Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's a Small World After All

As I sit and stare at the cold white world outside my window (it was a stiflingly 38 degrees and sunny when I left East London and I landed to -24 with windchill in Winnipeg), there is so much that I will miss and reminisce about and really the only person who will know what I am feeling and will understand is me.  Because, yes, I learned a lot from the work I did and the organizations I became part of, but the internship became so much more than that.  How do you explain what felt like a lifetime of meeting people and forming relationships, travelling and learning about a country and its history, professional lessons, and personal growth?

I boarded the Canada-bound plane from South Africa and knew that I had an experience that few people in the world will ever have.  I can confidently say that I journeyed through much of the Eastern Cape Province and took full advantage of my ability to travel and learn.  No, I didn’t see Johannesburg or Krueger National Park, but I swam in Coffee Bay, hiked to Hole in the Wall, almost broke my knee in Qunu, got chased by elephants in Addo, picked up hitchhikers in Peddie, sang Oh Canada on a bus to Hogsback, got stranded in Mthatha, and sat on Sarah's lap in a Chico from Nxarhuni, just to name a few things.  I will have nothing but incredible and warm memories of speeding down the N2 without a seatbelt, whipping past Butterworth and Idutwya with a roasted mealie and Red Grapetiser in my hand, laughing at Umhlobo.  Maybe it was because the Eastern Cape was the first place I saw in South Africa, but there is something about the province that got in my blood and I was always happy to get back in its borders. 

I astonished people with my ability to speak Xhosa and it’s incredible how telling a group of women that "I don’t want to leave South Africa and need a husband. Do any of you have sons?" can win you friends and a whole bunch of new mamas!  I’m proud that I can strip a t-bone steak or chicken thigh bare, I made umngqusho and umvubo, and while I will never put in as much salt as some may like, I can cook a pot of pumpkin or turn a bag of tough beef bones into a tender stew.  I understand the subtleties of hailing a share taxi to town and can even collect other passengers' fares.  I still can't really dance or sing, but I feel much more comfortable with my body and now quite frankly, I don't care about what other people think.  I appreciated the dance lessons and chiming in to the 4 part harmony on songs I learned--I didn't mind being a source of amusement because at least I was trying and I even got to like some Xhosa house music. 

I had the privilege and luxury to see parts of the country that many of the people we met have never seen and may never get the chance to.  And it’s difficult because I see the huge mansions on the Indian Ocean and the brightly painted rondavels and livestock that dot the green hillsides with maize fields blowing in the wind and it looks so idyllic.  But we know that part of why this province is so fascinating is because of the huge inequalities that exist and the fragile tension that feels so close to the surface. To be a young Canadian immersed in a world where the colour of your skin is the first thing that people see is an experience that I will hold on to forever, but will not miss.  The novelty of being a blonde celebrity in an Idutwya Spar grocery store can wear out quickly...
Living here has forced me to more deeply analyze what exactly is Canadian culture; it is not one where I can cook one food or wear one dress or sing one song.  There is such a strong and vital connection in being Xhosa and I could spend the rest of my life trying to understand it all and still fail.  Through working and living here, my beliefs are strengthened that the more you interact with all kinds of people, the more you realize that we are all human beings with the same vulnerabilities and the same wishes.  But that we also are shaped by our histories and our experiences and that often dictates our beliefs and behaviours.
I’m expecting a period of mourning because I am the only person who will know how much changed for the girl who got on the plane in September.  I will be content if I can continue to live on the outside--dance and sing with true confidence and abandon, express what I'm feeling or thinking without trying to fit it in a box, be grateful for the opportunities I have, ardently pursue what I want and need, and share my love for the people around me.  And at the end of all this, what you remember are the people. Those who invited me into their homes, taught me their language, fed me, included
me in their important work, were proud of their country and heritage, showed me that a township is filled with life and happiness and hope, laughed at me, loved me, begged me to stay or wanted to jump in my suitcase! 

There is no perfect place on this planet and you realize there are things you love and hate about anywhere, but I've discovered that it is a small world after all and that this modern marvel called an airplane means that I don't have to say goodbye to the Eastern Cape or my friends for good!  There's no reason why I have to leave behind anything that I've learned--I'm excited to say that in my "life suitcase" (which is seeing more and more of the world), I have packed a lot of lessons from South African life that will stay with me.  Just as important is that I have left parts of me behind that I packed in September and I don't need to carry around anymore. 

I would like to thank Niagara College for selecting and supporting me, my family and friends and blog readers throughout the world, the friends and colleagues in East London and Mthatha who I won't forget, Jason, Sarah, and everyone else who loved me and changed my life in South Africa!
Ndiyakuthanda & Ndizakukhumbula

Abeke babonana bayakuphinda babonane!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Faces in the Crowd

Nomveliso working hard
and teaching me Xhosa swear words

6th Annual CRD conference

Professor and Mrs. Bello with
Usman in Mthatha


Luthando and Lumka

The whole group at Qunu

Artwell from the Eastern Cape NGO Coalition
and new proud papa!

Canadian and South African Solidarity

Lwandile from IT-he will miss his big eyed mlungu
and stupid computer questions

Chiselhurt campus

Ms. Jordan--an amazing mentor and host
 on our last night in South Africa
One of many shots in our photo shoot
(on Lumka's new camera!!)

The Beautiful Zimasa from IT

Mawetu from the Centre for HIV/AIDS

A common pose

The Fabulous Mandisa

Team CHA Interns

The General

Mongezi, driver extraordinnaire!
Siyabonga, the honourary Canadian
thanks for the shirt, Comrade, amandla!
Aunty Canada and my Xhosa teacher
Classy Group Leaders
 WSU Counselling
Mama Ghana and Sis Nomvula
Some outstanding Peer Helpers

Team Canada

Ms. Lushie

Youth Driven Generation in Hogsback

Sarah and I showing Victor some moves

Bam cooking in our kitchen

Getting ready for our spotlight

Our family portrait and airport farewell

These Are a Few of my Favourite Things and Lessons Learned

These are a Few of My Favourite Things
-buying airtime and having the freedom of no cellphone contract
-Tennis coconut biscuits
-Cadbury cashew and coconut chocolate bars
-Mrs. Balls chutney chips
-chicken breasts as a light afternoon snack
-using the bread slicer on fresh Spar white bread
-holding hands and walking down the street
-eating umngqushu with a spoon and meat with my hands
-speeding along the N2
-student bus rides
-spontaneous 4 part harmony
-roasted corn from the side of the road
-Shell Ultra City petrol stations
-riding a Kombi to town and collecting taxi fare
-Coke in a glass bottle
-homegrown soap operas
-giant bunches of spinach
-Red Grapetiser
-being on the workshop circuit
-livestock in the middle of the highway or university campus
-Rooibos tea
-the term "runny stomach" and how common and natural it is to discuss
Lessons Learned
-seatbelts, speed limits, and passing lanes are optional and quite frankly, irrelevant
-workshops need 3 hot meals and 2 teas
-hand signals for Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates
-the difference between "just now" and "now now"
-cricket will never make sense
-KFC can taste like real food and is the true rainbow nation (evident by the security guards on payday)
-how to interpret "yho", "yebo", "aybo", "shame", and "is it?"
-loud voices and yelling do not mean people are fighting
-a bowl of meat can be a meal
-South African patience and how not to be frustrated when your transport shows up 5 hours late
-I can pull over any vehicle anywhere if I have to pee
-making friends with the car guards in your neighbourhood is smart
-enjoyment of house music
-what constitutes a large lobola
-portability is an attractive trait in a woman
-it is not rude or unprofessional to answer your cellphone in a meeting or movie theatre or any other social gathering; in fact, it is a bigger deal to turn your cellphone off
-everyone loves a WSU strike
-when you decide to buy the premium insurance on your car rental, you are a grown up
-water and high heat are the enemies when cooking stewing meat and root vegetables
-when you invite someone to your house, they will bring along their girlfriend, cousins, and a driver
-certain activities are attractive in certain people (eating meat, using toothpicks, peeing on the side of the road)
-exterminating ants is an uphill battle
-pretending you don't have bed bugs is the best way to get rid of them
-Canadian sarcasm and subtlety do not translate nor does Xhosa humour
-speaking a little Xhosa is a great party trick
-how to cross the street (pedestrians have no rights, except as target practice for drivers)

There's much more to add to both lists, but it's amazing what you love and learn in 6 months!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hot Meat on the Wrong Side of the Tracks

Lumka was determined to show me “the other side of town”—no taxis allowed—only our feet could be used on our journey to Oriental Plaza and Milner Estate in the North End where she lives.  Sometimes I think my oblivion is what keeps me safe because I didn’t really notice anything that screamed “the wrong side of the tracks” except that it was lively with people and activity.  Sure, there were abandoned storefronts and some rougher looking characters, but it was a nice walk to a new place with a friend on a sunny Saturday.    
On our way to her house, we passed by a tshisa nyama shop.  I had seen the signs in town (literal translation is “hot meat”) but I had always assumed there were butcher shops.  She grabbed my hand and pulled me in as she explained that you picked your meat from the case and braiied it right there on the indoor flattop grills. We decided to take some of the customers up on their exuberant invites as I had clearly never been before and Lumka hadn’t had anyone to go with in East London.  When we entered the hectic smoky shop, there were the usual curious stares, but we picked out our 30 Rand of lamb chops, seasoned them with braai spice, and waited for some space at the communal braais.   

With her new camera in hand, Lumka had a mini photo shoot as other customers stared at the two of us.  We were both so giddy and excited and neither could stop laughing even when Lumka splattered us both with sizzling mutton grease!  With our meat still crackling on the white butcher paper, Lumka bought a ½ loaf of soft and thick white bread and we headed outside to sit on a shopfront stoop to enjoy our hard work.  Our giant meatfeast was interrupted by prolonged stares, prying questions about the white girl in the North End, and more than a few marriage proposals.  I don’t know why as we both were sweating from standing over the grill and smelled like sheep fat.  But the meat was soft and tender, framed by crispy fat and all to be soaked up by thick white bread.

Lumka explained that the neighbourhood knew I wasn’t from there because you would never see a black and white woman sitting on a stoop braaing and eating meat together and laughing and holding hands the way we were.  We dubbed ourselves the “Top Deck” (which we don’t have in Canada) but it’s a chocolate bar with a layer of white chocolate over dark chocolate.  At no point did I feel unsafe or uneasy, but Lumka was much more aware of the looks we received and some of the funny comments made which only reinforces that I am still extremely naive in the messages your skin colour sends.    
I love the whole tshisa nyama idea and they make it so easy—plus the pure quantity and quality of animal in that butcher’s case was amazing.  It tasted that much better because we had so much fun picking out our meat and then seasoning and cooking it ourselves.  Plus I think the men around us were impressed by how much of the inyama we could put back!  The Saturday afternoon was totally unexpected and it hadn’t even made my “things to eat list” but it’s usually the unplanned days that turn out the best!  On my last Saturday in the country, it is certainly a memory I will never forget.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Just had to include the last Coke in a glass bottle experience in South Africa--courtesy of a spaza in town on a steamy summer day.
Also pictured is the final visit to KFC--it's truly the rainbow nation.  Skin colour is irrelevant when it comes to delicious fried chicken and it tastes nothing like fast food.  I splurged and got the meal with papa and gravy.  I've never been to a KFC where pap is on the menu!