Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Monday, 26 January 2004

Hosting tourists, rock climbing & township crawling...

Well I am back from a jam-packed fun-filled week-end!

As mentioned, Richard was arranging the HP Education annual conference. The manager who appointed him - head of HP Education in Switzerland, fell in love with SA, and decided the conference must be here in Cape Town (it was in Charmonix France last year), so Richard's first project was to arrange this.

It was quite a task, as he had to co-ordinate people from, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, UK, Greece, Dubai, Johannesburg etc, and had to handle every detail of their stay - food, transport, meetings, entertainment, gifts, packed lunches, water etc not an easy task!

I got to join them for the week-end, while they were sightseeing and experiencing Cape Town. On Friday evening we had a seafood dinner at the Hotel, followed by the
African Footprint show at the Artscape. It's a dance show, depicting the South African story through dance. It starts with tribal traditional dancing, and works through, to gumboot, township jazz, and jive, prison, miners gumboot, kwaito, and modern soccer stadium movements. It was simply spectacular, the dancing was so energetic and well performed and the sets and backdrop were simple but very striking and effective. It was a very uplifting show and makes you feel energised and proud to feel part of our rich nation.

We followed this with some more cultural experience on Long Street, with more drumming and marimba music at Mama Africa, and then on to something more trendy - cocktails at the Long Street Cafe.

On Saturday the conference group went off to a township school to install computer labs together with the Shuttleworth Foundation, while I went home to take the children to Maria's party, which we all loved.

Later in the afternoon I met up with the group again for the start of our township tour. This was a real eye opener and visibly and dramatically affected each one of us, foreign and South African alike.

We started in Langa (South Africa's oldest township). We looked at the shack areas, hostels and new government housing etc. The guide, a Langa local, has a good insight to the area, and the slang names given to the housing types are amusing, but also bittersweet. The new council flats are called 'squares' because they literally are single roomed squares. The first RDP houses are called ' feet out' houses, because they are so small when they lie down at night their feet almost stick out the door etc. There is one small section of road, bordering the N2 which has much nicer and larger houses, which were built specifically to be seen by the people on the N2, to make it look like the accommodation is good and acceptable in the township. This street is termed 'Beverley Hills'.

We stopped at a Hostel block, where sheep heads were being cooked on an open fire - quite a sight to see. We were taken upstairs. There is a central room with 2 large tables and benches filling it and 1 sink and cold tap, leading off this are 6 rooms with 2 or 3 beds in each, and a room used as a kitchen. EACH bed is used for a FAMILY. So each of the 6 rooms houses 2 or 3 families (of 4-6 members). They ALL use the one cold tap, they have no toilet and have to cook in the one communal kitchen and eat at the 2 tables. The entire area is covered in black soot from the paraffin stoves and you can barely breathe from the fumes. It's quite a shock to see. On average only one person from each family is employed and they will probably earn between R800 - R1000 per month. Of that about R250 needs to be used for transport. They then need to pay R30 per month for the family's' place in the hostel, and the rest is to support the entire family for the whole month... The newer government flats are rented at about R300 per month, which is still way out of most people's league - until they can earn more, or more family members are earning a living.

We then went to a traditional healer's shop. A big very darkened room with weird and wonderful things dangling from the ceiling wherever you look, you have to dodge these as you walk around. Mostly they are bits and pieces of various dead animals and some plant life, shells and other 'junk'. The place was dark, dusty and pretty stinky (the octopus in particular reeked). There were also plastic bottles lined up on a shelf, which turned out to be blood. It was interesting, but quite weird at the same time. Python skin is used to treat infertility, and fresh tortoise urine is used to stop alcoholics from drinking etc. We didn't consult with the doctor! We asked the guide about the use of the healers, and were told it's about 50/50 now with the elders still favouring the traditional healers and the youth choosing the clinics now... We also drove past lots of meat markets where piles of meat are literally lying in the sun and flies. I'm amazed that the people don't seem to get sick from eating it. But they do seem to have what they have bought cooked on the fires alongside the market, which presumably kills the germs?

After than we moved on to Cross-Roads and Guguletu. Making a stop at the Amy Biehl Memorial. This was very emotional and brought up a lot of sadness in me. Also interesting that none of the streets in Guguletu are named, they all have numbers e.g.. NY100, with NY standing for Native Yard... Next stop was a nursery school in Gugs, which the tour company has sponsored and has funded extensions and improvements. Being a week-end not many children were there, but there were lots of festive community members chatting and being social there. I met a little girl who was celebrating her 5th birthday in a back room. Her mother and friends were there and she proudly showed me her few presents and new jeans. She was so cute. I couldn't help sneaking a R10 note to her as a birthday present. The tour guide had specifically asked us not to hand out money to people along the way, as they don't want children to start expecting hand-outs from the busses as they arrive, and to start skipping school to wait for the tours etc. The tour company collects donations from those that want to give, and they use it to sponsor the children of the home's that are visited's schools fees and to help to build homes and schools etc. Which makes a lot of sense.

We then went on to a small pub/restaurant/shebeen which is owned and run by the Xhosa couple that started the tour company, where we enjoyed more drumming and then some township jazz. We then also got supper. ALL of us were relieved that it wasn't sheep head! But a more familiar potato salad, braaied chicken and chops, and green salad. I would actually have prefer to try something more ethnic, but after the day's event I don't think our foreign tourists would have coped!

I had a great time kicking a very sad soccer ball around the streets with some of the local children, which were fantastic and so warm and exuberant. Some of the tourists were taking pictures of the children and once they realised they could see the picture immediately on the digital camera they all swarmed around to be included in the shots and started pulling funny faces and poses, and then would RUSH to the camera to see what they looked like. It was very amusing, and I think some good video footage was taken of this. After befriending all the children I battled to get back on the bus afterwards when we had to leave as I had to shake hands with them all several times, and was being hugged and hung-onto by about 20 squealing, bouncing children!

The poverty, and injustice of the townships is painfully evident, but at the same time the community spirit and soul of the people is so uplifting, that it's hard to decide who is worse off, the affluent people who are isolated and don't even know their neighbours, or these jovial, friendly, vibrant but poor people ....

Then on Sunday we went up to Lion's Head for a team building day. We had charts and maps and question sheets. We were divided into 3 teams, and had to find our way up using specific routes on the map, and answering questions along the way. Being a local and having climbed Lion's Head several times, gave my team an unfair advantage. But I told them I was trying not to just give them all the answers. With that their wallets came out and they said, ' how much will it take for you to stop NOT trying to give us the answers?' *LOL* CHEATS. Never the less I managed to inadvertently give them all the answers anyway by saying things like 'oh look, there's Robben Island, that's where Nelson Mandela was in Prison' only to find that the next question was, " What is the name of the island in the bay and why is it significant?" :) The chain climbing section was interesting, and the Team Work was tested here, as our UK lady had to be pulled from above and pushed from below to
get her up!

We went right to the top where we stopped for lunch and then went half way down to the ledge facing Sea Point for the real fun.... Rope Climbing and Abseiling!

The climbing guides had chosen easy climbs and a short abseil so I was very keen to try and I thoroughly loved both. In fact I found the climbing easier than the chain climb as the chains and surrounding rocks are very smooth and slippery and you feel you may plunge at any moment, whereas with the ropes I was more daring as I knew I had a safety rope. I actually went first and did manage to get to the top, even though I had to get lifted a few cm at one point where I couldn't find a grip except for a few cm above my reach. Never the less I was proud that I did the whole of what was considered the more difficult of the 2 climbs, which only about 1/2 the people ended up even trying, and not all of those went to the top including Richard who has climbed before! (he said he was tired). The abseiling was also great, but going over the edge is a little nerve wracking, once you are over, and if you aren't looking down it's quite easy. I'd actually like to do some more climbing...

After we all got down alive and in one piece we went to the hotel to clean-up and then on to the 12 Apostles Hotel restaurant for a fabulous and delicious dinner to end the week-end.

I am of course exhausted today, but I am so glad I got to join the group and have so many new and wonderful experiences.