Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Updated pictures and bumps in the road

The last few days have been both wonderful and very stressful. The interviews I talked about in my last post were certainly the high point of the week. Yesterday I interviewed Myrtle Witbooi, the General Secretary of the union and we talked for almost 2 hours! It was a wonderful interview and she is certainly an inspiring woman. She has fought tirelessly for her fellow domestic workers and tears came to her eyes when she spoke about retiring. I will write more in the next couple days or perhaps after I have finished writing my huge paper(which is due on the 7th,if you were wonderfing). Those were the good parts.

Now,the bad parts: first of all,last weekend I apparently left my USB drive which has all my research for this paper on it, at an internet cafe. It's gone for good so I had to rewrite my work and get new copies of articles. Not a huge problem,but stressful the week before the paper is due. Bigger issue: I may have talked about my food problems before but if not: I have some sort of intolerance to all gluten products and various other foods and because EVERYTHING here has gluten in it,I have a really hard time finding much to eat,or even to make at home. I visited a doctor who agreed to test me for celiac disease-a gluten intolerance which wears away at your stomach lining when you have gluten and the only cure is to not eat it. Today I heard back from him-I'm negative for that. So we're back to the drawing board on what's wrong with my silly tummy. It's more stressful than it sounds it honestly makes me miss Portland with all it's restaurants and stores catering to people with finiky tummies,like me.

But aside from those few bad things,life is good here in Cape Town! In talking to my parents about their upcoming trip here I've realized that I have really grown accustomed to living here. I even consider it MY city, going so far as to offer my parents, who are seasoned travlers, advice and recommendations about clothing and safety. Things that seemed like a big deal when I got here, like the fact that you really don't go out at night if you don't own a car, now seem like normal life. I even find myself considering all the wonderful artwork that's sold on streets here to be kitshy and touristy,when really I'm just used to it,and I have to be reminded that it's beautiful and unique. I know when I get home I'm going to have a bit of a hard time adjusting to being in the United States,but I'm looking forward to it because I know it will only reenforce the amazing experiences I've had here.

Well,that's enough deep reflection for one time.I've added a few pictures,so check them out!

Lila's travels


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This is why I came to South Africa...

Yesterday was the reason I came to South Africa.Yesterday I spent 3 hours talking with domestic workers. I got to interview 7 wonderful women and hear their stories. It was inspiring, horrifying and just all around fascinating. It's so hard for me to even begin to talk about it,it doesn't quite seem real. I had three sessions of interview, with 2 women the first time, 2 the second and then 3 the third. After those 7 women a group of French exchange students showed up and so we all went down to talk to them. The steering committee for the Western Cape branch of the domestic workers union talked to the students and then we all sat around and had some snacks. When the French students wanted to take a picture of the whole group of domestic workers (or Home Executives as one of the women called herself) the National President of the union called me over and said "Lila,come be in the picture with us,you're one of us". My heart practically melted out of my chest. All of the women had started out a bit shy and not sure what to expect but by the time I left at 6pm they were all laughing and joking with me and asking when they would see me again, which was exactly what I had hoped for.

The interviews I did are really going to help me with my ISP,and they're the bulk of my research. Today (Tuesday) I'm interviewing Myrtle Witbooi, the Secretary general of the Western Cape branch of the domestic workers union and on Thursday I'm talking to the National President. I still haven't quite processed how lucky I am to have the opportunity to talk to such strong, amazing women. The last week hasn't been the best, what with me being sick, not being able to eat very many foods and losing my USB with ALL of my work for this 40 page paper on it, but yesterday made all that disappear.

I've got 9 days to write my 40 page paper and get it printed. I have absolutely no work on it any more,and have to start all the secondary research over. But nothing can dampen how great my experience with these women has been. On Friday I'm going downtown to help them with their booth for May Day - I'm really interested to see what it's like here. I think the new President, Jacob Zuma, may even be coming to talk.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Elections in South Africa

Yesterday, April 22nd marked South Africa's 4th free, democratic election. Ever since we got to the country we've been hearing and talking about it,it's a bit hard to believe it actually happened. You may have heard a few years ago about the scandal surrounding Jacob Zuma, a top official in the ANC(The African National Congress, Nelson Mandela's party). He was accused of raping a family friend who happened to be HIV positive. When asked what he did to prevent himself from getting HIV he respond "I took a shower", prompting this caricature:

Although he was cleared of those charges many still believe he did rape her and that he got off easy.

And yet,he was the ANC's presidential candidate. Before I talk any more about my experiences with the election I think it'd be a good idea to explain the political system here,I don't think I've done it before. If I have,I apologize. Ok so there is a parliament of 400 members plus the president. Parties run for national office with a list of 400 people that they would put in parliament if they won all the seats. The party that gets the greatest majority of votes (has been the ANC since 1994) puts the person who is at the top of their list in as president,and the people following them get ministry positions,etc. The seats in Parliament are divided up based on the percentages each party gets. If the ANC gets 60% of the vote, for example, they get 60% of the seats in Parliament in addition to the seat of the president. I think it's a pretty cool system-no one party wins or loses, they mostly all get a spot in government. So when you go to cast your ballot you don't vote for a candidate,you vote for a party. Jacob Zuma is the ANC's #1 on their list of 400.

Ok,so most of what we've heard since being here is that Zuma is a scumbag but that a majority of the population is still voting for the ANC. The people on my program have gotten really upset about this, saying they don't understand how people can still be voting for someone who's been accused of rape and corruption(was recently acquitted of those charges -i think that's the right word). The Americans seem to have an extremely hard time separating the man - Zuma - from the party- the ANC. While I think Zuma is a total scumbag who doesn't deserve to be in government, I think the policies of the ANC are great,and I can understand how many people still want to vote for him, despite these things. There are quite a few opposition parties: the DA (mostly an Afrikaaner/Colored party that some say is the remnants of the National Party-the party that created and enforced Apartheid), COPE (Congress of the People, new in this election, old ANC supporters who don't believe the ANC is accomplishing what they are promising, many young people are supporting this party), the ID, the UDM,the IDF, etc. There's a ton of acronyms that I honestly can't remember at the moment. The DA, ANC & COPE are the biggest players in electoral politics in this election.

Ever since we got here there have been posters from all of the political parties lining the streets and it's all anyone can talk about. Most of our families in Langa & Tshabo supported the ANC although quite a few of the people my age support COPE. In Stellenbosch and Bo Kaap most people are supporting the DA. In Durban we met a lot of students who said they weren't voting at all because they knew the ANC was going to win,so what use is it voting for other parties.

Last night we had a party to celebrate the election and a few people in my apartment (I woke say who...this was illegal), went out and cut down signs from each of the parties. These are huge cardboard signs that are on every lamppost. We decorated our apartment with them and had people over to watch the election coverage,which, I'm happy to report, is nowhere near as crazy as in the US. By the end of the night I was feeling quite pessimistic,an odd feeling for me. I realized that presidential elections depress me. There is so much energy and community activism leading up to them but then once the people are in office, that tends to peter off, and people will complain but not necessarily work to change things until the next election. This isn't everybody, or every election,but it's depressing none-the-less. I think South Africa is like that,but not to as great an extent as the US. In fact the homeless people's organizations in the townships around Cape Town and Johannesburg staged "one house,one vote" campaigns where they refused to vote until the government agreed to move them in to the empty housing or creating housing opportunities for them. An interesting situation.

Whew, I wrote a lot about the election. Hopefully that gives you all a better idea of what the political climate is like here. Pictures to come later. As far as my research goes, it's been moving pretty slowly. I've been not feeling so great lately-my food issues are acting up, so I've been trying to lie low. In addition, the fact that election day was a national holiday made it a bit hard to set up interviews for this week. But this afternoon I'm meeting with a woman from University of Western Cape who is working on a program doing research on domestic workers and I hopefully have an interview set up with COSATU - one of the national labor federations. They won't be able to meet with me until may 4th, which is 1 day before I wanted to take my paper to be printed,but it's an interview none the less and I'm looking forward to it.

Oh,before I forget,we don't know the election results yet,but I'll let you all know when we do. The Western Cape (where I am) is likely to be the only Provence that doesn't go ANC...should be interesting!
That's more than enough for now,enjoy!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

This week has been really great. I had a wonderful 21st birthday celebration with my friends here and my gluten free cake turned out pretty well.

Yesterday I got a wonderful phone call from the secretary general of the domestic workers union here who I've been trying to get in touch with for like 3 weeks. She told me that she talked to a bunch of workers and that 6 of them want to talk to me,so next weekend I'm going to go in and talk to these women. I'm SO excited! This is exactly what I need for my project! I think I'm going to bake them muffins too,it is a Sunday morning after all.

Not much else going on,just trying to figure out my flights home after they got changed and our academic director didn't send that info out for 3 weeks. It's cooled down a little bit in Cape Town and it's all foggy and drizzly-it reminds me of Portland.I think this weekend will be spent eating avocados, reading books for my project and just generally lounging about.


Monday, April 13, 2009

I love this flat...

The flat is wonderful! We've had people over, gone shopping daily at the little Halaal stores around the corner and made a huge mess of the kitchen,I think we're moved in!

I put up a few pictures of the flat, it's beautiful and I really want to live here permanently:
Lila's travels

Speaking of living here permanently,I've been thinking about that a lot lately...what are the ethics of a young white,American couple moving in to South Africa and getting jobs? My homestay Mama in Langa told me she wants me & Max to be the first white couple to ever live in Langa(totally black township,if I didn't mention that before)...but is it ethical for us,a couple who could possibly afford something more expensive, to take a house from a low income family, just to cross the color divide? And is it ok for us to come here and take jobs that would otherwise go to South Africans, when they already have a huge unemployment rate? I've been thinking about this a lot because I'm really not sure of the issues. I do want to come live here & work here,just like I want to do in many other places around the globe,but I feel like there's a lot of issues to get through about where we'd live & work...

Ok,that's it as far as deep thoughts go for the moment.

Life otherwise has consisted of a lot of experimenting with gluten free recipes. I've perfected corn flatcakes and I'm making myself a flourless chocolate cake on Thursday for my birthday as well as ricotta & butternut gluten free ravioli. It should be exciting!


Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's been a while...

Well,I just wrote up a whole entry and it got deleted so I'll try to rewrite it...

First off,today is the first day of the ISP period and it's off to a great start. For the next month I'll be living in the best neighborhood in Cape Town(do a google image search for Chiappini street,Cape Town,that's where I'm living!) in a flat with 4 other students and doing research on domestic workers in South Africa & the idea of an 'unoranizable' worker. I'm really looking forward to finally starting my research,I think I'm going to learn a lot.

Let's see...lots has happened since I last wrote from Stellenbosch. After returning to Cape Town we had our Bo Kaap homestay. Bo Kaap houses 80% of the Western Cape's Muslims and 70% of Bo Kaap residents are Muslim. It is home to the oldest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere and world famous fashion photo shoots regularly happen on its streets.My family was made up of Ganiefah(24), her older sister Sohwal & Sohwal's daughter Bilqees(10), and a young Zimbabwean family with an adorable 3 year old named Eve who lived in one of the rooms of the apartment. The family is Muslim although they do not pray or attend mosque regularly. They have beautiful arabic artwork all over the apartment and all music or TV is turned down during the evening call to prayer. I even knew more arabic then them!

The first night in Bo Kaap Ganiefah and I bonded through cooking & laughing at my inability to eat anything. But after that first night we mostly just watched TV silently after dinner,rarely talking. Sohwal worked until 9:30pm everynight I was there,except for the last 2,so I rarely saw her. When I did see her though,we had some really interesting conversations about South Africa and the United States. During this homestay the corruption charges against presidential candidate Jacob Zuma were dropped, which is a big deal for South Africa. He is the likely winner of the election although almost everyone we've talked to thinks he's a dirty scumbag. Side note: the way elections work here is that you vote for a political party and they create a list of 400 people (that's how many seats are in Parliament) and the party with the majority puts their top person in the presidency and then the seats of Parliament are divided up among the parties depending on what percentage of the vote they got, so people can support a party but hate the presidential candidate of that party. It's an interesting system...

Anyway, back to my conversations with Sohwal. I'm not quite sure how we got on the topic but she was dumbfounded to hear that there's poverty in the United States and that people cannot afford housing,food or healthcare.I told her about how our unemployment and health care systems don't provide for people and she couldn't understand that. In South Africa you get a grant from the government if you are unemployed, you don't have to go through a lot of work to get it.I told her about the ridiculous insurance company system in the US and explained Single Payer to her (if YOU don't know about it-go to and check it out-it's what our country needs!), which she thought was just the sensible thing. It's a bit strange being in a country where total funding of social services is just common sense to most people,including the government. Although healthcare is not covered and health insurance here is so expensive most people don't have it. It is much cheaper comparatively than the US though...

I'm sure there are many things I'm forgetting about,but I'll just write again soon. I think the ISP period will give me a lot of time to think about the trip thus far and reflect on it better,so be prepared for lots of reflective entries. We had a processing session yesterday where everyone talked about their ideas about going home after this trip,it was really interesting. Most of the people on this trip are unsure about how they'll deal with going home, they've changed so much on this trip. It's an interesting thing and I think good for me to be around people that are so changed by this trip. I think it's been a wonderful experience for me,and I've certainly learned a lot,and changed my opinions about certain things,but I don't see myself as a changed person. It's inspiring to see that this experience really is like that to some, and I hope that they don't have as hard of a time going home as they think they will. I'm starting to get impatient to get home and put some of this knowledge in to practice,and to share what I've learned even more. Working at Jobs with Justice this summer will be a perfect opportunity to do that,and I really hope I can make connections with the African Women's Coalition again and that Mo can practice my Xhosa with me.

Oh,lots more pictures have been added:
Lila's travels

Lots of love to everyone, happy passover & happy easter