Returning to South Africa by Skylar Wolfe

Two years ago I went on what I assumed was a once in a life time trip to South Africa with the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 2014 program. I said “goodbye” to Felicia, Sharnee, Cecil, Uncle Cyril, Andy, and my learners anticipating that I would never be able to see them again. Now, two years later, I surprised not only myself, but all of them with a return visit. While some took a couple of days to recognize me, some – such as Felicia, Sharnee, Mrs. Jacobs, and Nazlee (a student who worked with our 2014 cohort) – immediately knew who I was regardless of my different appearance. To say the least, this recognition caught me very much so by surprise. 
The experience reconnecting with people in South Africa has challenged me to understand and to revisit parts of myself that were laced with cobwebs of loss and that had fallen cold in corners of a room thats light bulbs had long since burnt out in. What happens when flash lights dance across forgotten sensations and intricate emotions intertwined in past components of one’s identity? The only explanation is that, like many experiences on this trip, the sensations I have felt are beyond the capacities of both words and pictures. Embracing Felicia after two years apart and knowing that she recognized me felt like warm sun light piercing through a dark storm laced with cold rain; the embrace was unexpected, but incredibly warm hearted and powerful. I would describe many of my experiences reengaging in South Africa in a similar fashion; every experience, whether it be reengaging with a past relationship with a physical space (a museum, a mountain, SHAWCO house, a restaurant, or even a street) or a person, has felt enchanting and almost surreal since I never thought I would be back.
With all of that said and expressed, returning to South Africa for a second time has also challenged me to learn in different ways than previously. While the 2014 trip taught me to think differently about the world and my placement in it, this trip has challenged me to be more self aware of both my talents and weaknesses while learning to balance self care with being there as a resource for others. As a hopeful future social worker, these boundary related skills and having a heightened sense of self awareness is absolutely essential. If you do not know yourself and understand your own needs, being there for others becomes much more challenging. I am so incredibly thankful that I have been able to share my first teacher apprentice experience with such an amazing group of students and with such superb staff and faculty members. 

A final note for the group:

Thank you for bringing me with you on what most would assume to be a once in a life time trip. I have enjoyed all of your presences profoundly and getting to know each and every one of you more. Thank you for being open, honest, and deeply thoughtful on what has been a fantastic trip to South Africa.

What We Can Learn From Kids by Katryna Mattern

I’ve learned that being a young “adult” is basically just running around pretending like you know what you’re doing despite having close to any clue of what exactly you are doing. I’ve also learned that this urgency of needing to have all the answers but never really having all the answers begins long before your twenties. So what happens when you put a group of twenty somethings with a group of preteens? Well, from what I have seen happening between our first day and our second week with our learners, it’s a whole lot of great— and a lot of running around. The kids are challenging the GV students as much, if not more, than the GV students are challenging the learners. 
    Throughout our second week we had our good days, our wild days, and some less positive days. However, our second week was really a lesson for our Grand Valley students. It was within this second week where we began to see the realities of what being a sixth grader consists of, which includes the he said she said drama and the awkward I want to be too cool but I’m also just trying to have fun and the I want someone to talk to and pay attention to me. All of which are building on top of other realities these children may face outside of school programs. 
    I am no guru when it comes to kids but if I am learning anything from our relationship with these kids at Manenberg it is that they just want to be kids and they want to have someone who gives them that safe space to talk and ask questions. There’s a lot of realities that some of these children face that we have no clue about. With our time with these kids There’s this deeper relationship happening between our Grand Valley students and these learners outside of helping mathematic skills. A relationship that allows these kids to be just kids and allows them a safe comfortable space where there are no expectations of who they’re supposed to be. 
    So, returning to the point of my 21 year old self running out with no idea what exactly I’m doing is that it’s 100 % okay to not know. It’s 100% okay to just be a giggling running around, sometimes sassy, kid at times – even if you’re a 21 year old kid or a sixth grader or whatever age you may be. We are all facing different realities and we all have different skills to bring to the table. but it is through these relationships we are building that we find solidarity and we find confidence and encouragement to pursue our futures as well as offer that to these young individuals who have so much to offer. 

Cape Coast Drive by Emnet Woldemicael

The history of South Africa is one I now know too well. The narratives and nature of this trip have been entrenched in destruction into systems and institutions of oppression. 
On our schedule was a full day excursion on a Cape Coast drive. At this point, nearly every person became sick of some sort and it was my turn. On that morning I woke up with a severe stomach ache. We began our day at the Boulder Beach, where penguins live and hide so adorably underneath the sandy hills of the ocean. Driving along the Cape Coast to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope- “The most South Western point of the African continent”. Completely filled with rocks, the flat sand and in the sound of waves I covertly hid my sick feelings as I was walking around and watching everyone talking and taking pictures. Basking in the views felt both, good and bad. 
In Cape Town, these views and landscapes are breathtaking. We have been on so many excursions leaving me heavy, hurting, feeling lost and left out as I make the connections I am trying to quickly process as we learn. This has led me to be able to reflect on the significant history of this Cape Point excursion to the colonial Dutch invaders shaping a history of oppression. The makings of my understandings on the view is as clear and beautiful, a simplistic beauty, a backdrop to horror and the continued resistance and resilience of the South African people. 

Positioning Myself on Robben Island by Ariana Jordan 

 Up until this point, I had time to analyze my position of this trip and how I define myself as being both tourist and a student here in South Africa. For each excursion, we are assigned readings that offers information about the excursions we would be attending the next day. With these readings, I noticed that it offered me an opportunity to become acquainted with the material presented at the excursion. Gaining this thought of being familiar about the material, it makes me question: how are these excursions suppose to make me feel and what effect is it suppose to have on the tourist that visits? 

The day finally came. By this I meant the day where we (as a group) would finally be able to visit Robben Island. The feeling was bitter sweet. We were all excited to get there but we knew what this place meant and especially what it symbolized during the apartheid. 

I had a feeling that this tour would be very unusual once we approached the Water Front. Trampling each other, we lined up one by one with the anticipation to be seated. I noticed that the crowd was much larger than our normal group which meant that our experience would be less personal. We boarded a boat that took us about half an hour to reach Robben Island. We were not able to sit at the top of the deck because of limited capacity so we sat at the bottom and enjoyed the ride. 
Finally arriving to Robben Island, the huge group was splitted amongst 5-7 groups in order to be with our directed tour guide. She greeted us with humor, speaking Xhosa and jokingly asked us to translate. By being on the bus during half of our tour, it was important that I became more observant. Listening to our tour guide, I was focused on taking in the Robben Island that I read about and I wanted to critically think about the fact that I was there and what this prison meant. After about 15 minutes, we were able to get off the bus which we headed to the “home” of Robert Sobukwe who lived in solitary confinement on Robben Island. Being in this area where he would know as “home” made me think about his psychological state of mind. His room was surrounded with pictures and letters that he and his family wrote to each other which made me question his privacy limitations. 
Moving on with the tour, we headed back on the bus where the tour guide acknowledge two couples, one was on their honeymoon and one was celebrating their anniversary. I mentally questioned their choice of choosing Robben Island as one of their spots to honeymoon. Moving on with the tour, their presence were mentioned again and it infuriated me because I felt like we were losing our focus of why we were there. We then headed to the maximum security prison where they would keep political prisoners, people such as Nelson Mandela. I followed the crowd to the cell of Mandela but before we approached I heard several comments from the crowd that I didn’t agree with. It was as if I expected them to act a certain way or to know the things that I knew. 
After hearing from our second tour guide who used to be a prisoner of Robben Island, we headed back to the boat and headed back to the Waterfront. Later that night, my peers and I discussed our day along with the things that we overheard and experienced. Dr. Weekly ended the conversation by stating, who are we to judge how these museums are to make one feel? And it had me thinking…who are we to judge? Looking back on how the museum was displayed, the act of the tour guide and the rushed set up, I realized that these actions played a role on people’s perceptions. Still, I wish that people (especially tourists) would take the time out to think critically about the places that they visit instead of treating it like another tourist site or the place to take the “perfect picture”.

Reclaiming and Recollecting a Community: District 6 by Akua Ekye-Addai

     Nestled in the heart of Cape Town, District 6 was established in 1867 as a community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, laborers and immigrants. By the 20th century, it had grown to be a lively city community whose residents were a veritable mixing pot of races, religions and ethnicities: coloureds, muslims, Xhosa, blacks, whites, Indians and Asian. According to our guide Paul, a former resident of the district, the people were like one gigantic family- no one locked their doors, it was safe for women to walk at night, there was no divide among the Muslim and Christians and spaces were shared.


     With the arrival of apartheid and its plan of racial division, District 6 was deemed a slum, a breeding ground of crime and site of various dangerous vices. In February of 1966, the once bustling community was declared a “white-only” area under the Group Areas Act and by 1968 a forced removal and relocation process had begun for the residents. Over 60,000 people- most of whom had spent their entire lives in the district, were relocated to Cape Flats; a flat, rocky, barren area filled with hundred of rows of identical houses,several miles away, while their abandoned homes, schools, hospitals and neighborhoods back in the District, were bulldozed to the ground. Because of the relocation, many people went from a 20 minute commute to work, to having travel times of an hour and a half or more. This meant more time wasted and bus fare to be needed. Around the area at the base of Table Mountain, over 42 sites of removal have been identified.

Top: Richmond Street now Below: Richmond Street in the 60’s

     Jordan best described the District 6 Museum when she said that it, “is like a living scrapbook for residents”. Housed in a former Methodist church in one of the rare buildings spared in the demolition of District 6, the museum functions as a kind of public historical diary. Former resident were invited to attend the museums opening and share their stories about their former home. A floor map was assembled by the residents of the old layout and as they identified the streets and locations of shops and residences, they would sign their names next to their work. In the museum you can find the old street signs which were unable to be returned to their former locations because of the extreme alterations to the layout of the district. There are floor to ceiling banners filled with the memories of the people and plaques filled with their voices. Some residents make it a habit to visit the museum and revist the friends and history left behind. Pictures donated and collected give a glimpse of the old District 6, it’s history and former occupants. In the upstairs area of the museum, you can find more photos of the city, the old maternity hospital-which is currently being rebuilt, and assorted memorabilia that’s like a blast from 1960’s past.

  The city has been reportedly “working” on reclamation and restoration for District 6 and former residents are encouraged to move back into the area. The buildings that weren’t torn down have mostly been renovated into flats for the wealthy and the empty land sold to the largest bidders. Separate flats were built to house the returned district citizens and other areas, marked since 1994, have been promised as restoration areas. These areas however have mostly remained untouched with no sign of progress in the project.

     At many of the other museums and sites previously visited, District 6 and the relocation program were mentioned but actually visiting it truly put into perspective just how massive of an uprooting this was. Uprooting perfectly describes what happened here as generations of families were dug up and discarded like so much trash all in the name of apartheid and it’s racist destruction. District 6 and the museum serve as reminders of not only its community but the things that were lost and can never be fully returned or repaired.

“You are always loved” by Sierra Jennings

We just finished off our first week of Service Learning and the experience so far has been worth while! Our group is helping a group of 6th graders at Manenberg Primary School brush up on their Math and English skills. History has been newly brought in as well. Personally that first day I was nervous meeting the kids and was prepared for them to give us the cold shoulder (I remember being in 6th grade), no matter how many times they told us the opposite would happen. Internally, I was nervous at the fact that I, a student myself, was going to be teaching a group of students. I needed to get the gumption and confidence that this was going to be okay and that I had passed 6th grade and many grades that followed. 

The cold shoulder epidemic was not case though! Immediately getting off the bus excited faces appeared and those who remembered the GV people from past trips were embraced. We were given a short tour and waited in the office while the kids we were directly going to be working with ate their lunches. We were all anxiously excited to finally meet them!
When we walked into the room the learners greeted us with a welcoming song and that’s the moment I felt my nervousness dissipate. That was the moment that I felt that this small impact was more than how I felt or my own feelings towards this whole service learning aspect. This was about them and making a small difference in their future. I can remember small moments throughout my learning career that have helped me get to the place I am today as a student. 
While looking for a seat that first day I found a hand grasping mine and leading me to as spot. This hand belonged to an awesome girl named Kim. I left my bag with her while I grabbed a chair and immediately after sitting we started talking about all of our interests. Gone were the thoughts of me not being efficient enough. Gone were the thoughts of the learners not accepting us a whole. In this moment Kim talked about her favorite artists, Beyonce being one of them which of course I had to note. I also noted her favorite subject being English. During icebreaker games that day everyone got to open up and make note of everyone faces of the group we were going to be apart of for these next set of weeks. 
That first week we got to learn our different learners individually after being paired with them. To my delight I was assigned to work with Kim. The English, Math, and History groups gave their first lessons and that helped us GV students find out what worked and didn’t far as lesson planning for future weeks. Overall this first week went well and better than my initial predictions. 
I was worried about this week and how choosing my individual learner was going to go. Little did I know how great it was going to turn out. Also, I’m sure I’m not the only one when I say that my learner basically choose me and I had nothing to worry about. I look forward to this experience and can’t wait for our next day at Manenberg! 

Mural outside of our classroom

Mural outside of our classroom

Molo! By Abbey Bentley

In the Langa township “molo” (hello in Xhosa) and a smile is all you need to be welcomed into their warm community. We were able to witness the township’s unique culture through Mzansi’s Restaurant. Mzansi’s offers an all inclusive community experience. From walking on the streets to visiting the last standing Pass Office in South Africa and ending with an authentic home cooked meal at Mzansi’s, by the end of the day, Langa begins to feels like home. 
Our tour was led by Mike, a life long Langa native. Before starting off onto the streets of Langa, he shared with us some of the history behind the township. During the Apartheid, Langa was an informal settlement for the black community. Many of the original residents and their families still live there today due to the vibrant community that fills Langa Township. Although Langa was founded during a devastating and oppressive time, their culture and passion for a strong community has remained, making it an enjoyable place to all who come. 
As we walked through the streets “molos” and smiles filled the air. From children to elders, everyone offered us a warm welcome into Langa. On the far side of the township was a wall covered in graffiti art. Every March, artists within the community are given a section of the wall to decorate. Once decorated the community votes on the winning section. These pieces of artwork demonstrated the sense of community, love and compassion the people of Langa Township have. 
After seeing the community we ended back at Mzansi’s Restaurant where Mrs. Mzansi prepared a home cooked South African meal. There was also a band that played South African tunes as we indulged in the Malva Pudding, a South African must-have. Once we were finished Mr. Mzansi explained, “My wife likes to talk. I like to have fun. Come dance!” Without hesitation we joined the band, playing the various instruments and dancing to the South African rhythms. The much needed carefree and blissful evening Langa gave us was appreciated by every person on the trip. Although we can never fully understand the struggles and obstacles faced by the people of Langa, we will forever be appreciative for the warm welcoming Langa Township and the Mzansi family gave to us.