Dear Friends and Family,
We arrived in beautiful South Africa! Although we were sad to leave India and all of the amazing people we met along the way, the group was beyond excited when we finally landed in Cape Town. Our first stop was a stunning small beach town called Muizenberg. We used our time there to adjust to the drastic transition from the bustling city of Delhi, India to the quiet town of Muizenburg. There, we met our wonderful country team: Rose, Nicole, and Nicole’s beautiful daughter Georgie. Our next stop after Muizenburg was Zwelethemba. Zwelethemba is one of South Africa’s former “black only” townships. Despite the abolition of apartheid, townships persist and remain one of the most obvious indicators of the on-going inequalities between white and non-white South Africans. After spending almost a week with our wonderful Zwelethemba homestay families, we transitioned to our next homestay in the city of Cape Town. The next few paragraphs will give you a quick recap of the five incredible weeks of classes, exploring, vacationing, and site visits!
When we arrived in Zwelethemba, we got off the bus, in front of a crèche (a day care center) with our luggage in tow ready to meet our homestay families. We took in our surroundings and noticed a couple of things. First, we noticed that Zwelethemba is a small community surrounded by mountains. Second, we noticed the children. They came in large groups to welcome us and gave us a glimpse of all the fun we would have during our 10 day stay. We played endless games of soccer, ventured into the world of dance aerobics with our fabulous instructor Judy, played with children hanging off of us as if we were tree trunks, and we stuffed ourselves with delicious braai (barbeque) and homemade meals. We spent our last weeks in Bo-Kapp, a largely Muslim neighborhood in Cape Town. The first things that struck out to us were the colorful houses and the daunting hill many of us would have to climb up and go down to to get to school. We realized how old and tight community ties were in the Bo-Kapp and felt even luckier that they invited us into their homes and communities. Between Kapp-Malay meals, homemade doughnuts, coffee shops with various Wi-Fi capacities, and a warm and welcoming community, our time spent in Bo-Kapp will always be memorable. The families that invited us into their homes, the lessons we learned, the places we shared, and stories we traded will make our homestays in both Zwelethemba and Bo-Kapp long lasting in our hearts and minds.
In addition to our wonderful homestays, during our time in South Africa, we were fortunate enough to hear the insight of several intellectuals working in various sectors of society. While in Muizenberg, we heard from Tessa Dowling who conducted an IsiXhosa workshop to get us familiar with the language. After an hour of clicks foreign to our American mouths, we were prepared for some basic conversation with our Zwelethemba homestay families. In the Bo Kaap, several of our speakers illuminated the current South Africa landscape and the social reasons behind contemporary realities. Early on, Dr. Zwelethu Jolobe, a political science professor at the University of Cape Town, gave us a comprehensive lecture on the political history of South Africa (including Apartheid), relationships to the Cold War, and how these historical events affect the current South African political climate. Furthermore, we heard from professionals in the healthcare sector who dissected the reasons behind structural violences and stigma that exist today. Forensic psychologist Dr. Larissa Panieri-Peter gave us an invigorating lecture that left us on the edge of our seats. To reveal mental health stigmas, she read a case study of a patient that was very evidently abused by both the medical and judicial systems due to his mental health. Likewise, Dr. Heather Tuffin told a narrative of her experiences working in the rural Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. After unveiling her trials and tribulations, she left us with the following quote: “the system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets.” After hearing from these wonderful lecturers, we left with a clearer understanding of how medical education and the rhetoric surrounding disease fail members of the population who need services the most.
Classes in South Africa were a change of pace from India because our local faculty for Globalization and Health and Public Health (along with our travelling faculty, Josh) all drew upon their education in the anthropology department of the University of Cape Town and gave interactive and truly engaging lectures that really made us think and question our assumptions and worldviews. Alison Swartz (for Public Health) has done amazing research on community health workers in Khayelitsha, a township in the Cape Flats. In addition to an overview of the health systems and epidemiological profile of South Africa, we had several thought-provoking lectures that deconstructed the assumptions behind terms like “community” and “care” that are often thrown around unquestioned in the public health field. Our country coordinator Rose Blake taught Globalization and Health, and in her classes we looked at the Treatment Action Campaign’s fight for access to generic anti-retrovirals for the South African public, how anthropology informs the human rights discourse of traditional development initiatives, and complicating the images of health issues in Africa that we see in the media. All of the classes showcased how a critical anthropological eye allows for a deeper analysis of development and public health than we typically get in traditional classrooms.
In addition to our academic experiences in classes and with guest speakers, we had a few opportunities to speak with people in other areas of Zwelethemba and Cape Town. After conversations about the politics and ideologies involved in the interactions between “traditional” medicine and biomedicine in South Africa, we visited a Sangoma (healer) named Makoza in her home in Zwelethemba. She described to us in detail her process of being called upon to become a sangoma as well as the training and initiation she underwent.
Lion’s Head, Cape Town
We also spent a full day at the University of Cape Town, speaking with various student organizations and getting a taste of what life is like as a South African college student. Our conversation with the organization “Rhodes Must Fall” was an especially thought-provoking conversation that was not only an intense experience at the time, but that also has informed and been brought up in discussions throughout the rest of the program. RMF is an organization of students of color who work to decolonize various aspects of UCT’s campus, from renaming buildings that are named after colonists to restructuring the way admissions and the intellectual environment are designed, with the idea of making the campus a truly inclusive place. We spoke with RMF at an especially interesting time, as a few days later the “Fees Must Fall” movement to stop the increase of tuition fees at UCT was stopping traffic and making an impact in Cape Town as well as drawing attention in the international media. We also spoke with an organization called Rainbow that provides a safe space for LGBTIAQ students at UCT. They told us a little about LGBTIAQ rights in South Africa, as well as specifically what their experiences have been like with faculty and other students on their campus.
Another impactful site visit was our picnic and conversation with Bushdoctors in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. We talked with the Bushdoctors and with a few anthropologists who study medicinal plants and also had a tour of the useful plants area of Kirstenbosch. We learned how various plants are used and also about the ideologies and Rastafarian lifestyle of the Bushdoctors.
Finally, after long days in the classroom and bonding with our homestay families, all of us really enjoyed our free weekends in South Africa. Our weekend in Zwelethemba was a great time to spend time with our host families and go into the town of Wooster—a small town outside of the township. A highlight of the weekend for many of us was going to church with our host families on Sunday morning! Other weekend activities included playing soccer with our host siblings and their friends, getting assignments done at a café in town, and learning gum boot dancing from the Zwelethemba arts director, Chaz. Our second weekend was spent in Muizenburg. After arriving from Zwelethemba, Saturday afternoon, many IHPers took the time to get some rest, work on assignments, explore the town, do laundry, and visit the penguins at the nearby Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town.
Our two weekends in Cape Town were very busy and fun-filled. The first weekend over half of the group participated in the Cape Town color run- a 5K run where you get sprayed with color powder! Other weekend activities included hiking Lion’s Head and Table Mountain, going to an outdoor food market called Old Biscuit Mill, exploring the Cape Town waterfront, going on a wine tour in Stellenbosch, visiting the Cape of Good Hope and biking in the national park there, and visiting Robbin Island where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners of the apartheid regime were held. Clearly, our weekends in South Africa were well spent and gave us an opportunity to take a break from academics and explore the beautiful places we were in!
I hope this email gives all of you at least a glimpse into our experiences in South Africa. We cannot believe we have an entirely new country to explore and we are so excited for everything that is waiting for us in Brazil!
Color Run, Cape Town