Monday, January 14, 2008

one week ago today...

Woke up at 6am feeling pretty worse for wear and confused as to where I was (first night sleeping in the house). Three hours later auntie Anne and I were waiting at the front door for T. to pick us up for our visit to Gugulethu (also sometimes spelt Guguletu), Fezeka, and my first experience of where I will be spending the better part of the next year.

As we drove towards the townships, tree-lined streets gave way to corrugated metal shack-lined highways. Cannot begin to imagine – especially on a day like today, where the temperature hovered around 30 degrees Celsius – what the heat must be like in those homes.

Driving into Gugulethu (known colloquially as Gugs) was an experience, mostly because of the running color commentary offered to us by T.

To begin, he gave us some historical context on the townships. When they were first set up, it was during the Apartheid regime, as a way for the white ruling class to push the poorer black class out of the city and of sight. It was forbidden for people to set up shops or any sort of industry within the townships, as though they were required to live in these designated areas, those in charge still wanted people to spend their money at white-owned shops and businesses. Additionally, the communities were very closely watched, as were all those who entered and left the townships. Any locals who demonstrated leadership qualities were reprimanded, often brutally. For a long while, whites were forbidden from entering the townships, out of the fear that they might go in an effort to inspire dissent amongst the black community, and encourage them to rise up against their white oppressors.

Before we actually entered Gugulethu, we passed what T. told us were the ‘ritual fields’. Dotted with small white tents, these large open area is where young men of the Xhosa and Sotho cultures are welcomed into manhood at the age of 16, with a traditional circumcision ritual. After the ceremony, the young men spend 4-6 weeks in these small tents, recovering from the experience.

On the main road into Gugs there is a beautiful stone monument, created in honor of the Gugulethu 7. These 7 young men had been known as activists in their local communities, who had been trying to rally their people to fight against the oppression they were being subjected to. In 1986, while they were attempting to surrender, all 7 were brutally murdered by the police.

Throughout the township, one sees a wide range of ingenuity in the constructing of homes and shops, with materials including corrugated metal, plastic bags, cardboard, and holed out shipping containers that house shops, internet cafes and barbershops.

Gugs was the first place that we actually saw rubbish in the streets. Can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it, but Cape Town is incredibly clean and litter-free. Gugs wasn’t horribly littered, but given that we hadn’t seen much until then, it was noticeable. We reached Fezeka, which is located not too far off one of the main roads and is based on two campuses. One for years 7-9, and the other for 10-12.

Before arriving at the school, T. had mentioned that we would see students and parents lined up trying to register. As classes do not begin until Wednesday and today is the first day that teachers are on campus, parents of and kids themselves who are not registered were there trying to find a way to get admitted into the school. As they are already over-enrolled the chances were slim, but as with anything, it is worth a try.

Upon arrival we were informed that there was a staff meeting going on, and that this was where we were to go. Double doors open and voila – I am faced with the 40-strong staff, all eyes on me. Aside from the age difference, there is the obvious skin color difference, and while I had suspected that I may be the only white person at the school, it was at this moment confirmed.

Asked to say a few words, I briefly introduced myself and mentioned how excited I was to be there. Looking forward to the year to come and would be welcome to any help or advice anyone could offer.

After a few minutes we went to the headmaster’s office, belonging one Mr. S, a portly man in his mid 40s, who has been headmaster at Fezeka for some time. In our initial meeting (during which we were also joined my N., the vice principal, and a lovely man), we spoke about our thoughts for my role in the school during my time at Fezeka, and the importance that we all placed upon my being thoroughly integrated into the staff and school culture. At first, it seemed as though Mr. S would have been happy for me to stay somewhat on the sidelines, however T. asserted that this would not fly, and in order for the students to respect me, it was important that my presence in the school was seen as no different from that any other member of the faculty. Both headmaster and vice principal seemed to agree, so we will see how that goes on Monday.

Later, I met P., the head of the English department, and from my understanding, he with whom I will be working most closely. An eloquent and clearly well-educated man, P. is also the leader of the school choir, which I learned has earned many accolades and awards for its outstanding achievements. Clearly a teacher who cares deeply for students, he seems to be someone who will be a good ally within the school.

P. then took auntie anne and I on a tour of the school. am happy that she will have a picture of where I will be working that she can take back to Canada and share with the rest of my family. Based on my preconceived notions, the school was indeed far more developed and well-equipped than I had imagined. A 26-PC strong computer lab – although internet access is precarious – that had been donated by the Rotary Club association in various US-based cells, an impressive science lab and assembly hall, as well as numerous classrooms (many of which have been built with funds donated by education without borders), describe the Fezeka main campus in a nutshell.

That said, it is still a school in a township with limited resources, but the above description is intended to convey the obvious impact that the dedicated faculty and committed external benefactors have had on Fezeka and its community.

We left the school with good feelings, and the commitment on the part of mr. S. and the members of staff with whom I spoke, that they would offer me their full support during my time at the school. For much else at this juncture, I could not ask.

Returning to Cape Town, auntie anne and I picked up our rental car and took off en route to Hout bay on teds recommendation to have lunch a restaurant overlooking crystal clear water and soaring mountains. Le sigh.

Spent the remainder of Monday evening at home, nesting, unpacking and setting up shop at 31 Bowden drive. Sooo neccesurry.

No comments: