Wednesday, January 30, 2008
My load-shedding moment happened just a few minutes ago, as I was about to write a post on this blog. Somehow, my laptop battery still has the juice to continue, and the wifi hasn't died.
The McDonalds in front of my building has closed and locked its doors since the power went out. The employees are sitting on the sidewalk. Hotel guests behind me are lining up by the bar to grab the last cold drinks. The conversations, which were revolving around the soccer game on TV, are now about even more boring alcohol-related topics.
Everyone is eerily calm about it all, though. I feel like if this happened in Seattle, there would be mass hysteria.
Oh, and I should note, the South African government doesn't turn off the power because they're trying to save energy to create a greener world; they turn off the power because the circuits will catch on fire if they don't. The government has extended electricity to areas they do not have the capacity to power, and those areas are overwhelming the already inadequate power plants.
Apparently, the milk industry has suffered the greatest losses from the load-shedding policy. Milk spoils fast, or something. Actually, that doesn't make very much sense. Maybe the person who told me that was confused.
Anthony has been my friend, mentor and role model here in South Africa. I've been trying to figure out a way to weave his stories into my posts, because he's one of the most inspiring people I've ever met.
To read this article about him on the cover of today's Seattle Times is to understand how my study abroad program was born.
I look at the children in front of me and they look back at me with blank expressions. What the fuck am I even talking about? I don't even understand the words coming out of my mouth. I don't know how to teach drama. I've just been left in the classroom by the art teacher who introduced me to the class as "Steven; your drama teacher from the UUUUU ESSSSS AYYYYY! Listen to him! Learn from him!"
I end up asking them who their favorite actors are and one girl raises her hand and says "Halle Berry in Catwoman." I'm sorry, little girl, I want to say, but I just have no idea how to teach you how to act like Halle Berry in Catwoman. Is that even acting? Doesn't she just jump from building to building?
Also- where are your teachers, children? Why are they not in the classroom right now? Oh, okay, teacher training, okay. Same with yesterday. Well. Hmmm. Hi, I'm Steven. Shit I already said that. What do you want to do?
Now the students really think I'm being weird. In South African schools, teachers are treated as authority figures. They don't just sit and talk to students. That's weird. There's no authority figure now.
Then, the most amazing thing happens; one of the girls asks if she can sing a song.
A song? To me? Like, right now? In front of everyone?
"Yes," she says.
She opens her mouth as wide as she can and sings "Listen" by Beyonce Knowles. The rest of the class joins in. They're singing, holding their heads backs as they hit the high notes. One of the boys, who looks to be around 7 or 8, is doing the vibrato perfectly. It is an incredible moment of awesome artistic power. They're teaching me now. I'm learning how to be performative, how to give it your heart, how to not give a fuck.
I try to regroup and pull some sort of lesson out of my ass, but I can't. There's really nothing left to say. I end the lesson by talking to them about how to deal with their own inner critic, and I tell them that this will always be a safe space where they can express themselves and talk about anything.
Tomorrow, I'll be more prepared.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
"Hello, I am a dolphin. I was, unfortunately, drawn by someone who considered Lisa Frank her own personal idol. That's my cousin in the water below. He's bigger because people who draw pictures as retarded as this one don't understand the idea of scale. When you look at me, I hope you'll think restful thoughts even though there is a volcano in a state of eruption behind me. If you can't fall asleep, if this picture is too 'hectic' for you, good luck taking me down because my picture has literally been screwed into the walls."
"Hello, I am a duck's ass hole. Someone took a photograph of me and put me in your hallway, next to the door, to greet everyone who came inside. Just like the dolphin picture, I've been drilled into the walls, so good fucking luck taking me down. God I hate being involved in such a cliche picture. I'm sorry I'm on your wall. Also, I'm sorry for being born."
But I'm also kind of dreading putting up pictures. After suffering through other people's boring slideshows, facebook albums, flickr ablums, ect...I just don't want to subject everyone to that same boredom. Pictures can offer a wonderful peek inside someone's life, but they can also be super repetitive (like seeing the same face in every single tagged facebook photo), and stale (I think scenery shots are totally stale).
I'm also dreading putting up pictures of myself with black people. Why? I'm not sure. I'm trying to interrogate myself because I can't figure out why. Is it because going to a "developing" country and taking pictures with locals has become cliche? I'm not sure. I don't think there are a whole heck of a lot of American students studying in developing countries. And why wouldn't I want to put them up? Wouldn't putting up pictures of me with smiling black people encourage other people to travel abroad, and meet interesting people?
I guess I'm concerned that the photographs I use will never be seen by the black people who are in them. Many of the students I've met do not have computers, so I cannot email them copies of the pictures I take with them, and they will probably never see the pictures online. It seems unfair for me to put them up, since they can't see them.
I also feel like the "white person surrounded by thankful black people picture" has been used by missionaries, development agencies, and the Peace Corps to advertise their services to the rest of the world, and I don't believe missionaries, and development agencies and the Peace Corps have done have done as good of a job helping poor people as they advertise. So when I see the "white person surrounded by thankful black people picture" being used in that context, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The picture seems to imply that the white person was really wanted in that community and what if he wasn't? What if he did a shit job? What if he imposed his own views on that culture? What if he's just taking the picture to build up his own cultural capital; look at me, look how multicultural I am...surrounded by all of these needy people.
All of this having been said, when I take out a camera in a township, the response is incredible. Within a few minutes, a crowd of children and parents surround me. They all pose for the camera. They all really seem to want me to take a picture of them. None of them ask me to email them the picture, none of them ask me to pay them for their picture. They all just want to see the photo on the LCD screen; to see, once again, the moment that just occurred. So I take the picture, knowing I can chose who I want to share it with later.
And I know I will want to share pictures of the people I've met and loved; like the principal I'm working with, my friends at the high school, and the preschool, and when the time comes, I will share these pictures with my closest friends. But probably not on a blog.
This is another random picture of a random page in a random book called "America" from the Walmer Township Library in South Africa.
Those are the towers, pre- 9/11, and that's a plane flying next to them. I'm sure the illustrator drew a picture of a plane next to the towers to symbolize how tall they were. Still, when one sees a plane illustrated, photographed, anything, anywhere in the greater vicinity of the towers before 9/11, it's hard not to be like "woah, what the fuck is going on here?"
"Colored" is an official racial category in South Africa, meaning mixed race. Since there are quotas based on race, and discrimination against coloured people in South Africa, by both full black and full white South Africans, the term is relevant, and he's using it correctly. I'm much more concerned about his running back into the closet."
Thanks Gitai- and I don't plan on ever going back into the closet. Yesterday was a freak incident, I swear.
Also found in the preschool library: a picture of a child playing a game called "poor pussy." He is sitting on all fours, and he looks like he is about to cry. Three young girls are seated around him, terrorizing him, taking delight in his pain. If you can't read the words in the picture, they say:
Fred mews three times in front of Janet, and each time she has to say, "poor pussy" and stroke him. William pulls faces and wriggles his body while he mews. It doesn't help; he cannot get Janet to laugh. Now William is coming towards me. "Mi-a-a-ow!" he says and blinks his eyes and wriggles his ears. I can't help giggling and now I am "on" and have to be the poor pussy.
This was found in an American book on different games to play with your friends. I remember when I was young and I sometimes thought I was a cat. This was a joyous time for me, but obviously not for this kid. Is it just me or does he look like he's being sodomized?
Yes, that is a blind girl named Sally reaching into a birdcage. I suppose she does not realize that her bird is sitting on her head because she is blind?
In other news, I am in love with the preschool where I worked. I am in love with the teachers, the children and the brilliant principal. I will be leading a drama class there next week.
Monday, January 28, 2008
"Television can have a damaging influence on people's lives: instead of interacting and communicating with each other, they sit passively in front of TV. This has led to the increasing sense of loneliness and alienation that many people experience the modern world. Television can also make people less creative, because their minds are fed information and they no longer use their imagination."
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Touching is unavoidable: my knees straddled someone's head, my arms reached over someone else's back, and my head genty rested on someone's else's shoulders. When the van went around curves, I leaned hard into the woman sitting next to me. She seemed completely calm and unaffected.
The physical weight of the passengers seemed to overwhelm the cab engine, which coughed and wheezed as we slowly drove up a hill toward downtown Port Elizabeth.
There were two people who worked for the cab company who were along for the drive, one who drove the cab, and another person who sat behind the drivers seat, and who's responsibilities varied. Sometimes he collected cash from passengers, other times he opened the door to let new people inside the cab, and he also yelled at pedestrians he considered to be potential customers (mostly black people). At multiple points during the ride, when we were on straight roads, he held the door open to let air inside the cab and I imagined falling out of the cab and on to the hard pavement.
Music ranged, depending on cabbie driver's taste. I've heard Barry White, Mariah Carey, and bad techno music. No one in the cab, except for the driver, has any say in what kind of music is played, or how loud it is played. If my next cabbie decides to play some terrible Eminem music (which I've already heard twice here), I have the option of shouting "turn it down!" but the cards are stacked against me. I would probably be the first person in recent South African history to stand up to a cabbie, and that idea scares me.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Subject: Write. Skype, Call. I need a Steven fix. do something. I read your blog.
We are soo happy that you called. And we're thrilled you're
having a great time. You said " call me back". ONE PROBLEM -WE
DON'T HAVE YOUR PHONE NO. Is it a Communist plot? no. Is
it a problem of communication. I guess so. Please e-mail us your
phone no. That would be heavenly. Unless it is a Communist plot.
Or something. speaking of heaven, I forgot to tell you -PBS is
running a series on Jewish Americans. And Tony Kushner is on it
a great deal. It's nice to see what he looks like. He
talks about his immigrant grandparents. The series is a little fluffy and
not too good. Call again.
Maggie, Helene and Aliza- I hope you find some peace.
All of my life I've been the gay friend that told my fat girl friends "stop worrying about your weight and live a little!" but now that I have this ravenous appetite, I understand and appreciate the horror that comes from eating everything on one's plate and remaining hungry.
-Jerry Springer (circa 2001)
-Oprah (the lost episodes...the ones no one watched)
-Jamie Lynn Spears
-Hanna Montana (or whatever her real name is)
As we came near the classroom door, students wearing white collared shirts and black pants streamed out of the rooms and surrounded us, laughing and smiling, giving us a thumbs up. One of the children grabbed my sunglasses and tried them on, pressing the glasses on to his forehead comically, sticking his small hands under his arm pits and posing, as if for an album cover. I handed them to every single student that approached me. They all posed like rap stars. The glasses are now resting on my forehead, a thousand little-kid fingerprints obstructing my view of the outside world.
I did not get the sense that the teachers in this school felt any sense of ownership over their classrooms, or ownership of their role as teachers. We walked into the classroom and they let us interact with their students freely. They did not get angry at us or tell us to leave.
The second school was located 15 minutes away from the first school, still in the Port Elizabeth township of New Brighton, one of the poorest areas in all of South Africa.
The building was painted a beautiful green and yellow. Here, the principal was a woman, an institution of a woman. Bright and boyount, she took us from classroom to classroom and we watched the quiet children studying from their textbooks. The boys wore uniforms with green and yellow striped ties and navy blue vests. The girls wore a similar outfit, except they tied their ties around their waists like a belt. The children looked at us as we passed by the classrooms, but they did not get up out of their chairs to yell and dance.
The inside of the school smelled like hand sanitzer, the outside like freshly cut grass and flowers. The teachers wore beautiful beaded African jewelry and spoke softly and excitedly. There was a garden patch, and space had been cleared for a new computer lab.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I sat, I cried, I almost shat my pants.
Oh and this was the first time I've been to a church and seen someone get posessed by the holy ghost or whatever. Two black ladies started hootin and hollerin and shakin their bodies and yelling in a quiveriung voice "MANALIKATOOBANACAFASOLONO FASOTINA HAGACANANAMATO!"
The whole congregation just stopped and stared at them before we started again.
After the women were done yelling, they lookced like they were about to cry. It must be stressful getting posessed by God every time you come to church.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The black people on the side of the road stare at me. Some of them give me a thumbs up, others wave at me. I am novel, foreign bizzare. For one of the first times in my life, I'm in the racial minority.
Lunga stops the car in front of a stukko house and opens the door. "There's someone I want you to meet," he says to me. I open the door and he introduces me to an older man wearing a light green polo shirt. "This is Mbekeli. He is a teacher in a nearby township," Lunga says to me. I shake hands with the man, consciously making a fist with his hand the way I was taught to do it.
"I'm Steven, I'm on an American study abroad program and I'm here to learn about South African culture, " I say.
"Why?" the teacher responds. His question catches me off guard. "Why does the 1st world want to study the 3rd world? What is there to learn?"
Anthony quickly interjects. "The students are here to learn about themselves, through studying another culture. We also want this program to be sustainable, though. We know a lot of study abroad students come to South Africa and they only stay for a couple of weeks. We're trying to set up a partnership so that we can continue to send Americans here...so it's not just a one time thing."
"Yeah," I say, "I'm a writer so I would like to come and work with students on their writing, one on one, sentence by sentence."
The man's face softens. "We have a newsletter at our school. It is small and we just started it. So far many students have taken pictures but noone has written about the pictures yet. You could help them write."
As he was talking, two drunk women started yelling at me and giving me a thumbs up. But I couldn't be distracted. This moment was important; I was finally finding a role for myself in South Africa. Here was someone literally saying to me "this is what I need help with, can you help me?" Of course I said yes.
Lunga, Anthony and I got back into the car and Anthony started talking to me. "You see, that is the friendliness I was telling you about Steven. This is why the Africans were conquered so quickly, just like Thomy was saying. They welcomed the whites into their homes and the whites slaughtered them. But that openness, that willingness to talk, remains. We could have stayed and talked to those men for hours and they would have invited us into their homes and made some tea and we would have talked some more."
"I think I'm getting over my fears of being viewed as the oppressor," I told Anthony.
"Thats the thing, Steven...that seed of fear, that seed of doubt, you can't even let it be planted. In those groundless situations, you need to have some kind of faith system, I feel."
Anthony is a Christian and he credits his faith with helping him to overcome the pain of growing up in a broken home, and helping him create the kind of family he never had. Oh and he's done much more than that. Lots more. Anthony deserves his own chapter in this South African memoir. He has one of the most incredible life stories I'd ever heard. He was born in Los Angeles. His father would cheat on his mother and then beat her up when she talked back to him. He lived on the streets and in a van for much of his childhood. He had to rescue his sisters after they were kidnapped by his father. He'd seen the fear in his mother's eyes after his father would beat her up and he vowed to never, ever, make a woman feel that fear. He was the first in his family to go to college. Now, at age 28, he's getting his masters in education. He was the one who came up with the whole idea of having a University of Washington study abroad program in Port Elizabeth, and he'd been the first one to meet Lunga and Thomy. He was the reason I was in South Africa, and yet for a long time I thought he strongly disliked me, because of the stoic expression he would make when I talked. Later I realized that was just his natural expression....but now he was engaging me in a conversation about faith and I felt like I was in uncharted territory. Didn't Christians prosletize, speak in tongues and ruin the lives of young gay men and women?
"I don't judge you for being gay, " Anthony said, as if reading my mind, "I don't feel it's my place to judge. That's the thing I hate about Christianity in America. It's not about having a personal connection with Jesus Christ, it's about excluding people. It's synonomous with mega churches and wealth. My Christian belief system is so much more personal. I get up in the morning and think, 'how can I redeem myself for the sins I have commited."
"But isn't that a lot of guilt to live with? And who dictates what is a sin and what isn't a sin? According to the bible, homosexuality is a sin. I shouldn't exist, let alone be allowed to fall in love with another man. You do realize how many young gay men and women have been traumatized by Christianity..."
"But again, when you talk about Christianity, you're talking about the church, or someone's family. I'm talking about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I don't impose that relationship on anyone. It's personal."
I wanted to be able to contribute to a conversation on faith, but my interactions with the Jewish synagogue had been so negative that I sometimes felt it had soured my relationship with religion altogether. My spirituality came from meditation (sorry mom), and for me meditation was more about connecting with an inner power source than an external one.
"That's the thing, " Anthony said, " It's gotta be personal. But if you're going to be a journalist, and we've talked about this, you're going to be writing about all these people critically. You might need some kind of faith system or you may risk detaching yourself from your subjects."
I knew what Anthony was talking about. I'd recently completed a writing internship at a local
alternative newspaper called "The Stranger" which was proud of it's candor. I was strongly encouraged to write down the truth of my interactions with people, without fearing whether they would be hurt in the process. The point of writing the articles was to connect with the authenticity of the moment, not to sugar coat it. And I'd had two experiences where the people I'd written about had called me out and said "what you wrote was unfair. You were rude. What you said hurt my feelings." I felt terribly guilty about that response, and even though I knew in the back of my mind that the subjects I wrote about had signed on to the article knowing full well about the candid reputation of the Stranger, I still felt guilty. I'd publicly humiliated people! HOW TERRIBLE! Who does that?
"At the same time, " I said to Anthony, "there is something noble about exposing the truth." My philosophy was that by revealing the truth, I was ultimately brining healing. I was able to connect with my audience authentically, I was opening the shudders and shedding light on the awkward and uncomfortable moments of our existence. I took my job very seriously. I really wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and I didn't want the Stranger to think I was too timid to write honestly about my experiences.
Anthony was distracted. "What are we doing now Lunga?" Lunga was busy talking on on his cell phone. I looked out the window. Soon it would rain and the shantytowns would fill with mud. The plywood floors would sink into the ground.
"We're picking up Gene," Lunga finally said. Gene was thew other program director, a 60 year old white Buddhist man who'd met Anthony and agreed to do most of the logistic work to get the funding and schedules set up for the trip.
Right now Gene was stressed out because the exchange rate between the Dollar and the Rand had fallen from 6.7% to 6.4%. He was also stressed out because our group had gone to a game park today, expecting to go on a jeep safari but instead only a few caged animals on display. It was a disapointing trip for our group, as we searched the trees with binoculars, hoping to glimpse the spotted leopards.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Gene confided in me after we picked him up from the hotel. "I want to break the monotony of you guys going clubbing, then to the internet cafe, then to the beach. I want to show you the all of South Afrika, but my budget is limited and the exchange rate is down."
Gene had picked up on the fact that our group was firmly entrenched in the white South Africa, and we weren't really experiencing township life.
"This is good though, Gene. We're going to see the dichotomy more fully when we start working in the townships. We're going to have a full picture of the South African narrative, both black and white."
Really, though, I was anxious to get away from the area where our hotel was located. We were in a nondescript neighborhood of high rise hotels, facing the beach on one side and some kind of coal factory on the other side. At night, cars would speed down the street and screech and honk their horns. Every hour or so a plane flew directly over our building and the sound was so loud that the windows rattled and conversations had to be stopped. It was a stressful, ugly, white, industrial area of PE and I didn't always feel safe there. I felt like our building was a big fat American target and every time we had a party in our room we were just bringing more attention to us as "wealthy" Americans, furthering the likelihood that we would be robbed.
Monday, January 14, 2008
The club was in an industrial area of town, far from the beach and the lameass straight sports bars. The music was house remixes of Kelly Clarkson and Rihanna. I did a few rounds before I commited to a location near the only gay men I found attractive. I tapped on the shoulder of a particularly gorgeous tan blond guy. " Hi, what's your name?" I yelled. "George!" he yelled. "Nice to meet you! I'm Steven!" The guy cupped his ear as I spoke to him, then stared off into the crowd. Silence. "You have a lot of confidence!" he said to me.
Johnny took his shirt off and swung it around, exposing his enormous beer belly. The white kids surrounding him tried to make room without changing how they were dancing. Johnny smiled at me. I looked away.
I talked to a boring man from Detroit, and then I talked to his boring friend. Then I ordered a drink from one of the miserable-looking bartenders wearing a tuxedo vest. A man started talking to me about my trip and I told him about how next week we were going to Addo Elephant Park, and then we were going to visit Steve Biko's wife, and starting Thursday we'd begin our work in the townships. The man nodded his head and said, " Well, Addo elephant park should be fun," as if visiting the anti-apartheid revolutionary Steve Biko's motherfucking wife wouldn't be nearly as interesting as watching large gray animals move slowly through a field. He looked at me differently after that, as if I was out to attack him. I was a hopeless hippie, a guilty white liberal, out of touch with the problems of America but all too ready to identify problems in a community I had barely knew. I didn't know what to say next. I didn't feel like talking to him about black people, and I didn't want to know if he was a racist like so many of the white people I'd met...I didn't want to get that sinking feeling I'd experienced the last time a white person said something blatantly racist to me, like the guy at the sports bar who told me he was only friends with "civilized blacks." No, I wasn't ready for the sinking feeling, the feeling that I really did not belong to the white or the black culture here. A cultural nomad.
So I dropped the subject altogether, and asked him about his job and blah blah blah and he works in wool manufacturing and blah blah blah and then I left. Next time I talk to a white South African, I'll dig deeper and ask them how they feel about being white in South Africa.
"You will be surprised when you walk into the townships by just how friendly and gracious everyone is," he says.
"Yeah right," I think to myself. We're a bunch of white American college students. We look the same as the white South African opressors. We should be hated. Hell I'd hate if I was poor and black and a bunch of white people came to my town and looked around. The words poverty tourism cross my mind.
We drive down the freeway by the coast, up a ramp and on to the freeway. We pass by downtown, which is mostly industrial-looking warehouses (Port Elizabeth is the automotive capitol of South Africa, and where most of the world's VW Golfs are built). We pass a tire factory and the van fills with the stench of burning rubber. We continue driving and suddenly it looks like we're really in Africa,- there are shops with hand-painted signs, people are out in the street, sitting on the concrete, reading, talking, laughing, eating. The physical space is being used to the fullest extent. People are suddenly at the forefront of the scenery, not buildings, not trees, not enormous gates and guard dogs , but real human beings. Big billboards advertise for Coca Cola. The only American franchise restaurant is KFC: I see three KFCs on our way to the New Brighton Township. There are also signs advertising for funeral services, and a large billboard which reads "Don't Be A Part of the HIV Generation. Love Life." The houses in this neighborhood are made of brick. Lunga says two families are packed into every house. If you include grandparents, aunts, uncles...one could assume that every house contains somewhere around 16 people. Every block or so, I see a pile of rotting garbage. It doesn't seem like there is any sort of trash collection system in the townships. A few children are poking at the garbage with sticks.
"Aww, look how cute they are," someone says in the van. I instantly think about all the Anthropology courses I've taken on development. I hate the person who said the kids were cute, but they are cute. Still, I feel like we're "otherizing" the kids. Why are they cute? Just because they're black?
"Stop here!" Lunga yells. We're now in front of a shanty house, the houses South Africans construct out of scrap metal and wood when they are unable to secure government housing. The South African government has promised millions of South Africans their own brick homes like the ones we saw earlier, but there is such a demand that many South Africans have been left homeless, forced to construct houses out of whatever they find laying around in the streets. Migrants from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Botswana have come to South Africa looking for work and have also been denied government housing, adding to the number of shantytowns constructed.
"Get out of the van!" Lunga yells and hops out of the passenger seat. We all look at eachother for a moment. Here? Get out here? We don't know anyone here. But we all get out of the van. Many bring their digital cameras and instantly start taking pictures of the shantytowns, the sheet metal, the vagrant dogs, the huge African sky which seems even huger out here. Lunga knocks on the door of a house. "Hellooo!" He says. A dazed man opens the door and says something in Xhosa, one of the main dialects here. "He says come in!" Lunga says to us. We walk slowly inside the house. The ceiling slopes down. It's made out of pressed wood. When the wind blows (and in PE the wind always blows) the house shudders. It sounds like the ceiling is going to collapse. Anthony, one of our group leaders, whips out his video camera. He's filming the entire scene. We're all character in his documentary. Everyone is smiling and talking to each other in short sentences, admiring the baby pictures taped to the wall.
The man's son emerges from the bedroom. "Ah you have a big boy," Lunga says. The boy smiles, confused. He must feel overwhelmed with all of us in his living room. Lunga asks him a question and then translates his response into English. "The boy says he loves having American visitors. He's had many Americans over before." It seems as if Lunga is trying to smooth over a complicated situation. I look at Maddie and she looks at me like "what the fuck are we doing here?" But somehow it's alright, it's ok. The son is smiling. Zach, a tall and muscular African American basketball player is taking pictures with him. Zach looks so happy, so thrilled to be connecting with his African roots. I can't help but feel warm all of a sudden. The moment seems so genuine, and I feel cynical for every having thought that this African family would reject our company. Look at them! They're smiling for the camera, laughing, talking with Lunga.
Everyone in the group is soaking up the moment in its intirety: this is our first trip, as a group, into the townships in Port Elizabeth. For many of us, its the first time we've ever been into a shanty town and I can see us proccessing it differently. We're all comparing the images of the townships to the images of poverty we've seen in infomercials or on Oprah. There's no voice over this time, no white Christian voice telling us to donate money, or sappy music making us feel sad. Just the howl of the wind, and a dog barking in the distance.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
There is music everywhere in South Africa. The music in the grocery store is not muzak (soft uninteligable dentist waiting room style) but really good South African and American music...like the kind that was played in my high school gymnasium in 10th grade. I'm talking Beyonce , Usher, Salt n' Pepper. And it's not played softly, not at all. It's blasted through the speakers. I feel like my life has a soundtrack, finally.
Thomy has a swagger to him. He knows everyone in the townships and everyone knows him. He is constantly honking at cars and shouting at people. He knows seven languages and half the time I have zero idea what he is saying.
But anyway, I am at his home now and I can hear crickets outside and a dog is barking somewhere in the distance. It's hot and humid in my room, but not unbearable. The heat actually feels very natural.
There's something very relaxed about life here in Thomy's house. I am not going to make any cultural assumptions because really, I just don't feel like I have a grasp on the culture yet, but I will say that I feel very comfortable here in Thomy's house. Comfortable saying what I feel like saying, comfortable talking to the guests in his house...just comfortable. Perhaps its because I have been traveling around with a local celebrity, but Jo'berg seems very open and inviting.
Melissa, Maddie and Mary are all passed out in the room next to me. I'm the only one still awake. I feel like I snorted glue or something because I'm writing furiously, trying to organize my thoughts, trying to document this day (which felt more like a week). The soles of my feet are burning and I'm beginning to wonder if I stepped in battery acid or something. It feels like I slathered my feet with Ben Gay.I am sitting on the bed in a beautiful room in Thomy's Jo'berg house. Thomy is part of the African middle class...less than two percent of the population in South Africa, where 17% of the population controls 83% of the wealth. Thomy is one of only three black men in his suburb. Everywhere we walk with him, white South Africans stare at us.
Friday, January 4, 2008
The woman sitting next to me has her head on the tray table and I think she might actually be sleeping. Uh. What the fuck? How do people do this? How does resting your head on a table in any way recreate the experience of lying in a bed? How the fuck does this work for people?
Also- Delta has this touchscreen entertainment system installed into every headrest that includes touchscreen games. The only problem with playing a touchscreen game in a headrest is unlike poking a game boy screen you're actually poking the back of someone's head and yes, you, man behind me, I can feel the pokes and that's why I turned around subtly and looked at you. I suppose my expression did not completely convey my annoyance ( I am a Seattleite and have a dysfunctional relationship with my own anger) but you should have gotten the point.
You are still poking the back of my headrest.