Tuesday 6th March
Journal entry brought to you by (a very annoyed) Tami
Okay so I had written about half of today's entry, only for the stupid computer to crash and delete everything I had written. Not impressed. So now, in spite, I am going to miss out bits from yesterday's events because I can't be bothered to re-write. Nah only kidding. But I am annoyed, and I was at such peace with the world earlier. Oh well.
So, the 6th March. One of the most incredible days I've ever experienced, but also in some ways, one of the most disturbing. We spent the morning on a tour of the townships of Cape Town. Poverty like you have never seen, it's heart wrenching. I have never felt so lucky or privileged in my entire life, even seeing Saquipek in Guatemala didn't shock me how this did.
We began our tour meeting our guide, Gladstone, and our first stop was the District 6 museum. For those of you who aren't familiar with the history of the district, I'll give a brief info injection here.
Back when apartheid was in full throttle, the area of the main city of Cape Town was divided into six districts, named 1 - 6. The residents of areas 1 - 5 renamed their sections, but District 6 remained so called. Then a law was passed that declared District 6 a "Whites-only" area, and all who were black or coloured were moved out of the city into townships 10 - 30 km away. The original area was then bulldozed, the government reasoning was that it was a health and hygiene hazard to leave the infested buildings standing. The irony of this is almost too great to comprehend as the reason that the area became so degraded was due to deliberate neglect by the authorities. However all the evidence and testimonies from ex residents point to show that although the area wasn't the most sanitary of places, it was a lively and upbeat place, always filled with laughter and an incredible sense of community. Families and friends looked out for one another, and there were always parties and festivals going on throughout the town. There were all kinds of shops and therefore lots of job availability. It was not seen as an area where unemployment was prevalent enough to be considered a major problem, although it was obviously present in parts. All the buildings of the area were destroyed except for a couple of rows of white-owned houses.
The townships where the people were moved to were flat areas of land where they were given basic building materials and were told to construct their own houses. Each family was given a material allowance big enough to make a two roomed "house". The size allocation for these two rooms is small, both would fit into the average bedroom in England. We saw lots of these houses at our next stop, at a township itself called Langa. This was the first black township to be created in Cape Town. Our guide himself was from this township.
The houses we saw there varied in structure and strength. Some of the people there had clearly got experience in construction, or had at least spent a lot of time making their houses sturdy. Some of them were visibly falling apart, seriously how is someone who has never been taught how to make a building supposed to make something big enough for a family to live in? SAFE enough for a family to live in? I wouldn't have a clue. Some of the houses were nothing more than four pieces of corregated iron in the ground leaning against each other, with another on the top as a roof, all rusty, all with holes in. We passed some piles of material that had just fallen down, houses that were unable to stand the Cape Town wind and had collapsed within the last week. Eventually I'll be putting some pictures on the site, hopefully they will make you appreciate your homes as much as they made us. It was a bit of a touchy subject asking if we could take photos of things, we didn't want to appear insensitive or make anyone feel like they were a tourist attraction, but Gladstone assured us that people didn't mind township tours as they benefited from them, both from people's donations and money from the tour companies. I was very very reluctant to take photos though and only took about 5 in the end. I'll upload them as soon as I can.
Also in Langa, before we took a drive around, we stopped at a project that was being run by local residents in an attempt to reduce unemployment by teaching people skills that could make them money, such as making and painting bowls, pots, vases, cups, saucers and salt and pepper cellars, or making jewellery. Some of the creations we saw were amazing, really beautiful. If I'd had more money (and wasn't living out of a backpack for the next 4 months) I would have bought some things to take home.
We then drove through the township for a while, seeing the houses from the tour van, and waving at some children who would call out to the truck in the English they knew (mostly "bye bye"). There's not much else I can really write about that experience, it's nothing like anything you've ever felt before, I don't know maybe you'll get it when you look at the pictures but I can't describe it and I'm not going to try.
We then went to a second township, further out again than the city centre. This one seemed to have (how do I phrase this?) slightly more wealth in it? But maybe that's because we drove through a different section or something, I don't know. The houses tended to be better structured here though, and they were also more spread out, Langa was very cramped, houses leaning on each other for support. Gladstone also showed us a row of communal toilets at this township (like portaloos, run on a bucket system), and a church, which was a white corrogated iron hut that had in black paint across the top: "African Gospel Church". The building was about 4 metres by 10 and services were held every Sunday. A far cry from what people are used to worshipping in in England. We also were shown an area of houses that were painted bright colours and made of concrete that the government had built to face the road from the airport so that tourists wouldn't see the true scale of the poverty of the shanti areas. Which, quite frankly, I think is absolutely disgusting. Gladstone joked that it was the Beverley Hills of the townships.
We then went to see a traditional healer / doctor in his place of work. Healer's use only natural medicines to help people, such as herbs, spices and animals. There were herbs and bowls of powder all over his shop, and animals hanging up from the ceiling (I walked into a skinned mongoose or something and in my shock backed into an anteaters foot). There were all kinds of weird and wonderful things in there, I was reminded of a witch's cavern to be honest, but apparently the majority of people in the townships would go there as opposed to a hospital even if they had the option as it is natural and they believe that is better. The doctors hat used to be a racoon. I took a photo, I'll put it on the site when I get time (look out for the sneaky strips of condoms hanging amongst the dead animals, very unexpected. I guess nature doesn't have an alternative for contraception yet).
Our next stop was at a hostel. We were able to go inside this, and we saw the communal kitchen, and although the place was quite dirty and dark I wasn't thinking it was too bad. We went into a rather small bedroom which had three single beds in it, and were told that each bed was for a family of people, usually between 4 and 6 adults and children alike. It was only then that I realised just how many people were living there. In a house that was much smaller than the average council house in England, over 40 people were living together, sharing one sink, one toilet and 4 bedrooms. It was such a kick in the stomach. We were then told that the rent to live in one of these hostels was 20 Rand (about 1 pound 40 pence (no pound signs on the computers over here)) per family, per month, but that the majority of them couldn't afford to keep up with payments. This was so hard to hear, I felt so guilty standing there, knowing that I was paying R100 (7 pounds 14p) per NIGHT to stay at our lodge, and that would house 5 families for a month here. I was almost tempted to just give every speck of money in my pockets away but we'd been told not to do that, so hard as it was we just had to walk out of there and do nothing. Makes me feel quite sick actually, it's just so wrong that people have to live in those kind of conditions. It's not fair.
Our next stop was in another township, this time we went to Vicky's B & B (see more at http://www.nomvuyos-tours.co.za/vickys.shtml) which is the smallest hotel in South Africa. It is a beautifully furnished, 2 bedroomed bed and breakfast run by a lady called Vicky Ntozini (photo on its way), who is an incredibly inspirational woman who is really working to make her township a better place to live in. She began talking to us about how she started running the B & B and proceeded to thank us for coming to see her home, explaining that without people wanting to learn about and see the townships, many of the community projects or outings that she has taken children on would not be able to happen. She told us that we were not intruders, we were guests, and friends, and welcome. She moved me to tears, she was unbelievably positive, and has made my list of top 5 inspirational people. I hope she continues to do as much for people as she is doing, and that people continue to visit her home, because she is, quite simply, brilliant.
Our final stop was just around the corner from the B & B and was the kindergarden school. There were between 40 and 50 children there, in three adjoining rooms, being looked after by three people who were volunteers from the community. The children were adorable, they sang us some songs and told us the days of the week in English. I don't know if we can put videos on the site but if we can I will put up the film of them singing "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands". It's very moving.
When we got back to our lodge, aside from feeling guilty, rich and emotional, I wasn't feeling up to doing much, but then Joe came to our room and told us that a bunch of them were going to the Planetarium and did we want to come? We decided that we would go, along with Charlie who (having been at Ashanti for about a month) kept moving rooms due to beds being double booked and had finally moved into our room (Room 58 - Party Zone haha) and about 5 other people who I (still) have no clue who they were. We got to the planetarium and then went into the dome room thingy and watched possibly THE most boring film ever. We'd expected it to be about constellations and space and so on but in actual fact we were being told about how the pyramids of Egypt MIGHT just be somehow related to Orion's belt. You know when sometimes you're asleep and you get this jerky spasm where you wake up because you think you're falling? I got a massive one while I was dozing, and whacked my foot against the chair in front of me and it hurt SO much. Seriously though, SO not worth doing if you're in South Africa.
Anyhoo we then were about to go, but saw this room off to the other side that had some interesting looking rocks in it so Sophie, myself, Joe and Charlie went in for a quick look, and discovered that we were actually in the South African museum now and it wasn't just one room, it was about a gabillion rooms joined together, filled with some really cool stuff like models of sharks, and all kinds of animal information, and actual bones of a whale jaw which were HUGE (again, picture will be up soon), and cool games like "Learn to walk like a Dinosaur" and "How to fossilise yourself in 6 easy steps" (number 3: Avoid getting eaten, try to die in a place where you will be found within 50,000 years - very amusing).
It was really cool, we had a lot of fun in there and learnt loads of stuff. Pictures again, will be uploaded soon. Then Joe and Charlie headed back up to the hostel and Sophie and I walked through the gardens (yes Jon, we finally did it) to get to Green Market where we bought a few souveniers and presents for a few of you lucky lucky people back home.
Then we wandered back up to the hostel, had dinner and signed up for the pool competition. To recap for those of you who have forgotten, last time I managed to pot a ball, whereas Sophie went out after striking three in a row, but then I went out after my 4th round. This time, Sophie potted a ball and I went out after striking 3, she went out on her 4th round, and we both went out on possibly the easiest shots known to man. Literally it went white, ball, pocket, direct line and we both messed it up. Talent or what?! Then after meeting some rather amazing pool playing doctors and our new roommate Robert, we headed off to bed, where (I don't know about Sophie) I just crashed out, was absolutely exhausted. Very good afternoon, tremendous day. Makes you think anyway.
Well I realise that this has been possibly the longest journal entry ever. Many thanks to Sophie who has been sitting here patiently for 30 mins as I drag on. Talk to you all soon, hope you're all okay. Miss (some of) you :-P