Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Last day in South Africa and New Orleans (part 1)

It's been a while since I returned from South Africa but I never wrote about my last day, even though it will remain in my mind forever. It was a perfect way to spend my last day,and made me feel okay about leaving.

First off: my last day. I woke up pretty early in the morning, headed to the internet cafe and then hopped on a minibus to Salt River. When I walked in to the COSATU/SADSAWU(South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union) office there was a young woman in there with Myrtle. I said hello and this woman excitedly asked if I was Lila. When I said yes she told me she was working on creating a website for SADSAWU and when she had asked Myrtle for some stories from the workers Myrtle handed her my paper! I had come in to the office to say goodbye to Myrtle and Hester and to meet Jennifer Fish,an American who had previously done research on the domestic workers and had kept in touch with them. It turns out that this young woman was one of Jennifer's students and Myrtle & Hester would be speaking to them later in the afternoon. I went downstairs and for over an hour spoke with a few of the students while we waited for Jennifer. They asked me questions about my time in South Africa and it made me realize how much I had truly learned during the four months. After Hester and Myrtle spoke to the students Jennifer asked me to come up and speak about my experiences, which I did. After I did so Hester asked me when I would be coming back. I told her "as soon as possible" to which she gave me a painfully huge hug and told me they couldn't wait for me to come back. Once she said that I knew there was no question of "if" I come back to South Africa, but rather a question of when.

I spoke to Jennifer for a long time and she informed me that her students would also be interviewing some of the workers and they wanted my interview questions so they could keep some continuity to the interviews.When I told her that my only interview question was "please tell me what you think it is important for me to know" she just looked at me before saying "that's the best question I've ever heard". Now,I don't know about that,but it was nice to hear a tenured professor and researcher say that. She gave me her contact information and told me she would be reading my paper in the coming weeks and was hoping to stay in touch. She told me she wanted to help me find funding resources to come back here and continue my work and that she would love to collaborate with me on a publication sometime in the future (!!!). Although research isn't my primary focus, it is certainly a wonderful feeling to be considered a legitimate researcher just because of my apparently obvious interest and passion in the topic.

The interaction with Myrtle, Hester, Jennifer and her students was all I could think about during my 36 hours of traveling. Being home has been simultaneously wonderful and very odd. There's not a huge culture shock but I'm still getting used to going out at night,walking alone everywhere,and talking on the phone while walking down the street. It's great being able to eat things that don't make me sick and to go out whenever I want without worrying about the time of day or safety. I'm sure I've changed a lot although I can't identify any specific ways other than I think I've become more like a typical New Yorker: much more blunt,potentially offensive and outgoing. I guess it's up to those around me to tell me if I've changed or stayed exactly the same.

And now here I am,back in another airport. This time my flights are only 8 hours long and there's no customs to get through. I spent June 9th-June 16th in New Orleans, my first time in the South. I came here for an Interfaith Worker Justice intern training and conference. It's been quite an interesting experience seeing as a majority of the people here are religious in some form or another and my religion, as my mom put it, is the union. But all the other interns are so nice and it's great to hear about all the different backgrounds and ideas, much like South Africa. There's so much to say,I'm not sure where to begin! I only got off of the Tulane campus twice during my week here,but they were both great. The first time a group of us went out to Burbon street to experience the New Orleans party scene. We wandered down the street of bright lights, loud music and exciting costumes.It was a lot of fun. I'm not sure I could do it more than once or twice, but it's certainly different from other cities I've been in. The place it resembles most closely is South Africa which was a bit comforting for me. Even though I try to suppress it,I'm really missing Cape Town. Here it seems like everyone is in vacation/party mode, with people of all ages getting trashed and stumbling down the street. There's so much I could say about that,but it's so much easier to do in person.

Yesterday, Monday June 15th we went on a 'witness' of New Orleans,seeing the areas most affected by Katrina and Rita. I'm going to have to process that a bit more before I can write about it,but don't worry,I will.

The past week left me looking closer at how I relate to religion and people of faith, how I travel and what development and reconstruction means. So heavy topics. In a few days I'll post again with pictures, stories and some thoughts. But until then I think I'll get some sleep and start work at Jobs with Justice.