Sunday, August 23, 2009

Making George Bush Look Good

I have finally started volunteering! But not doing what I am supposed to be doing yet. I will not be working at all at the youth center that is far away. It was just too difficult; not only to get there but also finding time to go because my friend that I was going to do it with is playing soccer so with practices and games and never really knowing what time we would get back, it would have been cutting it close, and it’s not safe to go by myself. So I am volunteering with the other people I mentioned before, who my “tour guide” set me up with. The place is called The Human Dignity Center, a Christian organization. The center is right outside a nearby township. It’s a free daycare for the kids of the township. Because it’s free to attend, there has to be a selection process to choose who can go. So basically, the poorest of the poor are allowed. Employees or volunteers of HDC do home visits in order to see how poor the families of the kids are. This is something I will be doing. I know it will be extremely difficult to deal with. The other things I know I will be doing is just playing with the kids and help with homework. I’m not sure about what else. The reason I haven’t started at the center yet is because there has been a lot of burglary so they closed the center to try to get the community to do something about it. They want fathers of the kids to volunteer to keep watch of the place. I’m not sure how this will work out. The fathers should be willing to seeing as most of them don’t do anything anyway. Around here there are a lot of black men just standing/sitting/laying around the streets waiting/hoping for someone to pick them up and give them some work. But if they’re not given work, they’re just standing/sitting/laying around all day.

Also, keep in mind these are not your picture-perfect families seen on American TV. There isn’t a mommy and a daddy and a couple kids in one home. Most of these people don’t get married because the man has to pay lobola (a certain amount of cows or sheep, for example) to the woman’s family if he wants to marry her and the people can’t afford that. And women usually have many children from many different men because men who do have jobs really get around. If he has a job the women want to sleep with him because he will probably make sure she has food to eat if he’s sleeping with her. There definitely isn’t any form of birth contraceptives involved either. So this small percentage of men in the township with a job, approximately five percent, are sleeping with many women, making babies all over the place, and surely passing HIV to some of these women, who in turn pass it to others, possibly including their unborn children.

Anyway, they hope to reopen the center next week, but we’ll see. In the meantime, I have been sent into the township to other daycares that HDC looks after in addition to their own center. The children are supposed to be registered with names, birth date, and annual height and weight, but the height and weight has not been done in years so that was my job. It wasn’t easy with the language barrier. Just about everyone speaks Xhosa and only some of the teachers knew some English. Even with those teachers, I had to get all the children’s names down, which are Xhosa and completely foreign to me. On top of that, everything is so disorganized. The teacher would tell me the kid’s name, I would write it down (either with her writing it or spelling it out to me because I could not even guess at how to spell these names) and then I would weigh him or her and later she would give me the same name again for a different kid. So who knows how inaccurate my list of weights is. Other than getting the weights, I just hung out and played with the kids. They were all over me and the other volunteers. They loved us taking pictures of them and they wanted to see them after and they constantly wanted to be hugging us or holding our hands or just touched. I loved every second of it.

Just to give you an image of these daycares and schools… The kids are well behaved and listen very well. Now, only if they could be taught some valuable lessons that seem to be missing from their lives. Knowledge about health can really predict one’s future: happiness or not, life or death. And very simple things can keep you relatively healthy. So all of the kids finished their lunches and went outside to play. Before they came back in again, the teacher yelled something in Xhosa and all the boys went to one side of the yard and peed and all the girls went to the other side and took turns peeing in some buckets. Earlier, I had seen these buckets with at the time, unknown liquid inside, get knocked over and trampled in while the kids played. And the kids didn’t wash their hands after any of this! And there was this thing that looked like a fake plastic grape the kids were playing with; passing around to each other, dropping it on the ground, putting it in their mouths, etc. With pee-hands. And what am I supposed to do? First of all, they couldn’t understand me if I did say something, but they aren’t going to learn anything if one person one time tells them not to do that. Something as simple as the importance of washing one’s hands is not taught to these kids so just imagine what they don’t learn when they’re older when lessons about sex and the consequences should be taught. That’s why those women sleep around; they don’t know any better. They believe that if girls haven’t had sex by age sixteen, something’s wrong with her. And having sex is equivalent to having babies because protection isn’t used. So who’s going to teach them otherwise? Their own presidents tell them extreme falsities that ultimately destroy lives. The former president, Mbeki, would not admit AIDS was even an issue, and their current president, Zuma, tells the people having sex with a virgin gets rid of AIDS. Outrageous.

I’m already upset that I have to leave these people in four months. It’s terrible…A bunch of strangers come together, forced to meet each other, get close, basically be your best friends for six months, and then poof, they’re gone, probably never see them again. The South Africans who live at Annie’s Cove (which is for international students for the most part) and other people that hang around international students for whatever reason always talk about so-and-so from last semester. We will be those stories next semester. “Oh remember Emily from last semester? Remember that time?” That’s all we’ll be. And even that will probably only last a semester! And then what?! Facebook friends…Great. I guess there’s nothing to do about it though besides keep in touch and hope they visit…

Random things:
South Africans do not say “zee” for the letter z; they say “zet.” X-y-z = “ex-why-zet” and Z-o-n-a = “zet-oh-en-ay.” They don’t really have delicious cookies like we have at home. You know, Mom’s homemade cookies. They do, however, have a large variety of cookies or “biscuits” that are good with coffee or tea. It’s just not the same. Traffic lights are called “robots.” Senior year of high school is called “matric.” Pick-up trucks are called “bakkies” and riding in the back of them is legal. Apparently letting babies and kids ride on your lap in cars is okay too. Another reason Britney Spears would like it here is that you don’t have to wear shoes in public buildings like at the university or in stores.

This is the public link for my first photo album (7/10/09-8/15/09). It’s a big mix of things: Beach, animals, parties, PE, townships, etc. Hopefully it works.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everyone Loves Fat Cakes

It’s going well over here in SA. I guess I haven’t done anything very exciting since the last post, besides what I’m about to tell you about. I’ve actually had a lot of free time on my hands because of the lack of hours I have in class and doing school work. I’ve gotten pretty bored some days and I hate it. I’m in Africa! But as soon as I start volunteering, that shouldn’t be a problem any more.

I spent all day Saturday with the wild animals. Myself, six other students, and our tour guide (I don’t know what else to call him, but he brings us on trips, like the bush camp the first weekend and he’ll come to Cape Town on our Spring break, etc.) went to Addo Elephant National Game Park. All the wild animals in South Africa and other countries as well are in reserves like Addo. It’s not like a zoo at all; they’re pretty close to the wild, there just has to be fencing somewhere to keep the animals out of towns and in Addo’s case, protected from hunters. In some reserves, however, hunters are welcome. Hunters, mostly American, pay huge amounts in order to hunt big game in Africa. And in some of these places, the animals are either tracked or the wardens have an idea of where the animals are and can tell the hunters. As you all know, I’m not an advocate of hunting whatsoever, but I especially don’t see the thrill in hunting in a reserve. It’s true that these places are huge and it feels like the wild inside, but knowing it’s not the real wild would taint it for me. And the things I could do with the money someone spends to kill an elephant!

We first drove around the park in our own vehicle and saw kudu (a kind of antelope), elephants, Cape buffalo, ostriches, wart hogs, tortoises, and birds. We also took a night drive that was cold and not worth it. The idea is to see animals more likely to see at night rather than day, so I was hoping for lions and everything else we didn’t see earlier like hyenas and zebras. But no, we saw bunnies. Actually we saw shrub hares (like a regular ol’ bunny), Spring hares (looks like a cross between a rabbit and cat and moves like a kangaroo), one elephant, one Cape buffalo, ostriches, kudu, porcupines, and bat-eared fox. I think that's everything. I have amazing pictures from this I’ll put on Facebook. Luckily, my friend had a great camera so I didn’t take many with mine and I haven’t gotten the ones from her camera yet. When I get them and put them up, I’ll put the Facebook link up on here that even people that aren’t on Facebook can go to.

Did you know a male ostrich is black because it sits on the eggs at night and the females are tan/gray because they sit on the eggs during the day? And animals with eyes that reflect light well (like when a cat's eyes glow bright when your headlights hit them at night) have good night vision. Eyes that do not glow like that do not have good night vision. Porcupines do not shoot their quills. Tortoises try to flip their opponent on their backs when fighting because once flipped, they’ll never be able to flip back over and will eventually die. Elephant graveyards are just a myth, however, two facts are true. Elephants have six sets of teeth. When they’re on their last set, they do what they can to save them and move to places with softer plants. Once they do lose these teeth, they starve to death. These places with soft plants for elephants to eat are considered the elephant graveyards because so many elephants die there. The other fact is quite moving. It is true that elephants have a great memory. They remember an elephant by its smell and will even know another elephant’s smell when it’s dead and only bones remain. If an elephant comes across the bones of a familiar elephant, it will stop and take a silent pause for several minutes. It may caress the bones with its trunk, and if all the bones aren’t together, it will put them together.

On the way to Addo, we stopped at a lion and crocodile ranch. At first I really wasn’t excited about this. We were on our way to see animals in the wild practically and here we were seeing animals behind fencing. It was more natural than any zoo I’ve been too, but still. There were a lot of crocodiles, but they don’t do anything for me. They’re extremely lazy and just lay there all day. Their heart beats once every ten minutes and in an entire year they only eat half their body weight. But then there were the lions! I’m not sure if this place was like the cheetah farm we went to before and breed the animals for the sake of the species or if this was just a business for them, but they do breed and then sell them to reserves (not ones that allow hunting though). They had a ton of lions, and unlike zoos at home where there’s some extreme fencing all around, five feet of space, and then more extreme fencing between animals and visitors, this place just had some chain-link fencing that you could fit your hand through and touch them. Not that we did that, it was just possible. They also had many lion cubs. Some were one month old—the cutest things I have ever seen. The others that visitors could play with for a fee were five months old. None of us paid extra to play with the cubs, but I was telling the tour guide how I loved my scar from when I played with cubs before, but was so disappointed it wasn’t big enough to last forever. (He had great scars!) He was surprised I wanted scars and made some comment about Americans, but then let me in the cub area to get some! Unfortunately, none are good enough to last a lifetime, again, but however long I was in there, maybe fifteen minutes, plus the time I played with cubs before, say another fifteen minutes, were some of the greatest thirty minutes of my life. I have fallen in love with lion cubs. Addo was great, but all day I was thinking of those cubs.

One of the biggest differences I have found between South Africa and home and also the thing I hate most about South Africa is how segregated it is. There is a bar/club I have been to a few times that only whites go to. It’s not that there’s a sign on the door or anything (although that's only been illegal here for twelve years), but the only black people I’ve seen there were the ones that were with us. Across the street, there is another place that we (myself and a couple other white people) were told not to go to. I don’t know if there was a reason besides the fact that it’s all black people that go there, but that could be reason enough to a white South African. Well Saturday night we went there. On the way in, a few friends who had gotten there right before us were on their way out. I asked why they were leaving and they said “Did you see who’s here?” “No, who?” “It’s all black people.” Well that was even more reason for me to go! Just to prove a point I guess. Besides playing with the lion cubs, it was the most fun I’ve had here. There was great music and I was with good people, but I just had a smile on my face the whole time solely because I loved that everyone could come together and have a good time. It sounds stupid because I know a group of mixed races can have a good time, that should be a given, but to experience it in a place like this, where it seems that not everyone knows that, made me happy. We were, in fact, the only white people there. There may have been some people staring, but there were plenty that were having a great time as well.

More on the segregation here. If someone just broke the trend, I think it could really change things. People’s opinions and beliefs have to change too, but the trend breaking is a good start. There’s this little tin shack on the way to school that always smells like delicious fried dough so naturally, I’ve always wanted to stop. I have never seen a white person in line there. A friend and I stopped one day and they had these fried dough balls called fat cakes the size of my fist for one rand (about thirteen cents)! Who wouldn’t want to eat those?! So why are there only black people in line there? Well I’m not racist at all and standing there being the only white, there is that quick thought that runs through your mind “Am I not supposed to be here or something??” So maybe the minority feels uncomfortable sometimes. But I’m not making excuses for anyone, I’m just trying to understand. There isn’t an excuse. Those fried dough balls were amazing and there should be a line down the street the color of the rainbow.

An update on volunteering. Today a friend and I met with the director of a youth program of a township. They don’t have other volunteers, just a staff of five, so we met to discuss what we would do. The organization conducts support groups, one-on-one counseling, a healthy meal when they’re there, helps with homework, and trips or activities once in a while. Everything they do is amazing, but honestly, I don’t want to conduct a workshop on personal timetables (I don’t even know exactly what that is, but that’s what they were doing later today). I would love to just talk and play with the kids. I’m willing to do anything, but I want to be hands-on with the them, not cooking or gardening. I’d rather just hang out and run around and play soccer. It may not be teaching them any strong life lessons, but they would have fun and those kids need as much happiness as possible. The only real issue is that it takes at least two taxis to get there, which costs money and takes a long time. It’s hard to even plan a time to be there because when you get on the second taxi to get to the township you could be waiting an hour because they’re not leaving until it’s full. (The "taxis" are vans that properly fit ten people, including the driver, but they squeeze as many as possible in there. They drive around screaming "Town! Town!" and blare the music and drive recklessly, but it costs about six rand--less than a dollar--to get most places so how can you pass that up?!) We won’t be able to volunteer here often because of the transportation issues (not the safest option), but the staff we met today were so nice and trying to get to know us and I just couldn’t say that I couldn’t do it after all of that. However, because I will not be doing that often, a maximum of once a week, I am going to call our tour guide who has a friend at another township. I will also work with kids there. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be doing yet though. I can go to this township everyday if I want and they will pick me up and drop me off. I can’t wait to make my time here more worth-while.