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A Mountain for Madiba

July 20, 2009

The easier way up- The cable way

July 18th. Nelson Mandela’s birthday, and a national holiday here in South Africa.  A symbol for democracy, charity and human equality, Nelson represents everything this country hopes to become.  In preparation the Cape Times has been publishing stories on the events of the day for a week.  Local news stations were in a race to discover Mandela’s whereabouts on the day, and the government promotes the newly established traditions.  Mr. Moclantha (acting president while Jacob Zuma was in Italy at the G8 Summit), spoke to parliament on July 8th, saying: “[We] need to ensure that we spend at least 67 minutes of our time on Madiba’s birthday engaging in meritorious activities. In those 67 minutes, every individual should be involved in reawakening the spirit of human solidarity. It is through helping others that our ability to deal with our own problems and challenges will be enhanced.”

We woke up early. Early for 19 college students on Saturday.  The sun was barely brushing the rooftops and the house was a buzz.  Conversation was minimal as we gathered around the table with cereal, toast, and eggs.  We packed some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, toasted of course, and bottles of water.  With our hiking boots and shorts we marched up to Lower Main to catch a public taxi (Combi) to Table Mountain.  People passing laughed at us: “Crazy Obama kids with bare legs in winter!” It was 72* on this chilly winter morning.

As we rounded the base of the mountain Theresa (ever chipper) turns in the van to give us all “pump-up high-fives.” We asked our taxi driver to take a group picture, and then we were up, up and away.  The trail winds through a gorge. Carved from large blocks of rough granite, the effect is much the same as an hour and a half on a giant-scaled stair stepper.  Slightly out of shape, we stopped a few times to “take in the view,”  and snap a few pictures.

Waterfall on the hike up

Waterfall on the hike up

Mentally tugging our bodies to the summit, our tired legs were soon forgotten.  Suddenly we reverted back to energetic seven year olds at the zoo. “Whoa look at that!” Someone points, and we all clamber to see the view, take a picture, and realize that no camera will ever be able to capture the elation.  Near the edge of the cliff, facing the cape, we gathered to toast our success with peanut butter and grape jelly.  When the food was gone, a few of us climbed nearer the edge, dangling our feet over 3,800ft of nothing and taking in the city below.  “I know it’s crazy, but I just want to jump” Meghan said.  And you did, you wanted to fall in, and become a part of the beauty.

Over the Cape Town

Over the Cape Town

After some reading, basking in the sun, and friendly banter it was time to climb back down; a surprisingly less enjoyable task than climbing up.  We reached the beach just in time to grab some soup and sit in the sand as the sun set over the Atlantic.  Our exhaustion catching up with us, we hopped in a combi, and bumped and jostled our way back to Obs.

Brian came into my room and sat on the hard wood floor. Happy I’d just swept, “What’s up Bry-Bry?” “Today was a good day” he replied. It was. It had been a wonderful day.  But we’d neglected our 67 minutes of service. “Sometimes I think that you have to first enrich yourself. The more that you have, the more that you have to give.” He said.

So Madiba, for your birthday we climbed a mountain. It took us 5 hours and 47 minutes to complete our journey, and we came back enlightened.  We came back down to “reawaken the spirit of human solidarity.”


A Waiting Game

July 16, 2009

Winter has settled into Cape Town.  The rain plays a constant marimba at our windows.  The damp chill it brings oils in, like an unwelcome relative, burrowing into your sheets and clothes.  The missing panes in the back doors have become more of a public enemy than Jacob Zuma in Kimberley. Because 19 college students seem incapable of figuring out how to operate the coin slot dryer, our clothes hang on racks for days, drying.  I washed the jeans I plan to wear on Friday, Tuesday morning so even the pockets would have time to evacuate the water.

Classes at University of Western Cape have begun, and we are all trying to understand the intricacies and how no one seems to know anything. Everything is done on paper, and always in a “different department.”  “Go to the Department of Arts” they say. So we go, stand in line for an hour and a half, only to be told that they “do not have us in the system,” or “that’s not here.”  The campus is large, and beautiful (like everything else here).  Originally, UWC was a designated colored school.  Regardless if you were from Durban or Jo-berg, if you were classified as colored, and wanted to study at university, UWC was your new home.  When apartheid ended, the university was opened to everyone.  And now, it’s open to us.

While the process of registering has us all trekking the 3.5 blocks to Babo for cosmos and Black Lable when we get home, it also has been an interesting lesson in “South Africa time.” This is a city with several different definitions for “now.”  “Now sometime”= Sometime in the near future, possibly today.  “Just now”= Definitely today, and hopefully in the next few hours. “Now now”= Right now (a.k.a in 15-20 minutes).

P.S. If you liked the previous post “Me and South Africa Go Good Together,” feel free to visit for similar styling.

Me and South Africa Go Good Together!

July 15, 2009

I am lovign it here! South Africa has taught me this: To love is to live and to live is to thrive and to thrive is to belong and to belong is to engage spiraling together to create wellness.

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”