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A Mission

July 6, 2009
View of Cape Town Mountains from Signal Hill

View of Cape Town Mountains from Signal Hill

“We live here.” We smile at each other.  A constant reminder to relax and be “lekker.”

The first week in Cape Town elapsed in what seemed like a month.  A blur of the most interesting speeches I’ve ever attended, late nights and even earlier mornings, breathtaking sights, instant coffee, and van rides with Pearnel, we fall in bed at night reeling and exhausted.

It started like any other adventure; each of us carrying a bag or two stuffed with what we couldn’t bare to leave behind.  A 28-36 hour flight, a few glasses of wine, and the inevitable mix-ups of foreign airports.  I experienced my first culture shock, when in an apparent attempt to avoid some of the taxi cost, I tried to get in the drivers seat instead of the passenger’s.  “Um… Other side.” The cabbi was kind enough to remind me.

With nineteen of us in one house, it’s like the The Real World with a plot. The Kimberley house is constructed like a large U.  The two wings hold six rooms each, leading down the hallway to large add-on rooms roofed with clear hard plastic. (When it rains, the plastic amplifies the drops so it sounds like a thousand fat elves dancing on the house). One of these rooms houses a few bathrooms, a laundry room and a cement patio.  The other is our dining room.  Forming the base of the U and between the dining room and other room are the living room, with several large couches and a TV/DVD player, and the kitchen.  But, instead of hot tubs we have pans catching rain on the table.  Although Melikaya wont allow us to get a dog… despite Nora’s attempts… we do have several cockroaches that have curled up on the floor and the end of our beds.  It’s very much the same effect as a pup, without the inconvenience of having to walk and feed them.

From our home in Obs, Table Mountain, Camps Bay, to the Cape Flats, Cape Town is the most beautiful place to live.  There is an ebb and flow to the people and city that we are just starting to understand.  It is a place in the process of bridging great contrast.  At the slopes below the mountains live some of the wealthiest and most privileged in the world.  50km out, in the Cape Flats lay Langa, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, and some of the most awful living conditions in urban sprawl.  Among the most dangerous places to live, it is also one of the most giving.  While the violent crime rate prompts stores to be gated and locked during business hours, and neighbors to arm their 6 ft gates with shards of glass, barbed wire, or electric fencing, the people are open and kind.

Camps Bay in Mid-Winter

Camps Bay in Mid-Winter

Life here is political.  South Africa is a nation in a volatile political position.  Fourteen years into a new constitution, and barely past the dawn of social reform.  Whether you are black, white or mixed no longer dictates where you can walk, sleep, eat, or study, but it does still indicate the area you were likely to grow up, where your parents live, the kind of education that was likely available to you, and your family’s economic position.  Unemployment rates reaching 70% or higher in most of the townships, the government is faced with the challenge of trying to enable it’s citizens to become economic contributors.  This challenge is expounded by the lack of decent education, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and the broken spirits that make up the impoverished majority. While the ANC (South Africa’s elected party for the last 14 years– begining it’s reign with Nelson Mandela as president) has started projects such as the N2 housing project (tearing down parts of the township to replace with “suitable living” housing) it can’t change a society.  This is where the grassroots organizations become vital.

People who don’t have the power to make the same economic changes that the government has, have the ability to change individual lives, and hopefully communities.  From Love Life, to Boys and Girls Home, to Yabonga and Etafeni, people are creating organizations to care for orphans, enrich schools and keep kids from joining gangs.  Assisting and empowering those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and stop domestic violence.  When you visit these places you can’t help but be inspired.  There is hope here. The problems of violence and poverty aren’t looked at as an individual’s ineptness, but a social problem that cannot be solved with one solution.  For us, our journey with these small steps for change begin at the Desmond Tutu Peace Center.  It is here that our program first took root 5 years ago; under the words of Africa’s Gandhi.

The Sunday Homily broke over the small group of us sitting in the creaking pews in Obs. “God created man to live out His love; to put His love into action. We are on a mission to spread love, bridging the gap of race, class, gender and nationality.”  Behind us the choir wails You Raise Me Up like mid-pubescent boys to an out of tune guitar.  The roof was leaking, and the windows provided a draft.  We couldn’t help but smile at the sum of our week.  It wasn’t about the conditions, but the message, the hope and the people’s warmth that most touched us.

In the heart of Nyanga lies Etafeni (E-ta-fu-nee). Xhosa for “open space,” Etafeni supports women with HIV/AIDS and children infected and affected (either orphaned or soon to be).  Stepping out of the streets, laden with the heavy smoke of flamed lamb and dust, the gates open to a small garden and courtyard.  Across the yard is the preschool, where the 2-7 year olds spend their days.  As we walk through the children giggle and extend their hands for hi-fives. “Molo sisi!” “Molo ubhuti” they shout.  We bend down for hugs and brief conversations. We are on a mission of love.

View From the upper window at the Pre-School in Etafeni

View From the upper window at the Pre-School in Etafeni - If you look closely in the background you can see the shacks of Nyanga and the smoke rising from the meat market down the road.

“lekker”= Afrikaans for “cool” or “awsome”       “Molo”=Xhosa for “hello”     “Sisi” and “Ubhuti”= Xhosa for “sister” and “brother”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bri permalink
    July 13, 2009 9:29 pm

    Cate, you paint such a beautiful picture with your words. I miss you so much, but your blog will make me feel as though I am right there with you! I miss you, therefore, I will try to catch you up on my life in two sentences! I found a dress — gorgeous — and I am going to be a bridesmaid in another wedding! Ooooh, one sentence. I’m great.

    I miss you friend! Have fun there!

  2. KDogg permalink
    July 14, 2009 2:41 pm

    this looks utterly boring…. Kidding. hunt me down some diamonds woman

  3. Austin Dunn permalink
    July 19, 2009 1:34 am


    This is wonderful. The love that you already have for Cape Town is beaming off the page. I am so excited to read more to come because your writing skills are off the hook! Thank you for writing. It’s inspirational and I love inspiration.


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