Oh, The People You’ll Meet

It seems strange that we have less than five days before we depart from South Africa. To me, it feels like a dream. How is it that it seems like yesterday wer were just arriving in Cape Town. The United States seems like a foreign, faraway place. It was recently that I fully acclimated to South Africa, and now I have to leave this beautiful country.

Being in South Africa has been full of fun and memorable moments. Some of the most memorable moments have been based on the relationships made during this trip. Some of the best relationships have been made with those who reside in South Africa. Belinda, the SHAWCO house keeper is amazing. Morning chats with Belinda brighten my day. Conversations can vary from weather to personal lives. Belinda is so kind and I appreciate and respect her. There is also Cecil, who has been driving the SHAWCO van since day one. Cecil has a great sense of humor and enjoys a good smoke. I trust Cecil with my life whe he is driving this van. He also has excellent advice. When we were at the marketplace, Cecil slyly whispers, “cut the price in half.” I appreciate and respect Cecil and will miss him.

Then there are my fellow GVSU students. How strange it seems that six weeks ago we were all strangers and now we are friends. We all have great memories together, like when we fit all ten of us in a cab and I have memories with each of them. Me and Kam when we intentionally slept in the middle of our beds in Johannesburg. Kayla and me getting exited in our robes at Aquila, everyday with Kassie at Manenberg, Zanda pushing me to go skydiving with her, me and Spencer being seat mates on the plane, POatt and me trying to make peace among everyone the night we were searching for food. Tee calming me down during lesson plans, Courtney dancing, and the night Bri and I switched dinners. All these great moments I wouldn’t trade for the world. It’s odd to think that all of us will go from seeing each other everyday for six weeks to barely seeing on another.

And then there are the learners of Manenberg. Oh, how I will miss them so much. I have been dreading the day we leave them. I have nothing to compare this to, but I do feel very fortunate with this group of learners! All of them are so sweet and are so unique. They all have a yearning to learn, even if they admit it or not. Although I love all of them, I will always have a special place in my heart for three in particular: Ebbie, Kesey, and Waven. Ebbie and Waven are my two learners, but I have gotten to know Keestyn very well because we all shared a table. All are lovely and I will miss them dearly.

Ebbie is such a treasure. The first day I met him, I knew I wanted to work with him. We had been doing math and Ebbie had been struggling. However, his perseverance and hard work were admirable. Ebbie values truth and honesty and is so genuine. He also has a smile that can lighten up a whole room. I wish him the best.

The there’s Keesty, who always seems to be in trouble. However, I just think he’s misunderstood and just wants attention because he may lack it in another setting. Keestyn is talented at drawing pictures and cracks me up. Keestyn is such a sweetheart. He is always the first to offer his chair and gives me advice on anything related to the other students.

Waven is an absolute joy! Waven is one of the smartest people I have met. He catches onto concepts quickly, especially in math. I love watching Waven do math problems and seeing him help others. Waven also has such a big heart. He is kind to everyone, even when they are not always kind to him. Waven also gives great hugs. I absolutely adore Waven!

The relationships I have made in South Africa will stay with me forever. I am so fortunate and privileged to have had this experience and have had the opportunity to form these relationships.



Challenging Western Perspectives on Health

We are nearing the end of our trip here in South Africa and it truly has been a life changing experience. The biggest transformation I have seen in myself is challenging myself to think more from an American context. As an American, we often think from a western point of view. However, the western world is not a standard on how to understand the framework of how all societies operate, though often treated that way. For example, when it comes to South Africa, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is often one of the top topics brought to the forefront of the discussion. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is often broken down into categories. Firstly, the total number of people affected, then how this varies by gender. However, in the African context, gender is not just a black and white, easily categorized ideology. In fact, today’s guest lecture at the University of Cape Town talked about this subject more in-depth. It was explained that in the African context, roles in society are rather fluid in terms of how gender operates. For example, the topic of a male daughter was brought up. A male daughter is when an African family has a substantial number of women offspring and typically no males, the first daughter would be given the position in society as male. She will have access to trust funds, court negotiations, and treated as a male although biologically female. Western statistics do not account for this gender fluidity, nor does it account for how class and social status intersect, especially when generalizing that women of South Africa do not have the power to negotiate consent. Overall, the Western context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic fails to intentionally dive into what these statistics actually mean.

Aside from statistics, another aspect I found intersting on this trip that more directly connects with my intersted in Public Health is how people of South Africa are educated about HIV/AIDS. As an American, our standard understanding of how the disease is spread is rather straight forward and there is not a lot of debate on what is factual and what is myth. However, in South Africa, understanding transmission is not so black and white. In fact, depending on who you are talking to, you may get various answers that have little to nothing in common. Initially, when hearing South Africans’ thoughts on transmission, the health sciences major wanted to bring my western context answer to the forefront. However, now realizing how abstractly different people’s responses are, I challenge myself to think that if education around health wasn’t so straight forward and you heard different answers from various people, including politicians and health care providers, who would you believe?


Unraveling Ubuntu

As I write this, I am overly aware of the fact although we have exactly one week left in South Africa. One week left of that incredible Table Mountain view, one week left of our cozy SHAWCO house, and one week left to let my mind resort to sponge-mode and simply absorb every detail of this country.

During my time here, the most apparent thing I’ve noticed is a tangibly strong sense of community. This past week, we paid a visit to St. George’s Cathedral. It’s a beautiful building filled with colored stained-glass windows, castle-like architecture, and rich history. This space is particularly important because Desmond Tutu, refined Archibishop and social justice activist, once utilized the cathedral as both a metaphorical resistance against apartheid and as a literal meeting ground for various activist groups. Tutu coined the nickname “the people’s cathedral” because he truly believed it should be a space of inclusion, equality, acceptance, and above all, for the people. Tutu also led a huge anti-apartheid demonstration where he used the term “rainbow people” referencing the diverse population of South Africa- this is why the country is now known as the rainbow nation.

Tutu also speaks wielded of the concept of Ubuntu. In Africa, ubuntu is referring to the acknowledgment of our interdependence. Tutu writes, “I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nature, to the earth. Ubuntu is about wholeness, about compassion for life.” This really resonated with me because I often pride myself in being fiercely independent. However, this ideology speaks to an even braver level of humanity. The courage to show vulnerability and recognize the connectedness of my life with the lives of others.

Working with the same learners at Manenberg Primary School for the past few weeks has also shown me the beauty in vulnerability and silliness. At the very start, the kids were shy, I was nervous, and I think we all feared we wouldn’t find common ground because of the vast differences in our upbringing, environment, and lifestyle. ¬†However, sixth graders are sixth graders all over the world. We’ve danced, colored, played endless games of tic-tac-toe, and created honest, sustainable relationships. Our lives have become interdependent on a grander scale.

South Africa as a whole is still in the works of bringing together all citizen lives as one. Post-apartheid, there are still racial tensions, segregation, and inequality. Its use of various museums, historical public sites, and memorials aid in this healing and bonding process. I have really enjoyed sites like the District Six Museum because of how personable it is. This museum specifically had so much input, artifacts, and love put in by actual District Six residents. Today, those who have been able to return- after being uprooted due to apartheid policies and the space being declared as white-only- still hold their sense of community close. Ubuntu, or the essence of humanity, is all around South Africa.


Communication Home

Hey friends,

So far there has been many places that have caught my attention here. Now you know I love food and different patterns. We went to the Green Market Square where there are personal vendors and the items being sold are anywhere from jewlery, decor, or clothings. I went there to actually fulfill an objections that my professor wanted us to do. This was to spend 50 rand wisely and eventually get the most BANG for our BUCK! Me and my partner Kara were successful in completing this and learned a lot about how to bargain. This was a great experience to actually get the chance to interact with some of the people from South Africa while shopping.

Just around the corner there was a small strip of booths that some some more colorful and traditional South African items. Further down, there was food that surprisingly ranged from all kinds. We stopped by an Asian cuisine food booth and recieved more food than I actually expected. This was interesting because thinking about home, there are booths that also sell food downtown, but it is super expensive and the service size is not the best. Here in South Africa, that problem has never arose. I ended up actually having enough for my lunch, to sample some samosas (three of them) and also to get a sweet treat for later. Not only was the food situation like this from the market, but from anywhere we have eaten. The hospitality of South Africa is significantly different than back home in Michigan. I am for sure planning to return there but am also reflecting with myself that the hospitality and business systems back in the States will not be the same. I have been learning a lot about the culture, food, and people here, and hope to bring understanding and knowledge black him with me.


Hugs and Encouragement

My study abroad experience has been an amazing and life changing experience. We have visited many different museums and historical sites that are embedded in the history and culture of South Africa. Some of the places we visited include Nelson Mandela’s house, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and where he wrote the book A Long Walk to Freedom, and also the Slave Lodge. All of these places and others were amazing, informative experiences.

Even though I had these amazing experiences at these museums and historical sites in South Africa, we have also been learning from some very interesting South African activists, teachers, and authors. Honestly, nothing came compare to the work we do and my experiences at Manenberg Primary School. Being able to tutor the grade 6 learners and working with them has changed my perspective and outlook on my own life. Being with them everyday, Monday through Friday, and teaching them maths, science, and English is great, but they are teaching us so much more.

In many moments, I see myself within them because they are currently growing up in an impoverished area surrounded by gang violence. As a 6th grader in Detroit, I grew up in one of the most violent and gang-affiliated areas. Even though I may be able to relate to them in many ways, there are also major differences between them and myself and our up-bringing.

For example, these students receive more nurturing and encouragement in the classroom than I ever did. While working with and tutoring these students, we also have to encourage them and uplift them academically and hug them everyday when the school day is over. Being able to hugh them and encourage them is the prominent thing that has changed my life and perspectives. I feel that students in American often do not receive this type of love and encouragement. As I reflect on my experiences in 6th grade, I was led to believe that showing affection was uncooland would make me unpopular. I think there needs to be a shift in education, especially for at-risk students to provide hugs and encouragement becuase you never know what a student is facing and hugs are very important, even if they go unsaid.



“I am human because I belong to the whole”: Ubuntu Theology & St. George’s Cathedral

St. Georges Cathedral is recognized as the oldest cathedral within Southern Africa and the head church of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, South Africa. The church serves many people of diverse backgrounds, including diverse communities from outside of the church. It first became a cathedral in 1848 under the first bishop, Robert Gray. The church was designed by Sir Herber Baker in the 19th century, who originally was an architect settled within London. Herbert Baker originally only came to South Africa to follow after his brother,  Lionel Baker, who had dreams of owning a fruit farm within Cape Town, and needed permission from his father under the request of Herbert after ensuring that the land was a suitable investment. Had Lionel not arrived within Cape Town, Herbert would not have followed and the cathedral that the people wanted, with its famous Gothic design and beautiful stained-glass window designs, would not have been built.

Our kind guide of the morning tour softly tells us many facts and details that make up the history of St. George’s and various aspects that have made the cathedral what it is today. She leads us to special places of interest around the cathedral and tells us what she knows before moving along to the next piece.

She introduces our group to design aspects of the cathedral by reciting the information of the designer as well as the idea that was brought forth to use sandstone brought down from Table Mountain to construct the building. Block by block, Table Mountain standstone was brought down by cable car to the the steps of what would be St. George’s. Each block was carved away, and formed into perfect squares with tiny indents on the surface for texture, one-by-one. The sandstone viewed within the cathedral is concrete on the inside and sandstone on the outside, which makes the building stand. Our guide informs us of how an additional piece was to be added, but the plan eventually fell through as lack of funds and practical structural concerns were discussed. A tower was to be built at one of end of the cathedral, a bell tower. If the lack of funds had not prevented it from being built, then a huge tower with bells that would always ring would stand. The structure, due to the cheap material what would have been used, would have surely collapsed and would not have been able to survive the constant ringing.

St. George’s is also known as “the people’s church” as it did not bow down to the laws of the apartheid government order to become segregated. Geoffrey Hare, Archbishop, wrote to the national government about their decree and demanded that such an order be revoked and that the Anglican church would not bow down to such a course of action that was downright ridiculous. The night after writing such a letter, Hare passed away. The Archbishop wished for a world free of apartheid, and did what he could to let the government know that he would not stand for it and neither would the Anglican church.

St. George’s represents that which is the recognition of togetherness and the connections shared between others under the term ubuntu. Ubuntu, as discussed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu within our reading, explains how one’s humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up by another’s. Ubuntu is “I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nation, and to the earth.” It is about wholeness and having the compassion for life at every turn as it is what makes humans into humans. Tutu’s framework connects every part of being into relying on others for survival and carving for one another. His thoughts relate to St. George’s as it is a structure that represents the concept of Ubuntu in multiple ways. St. George’s symbolizes how a group, a religious structure, stood up to apartheid’s demands to segregate all aspects of life for those of South Africa. People were not just uprooted from their homes, but their communities as well when areas were defined as “white only.” Additionally, people were to leave behind their religious structures in the process, but the Anglican church defied such as rulings as they realized it was unjust. St. George’s cares for not just those who are members of the church, but also reaches out to others within the community who are in need. St. George’s strives for wholeness and showing compassion to others. This is due to how the idea of Ubuntu reaches to such a space and how St. George’s promotes such activity of being there to help the oppressed and not simply ignore their pain.

Tutu’s perspective settles upon how everyone must look out for each other due to sharing the common bond of being of the earth. His theology of Ubuntu is a utopian community where forgiveness and repentance are at the forefront. Tutu’s thoughts on apartheid relate to ubuntu, but for both parties affected by that of apartheid. He states how those who were the victims of apartheid must forgive their oppressors in order for ubuntu to be realized, additionally, those who committed crimes against the oppressed must repent.

To Tutu, it is better to live in a country which is stable and peaceful and filled with reconciliation than to live in a country that is torn by strife due to revenge and negative emotions. Desmond Tutu’s thoughts come from his role as a religious leader and political leader of South Africa, which is a position and thought process that is much needed in the post-apartheid era for some. Critics challenge such ideas because many feel as though apartheid oppressors should not be forgiven and those that were oppressed are right to be such a way.

St. George’s is Tutu’s church were he regularly preaches his ubuntu-based theology. The Archbishop and this church are connected in their history of apartheid and in the ways they operate, educate, and serve the community in a post-apartheid era.


What Post-Cards Don’t Tell You About African Culture

When people visit Africa, what are the types of things you would expect them to bring back? When you think of the continent ‘Africa’, what sorts of expectations do you have in mind when you just hear the name? Most people think of exotic animals, authentic food and patterns, and starving children. However, South Africa rarely depicts these stereotypical cultural aspects at all. In fact, the only places that actually do portray these stereotypes are tourist attractions in the area; for instance, Green Market Square. So there is a noticeably large gap between cultural expectations of Africa, and the reality of what the culture actually is. Cultural expectations are not for the people of South Africa at all, but for the tourists visiting the area so that they get the full-fleshed feel of being in a different country and “experiencing” a different culture.

The Green Market Square is a large area where hundreds of street vendors come together to sell “home-made” arts, crafts, jewelery, clothing, knick-knacks, and much more. However, the target is definitely aimed towards tourists of South Africa rather than South Africans themselves. As I wandered around the market, I noticed that the area was mostly populated by foreigners and locals were rarely seen shopping at all. Vendors never hesitated to usher me over to their corner and shove a souvenir that screamed “Africa” into my face.

The sorts of objects I constantly encountered were African animal based accessories with real fur and bones, post-cards with starving African children staged on the front, and unique patterns plastered on almost everything from bowls to fabrics. Of course foreigners (especially white foreigners) consumed in all of the propaganda, but local South Africans did not, possibly because they knew this was not the country, or even the continent, that they know. What the entire world associates Africa with is not what it appears to be at all, especially South Africa.

The South Africa that I know where’s the same name-brand clothing that I do in the US, eats some of the same kinds of food, and consumes the same popular culture that I do. I’ve only witnessed “African” culture in the popular tourist attracted areas such as the Green Market Square, which doesn’t justify African culture to the slightest. So now when you think of Africa, do you still think of exotic animals, authentic patterns, and starving children?