What do you do when you only have one day in Capetown? Do you go cycling through the wine lands of Stellenbosch and witness the beautiful scenery while tasting all the wines grown in South Africa? Do you hike up Table Mountain, the icon of Capetown with spectacular views? Or do you do a service trip? Visit the townships that house the greater population of South Africa’s poor? You see them when you fly into Capetown or drive on the highways. All those hundred’s of shacks made of tin all toppling and leaning over one another are the homes and neighbour hoods of thousands of South Africans. Those shacks are the reality of the poor, in a Rainbow Nation that has come a long way since the Apartheid a decade ago.
This is where I wanted to go. This is what I did. We met Bakka, our driver, just waiting outside of our ship for students. He was a muslim and had lived in the townships of Capetown his whole life. He was a taxi driver, and he brought us into the townships that day. First we went to Langa, the largest township in Capetown. The houses were small, but made of cement. They all had fencing up around them and Bakka wouldn’t let us get out of the car because it was too dangerous. We just drove through the streets, staring at the homes and people as if they were a zoo.
We were angry about this, we wanted to meet the people! There was five of us crammed in Bakka’s car, Kelly, David, Patrick, Tucker and me. It was my first time travelling with them, and the first time meeting some of them, but we all wanted the same thing: we wanted to interact with the locals.
Bakka understood finally and took us to a neighbouring township, Guguletu. This was our first real encounter with all of the shacks. They were small, made of metal scraps, old car parts and tin sheets. They had one or two rooms and electrical wires everywhere. They had tapped into the electrical posts and were able to get a television hook up. Some had a couch inside, while other just had carpet. What struck me the most, was one shack had a metal sign outside of it saying: “This is the good life”.
Bakka stopped and let us get out, where we walked around and found a little restaurant: Eskomo’s Take Away’s. The three women behind the counter making food were all so kind, and made the most delicious “Fatty Cakes”. It’s a greasy piece of bread, that if you ate regularly would probably kill you, but so delicious.
Here we met our friends: Thobile, Maboutie, Sibuyiselwe who we called Sibu, and his sisters Buyiswa and Nokwethembu. They sat down with us, ate with us and just talked to us for almost three hours. We discussed everything: life, religion, their culture. We learnt all of our similarities, like favourite movies and music and then realized our differences. We discussed relationships, which led to the discussion of HIV/ AIDS. They discussed it like a part of everyday day life. They lost many friends and relatives to the disease. A disease we only hear it about in passing, or sometimes in the media.
We were all around the same age, the boys ranging from 17 to 21, and we were between 19 and 22. So we talked about school, and how even though they lived in shacks they still had hope of going to university abroad. Sibu, who I got along with the most was 19 like me and wanted to go to Germany for Car Design.
After hours of talking, and our food unfinished (the proportions were surprisingly large), Thobile offered our food to a man sitting at a table behind us. He happily accepted and took all of our food, picking at the chewed up pieces of chicken and french fries before packing it up and bringing it home. We all just watched, and recognized what just happened, what Thobile just did as a force of habit.
Saying our goodbyes we all took pictures together and exchanged emails, some had Facebook but Sibu who had dreamt so large of university in Germany, who carried a cell phone and wore nice clean clothes; had never sent an email, nor did he have one.
Even though they lived in shacks, they still wore clean clothes. Thobile had a fake Louis Vuitton shirt on. They went to private schools forty minutes away to get a better education. They all had cell phones and were able to eat with us. Even though they are poor, they are rich in their community and some didn’t seek anything bigger than what they had.
Back in the cab with Bakka, he asked us if our visit was what we were looking for, and we all knew it was so much more.
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*back home on MAY 11, 2010*