I finished my first week of school at UCT and my schedule conflicts are now done as classes were finalized on Friday whether I like them or not! I ended up enrolling for “South Africa in the Twentieth Century,” a history class that focuses on the very recent turmoil that has taken place here in South Africa. I think it should be a very interesting and relevant course as I should have a basic knowledge of what is going on here and why and how they came to be. So far I’ve really enjoyed learning about the history and culture here in South Africa so I thought it would be a great way to expand on what I have already learned… and let’s be honest, I’d say it’s pretty appropriate considering my location.
This weekend was jammed-packed with one-of-a-kind experiences. On Saturday, all of the IES (my study abroad group) students headed to Tambo Village, a local township of 650 homes, where we got to spend the night with a family and see firsthand how one lives within a township. I was paired up with two other students and the three of us were introduced to our Mama, Nomde, for the night. We also stayed with her husband, her daughter Somila (who was sixteen), and her granddaughter Mbeli (from her other daughter who was currently out of town), who just turned three. With just three years under her belt, Mbeli was already speaking four different languages… crazy huh! Our home for the night was actually of much better quality than what I had expected. They didn’t have hot water but they did have in-house plumbing (which meant a bathroom inside!) and all of the standard appliances such as a washing machine (no dryer however), a refrigerator, and even a television… with five channels that were provided for free. We stayed in the children’s room for the night but it was incredibly cold as they didn’t have any source of heat other than blankets, which did little justice. The home consisted of a small family room, a very small kitchen, one bathroom, and two bedrooms. In terms of a car, that was definitely out of the question as they had nowhere near the financial means to afford one and that was pretty much standard for the entire township. Rather, they relied on public transportation of trains and minibuses if they desperately needed. Although the home was small, it was quite cozy and homey—more so in the summer when it wasn’t quite so cold though!
Nomde was an incredibly sweet lady with a lot to share—there were certainly no boundaries for questions and she was willing to talk about anything and everything! She shared with us the history of her township which she moved to in 1997, just after apartheid was overruled. It is very much a community in which everyone knows everyone and they ban together. If someone is in need of food, they will walk over to a neighbor’s house and ask for a food item or if desperate, they will ask for a meal if they are running low on money. They can’t afford insurance of any kind so rather they have a form of their own that the entire community contributes to. For instance, Nomde is in charge of the burial society (as they cannot afford life insurance and the burial society costs all of R100 or just about $13 for life) which provides money for a burial in the local graveyard if someone in the community passes away… and being a very close-knit community, everyone attends the burial. Because there is so little to do in the township and the unemployment rate is very, very high, people are often bored so there is unfortunately a huge problem with drug and alcohol abuse. With this drug and alcohol abuse comes crime which is prevalent within the township. In fact, if a neighbor sees someone breaking into another neighbor’s home, they will take matters into their own hands and literally kill the person… literally. So the crime within Tambo rarely comes from its own citizens but rather from citizens of nearby townships. The taverns or pubs within the township are always crowded as alcohol is cheap and gives one something to do. She even shared with us that her husband is an alcoholic and that she can’t stand his ways but she is unable to divorce him due to her financial situation. She is a homemaker and would be unable to support herself or her family without his help so she is forced to stay with him. Even if she had the financial means to provide for herself, they would simply part rather than divorce as they would be unable to afford an attorney.
She took us on a tour of the township and we stopped in several neighbor’s homes to say hello, stopping unannounced of course, a thing quite common in the community. One of the homes that we stopped in was filled with completely drunk adults, making evident how problematic alcohol abuse really is in townships… although they were so, so happy and excited to see us, it was pretty shocking to see how incoherent these fifty-year-olds or so were at six o’clock at night. We saw many other homes and met a lot of the children who were outside playing, some of which joined us on our walk. I was surprised that they didn’t have any restaurants as there wouldn’t be enough customers to keep one in business due to the poverty within the township. Although there weren’t any restaurants, the taverns were packed… even at six o’clock as people drink no matter the time of day. After our tour we had a traditional meal and talked some more as she shared with us her firsthand stories of life during the apartheid… she was very open and her stories were definitely moving.
In the morning, we got ready for church and said goodbye to our fabulous family that had been so welcoming. We headed just down the road and joined the local congregation for service. The first hour was only music as people praised the Lord through singing and dancing. It was all very upbeat and very modern as they even had a projector displaying the words. It was very “free-style” as some praised standing up while others sat down but everyone joined in on the singing and they definitely looked like they were having fun doing so… they even broke out in cheers when their favorite song came on. One of the songs even had a dance that was quite similar to the Macarena… never thought I would be doing that during a church service! The second half of the service, which actually ended up being close to an hour-and-a-half, was the lesson… which is a very loose term in this sense. In fact, the lesson didn’t consist of any liturgy or readings but rather just a preaching… and today’s lesson was on dating. It was entitled Dating and Relating: how as young people we aught to go about Godly relationships and the process of finding a husband or wife to spend the rest of our life with. He was adamant about this topic and gave the strict rules of dating that came from the church. They included: no dating until you’re twenty, one can only date other Christians, and one should set strict boundaries for themselves. You should also not feel ashamed but rather encouraged if you are forty and still single as you have not fallen for lust… and of course, one must practice abstinence until marriage. All of us were kind of blown away at the strong message as it was pretty similar to the one in Mean Girls… you know, during the health class scene where Coach Carr says, “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die!” So the “lesson” portion of the service didn’t even consist of an offering or communion but rather strict rules on dating… not something I would expect to find at my church back home! And I do realize that STDs are a huge problem here and I’m not sure on the education they receive in school but the rules were pretty black and white… no sex until marriage and no dating until you’re twenty… wowzo!
Afterwards, we headed for lunch at Mzoli’s, which was an experience in itself. Keep in mind that it is Sunday and most people in Africa are actually pretty religious. Well, we arrived to Mzoli’s which was in the neighboring township and people everywhere were drunk… at noon, on Sunday. The restaurant was so packed that we ended up waiting and eating outside. Essentially, the restaurant worked in such a way that you lined up, bought however much raw meat you wanted, and then they would cook it on the braai for you, with their special sauces. Now, I know I have raved about how good braais are here but this one was exceptionally good! It was so crowded that we had to wait about an hour but it was well worth it. Fortunately it was pretty nice out so we all hung around outside and took in the environment which was pretty similar to that of a tailgate. People were everywhere in the streets, walking around with opened alcohol, and I don’t even think the police were totally with it… definitely TIA—This Is Africa. We finally got out meal which was literally a bucket full of meat… and only meat… it was a carnivore’s heaven. We had sausage, chicken, steak, buck, pork, and any other kind of meat imaginable! There were about 25 of us, so you can just imagine the amount of meat that we all consumed—and we were all stuffed by the end of it… oh it was delicious! We were so full to the point that none of us even had dinner!
The rest of the night was filled with homework and preparing for school tomorrow but it was certainly an eye-opening weekend filled with a new family and experiences that I will never forget.
All is well in Africa (and I am still full from all of the delicious food!).