Thank you for all of your comments! Most of us are sitting in the journalism computer lab right now – our first real opportunity for the internet so I expect there will be ten new posts at once tonight…
It’s been a very busy past couple of days. Without internet I’ve been jotting notes on my computer so I’ll have to post those later, along with some photos.
But enough with apologies and pros. Here are the last two days:
The nights are surprisingly cold. Walking to the bathroom at night requires slipping my feet into my boots, for warmth and sanitation reasons. At three in the morning I thought of my sister because I was suddenly startled awake by the horrible obnoxious shrieks of birds that we have fondly nicknamed Teradactyls for their ear-piercing cries. I think the birds of Balboa would like it here.
Monday morning we woke up early to go to the apartheid museum. I admit I didn’t gain much from it, but just listened to Bushleigh (her name means beautiful in Zulu) and Zen (shortened) talk about their government, school systems, and their interpretations on xenophobia.
In the parking lot a group of people about my age were dancing to a car radio. I took some photos of them and walked to their group. I told them I was from the USA and that thrilled them. Then I began dancing with them, which made them laugh and holler even more. I just laughed with them and tried to mimic their dance style. They dance a lot like us, except they bend their legs outward a lot and shift their feet around more. The music is fun, too! Very rhythmic and upbeat. I think Keridwen might have snapped a photo of the spectacle.
Later in the parking lot the dancers had gone and a large group of children had taken over, playing hand games and running around. By this time everyone had exited the museum and about twenty of us began taking photos of the children playing. They seemed to enjoy having their pictures taken (most children do), but then they wanted to trade places and be the photographers themselves. Hesitantly, I gave my camera to a little girl and secured the strap around her neck. I showed her what button to press and before any of us knew it, five children were running around with our cameras, snapping photos of each other and giggling over the images. It amazed me how happy that made them. I’m not sure any of them had ever seen a camera like that, at least not up close. One little girl said she wanted to be a scientist, but I think she has a shot at becoming a photographer. : ) (I’ll have to post photos of this later – we weren’t expecting to come to the lab so I don’t have my hard drive with me)
We traveled to a few places yesterday and the drive itself was an adventure! I know you’re all worried about violence and dangerous flights, but so far the most potential danger I’ve faced was in that car! No worries, we were completely safe. Bushleigh, our driver who normally takes the train or taxi, doesn’t drive manual very well and we stalled at nearly every intersection. James, Keridwen and I sat in back, laughing hysterically and biting our tongues to avoid being backseat drivers. Sue sat up front, thankfully, coaching Bushleigh on driving manual. What made it even more of a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is that everything is backwards here! So every intersection was a little nerve-racking because we were never quite sure where everyone else was going! Bushleigh was so embarrassed and very apologetic, but in the end we all just had a great laugh. I think our biggest moment of panic happened when we stalled out right in front of the restaurant we were going to eat at, on an up-hill. After the seventh attempt to get into first and stalling, a stranger walking by comes up the window and he and Bushleigh start talking in a language we can’t understand. The next think we know, she’s getting out of the car and the guy is getting in! I got out and took photos from the safety of the sidewalk while the guy got the car into first and parked it for us. Not only was it absolutely hilarious, but it was also nice to see the generosity of South Africans, especially in such a low income area. Don’t ask me how she knew the guy wouldn’t just take off with the car.
After the museum we drove to Soweto, a low income township not far from Johannesburg. South Africa’s history, I’ve been learning, is very similar to our own. Throughout Soweto we drove past neighborhoods (if you can call them that) that resembled shanty towns. Shacks with tin roofing, stacked wall to wall as far as we could see. If you didn’t look hard enough you might have mistaken it for a garbage dump. The nicer neighborhoods, and I say that loosely, are small homes falling apart at the seems. Front yards become business offices to mechanics, hair stylists, window repair, and any other odd job a person could think of. They can’t find work, so they create their own, advertising with cardboard signs by the side of the road. In the middle of it all is a brand new mall, a gleaming hope to rebuild the economy in that area and create more job opportunities. It’s so much worse there than even the poorest parts of Phoenix.
Before lunch and after the museum we went to the Hector Pieterson Memorial for Youth Day. Josh has already written about it, so I just want to add an observation. All of the students went to the memorial at once. So about thirty white Americans enter this site with video cameras, still cameras, and recorders. I walked into slowly, my camera just hanging on my shoulder but I didn’t take any photos right away. I wanted to get a sense of the place. Zen had talked earlier about how people are losing the meaning and importance of the holiday and instead just take it as a day off to hang out. So walking up to the memorial, I wanted to see the natural emotions of people. Well, as you probably guessed, the natural emotions did not last long when thirty cameras started firing away. I snapped a couple of photos of some children, but it doesn’t say anything about who they are and what they are doing there. Mostly I just took the photos because the lighting was good and they were posed just right. A small boy approached me and asked me something, but I didn’t understand it. Then I realized he began to sing. It took me a few phrases of the South African national anthem to realize that he was singing it for money. I turned away and observed the circus show that had ensued since our appearance. Suddenly someone in our party was ushering us away. I noticed a student from Nebraska filming three boys singing the National Anthem. It bothered me, but I didn’t say anything, I just wondered if he was going to give them money afterwards. We didn’t stay at the memorial very long. Four minutes, maybe. I’m glad someone said we needed to go. The circus needed to end.
From there we went to lunch. We didn’t get food until 4pm. I had been hungry for hours. I had two seconds to glance at the menu because our car was the last to get there. The first thing I recognized was cheesburger. It didn’t taste like an American cheeseburger, which is good I guess, although I didn’t find it very appetizing. So I ate the fries and a bite of Josh’s ox tail. Tasted like pot roast!
Last night a bunch of us went out with some of the students from Wits. I should have stayed in because I was so tired, but in the end I’m very glad I went. We were able to bond with some students from Nebraska, enjoyed the cheapest drinks ever due to the exchange rate, and got a small taste of the South African night scene. Although I think we were all a little disappointed to hear Justin Timberlake and a plethora of other American songs blasting through the speakers. None the less, it was an awesome time.
Today we were assigned our groups and themes from which to draw our stories. I’ve been assigned the theme of children. It was my first choice, and then regretted it, but after doing a bit of research and brainstorming I feel much better about it now. Tonight at a political debate we got in touch with a very good source who works at some of the camps and has given us some tips about getting information. Calling him tomorrow to arrange a visit to a camp he works at on Thursday.
Believe it or not there’s more to say, but this is turning into a novel and I really need to be researching. Sleep and food are things we’re never sure we’re going to get enough of because the schedule has been so busy and messed up. Breakfast has not been that appetizing, lunch has been extremely late so we’re never hungry for the dinner that begins two hours later, and sometimes (like tonight) the kitchen closes before we can get there. So we have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as back-up and I’ve got a box of crackers stashed in my room. Between last night and today we’ve about ten speakers, and during each session you can look around the room and spot at least one person who can’t quite keep their eyelids open. I’ve been one of them.
Anyway, now that we have internet I should be able to post more frequently so the entries won’t turn into the length of an encyclopedia.
Good night and thank you all for your comments!