Week One – Smoke Will Rise.

I had an oversized suitcase in each hand and a book bag over my shoulder as I walked out the front door of Cape Town International airport.  A taxi sat at the curb waiting to give me my first look at South Africa from the ground.  The sharp rays of the sun quickly reminded me that I brought my sunglasses along.  I paused, reached into my bag and pulled them out.  After putting on the glasses it was time to roll.

The sights from the back of the taxi were incredible.  The mountains and the trees were beautiful, but the first time I saw the townships from the highway I was at a loss.  A township is a city of predominantly blacks, formerly officially designated for blacks under the apartheid legislation.  The townships looked like all the pictures I had seen, but seeing them in person was different. I have read the history of South Africa and I understand the reasons there are so many people living in poverty, but at the same time I don’t understand it at all.  The questions began to turn in my head. How can South Africa afford a new stadium for the World Cup, but not a place for their citizens to live? How long is it going to take before the legislation created after the apartheid regime becomes a reality for the people of South Africa?  Is this freedom?  What page was the history of South Africa on in my middle school and high school textbooks?  The taxi pulls up to my house with running hot water, bathrooms, two kitchens, and wireless internet.

I find myself constantly looking around in awe.  The mountain in my front yard will never grow old. There is such a diversity of races and cultures.  It is a fantastic environment to learn about others and myself.  I have yet to begin my service learning and classes at The University of Western Cape, but the box that I have been trying to cut through while living in The States will soon be burning to the ground. I’m going to trade in my axe for a single match.  Then with the freedom that comes from knowledge I will step from the ashes and experience life through the lives of South Africans.

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~ by Austin on January 22, 2010.

One Response to “Week One – Smoke Will Rise.”

  1. I’m sitting on the bridge facing the barren mid-period campus and reminiscing in the sun bathed days of Cape Town. And Table Mountain, forever reigning over her rainbow city. It’s so bitter-sweet to have my loves explained so vividly.

    Smoke. What a brilliant metaphor. Fire and smoke are perpetual presences in the Cape Flats. They are as ever present as poverty in the townships; both representative of great resilience and beauty, while connoting a darker history (necklacing, and tire burnings) and a constant threat. The smoke which permeates the air is the byproduct of braai markets, and family hearths. Working in Gugs you’ll soon discover the billowing plumes of Mizoli’s and street side butcheries. But it is also the gathering place of prostitutes on the roads between the townships. Beneath the Acacia they stand scantily clad around burning tin barrels waiting for the illumination of headlights. And a constant threat to informal structures built of plata and plywood is always hungry flames. They are reminders of political demonstrations and uprisings, and of intolerable cruelty. So burn that box of yours, and you will experience something, though not distinctly certainly definitively, South African.

    As far as the informal settlements along the N2 are concerned, what’s even more disconcerting is that there is money available to improve the living conditions, it’s just not being properly allocated. But what can you expect from a president that announced to his people that he wasn’t going to get AIDS from sleeping with his mistresses because he took a cold shower afterwards. What is even more frustrating is the planned changes before the 2010 games. Most of the informal housing you see along the freeway now is planned to be bulldozed and replaced by more aesthetically pleasing concrete structures. Effectively displacing hundreds of people, and providing structurally inferior alternatives to them. Poor quality concrete + sandy soil + no insolation + excessively small = mold, discomfort, dehumanization and crumbling foundations. … *stepping off soapbox now*…

    I’m so excited for your Austin! Please keep writing, learning and being ever present.
    Thanda.

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