Wednesday, February 27, 2008

First Visit to the Raphael Centre and Blogging Lessons

This morning I had an appointment with the head of the Raphael Centre, Jabu. I thought that we were just going to discuss the logistics of what I am doing there, but on the way out the door I grabbed some supplies, too, just in case. I made the long trek up the hill to the Raphael Centre and spoke with Jabu about my ideas. She is more excited than I am. We talked about doing drawing and painting, leading up to a photography project in late April, early May. Between now and then I will use the other sessions to get the women thinking about art and photography. The photography project will be a sort of photo journal that will illustrate the daily life of someone living with HIV/AIDS in Grahamstown. I want the women to photograph symbols of their life. The best part is that Jabu will be getting me exhibition space at the National Arts Festival here in June/July. This is the most exciting thing I can think of. Grace and I booked our flights especially so that we could attend the festival, as it begins just after school is done. I couldn't be more thrilled about this opportunity.

After speaking with Jabu she thought that I should be introduced to some of the women and we decided once I got down to the room that I would start working with them here and now. I thought I would begin with talking about symbols. I asked the women to draw something that they believed symbolized who they are. Many of the women struggle with English and they asked me to make an example for them to see.

I drew a brain. "I drew a brain," I explained, "I think this symbolizes who I am. I value my education. I work very hard to feed my brain. My brain is why I'm here in South Africa at Rhodes." This helped them understand and they got to work.

The ladies then asked of they could write as well as draw.

"Absolutely," I responded, hoping to encourage them to really put themselves into the work. I couldn't have imagined that I would end up getting the response that I did.

At the end of about 45 minutes of drawing and writing the women began to share their projects. Each woman got up and showed her drawing and explained what it meant. They were all incredible. The common theme was family. Everyone really believe that their family symbolizes who they are. Some women became emotional as they told their tales and you could tell this was the first time they were sharing some of these things with these people that they see everyday.

I have typed up the narratives that the women wrote and posted them on a new blog which you can view here. Each week I will update this with the work from the Raphael Centre. They ladies seemed to be very excited about the work that we did and they asked that we paint next time. That should be easier to photograph, so I should be able to post images next time.

I was really surprised that the majority of the women wrote their stories in English. Even women who did not speak English to me wrote in English on their page. I had a Xhosa translator with me for awhile, but once we all got comfortable together she left and the English-speaking women helped me with translating.

This was an amazing experience. I never thought that our first session would be so successful. The women were very receptive and really used the project as a medium for self-expression. I was so proud. I'm looking forward to next week. We'll be painting and I think we'll talk about family, since it seems to be a big theme in their lives. Apparently there will be about 25 women regularly, so not all of them have told their stories, I hope perhaps a change in media will allow the women who I worked with today to tell more.


Later in the afternoon Jason invited Grace and me to help teach three students from Nyaluza how to make and use blogs. Grace and I were very excited to join. We met Asie and Nopinki, and were excited to again be in the presence of Sanele, an inspiration to both of us (see the entry from last Friday to learn more about Sanele). Grace and I were paired with the girls, I had Pinki and Grace had Asie, while Jason worked with Sanele. We helped them set up an email address, showed them how to send and read email, then helped them set up their blogs. Pinki was very excited to write on her blog and after we finished her first entry and she saw everything published her face lit up. She's 16 years old, but very different from the 16 year old girls I know. She's smart, sweet and reserved. She was very nice to be with. When I told her that her blog could be seen all over the world she couldn't believe it. I have put links to the three blogs on the right. They each have very little written, but hopefully soon they will be updating more and more. I am looking forward to reading more about these kids. All three of them are truly inspirational and I think that I have a lot to learn from the kids in this area, especially those in the Township.

On Friday Grace and I will be returning to Nyaluza and Eluxloweni. Sanele asked us to come back to Nyaluza on Friday and we couldn't refuse. He is so sweet and charming. An entry on his blog is titled, "Charmer Boy," and he is just that! I'm glad that we've already been able to make an impression on the kids that we've met and I wish there was a way for them to know the effect that they've already had on me. This is going to be a wonderful few months full of excitement, change and realization. I can't wait to see what else South Africa has to offer and what I can give back.