartheid, how much and what you ate was a function of what box you were put in. "Bantu" is African - black. 

In other words? Crap. And not much of it.

I have more photos, and more to share - because this was only our morning; we had excellent adventures in the afternoon as well - but it is late and I'm wiped and due to get up early for a run tomorrow. So I will leave off for now.

Sweet dreams, and count your blessings.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Those poor people. They weren't even thought of as people. I wonder how the dogs' diet compared to theirs?