Tuesday was the last day at the internships, and at Tuesday night's Farewell Banquet we celebrated and expressed our heartfelt appreciation to everyone who contributed to making our Cape Town experience so special!
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Monday, June 17, 2013
Monday was a holiday - it was Youth Day in South Africa - a day to commemorate the Soweto Uprising in 1976 and the young people of South Africa who demanded an end to Bantu education. Equal Education, an NGO working to improve the public education system in South Africa (where one of our students, Maddie, has been interning) organized a protest outside of Parliament, and many of our students participated. They demanded that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga immediately publish quality Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. Minister Motshekga has delayed publishing the regulations since she became minister in 2009. Here is a link to the memorandum which Maddie drafted as part of her work for Equal Education: http://www.equaleducation.org.za/article/2013-06-13-memorandum-for-marches-on-17-june-2013-minimum-norms-and-standards .
Minibus Taxis. A common, inexpensive form of transportation for the residents of Cape Town. For 6 of us, these taxis became our main form of transportation to and from work. They seemed practical and safe enough that first day, but little did we know the adventures that were to be had riding these. After riding them, I firmly believe that you can’t truly know a city until you use its public transportation.
The first two days riding the taxis went well for almost all of us, but we quickly realized the next week just how unreliable they can be. They all start at Parade, and leave when they have their seats full. Simple, right? Except filling the bus can take so long, I don’t know how people ever make it to work on time! And, they will do anything to get as many people in the mini bus at one time (I think their unofficial motto is “There’s always room for one more!”); stuff it way past capacity, stop for half an hour in the street trying to get more people, anything. Lauren and I take four different mini bus taxis to get to and from work every day, and every ride is definitely a new experience. Sometimes, we can’t find a taxi near our house. Sometimes, the mini bus taxi will take forever at the ranks, waiting for the bus to fill to leave. Sometimes, you think you’re making great time because you found a taxi near your house, and the taxi at the rank was almost full when you got there, but then the caller person (this guy sticks his head out the side window, and yells where the taxi is headed to see if anyone needs a ride) will leave the mini bus for like half an hour trying to find more riders, while we sit on the mini bus just waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We have always made it to work by 8:15, so I guess we don’t have a lot to complain about. Rebecca and Matt regularly wait at least 30 minutes just for their taxi to leave the ranks, to head toward Bridgetown. You just never know what is going to happen on each ride.
After all of these experiences, Lauren and I realized that we could have ridden the bus this whole time to our internship. Not the minibus taxis, but the bus that Dennis drives, that takes some of the other students in our group out to their internships. We could have left a half hour later every morning and still been there on time. We wouldn’t have had to sit cramped on a bus for almost an hour every morning, or walk at least a mile total every morning and afternoon. We wouldn’t have had hearing damage from the bass which mini bus taxis almost always have turned all the way up. We wouldn’t have feared for our lives when the mini bus gets gas without turning off the engine. We wouldn’t have almost been pickpocketed or mugged a couple times by Parade.
But, we also wouldn’t have all these stories about it. We wouldn’t have gotten to the point where we could only laugh if something new and bizarre happened. We wouldn’t have gotten to walk with Lara and Sharon from our internship everyday so we could all get a taxi. We wouldn’t have ever seen Groote Schurr (the hospital where the world’s first heart transplant took place) or gotten over the uncomfortableness I felt whenever someone I didn’t know was that close to me. As much as I wish we had realized we could have taken the bus earlier, I’m glad we got these great stories! But, next time, I’ll make sure there isn’t another way of getting there before taking a minibus taxi :)
It was a rather nice day. A pleasant surprise, as these had become rather rare of late. The days were typically too cold for comfort, or rainy and wet and altogether disagreeable. They were the sort of days that made you want to curl up with half a dozen blankets and an entire thermos of hot chocolate. This was not one of those days, though. Warm, sunny rays rested gently on our faces as the four of us sat peacefully on a park bench across from Parliament. The building is large, white, and more or less clean, surrounded by flora and quiet walkers. We were waiting to meet three others, to get lunch after church. Nothing was against us that day.
"Excuse me, do you speak English?"
This was an odd question, frankly. In my experience, it was difficult to find a person in downtown Cape Town who didn't speak English. The question intrigued some of the group, and they nodded.
"Well, I'm visiting from Pretoria with a group of backpackers. When I woke up this morning, my wallet was gone and all I have left is this." The man flashed a 20 rand bill at us. "We need about a hundred rand to get home, so we would appreciate any help you could give us. One rand, two rand. Five rand. Anything would be great."
He seemed like a well to do fellow, about our age. With the wool cap, cargo pants, and boots, he certainly looked the part of the hiker. It was a sad story, and one that we could relate to. In our first week here in Cape Town, several of the members of our group had things stolen in a break-in. The story was plausible, heartfelt, and well told.
Unfortunately for this guy, he doesn't have a very sharp memory. This was the third time he had asked me if I spoke English. A few weeks ago, on my way home from work with Rebecca, he approached us and asked if we spoke English. Just as the group of had been intrigued by this question, so were Becca and I. We were tired, though, and brushed past without addressing him. He made it sound like he had been slighted as we walked away, and we felt bad. What if this guy genuinely needed a hand with something.
This thought was crushed when he approached Becca and me again, roughly a week later. By this time, we knew it wasn't a heartfelt request for assistance. At least we felt that it wasn't. The third visit sealed our perception of this fellow, and we finally sat and listened to the story he had ready. We all sat quietly. To be honest, I was trying not to laugh.
"So, does your wallet get stolen every night?" I asked him, waiting for a moment after he had finished his story. He looked stunned, and very confused. It was not the typical 'no, sorry' that he was likely expecting. His mouth hung open slightly, not sure of what to say.
"I was just wondering," I continued (a little smuggly, I'm ashamed to admit), "because this is the third time you have come up to me and asked whether I speak English or not. Sorry friend."
"No you're not," he said bitterly, as he turned to walk away, flustered at having been caught. There is nothing wrong with asking a person for help. Some lives are harder than others, and nowhere has that been made more obvious to me than here in Cape Town. Every day I am left thankful for the life that has been given to me. Where I draw the line, though, is when people lie to me. It blurs a person's vision, making it harder to tell who actually needs aid and who's just out trying to pocket some spare change.
Whether this man was truly in need of help for something, I can't say that I am entirely sure. What I can say is that he was going about procuring that help in the most absolutely disagreeable manner I can imagine.