#StickWithMe

7 Mar

On Monday evening at the weekly Pinelands Rotary Club, I participated in a really intriguing conversation (good discussion is a hallmark of anytime spent with a Rotarian) about social media. My table at dinner included two Rotarians, Brian and Melody, and a friend of Pinelands named Danie, all equipped with varying degrees of technoliteracy. We marveled about how sites like facebook and Twitter have the peerless ability to connect people who have been temporally and spatially separated for quite some time. I keep up-to-date on people who attended the same 2-day yearbook camp as me in 2004 at North Dakota State College of Science, for crying out loud! When Muammar Gaddafi was killed and during the 2011 Norway attacks, I didn’t go to the Google news feed to see what was happening, but rather logged into Twitter. Sure, facebook and the Twitterverse are steeped in mundane posts about people’s breakfasts while simultaneously functioning as Productivity Enemy #1, but when something big happens, they are incredible tools for keeping people privy to what’s really going on in the world, as told by those who experience it. So, I got to thinking about my fledgling blog, the platform that I’ve created thanks to the World Wide Web to tell the world, particularly those in MN, about South Africa. How neglectful I’ve been! I would be lying if I said this wasn’t one of the craziest months of my life. It has been. Busy through and through. Only within the last week have I settled down into my own accommodations near the center of the city. Only now have I had the wherewithal (and the motivation thanks to Danie, Melody, and Brian!) to revisit my blog. And I now have to confront that difficult task of trying to explain all that has happened in this last eye-opening month. My neglect started off small and benign enough; I would convince myself that today would be the day I posted to my blog. And then would find myself, a day later, again! Working towards the crescendo of one glorious blog post! The best one yet! And this happens over and over until, a month flies by, and you haven’t visited your blog. So this paralysis follows. What do I tell them first? Which days were good enough to go into great detail and which ones can I gloss over? Where do you start to retell the last 30 days in one of the most beautiful yet complex places in the world? How about I tell you what I had for dinner tonight? Sounds good? Okay. So in an effort to end my communication paralysis, here it goes: Brown rice, a sauteed vegetable concoction, and butternut squash (they simply love their butternut over here!).

This past month has been filled with coursework, volunteering, Rotary, and a reasonable amount of socializing. Also, like I mentioned earlier, I said goodbye to Pinelands and the hospitality of Bev and moved into my own place in Gardens, a very nice area near the central business district in Cape Town. I simply love this area. It’s a 7 minute walk for me to get to the downtown campus, called Hiddingh, where I catch the “Jammie” (the UCT campus shuttle). Fifteen minutes later, I’m on the main campus and ready to head to class. Since I don’t have a vehicle here yet (although I’ve been getting suggestions, some subtle and others not so much, that I should acquire a set of wheels), I rely not only on the Jammie but a wide variety of public transport provided in the city. Not to mention my friends and countless Rotarians who do have cars and are willing to cart me around. Metered taxis are my lifeline now; they get you anywhere but for a pretty steep cost. When a cheap ride is needed, I hop into a “minibus” with my fearless friend Julia and for under $1, we can get from campus to the Waterfront. The minibuses are about the size of an Aerostar van, seating sometimes 15-18 people. The drivers tend to be quite cheeky when it comes to driving and certainly abide by more of a philosophy of driving, rather than to a specific set of laws. All in all, not my favorite mode of travel but cheap and you can meet a lot of interesting people on a minibus. I have not taken the trains or the city bus yet; I’ve heard only good things about the bus, not so much about the trains. There is your occasional commuter on their bike, but not often. As far as the roads go, I’ve been very impressed. I mentioned to Bev the first night I was in CT that the quality of the roads was phenomenal. No potholes! No giant crevasses in the middle of the street! Much of the sound infrastructure here is a legacy of the 2010 World Cup. A lot of money was invested to make this city more inhabitable and navigable for spectators. The large symbol of the World Cup games is the stadium which is nestled down by the water, and to many who I have spoken with, is a large “elephant in the room”. Some think it’s just hideous, others are more concerned that this massive and very expensive building really hasn’t hosted many large crowd-drawing events outside of a U2 concert last year. It’s a pity, and I’m not sure what’s being done to utilize that building. Regardless, it’s a pretty stunning building on a gorgeous piece of real estate in Cape Town.

If one is to talk about spatial legacies in Cape Town and South Africa, you cannot do so without looking at Group Areas Act. Under the Apartheid, 3 acts were formulated that assigned residential and business sectors according to racial identities. In 1950, the first act was carried out. What this led to was systematically reinforced racial segregation where blacks and coloreds were forcibly removed from there homes and relocated to the outskirts of the city. District 6 is one very famous example of this (http://www.districtsix.co.za/). The acts, along with a host of other discriminatory laws, were repealed in 1991, but today,  you are still able to see the long-lasting effects of this policy. The places that were chosen for resettlement by the Apartheid government were not desirable places to live. They tended to be situated on fields of sand and in the flatest part of the cape where some of the strongest winds blow threw (the “Cape Flats”). To this day, the Cape Flats are predominantly poor black areas. Last Friday, I started volunteering with a urban agriculture organization called Abalimi Bezekhaya. I was sent to garden with a group of 7 women who collectively operated a community garden in Gugulethu, a township where people who were displaced through the Group Areas Act resettled. Right now, it’s a very, very dry time in the garden. There hasn’t been a proper rain for some time. If the fields hadn’t been irrigated, the soil would be bone-dry sand. Like if you were on a beach. But still! What a glorious garden! “You must come back in the winter! That’s when the garden’s green and prettiest!” Mama Shamba, one of the 7 managers, said to me. I will of course be back. But I’m starting to realize I have a lot to learn about farming and food production on the Cape. It’s not just a different hemisphere and growing zone. It’s an entirely different social context that needs careful thought and patience to navigate.

So there is a smattering of what I’ve been up to. Stick with me. More adventures to come. Also, my good friend, surrogate Capetonian dad and Rotarian suggested having guest bloggers, to give you all a whole variety of perspectives about life in Cape Town. He’s even offered to write the first one! Stay tuned to hear from the one and only, Terence Matzdorff!

Many blessings,

ang

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3 Responses to “#StickWithMe”

  1. nathanisms March 8, 2012 at 5:33 am #

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post about some of what you’ve experienced in your first month in Cape Town. Your description of the minibus brought me back to rural China where we had a similar system of transportation available. We, a dozen or so, sat on tiny plastic chairs in this little van and hoped for the best! Looking forward to your next post.

    • funk train March 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

      In reference to working with gardeners in a different hemisphere/climate/social context: amina, sista. It took me a long, long time to begin to figure that one out. Courage, ma chérie!

  2. Jack March 24, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    Hi Ang!

    They do love their butternut. It actually took me forever to figure out what they were talking about. Ditto “Rocket” which you’ve perhaps come across.

    It sounds great! I can’t believe you live in Gardens. How lovely it must be there! I really like your pictures too. The ones from Upper Campus really bring me back. It sounds like you are having a great time.

    I appreciate, also, how your description of the Cape Flats was both accurate and respectful of the people who live there. Lovely little blog, Ang!

    jack

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