Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Happy Days!

Saturday I went skydiving. It was unbelievable. It's something I've always wanted to do and I figured where better than South Africa? It was the most amazing thing I thing I've ever done. The adrenaline rush was unreal. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I did it tandem and my instructor was crazy. After everything he said he smiled with his thumbs up and said, "happy days!" I got a DVD of me doing the training, the flight and the jump and the whole thing is filled with lots of thumbs up and "happy days!"

Friday Grace and I were back at Nyaluza at the request of Sanele. We helped with the photo project that Jason's doing. I interviewed the kids on paper, while Grace interviewed them on film. Jason posted the interviews I did online here. The kids told me some really incredible stuff. The assignment from Jason was for them to read to me a passage from their journal. The idea comes from Freedom Writers. These kids wrote about some really powerful issues, I encourage everyone to read them. Also, it will give you a good feel for the amount of English these kids know in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12. It's astonishing.

After Nyaluza we walked through the township with Jason and some students to Eluxolweni, the shelter for street children. Most of the kids were playing soccer in a field across the street, so Grace and I got a little bit of breathing room before all of the kids came back. I got to speak with Bramwell, one of our favorite boys, for awhile. He's 16 and very funny. He was wearing a T-shirt with drawings on the back. I asked him if he had done these drawings, as they were very good and excitedly he told me yes and offered to show me more. Bramwell and I sat on the stoop while he showed me his inspiration book and drawings. We agreed that next time we're up there (this Friday), he'll draw a portrait of me and I'll draw one of him. I also promised to bring him nice drawing paper and color to use. I'm excited to see what comes of this.

We spent a little time at Eluxolweni with the kids. They were fun, funny and adorable as usual. Once it was getting late Jason selected a few to walk us back safely. The seven of us began the trek to Jason's part of town. Along the way they sang to us. They have the most beautiful voices. It was very nice. Bramwell joined us and he joked with Jason about how heavy is bag was (the boys help Jason carry his bags home since they are full of very valuable things. i.e iPod, laptop, camera, etc.). Bramwell had me cracking up. We made a stop at the BP for Jason to use the ATM and as we stood outside we talked to the boys about life in South Africa. Bramwell admitted to hating white people, a theme for the day. Again I was ashamed, although he does not consider us to be the same as the whites he hates because we're American. I was ashamed of the way these kids have been treated and the things they have witnessed that lead to them hating an entire race.

Once we arrived at Jason's place he had the boys walk us the rest of the way to campus so we could get used to being around them and build up some trust since Jason is leaving in a few weeks. We walked past one of the upper class, local prep schools. The kids stared at us as we sauntered past joking, singing and dancing. I was so proud to be with these kids, while the children on the other side of the fence were probably appalled. By the end of our walk, though, I found out first hand that it's not only whites that don't want racial interaction, but blacks are accusing toward their own race.

We were coming near campus when we all noticed an older black man following us closely. He began speaking to two of the boys that we a little further behind than Grace and me. I was holding the hand of the youngest boy and began holding tighter and walking faster. This was the only time thus far that I've actually been frightened in South Africa. After an exchange in Xhosa Grace and I demanded to know what it was that this man was saying to the boys. The boys then explained that the man wanted to know if the boys were robbing us, when they answered no he accused them of begging from us, or bothering us. I felt a rush of emotion. I was scared, embarrassed for the boys, ashamed of the current state of mind in South Africa. I couldn't believe that a black man would hold the same ignorant mindset of many white South Africans. Any time a group of black boys are with white people they have to be begging or committing a crime. What really perplexed me was that I was holding one of their hands! Why would I hold someone's hand if they were trying to steal from me?! Unfortunately this is all a shocking reality of life in South Africa. One of the Nyaluza kids that Grace interviewed admitted to the camera that "apartheid isn't over." This is something that any outsider can see instantly, but many of the kids that I interviewed didn't have that kind of insight. They are convinced that people here have equal rights. You can walk down High Street any day of the week and see the inequality.

Saturday morning we got to witness the extreme differences in the lives of whites and blacks. A taxi bus picked up four of the WAC kids from the beauty of Rhodes and we drove a few miles up the hill toward the Township. Although Grace and I have seen parts of the township already we got to see a lot more. We drove around and got to see different landmarks and a few different areas of the township. The township itself is sprawling. I was surprised about how big it is. When I was flying above Grahamstown getting ready to jump out, I noticed this, too. The township could easily be double the size of the rest of Grahamstown. We picked up a township resident and he drove with us and showed us somethings like his gym, his schools and his church. He seemed proud of where he lives. He seemed most proud when we got to tour his house. He lives in a self-built mud hut behind his sister who kicked him out for having too much ambition. It was a lovely one room house. He had his cats, his bed and his computer - all I would need. He made it himself, literally out of mud. He was very humbled by our compliments. This was the first township house I have visited.

Yesterday I had an art history field trip to Hamburg, South Africa, a small coastal village about 2 hours away. All 50 of us piled onto the AC-less-coach-bus in the 111 degree heat. Luckily I was able to sleep both ways, so it wasn't too bad. We went to Hamburg to see a cross-stitching project that has been started in Hamburg to help alleviate poverty in the area. Women get paid to stitch for the foundation and then the items are sold. Some huge projects are commissioned up to 100 people might work on it. Currently an altar piece they did is on display at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. That was exciting to hear about. The organization also does a lot to help with HIV/AIDS and there is a clinic in Hamburg that is decorated with wonderful mosaics made by the artists. The women were very sweet and their work was beautiful, but with the heat and being so close to the sea we couldn't help but go to the beach. We all were shuttled down the the beach in cars and we treated with lunch on the beach. It was lovely. Unfortunately I was unaware of the beach plan and wasn't wearing or carrying an adequate amount of sunscreen so I now have a sunglass burn on my face. It's not too bad though, although I do kind of look like an idiot. It was a really nice field trip and nice to get out of Grahamstown for a little and see more of South Africa.

We have our Easter break in 2 weeks so at that point we're going to travel for the entire break (2 weeks). I think we're taking the Garden Route to Cape Town from Port Elizabeth on the Baz Bus. It should be interesting, but I'm really looking forward to it. I am not, however, looking forward to all of the work I have to do before then. It's hard to remember that I'm here for school and not for all of the other stuff I want to do. Not even going to the bars, but volunteering even. I'd rather hang out with those wonderful boys from Eluxolweni than do my work any day. Unfortunately, you can't factor volunteer hours into a GPA, so I'll still have to do some work!