“We are a land of paradoxes.” These words were spoken to us during one of our first guest lectures way back in India, but we find they can apply here in South Africa just as easily. This country is one of the most geographically diverse places one can imagine, from towering mountains to beautiful beaches and fruitful vineyards. We’ve been exposed to the diversity of living conditions in South Africa and paradoxes that allow for the same country which performed the first heart transplant to also house the second-highest rates of TB in the world. And we’ve heard from a spectrum of voices, from a young men’s panel in Zwelethemba, to researchers who explore generational relationships among families, to doctors who are one of only a few cancer specialists in South Africa. We’d love to share with you some of these paradoxes and experiences that have made our month in South Africa one to remember:
While staying in South Africa we were fortunate to have an amazing team looking after us. First we had Rose Blake who was our Country Coordinator. Prior to our visit, we had heard that Rose was quite punctual and she luckily did not disappoint; ensuring that we were always able to attend all of our activities and appreciate all of our breaks. Rose was a wonderful planner who built in lectures and panels, which allowed to understand ‘expert’ as well as local voices. Rose also had significant experience living in Zwelethemba and was able to connect us with the community. Next we had Nicole who was always able to give us directions, assist us in retrieving lost luggage, escort us to appointments, and help us find fun things to do in Cape Town. Nicole was accompanied by her baby Georgie, who provided occasionally commentary in lectures and who was always around to make us smile. Finally, we were assisted by Kirsten who helped with anything and everything and was always great company (especially on long bike rides).
After we spent a night in a hostel by the beach not long after our arrival, we were fortunate enough to move into homestays with families in a township called Zwelethemba. We had a two-hour drive full of beautiful mountains from Muizenberg to Zwelethemba. When we arrived at the crèche, or preschool, all of our host families were there waiting for us. It was a very welcoming experience! For our time there we had class every day in the local library, which we walked to every morning. During our week and a half there we had endless braiis (barbeques), great conversations, and a wonderful sense of community. Although Zwelethemba may not be the most aesthetically pleasing area in South Africa, it sure was a life changing experience for us full of great people. The relationships that we all formed with our host families are irreplaceable.
As part of our intellectual journey, we did several site visits throughout the program in South Africa. In Zwelethemba, we visited a sangoma (traditional healer) and a herbalist who talked about natural remedies for certain diseases. The sangomas provided spiritual support in addition to herbal remedies. In Cape Town, we visited University of Cape Town to meet groups of Muslim students and LGBTQYN students to hear about their stories and experiences on the campus. Additionally, we visited Khalyeitsha, the second largest township, to have a chance to talk with the members of the community. From the visit, we learned that the infrastructure needs some major improvements and that gangsterism is a big problem among youth.
We also had a little bit of out of classroom fun as well. South Africa had a wide variety of activities to offer for everyone’s interests. Many of us hiked the popular attractions of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain (which happens to be one of the 7 new Natural Wonders of the World). We also explored all of the stores, markets, and attractions at the crowded and bustling areas of Long St. and the V&A Waterfront. And of course, how can we be in Cape Town and not spend a little time on the beach. Our closing week in South Africa was our Spring Break. We all enjoyed our much desired free time, although we all found ways to keep busy! Our adventures ranged from staying on the beach, to touring the Garden Route along the shoreline, and even continuing to enjoy the majestic views from the Bo Kaap neighborhood overlooking the city. We swam, we went on safaris, and most importantly we caught up on sleep…somewhat. Overall, South Africa did not disappoint with a plethora of options to keep us engaged in and out of the classroom!
Our first day in South Africa, we watched a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about “the danger of the single story.” We cannot summarize South Africa in any one sweeping way, but we are grateful for the many individual stories we have collected from our interactions with many incredible people and the stories we have written throughout our adventures in South Africa. We hope our letter home can keep you entertained until we’re back in person to share them all with you!