Sunday, July 29, 2007

I’m sitting in my comfy (dirty) new (old) house back at school here in Washington D.C. I left Cape Town 11 days ago, and only now have had the time to sit and say something rational, about my time in South Africa.
The best conversation I’ve had about it was with my brother (John, 22) and his girlfriend, Anna. They were actually interested and asked good questions. Most people would like to be truly interested but just aren’t, and you can’t blame them.
It’s better that way. What I have to say about all this takes way too long to explain and contextualize anyway. That’s why I’m writing all these papers.
It has been discussed and agreed upon that South Africa is becoming a trend, a “hot-spot” if you will, among American Study Abroad Students. That’s a good thing. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s been there has had the most wonderful time. Everybody comes back with pictures of them petting wildlife.

We saw elephants up close from a car. Incredible.

You’re missing half the story if you stay in the classroom the whole time; missing out on critical elements of the experience if you volunteer out of context. To get to know Cape Town, you must go to a shabeen and a posh Longstreet bar, metaphorically speaking.
Arcadia organized our lecturers. The 6 of us shared 3 most excellent UCT professors, Tristan Gorgens, Janice McMillan and Elsa ______, who carefully guided our understanding of the situations surrounding us. We worked our way up through the bones of community development, and turned our gaze inwards in an endless barrage of self-reflexivity; the ultimate crash course in postmodern self-awareness.

SHAWCO stands for Student Health And Welfare Centres Organisation. It is a 60 year old, student-led operation out of the University of Cape Town; an operation well respected for its ability to transcend political and racial boundaries in the name of humanity, so to speak. As a result of this collaboration between SHAWCO and Arcadia, we well-intentioned individuals are given access to communities, like Khayelitsha, that goes far beyond a one-day driving tour.

We figured out quickly that we would have to work very hard in order to keep the scales balanced between us and the community. Making sure it was mutually beneficial. Symbiotic. We gain so much from our experience ‘in the community’. We get valuable school credit, we get to meet a bunch of nice new people, we get the same delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they all get at lunch everyday - but we also get to go home at the end of the day. We get this fabulous, protected experience into a different realm of existence, and then go home and write long self-indulgent analytical papers about what we think. In return, the community gets access to resources that, while they may be miniscule in the grandbig scheme of things, have the potential to create important, positive change.

This program facilitated vast opportunity for positive interactions between smart people with interesting ideas and different and connecting paths. The relationships we developed, the friends we made, the changes we took with us, and the impressions we left behind are impossible without SHAWCO facilitating our presence.

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