Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stray Descriptions

When you go to South Africa, you should read a lot of books about it; before you go and while you’re there. I left Cape Town two weeks ago and I read “Cry, The Beloved Country” by Alan Paton, just this afternoon. Antjie Krog’s account of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings, “Country Of My Skull” added depth to the already intense cultural criss-crossing we excitedly plunged into in Khayelitsha.

One cannot help but be constantly struck with awe at the natural beauty of the land and sky in South Africa. Table Mountain is the dominant physical feature of Cape Town. It sits above, cuddling the city in its roots, providing a constant compass. If you ever get lost, just look to the mountain, and re-orient yourself.
Someone I trust told me that Table Mountain was once called, in translation, “mountain that erodes out of the sea’, and if you scale out your vision, it is easy to sense that you are indeed on a grand downslope into the ocean. On top of Table Mountain, you can see that it once was the shallow shoreline shelf, and the multiple coves and bays that constitute Cape Town were carved by the plunging depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
The clouds are huge and dramatic, and the winter sunsets are spectacular. I’m told it’s even nicer in the summer and I believe it.
I wish we'd had a whole day at Kirstenbosch. Ideally I'd bring wine and a snack in the cool evening hours of a hot day and see a show, some live music on an open stage. Again, we went in winter and it was all still wondrous, the wet green botanicals tucked right up against the base of the mountain, like you could just step out, right up on top of it in a single stride. Obviously enough, some the more popular climbing paths begin and end in the Gardens (‘there is no difference in terminals’).

There is lots of shopping to be done, as one discovers quickly when traveling with 5 young women.
The Waterfront is wide and diverse in terms of entertainment and consumer opportunities.
Green Market downtown is an interesting atmosphere. Everybody is very friendly of course, and welcoming to Americans and other fair, (-ly), rich people. For me Green Market proved to be the best bet for finding gifts for friends and family, but you’ve got to be tough, willing to walk away when you know you should.
Be stiff about bargaining and you’ll get a good deal.

Like I said, everybody is very friendly. In my six weeks working with SHAWCO, I had an extra-ordinary number of genuinely pleasant encounters with all different kinds of people. Everyone, from the people of Khayelitsha, to the UCT students and SHAWCO volunteers, to random locals at the bars, and everyone in between, was excited to see us, interested in what we were doing, and damn-well-glad-to-meetcha, happy-to-see-ya. Except they didn’t say it like that.

The Capetonian English accent is a subtle and refined animal, the quiet cousin of a smooth Kiwi, son of an elderly British dame and bastard son of an ex-patriated Canadian bartending in the Nether-lands. That’s how it sounds anyhow.
There are 11 different official languages in South Africa. To get what we would consider to be a living wage in Cape Town, you need mastery in at least two languages: English and Afrikaans. Afrikaans is based on Dutch and German heavily mixed with Malaysian. The Soweto Student Uprisings of 1975 were in protest to being taught in Afrikaans at school. It was (and still can be) seen as the language of oppression, imposed by the European vacationers.

The SHAWCO center is a big garage/warehouse style structure. There is an old wood playground structure in front of a large covered garage space where most of the playing is done, and which is now adorned with a few lovingly painted murals. On one side of the garage is a large computer-filled classroom, where we taught about 25 adults how to use Microsoft Word and Powerpoint.
The back wall of the garage contains a gathering room that is alternately used for tutoring, eating and dancing. This multi-purpose room adjoins to the main library, a huge room with four long and tall rows of bookshelves, a child-sized table, a welcoming desk protecting offices, and a loud loft, where we did our tutoring of the 8th and 9th graders.

Among the books I found "The Postman, or, Other People's Mail". I read it and laughed, remembering how much I always liked that book, and realizing how all the rhymes are out of rhythm. All the letters were gone. That didn't surprise me much.

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