Monday, June 17, 2013

Khayelitsha, Guguletu, and the TAC: Finding beauty in the townships - Ashley Repka

The 2 hour trip to work each morning provides ample time for thinking,
sleeping, and/or consuming as much caffeine as possible. Driving from
stop to stop dropping each person off results in a nice daily tour of
the Cape Flats, and our route just so happens to include about 20-30
minutes of ocean-side road. The timing is perfect; the sun has usually
just risen, and the view of the water, the mountains behind, and the
mist that hasn’t risen yet leaves little to be desired. But, all good
things must come to an end, and before long we’re taking the left to
turn towards Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha.
        The scenery changes quickly to one of informal housing, littered
roadsides, tuck shops, and graffiti-marked walls. Many days we pass
long lines of people waiting for water with jugs in hand. Each day
when we drop Priya off at Tafelsig we see lines of people waiting for
medical care. After the rain last Friday we saw countless flooded
roads, which undoubtedly meant flooded houses.
        It’s very easy to feel discouraged on these drives each morning. It
is easy to feel insignificant in light of the sheer magnitude of
poverty and inhumane conditions that are only illustrated further by
the personal narratives heard at TAC, EE, Tafelsig, etc. For me, it
has been a challenge to reconcile the two views from the bus – the
hard, messy reality of everyday life that I have seen every day in
Khayelitsha, and the serene, beach-front view of our weekend
excursions to the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I have found
myself wondering whether many of the people I see daily at TAC have
ever seen the view from the top of Table Mountain, or gone on a
safari, or seen the wine country. It seems odd that I should so easily
be able to see and enjoy these places that belong to South Africa,
while the view of many South Africans is so limited.
        Enter Mzoli’s. We visited Gugulethu today to try out what had been
described to us as the ‘Cape Town Experience’, and my only regret is
that this didn’t happen sooner. Today is Youth Day, the anniversary of
the Soweto uprising, so we were lucky enough to see the place at its
prime. We waited an hour and a half just to get in the door, and at
least two more to have the meat cooked. There was hardly standing room
in the place, and back by the fire the trays of meat were stacked 3-4
tall. Out in the streets, music blared from the tent, and people sat
and stood up and down the street, singing, dancing, and drinking. Many
older kids, and even some adults, showed up in school uniforms in
honor of the day. Mini buses and other cars drove slowly through the
street, honking at dogs and stopping to wave a person dancing off to
the side of the road. I found myself feeling a little bit foolish for
thinking that these people had to go to Table Mountain, or the Cape of
Good Hope to see something beautiful. Gugulethu on Youth Day was one
of the most ‘beautiful’ places I’ve ever been, albeit maybe in a
different way.
        When Vernon asked us what word we would use to describe this trip,
the word that came to my mind was ‘perspective’. While it’s not an
adjective, and it’s pretty cliché, I truly have learned more about
perspective than anything else on this trip. Perspective in the
expected way of course – I have learned more about peoples’ lives in
South Africa, about their daily perspective and about the issues they
face. But more so than that, I have learned the importance of actively
working to change your own perspective. I have learned that my
definitions of knowledge and of beauty should be expanded. Because in
the articles I’ve read and edited in broken English and the meetings
in which I’ve seen people struggle to articulate their view with
correct grammar, I’ve learned incredibly knowledgeable things. Among
people who have much less education or training than I do, I’ve heard
incredible insights and seen an enviable ability to connect with and
understand their fellow human beings. And in an area that is often
seen as hopeless, or ugly, I had one of the most ‘alive’ and beautiful
experiences of my life.
        Lwazi, from TAC, explained to Andie and I one day that he loved the
community in Khayelitsha, something that wasn’t found in the
middle/upper class. He asked us how well we knew our neighbors – I
wave at mine sometimes.. He explained that he knew that if he ever
needed anything, he could go to a neighbor and they would reach in
their pocket and give him what they could. I suppose this is the
‘Ubuntu’ we’ve heard so much about, and it is an idea that will stick
with me long after the trip. I have learned that each of us has
beautiful things to share from our own life-many times right in our
back yard - and that each of us has knowledge that can benefit
others-whether it is from a book or from an experience; The important
part seems to be that we share them.