Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 16 - Cape Town

Our last big adventure and another beautiful day! We began with a stop at Camp's Bay to walk on the white sand and put our feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic, then on to Hout's Bay, a fishing village, for fresh fish at Mariner's Wharf. At the Cape of Good Hope, most of us made the long climb to the lighthouse, where not even gale-force winds could keep us from enjoying a breathtaking view of the cape and both oceans (and some made an even longer trek to the point). Our last stop was the penguin colony at Boulders Beach, where the fuzzy new babies were everyone's favorites!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Day 15 - Cape Town

We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to visit the University of Cape Town and Kirstenbosch Gardens! The University was founded in 1829, and its middle and upper levels offer some of the most beautiful views in the city. The gardens spill down the eastern slopes of Table Mountain just south of the university (both are on land formerly owned by Cecil John Rhodes) and include around 9,000 of the 22,000 plant species indigenous to South Africa. The oldest plant in the gardens is an almond hedge planted by Jan van Riebeeck in the 1600s. Favorite sections include the sculpture garden, the fragrance garden, and the proteas.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Kirstenbosch Gardens - the Tea Room

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTION - Black Sash - Cameron Poole

Right off the bat, one would expect me to say how much I have learned about Cape Town and the culture here in South Africa. Though such is true, learning from South African culture has taught me even more about American culture, especially within the black community. The same ways poverty, and more broadly economics, affects class structures in South Africa is very similar to how it does in the United States as well. The primary factor contributing to such discrepancies in class in South Africa is the baggage carried over from apartheid. The affects of apartheid are prevalent in South African society and continue to separate the society by race and class. Until, psychologically and mentally, these affects can be overcome, it seems these discrepancies will continue in South Africa. Such is similar in American culture, regarding the effects of slavery, slave codes put in place after slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and the Civil Rights movement. Today we are still struggling with class and racial discrepancies that were put in place to hold African-Americans back in society. Through Jim Crow laws, slave codes, and segregation, America further promoted a more institutionalized version of slavery. If African-Americans were not physically controlled, then through legislation and discrimination they would be mentally and psychologically controlled. Same goes in South Africa regarding apartheid. Though slavery had existed, people were in psychological and mental slavery during apartheid, and continue to be to this day, as are African-Americans. Angela Davis (political activist, professor and former member of the Black Panther Party) has a quote that states, We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society. Before society in American and South Africa can rid itself from all the baggage and effects from slavery, slave codes, Jim Crow, segregation, and Apartheid, minds most be empowered to think otherwise from these hatred based regimes. Once that is possible, then equality may be reached. It is funny that less that 1% of a humans homogeneous makeup is skin color, yet it holds us back globally. America and South Africa have a lot to learn from each other regarding their current situations. Though South Africas present, physical situation is a lot worse off, psychologically, they have been affected the same way as African-Americans and vice-versa. It is funny; this trip has helped me realize all of that and a lot more. I have not even begun to go into my internship or any specific experiences through the trip. Maybe I can do that in another blog. This trip is the best decision I could have made, and I will truly carry all that I have learned from the trip with me the rest of my life.

Day 12 - Cape Town

Tonight we had another guest speaker, Mr. Elroy Paulus from the Black Sash, the oldest advocacy organization in South Africa. His presentation focused on poverty and development, and the current activities of the Black Sash. He helped us to understand the factors that contribute to the high levels of poverty in post-apartheid South Africa, and the challenges of bringing civil society and government together to work for the kind of economic development that will benefit all South Africans - in the spirit of "ubuntu." According to Bishop Desmond Tutu, ubuntu is the essence of being human. "Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity. "

Monday, May 25, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTION - Treatment Action Campaign - Abigail Helmick

This trip so far has been a true exploration and submergence into a completely different culture. The things that I have experienced thus far have challenged me to look at the bigger picture; which has allowed me to critically analyze the present challenges within the Treatment Action Campaign. Some of these challenges include high poverty rates, economic viability, and language barriers. Issues like these are present not only where I am interning, but everywhere in South Africa. By this, I mean that poverty rates are high (there is close to a 50% unemployment rate). With high poverty, how does a person scrounge up the money for transportation to get to work? Many of the people I have met work for R8 per day or less; which is the equivalent to $0.95 per day in America. These people whom I have met are among the most dedicated, most passionate people that I have ever encountered. But how far will passion alone take you?
The struggle for these people lies not in ideology, but rather in economic viability. For example, a bus ride to work costs around R5, then a ride home from work is another R5. If that same worker only earns a meager R8 per day and actually losing money rather than making it, how does that worker survive?
A significant difference that exists between South Africans and Americans is the ideology which they live by. If going to work everyday to an activist organization; such as the T.A.C., means making a difference in one person’s life…working towards a collective goal, and spending more on transportation that day than they make during that same day…it is worth it.
In America, people work towards the so called “American Dream,” the white picket fenced in house in the suburbs, the perfect children, the middle class dream; but how many people do you know in America that work beyond this dream? How many take action to fight for a common cause?
It is easy to criticize political leaders, and even more easy to say that it’s some one else’s problem or someone else’s issue. During my short stay here in South Africa, I have come to realize that nothing will ever change unless you take action. Just like my mother used to say, “You just can’t keep doing the same thing, and expect to see different results…something has to change!”
Activism is a challenge, but it is one of the most effective tools a community can possess. Nelson Mandela explains it best when he says:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter: I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” (Mandela, 1994)

The issues that so many South Africans face on a day to day basis are countless. These people fight every day for human rights that are so often taken for granted in our American culture. Here in South Africa, people are denied so many human rights everyday. The fight to gain these rights has begun and South Africa has made large strides towards a true democracy; but there is still a long way to go.

Abby at TAC

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 10 - Capetown

Today was a free day for students - a day for jogging up and down steep hills, enjoying Cape Town's beautiful beaches, encountering sharks at the aquarium, or just soaking in the sunshine and laid-back atmosphere. At dinner we hosted two guest speakers - Rev. Rose and Derek from the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. We heard about the many events in South African history that led up to the establishment of the apartheid system, with a particular focus on legislation, from Rev. Rose, along with the various forms of resistance that eventually led to the dismantling of apartheid LAWS. Derek then addressed the question "After apartheid, now what?" pointing out how apartheid is still perpetuated in terms of group segregation and unequal opportunities based on both race and class. He categorized the period from the first election in 1994 to the recent election in 2009 as Transition Stage I, during which time the government focused on breaking down the pillars of apartheid and writing a new constitution. The 2009 election was the first genuine election, producing a government with the strength to address the serious problems of poverty, health care, education and jobs, and marking the beginning of Transition Phase II - a 10 year period in which significant change is expected. The discussion was lively, addressing many of the questions that have been coming up during our first days in Cape Town.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 9 - Cape Town

Our tour of Robben Island, a place of imprisonment for over 400 years, was led by two former political prisoners, one of whom was the tour guide for Senator Obama two years ago. As our guides shared the history of political repression and struggle in South Africa and their own stories, we were reminded of the power of the human spirit to overcome all efforts to suppress it. Our ferry ride across the harbor was very different from the ones that brought inmates to the island for indefinite periods of incarceration - in solitary confinement like Robert Sobukwe or crushing rocks in the limestone quarry like Nelson Mandela. And our hunger and thirst as we left the island was only a small taste of the suffering of those confined there for years.

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island

On Robben Island, looking back toward Table Mountain

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day 8 - Capetown

A typical experience of cool, foggy weather on Table Mountain! A beautiful view of the city and the harbor from the cable car, but at the top we went into a cloud that only broke long enough to give us tantalizing glimpses of th panorama below. In proper terms we experienced Table Mountain's "tablecloth...a meteorological occurrence that is caused by the hot and moisture-rich southeasterly wind that blows up against the mountain and rapidly cools down near the top, to form thick clouds." In other words, we spent the morning in a cloud - but our spirits weren't dampened; in fact, one student asked, "Is this heaven?" A hot lunch in the restaurant on the mountain tasted especially good! After the return trip on the cable car, we visited the Slave Lodge Museum, which commemorates the history and impact of slavery on the life and culture of the Cape. We ended the day with a group dinner and a delicious chocolate cake from Charly's Bakery (thank you to Mrs. Roberts) for Austin's 20th birthday!

On the cable car, descending through a cloud from Table Mountain

Thursday, May 21, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTIONS - Internship at Cristel House - Bre Palmer

Yesterday was my first day at my internship at Christel House (a school for children from poor backgrounds that seeks to break the cycle of poverty). After a couple of assemblies that helped us get acquainted with the school, I was separated from the two other students who are interning with me and put with a grade R (kindergarten) class.
This school was different than your average school in a couple ways. For starters, it is stricter. The children wear uniforms, call teachers “miss” or “mister”, and are quiet and well behaved. Also, they clearly really want to be in school, and have worked very hard to get to where they are. They have the full support of their parents (who are required to volunteer to cook and clean at the school), and the school offers many programs that benefit them and their families on many levels (providing substance abuse, child abuse, and HIV-AIDS education, dental and eye care, etc). Those were the differences I noticed in the first five minutes just looking over the kids sitting in the assembly and glancing around at the posters on the walls, which explained the social services the school had to offer.
The real differences slowly came to the surface throughout the day. Two teachers (and I) were in charge of 40-50 kindergarten-aged kids, many of whom were DESPERATE for attention. When I first sat in class, they smiled shyly at me, and some came over to ask me questions. After the first hour, they were hanging all over me. If I stood up, they crowded me, hugging me, grabbing my hand, and fighting over me. They wanted to me to tie their shoes even if they knew how to, they wanted to me to mix their food up at lunch, and they wanted me to give them my undivided attention, even if only for a minute.
In class, we covered ordinary stuff (like the number nine), but also stuff that isn’t ordinarily covered in American schools (HIV-AIDS prevention, or, how one must “never ever touch another person’s blood). Several classroom posters featured HIV-AIDS (including one that said AIDS Is Deadly Serious and another with a giant red ribbon). It was clear that AIDS had affected many of the children in some way, from losing a loved one to living in fear of being infected.
While the kids were very wild and tiring, I enjoyed my first day. The other teachers seemed exhausted, and I understand why. Instead of teaching, I will mostly be assisting them in simply taking care of the children. My job is to be an extra set of eyes, someone to check the students’ work and make sure they are paying attention. I’m supposed to remind them to keep their hands behind their backs and to go to the bathroom in a single file line. All those things seem easy, if not trivial. However, I know that what I am doing is important.
As I was helping the kids get on the busses to take them home, one little boy hugged me and said, “Miss Bre, are you coming back Monday?” Even though that interaction seems a little cheesy, it really made me feel better working at Christel House. Even though I’m not in a leadership position or working at a political organization, I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. Just by spending time with these kids and giving them a little attention, I am doing my part to help them towards a better life.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Athlone Youth Center

Sivunyile National Baptist Church in Guguletu

14 pizzas! Just ask us!

Moyo's - A "Taste of Africa"

"On the road again"

Day 4 - Cape Town

Today we visited all the internship sites - all amazing opportunities for immersion in the exciting and frustrating process of building a democracy based on principles of human rights in South Africa. Two students dove right into the work going on in their organizations: Austin is helping the Independent Electoral Commission with debriefings of IEC officials in several towns in the Western Cape, and Collette is shadowing reporters for the Cape Argus who are working on stories related to the township housing crisis. Everyone else starts bright and early tomorrow!

STUDENT REFLECTIONS - Preparing for the Journey - Adam Conway

It was surprisingly cool for a May night, but Neil and I had decided to walk and weren’t up for making any negotiations. He was looking somewhat alien to me- a once dark and pudgy boy turned into a muscular, thick-necked lounger, reminiscent of a casual bear with his baggy clothes, new body, and shaggy hair. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly a year, but we were determined to have another talk, per usual- a life-affirming, soul-bearing, emotionally draining confession and suggestion fest. And we succeeded, only more blunty and simply than before.
“So you’re going to South Africa.”
“Cool. Why?”
Why? An absurd question. No one else had required that answer. They knew it was an amazing opportunity, that it’s focus was human rights (a passion of mine that I flaunt too proudly), and that it would be in a damn pretty country. That suited most just fine. Neil, however, was never satisfied with a resume. He wanted the answers I was not even telling myself.
I rambled. I made excuses. I cited statistics from my research project. He was not convinced. Instead, he spoke of his own plans to study abroad in Russia and shared with me his realization- “I’m running away from the certain; I’m running to the new and terrifying.”
And I nodded. So was I. So were all of us. Yes, this particular program has its own appeal- an internship AND tourism. Beautiful. Affordable. History. Human Rights. Other Truman students. Short enough, if things proved too terrifying. It was like finding a meal on the menu consisting of all your favorite foods- just too perfect to pass up. But why go abroad in the first place? Because I am tired of the security, comfort, and monotony of Kirksville, of Missouri. I’ve found my life stagnant and my growth nonexistent as I become too familiar with the people, the customs, the realities of my little life. And in Cape Town, I am an alien, a stranger, trying to learn how to function and who to be. It is in the “new” and “terrifying” that I will not only encounter the eye-opening, fascinating, humbling, and expanding, but I will hopefully return with a little more clarity on where I am to go and who I am to be.
Babies only grow so much in the womb, eventually, it’s time to get born. But I didn’t leave kicking and screaming, crying and terrified, or smiling and thrilled. I’ve seen in all of my new friends a vacancy. We have not yet realized that there is life beyond the birth canal as we creep, sedated and zombie like through the airport, through the plane. I don’t know whether to cower or cheer because until I arrive, South Africa might as well be Oz, Narnia, or some other fantastic impossibility.
But I hope when I get there I will act with the curiosity, humility, sense of humor, and grace I’ve seen in the international students who have come to study at Truman. After working with them for two years now, I’ve got a vague idea of what it takes to learn, to teach, and to grow in a new world; here’s hoping I’ve got the stuff to execute the lessons they keep sharing. I hope I listen more than judge, that I share without evangelizing, that I learn more about what I’m capable of and about what I value, and that I send a few postcards a long the way.
And I hope that some time in the next few weeks I fully realize why it is I came here and who I can become.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 3 in Capetown

A powerful experience of music and spirituality at Sivuyile National Baptist Church, followed by tea with the pastor, and a tour of Guguletu, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Mitchell's Plain, and Langa Townships led by Dr. Guma's daughter, who is a graduate student at Stellenbosch University. An important opportunity for learning about the challenges of addressing the legacy of apartheid, and for experiencing the strength and resiliency of the people of South Africa.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Day 2 in Cape Town

Still raining and windy, but by dashing betwen raindrops, we visited Uitkyk and Spier Vineyards near Stellensbosch and had a huge "taste of Africa" buffet with drumming and dancing at Moyo. We ordered pizza for dinner and somehow ended up with 14 pizzas! (We ate 9!) We're hoping for better weather soon!

Friday, May 15, 2009

District 6 Museum

Ready to enjoy a delicious lunch at Charly's Bakery

First day in Capetown

A good day in spite of cooler temperatures and rain showers! We started the day with a trip downtown to get oriented and learn how to get around the Cape Town area in trains, buses, and minibus taxis - useful information once students start going on their own to their internship sites next week (this week our program bus will take them there), or for going to interesting places during their free time. Lunch took us to Charly's bakery for quiche, meat and vegetable pies, and delicious desserts. After lunch we visited the District 6 Museum, where we heard an excellent history of the devastating effects on non-white communities of the forced removals carried out under the Group Areas Act. Then home and a free afternoon exploring cafes and shops on Long Street - and tomorrow it's off to the winelands!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

We made it!

After 2 1/2 days of travel (the students said they felt like they had been in airports for a week), we finally made it to Cape Town! Lots of pictures were being taken of the gorgeous view from the guesthouse, and tonight's fresh seafood dinner! But by 8:30, weary travellers were ready for bed!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Heathrow airport - ready to board the plane for Cape Town


We're almost half-way! A typical rainy London day, but we all made it safely - tired but happy to be closer to our goal! Only 10 more hours in tiny airplane seats! And a cake is waiting to celebrate Cameron's birthday.