Letter Home from Cape Town, South Africa

A Letter Home from students on the IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care Spring Track 2 program:

After nearly 17 hours, including an 8 hour layover in the Singapore Changi airport, we arrived safely in South Africa! In the airport we were immediately welcomed by our country coordinator, Rosie Blake. Upon stepping outside, we were also welcomed by blue skies, warm weather, radiant sunshine and the slight smell of sea water.  From the airport, we then traveled to Muizenberg. We spent two days in Muizenberg and during that time we were not only given a general introduction to the South Africa program but we were also given the opportunity to relax on the beach.

We then spent ten days in a township known as Zwelethemba. Zwelethemba was an all-black township that was created during Apartheid, and it remains a predominately black township today. During our time in Zwelethemba, we had various panels including a homestay mother panel, a reconciliation panel, an HIV panel, and a youth panel.  Each of the panels provided us with local insight regarding issues that were pertinent to the local community. We also had the opportunity to visit a tuberculosis hospital. We were given a tour of the facility and an overview of the services they provide and the patients that they treat.

In our free time, you could often find us dancing and playing games with the local children—many of whom we created a strong bond with. We ended our stay in Zwelethemba with a braai (a South African barbeque) in which all of the homestay families came to enjoy a tasty meal made by one of the lovely homestay mothers. We concluded the night by performing a dance for all in attendance; it included rhythmic stomping and clapping.

During the second half of our time in South Africa, the group traveled to Cape Town. We lived in homestays in Bo Kaap, home to the city’s large Cape Malay population.  Everyone greatly enjoyed warm community and the hospitality of our homestay families. During our neighborhood tour on the first day, we visited the oldest mosque in South Africa, established in 1798; explored the local spice shop; and admired all of the brightly colored houses for which Bo Kaap is famous. Throughout the two weeks, the group also enjoyed some delicious Cape Malay cuisine including curries, roti, and fried dough balls called Koeksisters. Because of the large Muslim population in Bo Kaap, we learned a lot about Islam faith and the significance of the Five Pillars in everyday life. Many of us attended worship services at the local mosque with our families.

We took most of our classes in the Cape Town Library where we heard from a variety of guest lecturers. Topics included bioethics and the H3Africa international genome project, the feminization of poverty, and South African masculinity.  We were also very fortunate to see Archbishop Desmond Tutu during his special visit to the library where he read a brief passage from his new children’s book and informed the audience that we are all “very special people”.  Outside of the library, we also had a number of site visits. During the first week, we toured the University of Cape Town where we met with panels from the Muslim Student Association and the LGBT community. On NGO Day, students split into groups and met with various non-profits including Cape Mental Health, St. Anne’s Home, FAMSA (Families South Africa), Rape Crisis, and The Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture.

During vacation week, the group took full advantage to explore the city and enjoy some much needed relaxation. Students planned a variety of activities including hiking Table Mountain, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World; visiting Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 years in prison; touring Kruger National Park on a safari; and soaking up the sun on Cape Town’s many beautiful beaches. On the last day of vacation, the group organized a potluck complete with music, delicious food, and games. Overall, our time in South Africa was a great success! Although sad to leave, the group looks forward to exploring our third and final country. Next stop, Brazil!

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