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,


  1. Lila darlin' -- This is simply stunning, a fascinating post! Don't you ever apologize for length!! What a great read this is to see the world through your clear, just and compassionate eye. This post is uplifting and worthy of very wide readership. You should DEFINITELY get your journals published on your return. I am currently reading Paul Theroux's new book "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star" abut his train trek throughout Eastern Europe, all parts of Asia and South Africa, and I find your journal every bit as revealing of national character and customs and true insight. He is a master of the "telling detail" and so are you ... every bit as much. THANK YOU. KEEP IT UP. This is education at its very best. Love you! -- John

  2. Om gam Ganesaya namaha.
    Om ayim srim hrim Saraswati devyai namaha.
    Om santih santih santih.
    Love you so much, dear Lila.

  3. John & Mignon,
    Thank you so much for both of your comments,they made my morning.Both of you mean so much to me & I'm glad to have you as family. :)