Friday, March 27, 2009


So I'm in Stellenbosch,a town about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, in the heart of wine country. It's also what's known as the heartland of the Afrikaner.(Oh,and I learned that there's only 1 A when refering to the people,and 2 A's when it's the language, ie.Afrikaans).We're staying with a very nice family with 3 boys ages 14,11 & 8. They've had lots of students before so they are very laid back and have been WONDERFUL in dealing with my wheat issues (which seem to only have gotten worse since being here). It's a big change being here in an almost entirely white city after exploring the rest of South Africa.There are 'colored' neighborhoods and a 'black township' here as well,but in town itself,just about everyone is white.It feels a lot like an old European town or colonial America. Lectures so far have been sort of interesting,but the best part was yesterday when we had to do a photo project with Stellenbosch University students. We were told to walk around and take pictures of what is different & what is the same between our two countries. Instead of rewriting everything I'm just going to type up what I wrote in my journal so you can not only read about what I've been doing & thinking,but you can see how I've been writing to myself.

After lunch Susan and I went over to the Stellenbosch market. It was an African craft market with sterotypical "African" art and crafts. It was very odd for us to go around and talk to people in English when we could heart them speaking Xhosa,it made us feel like tourists when we've mostly not felt like that,although we are,to some extent. Susan was trying to find a painting of Langa(the township we'd been living in) and many of the salesman where very confused as to why she wanted one of that specific township. In the afternoon we were grouped together with 3 Stellenbosch University students and told to walk around and take pictures of the differences & similarities between our countries. Our 3 girls started off really quiet but as we walked we started to talk more and more. One of the first things we decided to take a picture of was a STOP sign because they're the same in both countries. I mentioned that I had seen one where someone had spray painted "war" underneath it, and how we had those in Portland as well. One of the girls in our group admitted that it was her who had done that, so that was pretty cool. Next we took a picture of the restaurant Spur, which is a Native American themed restaurant that's really popular. Susan & I talked about how a restaurant like that would be considered hugely offensive in the US(their symbol is a 'typical Indian' in a feather headdress and inside everything has little red cartoon people in feathers and leather clothes), this didn't seem to make much sense to the girls,but they were interested to hear about that big difference. Next they wanted to go take pictures of the market, but we deterred them from that because it just didn't seem appropriate. Instead we told them how there's this commodification of culture in the US and we had noticed it here, where other culture's art and music was being taken in to American's homes as a symbol that they're worldly,without those people knowing anything about the other culture.I'm not explaining this very well,and I guess we didn't explain it well yesterday either,because they thought we were talking about a good thing.
As we walked down a block that was mostly colored and black people the girls told us to 'hold on to your bags tightly here,and be careful.' We had literally walked 10 feet from where we'd been before,but they instantly got nervous. As we walked down the street it became increasingly evident that these girls were uncomfortable with non-white people. We did have a lot of fun,although we all agreed we would have learned more by going out to a bar or club together.
When we returned to the classroom all the groups showed their pictures and explained what they'd talked about. When we talked about the Spur picture some of the South Africans said that they were surprised that this was not appropriate in the US because in South Africa using a black, 'native' African as a symbol in a restaurant or something is perfectly appropriate and even considered a form of respect. I'm not sure if that's totally correct or just the opinion of one white Afrikaner. My feeling on the matter is that what is inappropriate is when using a cultural symbol depends on who has ownership over the use of that symbol. But then again,I'm not sure how I feel about Indian casinos in the US; I don't think they're the same as the Zulu parks here because of the ownership issue, but I'm not sure that makes them right.
What started out as sort of boring exercise ended up really making me grapple with big issues, something that I feel like I haven't had enough of since coming to UW, or even since coming to South Africa.
Friday, March 27th,2009
This morning we had a lecture on Afrikaner collective guilt & responsibility,which I had been looking forward to. It was absolutely fascinating and certainly the most thought provoaking lecture we've had. We began by talking about what responsibility means. I said that,to me, responsibility means that if you see a horrible thing happening it is your responsibility to act to end it and if you do not, you are responsible and guilty for what happens. Obviously the class was centered on Afrikaner collective guilt and what Afrikaners could or should be responsible for, although we also talked a bit about the American war in Iraq. When asked how you would react to responsibility, how others would know where you stand, I spoke about the various ways one can either support or fight against injustice, that one must actively work to stop it otherwise they are implicit in the activity.
We also spoke about the difference between guilt & responsibility-guilt is a response to a personal action or inaction, whereas responsibility can come from something being done in your name even if you aren't personally committing the crime. Towards the end of the lecture the lecturer asked us if we could think of any group that was not politically responsible in any way,and her answer was 'refugees' because they lack a state. I responded to this by saying that I believe although responsibility as part of a state is different, we are all human beings and are therefore responsible to each other. She said she agreed in some senses but that it's a different sort of responsibility.
During the Q & A period Elizabeth asked a question about how cultural relativism plays out in the concept of collective guilt and responsibility. The lecturer said that she doesn't really believe in the idea of cultural relativism because we are all people and we recognize others as human,and cultural relativism can sometimes excuse things that are not ok to anyone. That's one huge issue I always grapple with-how far should cultural relativism go? I'm still not really sure how I feel about it,but whenever people talk about cultural relativism I feel like it goes too far. It's certainly something I'm still struggling with and I hope I can come more to grips with it,although maybe that's something I will always go back & forth with?

As you can see lately we've been dealing with a lot of big issues,like I'd hoped we would,and it's making me think a lot,and in different ways then I've done in the past of this trip. Being here so far has been quite the experience,although different from the rest of the time. I hope that some of my 'readers' can offer some insight into these issues although I know that I have to discover the answers for myself when it comes right down to it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Long time no post (WARNING: this is going to be annoyingly long)

Whew,I've only been out of Cape Town for 17 days,but it feels like forever! On March 6th we flew to East London,then drove about 2 hours to Tshabo, where we did our rural homestay for 5 nights. We stayed in Tshabo 2, which is one of 11 villages in the area. It was situated on top of a hill & had a lovely view. Our family was made up of a mama, a tata(dad) who we only saw twice, twin sisters who were about 28 (one of whom lived in East London & only came up for the weekend) and two 17 y/o who went to the local high school. The Mama only had one eye & was very shy, she didn't really talk to us at all. We tried really hard to speak to her in Xhosa-she didn't speak English-but she hardly ever responded. The older sisters were the ones who cooked for us,which in and of itself was an interesting situation: we were never told if & when we would be eating,but all of a sudden at 8:30ish at night we'd get this giant plate of food-way too much to eat. In the morning I ate my rice cakes & peanut butter, and then we weren't given food until 8:30pm. Good thing we brought a lot of snacks! Each morning we let the goats out of their pen, seeing chickens scuttle in & out of the house was a regular occurrence and cows regularly sniffed at our bedroom window. Our family had electricity & a television, but the tap for the 3 houses around us was about 100ft from the house & we used a outhouse. We visited a local school (it had 4 classrooms & one of the teachers hit her students with a cane when they didn't know the answers), hoed in the garden for 4 hours, and learned to bead with the Mamas (that's their main form of income).

When we left Tshabo everyone was crying,the people in our group got really attached to their families. Susan & I, however, were ready to move on, and I admit, I was looking forward to a shower after not bathing for a week. We drove to Buccaneers Backpackers on the Wild Coast, but along the way we stopped at a paper cooperative where we learned about how they make paper & I got hugely frustrated with the man who'd come down from Johannesburg to 'help these people' because 'they don't have anything to do in their little houses' (his words).As we drove out of Tshabo & in to East London all the people in my van talked about going back to "civilization", as if where we'd been was uncivilized.Grrr.

Buccaneers was a beautiful backpackers, just a five minute walk from the Indian Ocean,where we spent most of our time. During the 3 days we spent there we had our final Xhosa proficiency test, which I think I did pretty well on. While it was a lovely place to stay,I was a bit upset that we were spending 3 days relaxing & being tourists-that's not really why most of us came on this program.

After Buccaneers we drove for two days to Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal. We stopped on Saturday night in Kokstad,halfway to Durban, at a little Inn. It was a creepy place, with tons of animal heads on the walls, and the white family that owned the place treated their black helper horribly. She was calling us "madam" and when I told her she didn't have to,the women who owned the Inn told me that "yes,she did have to call me Madam, it would keep her in her place". Yuck. The only other distinctive part about that night was that my suitcase broke,so I had to throw everything in to my duffel bag.

Durban was a blur of a week. We had lectures at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), which had a beautiful campus that reminded me a bit of UW.On Tuesday we went to this huge Hindu temple in Durban. It was absolutely beautiful & reminded me so vividly of Nepal that I was surprised when people began speaking Xhosa, not Nepalese. There were peacocks wandering the ground of the temple, a small tiled temple dedicated just to Hanuman, and a large hall dedicated to Ganesh.An elderly woman showed us around, telling us stories and at each statue we stopped at she prayed to that god or goddess for our safety & health. I've never felt particularly drawn to any religion, but I think that if I was looking for one,I would choose Hinduism. I've always been so drawn to its mythology & I've always felt a strong connection the Ganesh(the elephant god who brings luck & is the patron god of travelers) and Saraswati (goddess of learning, wisdom & music. Her animal is the peacock).

After the Hindu temple we went to lunch, which was Bunny Chow, a local Durban dish. It's spicy veggies + meat served in a hollowed out loaf of bread. I got just spicy veggies + rice and it was amazing! After lunch we went to the Juma Mosque- the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere. It was absolutely beautiful & re-inspired me to keep up with my Arabic as much as possible. We spent the rest of that afternoon in the Victoria St. Market, an Indian & African market which was a lot of fun. Susan & I went back to that market later in the week where I bought some music & was told that I don't dance too badly for a white girl.

There were two more significant events that happened in Durban, so bear with me a little bit longer. On Wednesday after we finished eating on the UKZN campus we heard a huge crowd of students chanting. A few of us went up and joined the crowd that had gathered on the steps of an administrative building. Black students on the campus were striking in the hopes of improving financial aid as well as options for housing for themselves. The most popular chant was "Amandla! Ngawethu," meaning 'all power to the people' which was so wonderful to hear at a student demonstration! As the crowd moved on to the Student Union building & we had to return to class we asked students why we were the only non-black students there. We were told that no other students have faced the issues with housing because they can afford to live on their own or at home & drive to school, and that solidarity between the races,and most importantly, between the social classes is practically unheard of. Despite this,hearing students ask each other if they're striking today was such an inspiring thing to hear,and I felt so excited to come home & be part of a movement like that in the States.

On Thursday we spent all day in Chatsworth, a township outside of Durban, with the Bayview Flats Residents Association. It was an amazing day! This is an organization that has organized over the last 10 years to prevent evictions of families who couldn't pay their utilities and that is a model of diversity & solidarity. Although Chatsworth has been a predominantly Indian township the area of Bayview within it, is made up of people of all different races living peacefully together. According to all the residents we spoke to,they have NEVER had a racial incident! People there are extremely poor but they really work together to make sure everyone stays afloat. There is a section of town called Snake Town where all of the houses are constantly crawling with snakes (including the black & green mambas & the boot adder) and the ambulances can't go there so if someone needs to go to the hospital they must be carried up the hill to where the ambulances can go.There was a woman there named Yvonne who basically adopted me for the day.She kept me close by her side and answered all my questions. She wants me to basically be a pen-pal with her family so that we can all have that personal,human connection. There is so much more to say about it,but I don't want to bore you all. I'll just end that description with saying I seriously considered changing my ISP topic & moving in to the neighborhood because I was so inspired by the friendliness of everyone and the overwhelming solidarity.

Now it's Monday again & we're back in Cape Town. We have one more night with our Langa family, and then we move to Stellenbosch to live with an Afrikaaner family in the wine country. Then next week with live with a 'colored' family in Bo Kaap, then the ISP starts & we have our own accomodations! We're half way through already,it's hard to believe!

Oh,I almost forgot, we went on a safari on Saturday! We rode in one of those Safari vans you alwayas see in pictures, saw wild elephants,rhinos,giraffes,monkeys,zebras,hippos,crocodiles & kudus. It was a lot of fun,but very very touristy and once was more than enough for me.I'll post a lot of pictures in a few hours of eveything,don't worry!

Lots of love to everyone,

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Lila's travels

Just a few new pictures.

Last night my homestay family was so sweet. I got home and immediately Tina & her friend run up to me and give me huge hugs. As soon as I put my bags down they started braiding my hair,which they did until I ate dinner. In the evening Mama was telling me how I'm really family to them,I'm like her other daughter. I'm a lot more attached to my family than I thought I was going to be, not that I thought I wouldn't be,but I didn't think I was going to be so sad to leave them. I'm excited that we get to stay with them for another 2 nights at the end of March and that when my parents come to visit (!!) they'll get to meet my Langa family. This morning Mama told me how unhappy she was that this was my last night.

Today class was a bit interesting...Shane led a "processing" session for us to talk about what we've done this past month. It drove me crazy,there were so many things wrong with it. I'll have to write about that later though,I need to think over it a bit. But one thing that I can talk about is that I confronted him about the briefing session we had on Tuesday where he like completely ignored Nomawethu when talking about our rural homestay. I told him I had some constructive criticism and that I thought we would be better served if she had done it because she has local knowledge of the area, she knows the people, not to mention she's coming with us to the Eastern Cape and he isn't. Once I said that he just looked at me and said "okay", that was it. Grrrr. He doesn't take constructive criticism well at all but I'd like to try to make some change,because it is making this program much more difficult than it should be.

Anyway,we leave tomorrow for the Eastern Cape. Should be interesting...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wednesday March 4th,2009 (or, The Sun Takes Away All My Creativity)

Well,here I am,yet another Wednesday. Another beautiful 85 degree day filled with fruit and Xhosa. Life is good here. This has been, overall, a quite relaxing week. It's been a normal schedule for the most part. I'm not sure if I've already posted this,but this is what a normal day looks like here:
6:00am Wake Up
7:00am Minibus picks us up at our homestays
7:45am Arrive at classroom
8:30am Xhosa lesson
10:00am break
10:30am lecture
12:30 Lunch/break
3:30pm Xhosa tutors
5:15pm Depart for homestays

Rinse and repeat. The lecture is usually done by an outside professor or academic type. Yesterday we had a speaker named Zenzile Khoisan come in to talk to us. He was great! He participated in the student riots of 1976 and was then exiled and went to live in the US. He told us a lot of stories about his time as a "subversive marijuana smoker anarchist" (his words) including how awesome the IWW (International Workers of the World,or Wobblies) in Everett, WA is, experiences with student activists at UW, harvest season in Oregon and his time as a radio host and underground writer in NY. When he returned to South Africa he was asked to help with the investigations for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For those of you who don't know how the TRC worked, victims came forward to tell their stories which were then investigated by various groups, including Zenzile's and people who committed crimes had to give a full disclosure with all details in order for them to be given amnesty. Zenzile was one of the people who investigated the Guguletu Seven Massacre and discovered the real story,which hadn't previously been known. Anyway, his talk was interesting and then he was selling his books about his time with the TRC and I bought one. He signed it: TO Lila, Venceremos! (we will win!) I had been talking to him about my work with unions and such. Anyway,it was a good day. Oh! A few memorable quotes from Zenzile: "melanin becomes such a small player when you see a grandmother picking food out of a trash pile" and "sure I'll clean your toilet...with my AK-47" (some context for that second quote: he was talking about how many of the white South Africans act and how they used to ask him to come over & clean their houses,and that was his response)

Last night we went to see a South Africa version of Romeo & Juliet which wasn't too impressive,but it was fun to go to a play.

Friday we head to the Eastern Cape,which I'm sure you all know by now. Yesterday we had a briefing with Shane & Nomawethu (Shane is the Academic Director of our program & Nomawethu(who we all call Mama) is the local contact) about our rural homestays. It was the most aggrivating and disturbing session we've had with them yet. I have gotten progressively more annoyed at Shane for being rude, insensitive and oblivious to our situation. He decided that it was a good idea for him to tell us about the rural homestay even though 1)he's not going with us, 2)he's never been there and 3) as a white Irishman he seems to have absolutely NO idea of what life is like there. Everytime he would say something about what our life would be like there, Mama would frown and shake her head. I got so frustrated I couldn't stop fuming and Mama noticed. Afterwards she came up and asked me what was wrong. I told her that I was extremely upset that Shane was telling us about what the rural experience would be like,rather than her,who had made the contacts there and actually knows first hand what Xhosa life is like in the Eastern Cape. She told me she agrees but that once he starts talking she can't stop him.

Once I've finished this program (possibly even once I've finished my Vietnam program as well) I'm planning to write a letter to SIT telling them about all of the problems we've had with Shane. What I've talked about above is just one of the many issues with him. Grrrrrr.

I think I talked about my friend Raissa in my last post,but if not, she got admitted to the hospital on Sunday night after her pacemaker when off during surfing. She's now out of the hospital and doing well. In fact,you can't even tell she was in the hospital. She did however have a really interesting glimpse in to the health care system here. The first ambulance (those run by the state) took 30 minutes to get to her and then once it did they didn't know what to do with her and had to ask her other friends to put her on the stretcher. Once she got to the hospital the doctors had no idea what to do with a pacemaker and kept telling her false information. She finally got sent to a good hospital with heart specialists who hooked her up to a heart monitor and called her doctor in the US. In the last few days a lot of us have been debating about how the SA system compares to the US one. Many people say that it's far worse that in the US,but a few of us have been saying that although people who have money have the very best access, people that don't have money often get screwed and experience horrible things because they can't afford to call an ambulance or whatever. Oh,I hope that we have Single Payer health care in the next couple of years. The idea that people have to pay for health care is such bullshit! Nobody should die because they can't afford to go see a doctor, get an X-Ray or call an ambulance.

Whew, had to get all of that out. Sorry for such a long post. I'm not sure when I'll be able to update again. Starting Friday I won't have regular access to internet,so don't be worried if I don't respond for a while. That being said,I'd still love emails or comments


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Another week...

On Friday we went on a Journey of Remembrance with the Direct Action Center for Peace & Democracy. We started the day off by going around and saying who we are, why we decided to come to SA and what we're looking forward to about the Journey. We found out that the 3 Xhosa men who were going to be leading the Journey were combatants in the armed struggle against apartheid, which was really fascinating. After that a candle was lit and we had to say who we wanted to bring on this journey with us. It turned in to a very emotional exercise and I started crying. I said I was bringing Grandma and Poppy (my mom's parents) with me.

We then drove to the District Six memorial park where we were told to look around at the city,and take it in. Then we were told to close our eyes and visualize our friends and homes back in the States and then imagine what would happen if all that was taken away, if one day we were told to pack everything and were assigned to a new home. Then we opened our eyes and looked around, picturing the families in that place that'd had to do that same thing. We could see the remains of houses that had been torn apart or burned.

After the park we went to Langa, where we've been living. We were told that they participated in the anti-pass protests in 1960 along with most of the rest of the country. During apartheid non-whites were forced to carry passes with them at all times and get them checked and approved if they wanted to move out of their home. There were huge protests around the country in reaction to these laws,and in Langa, as in many other places, they ended with bloodshed as police shot and killed many protesters. In addition, students in Langa participated in the protests against making Afrikaans the manditory language in all South Africa schools.

In the afternoon we went to a few of the other townships in the area and learned about the resistance that took place there,and about various monuments, including the monument to the Trojan Horse Massacre and the Guguletu Seven. The Trojan Horse Massacre was a massacre by the police where they drove in to two townships, hidden under boxes and when a few students threw stones at the car, the police jumped out and started shooting. They said they'd gone in to arrest stone throwers,but instead then ended up killing many people. I think I talked about the Guguletu Seven in a past post...

In the afternoon we got lunch in Philipe (another township) and asked questions about what we'd seen, and about the leader's experiences.Then a woman from the Homeless People's Association spoke about the work they do to build houses for people and to empower women to build their houses and take ownership of them. It was a really cool and I got a lot of information that I'm to use for my term paper on housing.After dinner in the evening we learned 2 songs that are sung at protests and especially at funerals. They were eerily beautiful. We also learned a chant of "Amandla! Ngawethu" which means "All power to the people". We were taught to toyi-toyi - the protest march that's like a military march but more energetic.

Oh,something big about the day that I forgot: I talked to one of the young men who was leading our tour(well he was actually about 40,but didn't act or look like it) about his experiences in the armed struggle. He told me that he mostly joined up because it was what everyone was doing. He said that he became a Buddhist while he was in jail (he was arrested for treason) and that he has stopped eating meat because he doesn't believe in killing animals to eat them. I asked him if he regretted joining the armed struggle and he said that he did, he said that he doesn't think that politicians can create a true victory for the people,only people can do it for themselves, so he thinks that the fact that they fought and killed was not worth it. It was so interesting to talk to him, and I got his phone number and I'm hoping I can meet up to talk to him later in the trip!

Blah,what a confusing post, sorry! For some reason I'm extremely out of it and feel very agitated but I can't figure out why. I feel like I've got a lot of things to do but I don't have to do tons of things this week...except I have to call SIT in the States this evening to figure out all my things for my trip to Vietnam. AHHH so confusing!

I think I'm getting homesick...I'm not so much ready to be home,but I do miss it a lot,and I'm excited to put the things I'm learning here to use.