Monday, February 16, 2009

Penguins & thoughts on racism

It's Monday again and we've settled in to a routine of class and homestays.I'm back at the internet cafe so I can upload pictures (I'll post a link to them at the end of this blog - for some reason it's too slow to put them directly in here. Sorry!)

On Saturday we went to Robben Island-where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for over 20 years. It was a short ferry ride,and then we took a private tour of the island (all of this arranged by SIT). This was mostly interesting because it gave us a sense of Mandela's life in prison. But honestly,the best part was seeing wild african penguins on the beach! There were tons of them,and they're so cute.

I've been thinking a lot while I've been here,especially in the evenings when I'm at home by myself. As I talked about earlier, I've been getting a bit aggravated with some of the people in my group,but now I'm thinking about it more as just part of the experience,and they're really at making me look at how I react to my experiences here. There seems to be a lot of unaddressed racism within the group.For instance,on Saturday while we were at the beach one of the girls was talking about how attractive she found South African men,with their accents and everything. Then she said "but I really don't like blonde hair and they're all blonde". I just stared at her for a moment,waiting for her to figure out what she'd said. When she didn't I said "Uh...except for the black 3/4 of the country..." she smiled at me and offhandedly said "oh,yeah...but I guess so and so already has that covered"(one of the girls kissed a South African apparently).Comments like that and "oh,the black babies are so cute,I want to take them away from all this", are an everyday occurance,and it's driving me crazy. And many of these comments are obviously racist,but they're so hard to respond to.

I've been dealing a lot with some of my own relations to racism lately. Coming here just reinforced the fact that Portland is an incredibly white town and I think I am going to have a hard time living there permanently because of it. I love living in a place, however temporarily, where race is discussed at least somewhat openly and those issues can be addressed.(mind you,this is a somewhat idealistic view of the situation,but I want to give you an idea of how different it is). Like most white liberals,I don't want to consider myself racist and just automatically assume I'm not because of that desire not to be. But in reality, I am not used to having everyone not be white, and I'm trying really hard to be conscious of my subconscious attitude towards race. Being in South Africa is really making me examine how I subconsciously feel and although it's incredibly hard to explain it,I feel like I'm finally able to think about race issues.

Anyway,that paragraph probably didn't make any in Langa is so interesting...I wish everyone could come visit me,I really can't explain it. Family is still awesome,although I've been spending more time alone in my room lately. None of us can go outside of our houses on our own or walk around without at least one local. It's not really because we're not South Africans,nobody walks around by themselves. It does however make getting to know the neighborhood pretty little Sisi is only 7 so she can't walk me around, my Mama is too old to walk a lot and the older Sisi is so tired when she gets home from work.And when it comes to exploring the rest of the city: we have a 3 hour break each day when we can do whatever we want,but other than that,it's not really safe for us to travel at night(you have to call a certain taxi company to get you & pick you up afterwards,there's no other safe way to get home) . All that being said,I really wish I could just explore. Classes have been pretty boring so sometimes I really wish I could just leave for the day and explore this wonderful country.

I'll have to post another entry with the link to my pictures, the internet is being a bit slow at the moment. Sorry if this makes absolutely no sense,I'm just trying to get it all out



  1. It makes perfect sense. I love reading your blog and learning about your experiences. MIL/YOM

  2. I think your paragraph on racism made perfect sense. This is how one grows, by looking, reacting, then examining one's reaction. As Plato said in the Apologia, "The unexamined life is not worth living." It helps that you are you, Lila, with a lot of good judgments already made, and all of them based on great powers of perception and discernment. This trip will bring you great joy, great challenges and enormous growth.