Greetings from South Africa! It’s only been 6 days since touch town and I’m already feeling at home. Pietermaritzburg’s hilly outskirts, beautiful winter weather and dense green landscape has me reminiscing over life on the Gold Coast. I even went grocery shopping at Woolworth’s the other day! My initial impression was that life won’t be too different here, as most of the same amenities available to me in Canada are accessible. Of course, having had a two week briefing on exercising caution, I’m not about to go grocery shopping at 8pm if I intend to stay alive/well for the next 6 months. That may seem a drastic statement if you’re reading about living in a South African urban city for the first time, but if you’re familiar with the landscape you’re probably nodding in approval. I think one of the bigger challenges I’ll have to face while living here is not getting too comfortable because of the similarities to life in the Global North. Letting your guard down here can cost you; something I’ve heard over and over from people much more experienced than myself.
As mentioned, my first few days were familiar. Today, however, was an unfamiliar day. Today, we drove out to the township where I will be working for the next 6 months. The dissimilarities were unsettling. The fact that I was able to cognitively recognize Australian living in Pietermaritzburg the week leading up to today is an alarming thought. Beholding the topography of the impoverished townships spilling into one another on the outskirts of the city was like zooming in to an optical illusion, and being dumbfounded as a result. What I perceived to be the beautiful rolling hills surrounding the city, similar to the Gold Coast’s scenic hinterland, was in fact proof of the regrettable legacy apartheid has left on this country. The now focused imagery of Pietermaritzburg’s poverty-stricken townships couldn’t be more contrasting to the ecological harmony of the Gold Coast’s landscape .
– MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL –
I know that the longer I am here, the more I will understand about life in the townships. The more I understand, the more successful I can be in working on Ukulapha’s projects which directly affect the township of Slangspruit. As upsetting my first run in with the disparity between rich and poor in this country was, I refuse to be pessimistic or doubting in my time here, especially in my role at Ukulapha. In all honesty, thinking about December makes me anxious, because I already recognize that I’m falling in love with South Africa. A big aspect of why I wanted to do this internship was to connect the missing dots of my African heritage; and although I’m thousands of miles away from Sudan and Egypt, I felt a lightness flying over the continent when my flight left Frankfurt. Over the next 6 months, I fully intend to explore my identity as a child of the continent.
So far, this country has been enchanting. In the one week I’ve been here, I’ve met such wonderful people, and finally being able to contextualize my job after months of uncertainty has been a relief. I wouldn’t say I was culture shocked, instead I would say my mind was playing tricks on me with what I wanted to see. But what I saw was a reminder of the contrast between the rich and poor in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and a frame of reference to everything I’ve read about apartheid. Unfortunately, its repercussions are very real, and it is as bad as it is on print.
I will be posting more on Slangspruit Primary School and Ukulapha in a week or so when I can suss out the clockwork of the two institutions. All I can say now is how thrilled I am to be surrounded by sunshine and children for the next 6 months. Loud, smiling, affectionate, messy, invasive, marvellous children! Until next time, hamba kakhle!