More Feelings Upon Returning Home
One of my friends said to me at the end of our trip, “You know, this doesn’t all really make sense now, but I know I’ll understand it better when I return home.” This has proven to be very true. The farther away I have gotten from Cape Town, the more I am able to see it with clear eyes. Kind of like a Monet Painting. I realize that I really grew up in Cape Town. I became very jaded and accustomed to pain and painful situations. What I mean by this, is that I probably have a story for each day I was there about something horrible I saw. Knife wounds, sick children, ailing people, hate crimes, robberies, and racism, to name a few. In the beginning, I was extremely effected by these viewings. But by the end, I had become so jaded by them that I could make no emotional distinction between the wealthy white man passing me on the street and the large black woman hassling me for change when I bought groceries. At a certain point, something in me changed, and I decided that I needed to protect myself if I was going to keep living there. “Aloof” was a word we used to describe many Capetonians, as Americans. The more I look back, I think I began to embody this word as well. Becoming desensitized to everything in my surroundings, everything I had no control over, was part of my experience abroad. Coming back to the US has proved challenging in certain ways, but I have a sense of awe for our country and even appreciate the innocence and naiveté of the people I live with and interact with on a daily basis. To be honest, I feel like a stranger here still. A silent stranger. I still feel like I am playing a part and acting in some great fake production of a too-good-to-be-true reality.
As for my art, it was violent and abject. I now see clearly that this was a subconscious reaction to my surroundings and my new realization of mortality. I had never considered death or physical defensiveness before moving to Cape Town. Problems in Cape Town included making it home safely, avoiding men with knives, and the constant fear of rape. At the end of my trip, in Durban, I discussed with a Zulu man his ideas on the present South Africa. Not only did he consider it to be more violent than it has ever been, but he told me “Death is prevalent here. I go to a funeral once or twice each week.”
A difficult aspect about coming home has also been explaining my experience. How does one some up the past 5 months of her life to people living in an ADHD culture, who have no understanding of ZA, and expect common study abroad responses of extreme love and nostalgia for their respective country? I don’t want to sound whine-y. This experience was for myself. But this experience was not the ideal five month vacation that I may have had if I had chosen to study in Madrid. But, because it was not ideal, because it was difficult and different, it was ideal for me. The depth of knowledge I gained abroad has made me wiser and grateful. And, to be clear, it was an extremely fun and adventurous experience in most ways. I will continue to think about it for the rest of my life.
I remember sitting on my porch in the sun before I was about to leave. When I had no idea what was about to happen to me and who I was about to become. I remember having a vision in my head of my return home after my trip. I thought to myself “I bet I’ll sit here, the sun will be shining again, and I’ll just cry. I’ll just say ‘wow, that was just so great. It was so great.’” Well, the reality is, I really haven’t cried yet. But I’ve been sitting in the sun, alone and uninterrupted. And that is great in itself.
A short blurb about returning home.
I’m sad but happy because I’m so comfortable!
My experience getting off the plane in Amsterdam-
I was walking incredibly slowly (grandmas were passing me)
and was so amazed at how clean and put together everything was.
I looked down and realized I was clutching my bag.
I took my hand off my bag and breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Nothing happened to me in South Africa- I am okay!” I thought.
I then proceeded to Starbucks where I was greeted by a jovial man who asked me if I wanted my iced vanilla latte with low fat sweetener instead of sugar.
The friend I was with just laughed because she was so amazed.
I proceeded to order.
On a spectacularly different, but no less heavy note, I saw the Super Moon rise at the top of Lion’s Head yesterday. I legitimately shed a tear because it was so incredibly unreal. Lion’s head is almost the same height as Table Mountain, but directly parallel to it. It was a high hike, but well worth the trouble to get up there.
Volunteering 7 May 2012
Wooh. Today was heavy. I went to the Ottery Youth Center again. I tried to dress more casually/ a little more grungy than the time I came last week, but my attempts at blending in failed miserably. The first thing that Anwar said to me when I walked in was “You can’t be wearing that.. you look too good. No I’m serious. You can’t show your legs here ever.” I was wearing my gym clothes and gym shorts. He said I have to be really careful around the boys. That they won’t respond to me the same way if I’m not extremely careful. Well, I went in today and started helping out with individual projects. I specifically helped out with this one boy Zean-Paul for about an hour. He was really sweet to me. I found out later that he was in the school because he had murdered someone. We worked on a pottery jar he was creating with shells he found from the beach. The hope was that he’d make money on it after he finished. Anwar really wanted him to make a plan and a sketch for the jar before continuing to work on it. He was really hard on him and told to him he couldn’t work until he had a plan. I helped him sketch. He was excited to be working because I was there. “He’s showing off for you,” Anwar said in front of the class. Anwar embarrasses the boys so they work harder. I think that’s his tactic for everyone in fact- making you feel like you aren’t doing enough so that you keep going. Anyways, we worked on the sketches and cutting glass pieces for a long time. then, Anwar wanted me to critique another boy’s project. I told him to add more dark blue to his jar to make his design pop, so he did. But the sad thing is that the boy smelled like marijuana. I talked to Anwar later and he said that half of the boys walked in this morning with glassy eyes and didn’t I notice? After the workshop was finished, Anwar took me on a walking tour of the school. All I can say is bleak. The school is extremely run down. He showed me where the boys sleep and where they eat and shower. He showed me their prized garden, where they had just implemented a cement fountain that Anwar wants me to paint as my project on Thursday. I think the part that hit me the hardest about seeing the school was the teachers lounge. The teacher’s lounge was a compilation of rundown chairs and tables in the middle of a garage. The walls were brick and the floors were cement. I think this made me the most upset, because not even the administration at the Ottery is given any kind of respect or support from the government. Here is a group of people working their ass off to help juvenile delinquent boys and they aren’t even provided a decent meeting place. The worst part about this morning was that Anwar told me they are trying to shut down the school in December. Anwar is upset because he knows the government won’t follow through with the boys when the school is closed down. He doesn’t know where the boys will go after the school-their only hope and home- is shut down. This sounds like something you hear about on one of those sad commercials where they try to get you to donate money, but it is real life. Anwar prides himself on the fact that he is still putting effort into the school and the boys, despite the fact that the school will inevitably close. I also met the school social worker. Talk about the most depressing job on the planet. Her name is Abigail. She works with the boys and their families. The most depressing situation she has come across since beginning at the Ottery is having to put one of the boys’s baby sisters into foster care. She said she went to the little boy’s house the other night, which was a shack in a Township, that his mother was bleeding on her forehead, and that the baby sister was in her arms in only a jacket, not clothed or even in a “nappy” (diaper). She said it smelled horribly, everyone was crying, and that it was pouring rain. Her coworker who went to go get the child with her started throwing up as this was all happening, because she couldn’t handle it. I told Abigail that she was brave. I’m going back on Thursday. My tasks before I go in are to find paint to paint the cement pond and look for canvas and plywood so I can teach the boys how to make canvases. Not going to lie, I left feeling pretty upset. There’s a lot going on there, and so little of it is good.
Victoria (my roommate) and I hiked Table Mountain. It was very difficult-more difficult than we expected- but it was spectacular.
Constantia Food and Wine Festival- 6 May 2012
Today I volunteered at the Ottery Youth Center in Muizenburg. This is a correctional youth facility for teenaged boys who are at risk. The way that I came about volunteering here is all too coincidental. I emailed the director of my program that I wanted to start volunteering somewhere on a consistent basis. This semester I have a very busy schedule due to my painting studio course I take each day. The hour bus ride to the art school and the hour and a half home in traffic make it a long day. So I have only been able to volunteer a few times on the weekends. I’ve felt really guilty about my lack of volunteerism here. Anyways, the director emailed me back and told me that he needed someone to volunteer at the youth center thursday mornings. When I got there, they told me that I would be working in the wood shop and art department, helping the kids apply their academic lessons to their art projects. I couldn’t believe that this was the specific position that the center needed me to fulfill. They had no prior knowledge that I was interested in art. The art director, Anwar, gave me a long introduction and introduced me to some of the boys. I was thouroughly impressed with what Anwar was doing in the workshop. He was actually making some awesome, highly conceptual and abstract projects with the kids. One of them was a drapery of painted branches from trees. Another was scraps of found glass and mirror used to make mobiles and mosaic pots. All of the projects, Anwar told me, were created from donated or found objects, since the center has very little money. He also makes projects that the boys will be able to sell. He wants to help them learn a trade or skill that they can use in the real world, since many of them are so far gone that they don’t even know how to read. Anwar is a true artist. He’s a man of about fifty five or sixty years, with a salt and pepper beard, a raspy voice, and a truly fatherly presence. He was wearing a red beanie and a flannel when I met him. He’s the kind of man that makes me want to write down everything he says because he is so poetic and wise. “Tough love,” said Anwar, “It’s all about tough love with these boys. They desperately need love, but if you give too much of yourself to them, they’ll walk all over you.” Anwar had great command of the boys. I found the boys that I met to be sweet-natured. I’m going to get excused from class and go again this Monday morning to volunteer because I am so excited about helping out there.
Additions to How I Live Now
8. Hairdryers and Straighteners- I have only used a hairdryer and straighter about ten times since moving here. None of us have them, so we pretty much all just let our hair go. This is interesting because I used to use a straightener at least once a day in the US.
9. Cell Phones- I use my cell phone as minimally as possible since it costs a lot of money to talk and text. Whenever my friends and I need to make a phone call, we try to make it for under a minute or else we will run out of air time and have to purchase more. Texting is only used in neccessary contexts. I’d say I’m pretty disconnected here.
10. Coffee- There is no such thing as coffee here. There is especially no such thing as iced coffee. There is espresso that is baby sized or espresso with milk. Iced Coffee is actually a sugary blended drink with espresso. Instant coffee is huge here. Can’t wait for a nice cup of Intellegencia when I get home.
11. Lap Top usage- I never ever ever ever take my laptop with me to class. I’ve taken it a few times and had it on me 24/7. My friend just told me of a story when he brought his laptop to our building and got it stolen when he was in the room by a “maitenance guy.” I never leave my lap top alone. Even when I leave for the day, I have to hide my lap top under my bed just in case we were to get robbed. I also hide my camera and my computer charger each day in my dresser just to be safe.
12. Hanging Out- We all hang out at bars or restaurants or cafes. We never hang out in homes. In fact, we never even go to house parties. The only exception to this is house parties. House Parties are not a thing here. Everything that happens is out and about.
13. Slang- “Howzit”, “Is it?”, “As well”, “Ya”, “Sherbet”, “Shame”
Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel today was amazing with my girl friends :)
I spent my 21st birthday with good friends and good food. I spent the day enjoying myself. I went to Cafe Mozart for tea and lunch with my good friend Kelsey. Then I went shopping at my favorite store Woolworths and got a wool scarf and heels. Then I went and had a huge birthday dinner celebration at Beluga Sushi Restaurant- best sushi in Cape Town, and quite classy I might add. It was quite a success. I was even given a flaming shot by the bartender. I’ll always remember my 21st birthday spent in Cape Town.