Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Were heeeeeere

A whirlwind 20 (?) hours later finds me sitting up in bed next to auntie anne at her b&b, eyelids so heavy it is a strain just to write these words.

What. A. day.

A 15 hour plane ride that seemed to never end. Slept off an on and watched the bourne identity and a mighty heart. (On an aside, is it possible to NOT be in love with Jason bourne? Same goes for Angelina. In any movie).

Talked to some of the flight attendants during one of my many circulation-encouraging walks, all of whom were Black and one of whom was actually from Gugulethu. He said he knew Fezeka well. And that he would come visit me. Lol.

Hard to believe we only arrived here this morning. AND took a 4 hour kip in the middle of the day. Feels like weve been here far longer, though I suppose this is what happens when you rock up at 5am – amped, in overdrive, and running on adrenaline.

T.(one of 3-person strong Education without Borders Cape Town contingent) met us at the airport, and drove us into town where we dropped my bags off at the house (which is darling!), after having to bang on the door for 5 minutes until someone answered. In this case, the someone was a 6’5 south African named Julian who was house-sitting and was groggy as all hell. Still helped with my massive bags though. Came into the house and found two germans sleeping in each of the other rooms, both equally startled by our arrival, but who nonetheless got out of bed to greet us. And they said chivalry was dead.

After dropping auntie anne off at her lodging ( for some much needed r&r, ted took me into town for a brief tour of the city and then for breakfast at a restaurant overlooking the ocean.

On the way into the city we passed district 6 (, the infamous lot of land where in 1966, its more than 60 000 inhabitants were forcibly removed from their homes and displaced by the government in a land reclamation scheme done under the false guise of the area being a den of impropriety. Sickness and prostitution and crime and evil they said, when everyone knew it was because district six occupied prime real estate on the mountain-side, overlooking table bay. All homes and buildings (aside from religious ones) were demolished, and the area was declared a ‘whites-only’ zone.

To this day, the area has remained undeveloped because of its political and social implications, aside from few churches and mosques, and the 20-odd homes that have been built for the original inhabitants, or in several cases their descendants, as many of them have since died.

Downtown Cape Town is somewhat of a dichotomy. Paris meets Rio meets New York with a smattering of Sydney by the waterfront. Driving into the city from the Southern suburbs, you pass through a more industrial area, with factories and warehouse storefronts, while passing hordes of people filing into the downtown core for the beginning of the work day. As T. points out, you don’t see many whites walking.

Pass the Victorian-style city hall – the balcony of which from where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech upon his release from prison – around the old jail and the former prison, (which is now a business school) and under the bridge that goes nowhere (while stories on how this came to be vary, according to ted the two most popular are that the engineers were drunk or that there was an irish pub blocking the way that they couldn’t build through).

At breakfast T. and I discussed the school and his hopes for what I can accomplish during my time at Fezeka, as well as South African society in general. According to him, issues of race are still quite significant, though things are indeed changing. In a discussion on education, I was told that for every $50 that the government spends on educating a White child in a year, $1 is spent on a Black child. Staggering. There is a shift as of late, he told me, for families in the townships – if they are able – to send their children to while schools in the city, so that they may get a better education, while the rest of the family stays in the township. The hope then, is that this child will become successful through the education and social networking he will receive and be privy to, allowing them to be able to help the rest of the family improve their standard(s) of living.

T. tells me that interracial couples are becoming more common than ever, though there is certainly a far way to go before these become widely accepted by all. When reminded, it is absolutely mindblowing that it was only 14 years ago (1994) that Nelson Mandela was elected and a massive shift began in this country, beginning with the country's first-ever democratic elections.

When Mandela was released, T. continues, people (the white community in particular), were shocked to learn what this man was all about. Until that point they had been lead to believe that he was a white-hating, communist-sympathizing, animal of a man. the person who appeared before them upon his release bore no resemblance to this.

That said, it is obvious that prejudice still exists, even to us on our first day. One of our cab drivers – a white man – felt no qualms about telling us that “we don’t really go there if we don’t have to.” (referring to the townships).

So much more to say, but eyes are closing…

More tomorrow.

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