19 January 2010
So I took a break for the day because yesterday was entirely too long for my brain to function properly after it was over. We began at 8 AM at the District Six Museum. District Six was—prior to apartheid—a culturally diverse and bustling area in Cape Town. The Nationalist government’s apartheid policies enforced at the time displaced tons of black people in the 1970s, claiming the area to be for whites only. Apartheid oppressed black South Africans from 1948 until 1994. It was crazy to go to a museum dedicated to an act against humanity that ended only sixteen years ago. The museum was kind of a bummer—everything so far has been strictly fun, so seeing how terrible it was for the majority of the population here so recently was disheartening. Still, I’m glad I was able to learn more about it.
After we left the museum, we went over to Langa Township, the first and oldest township where over 60,000 black people were forced to relocate after District Six was taken over by the government. Today this place is basically the projects of Cape Town, except even worse than the ones I’ve ever seen. We started at a community center where people made their own crafts to sell to tourists or anyone who was willing to buy something. Their work was really impressive—ranging from intricate paintings on pottery to various beads and wire creations. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no cash on me so I wasn’t able to buy anything, but I plan to go back at some point. Apparently every contribution, no matter how little, goes toward helping the community.
After we left the community center, we went to see some of the houses that were built for those who were displaced during apartheid. Each house had about 5-6 rooms where at least three people lived inside each one and were made of unpainted concrete. I was impressed at how well kept their bedrooms were. The bedrooms were small, but they managed to line three beds against the wall lacking the door, having built shelves above them where they kept their belongings. Not a stitch of clothing, even shoes, could be found on the floor. Though the houses were run down and poorly insulated, it was obvious that the inhabitants made the best of their situations. There was one main room in the center of the small houses where there was a wooden bench—likely the place where they all met for meals. Their showers looked worse than those in a prison and they only had one large sink in the center area for dishes.
When we left the projects, we walked to the local elementary school where we listened to a bunch of little kids sing in what I think was Xhosa. They were so cute and wouldn’t leave us alone when they were finished with their performance. They kept jumping on us and giving us hugs and high-fives—it made my heart melt. All they wanted was to be picked up or swung around. After struggling to detach the little ones, we left the school and went to the even poorer area in Langa where people live in one-room shacks with their entire families. They don’t have showers and they share a row of outdoor bathrooms that are only cleaned once each week. There were more little kids running around this area, following us from one place to the next—equally as adorable as the last ones.
After touring Langa Township, we went back to our flats to change into warmer clothes for our ferry trip to Robben Island, the infamous prison where freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela were incarcerated under the apartheid regime. The ferry ride was rocky and when I got off I was pretty close to vomiting, but I managed. We walked over to the buses where we took a vehicular tour of the island. The second half of the tour was spent with an ex-prisoner who showed us the inside of the prisoners’ quarters. Nelson Mandela’s cell still had his blanket, defecation bucket and small table. The conditions these prisoners, who were only peacefully fighting for freedom, were atrocious. On more than one occasion, the torture, either mentally or physically resulted in the death of a prisoner.
By the time the tour was over it was around 5 PM. We were all exhausted from the long day. As we were waiting for our ferry ride back, we noticed a “luxury catamaran” at the dock. Tori, Sabrina and I didn’t even have to discuss whether or not we were going to try to board it—we made a beeline. Some people told us that we shouldn’t but we went anyway. Long story short—the captain told us that we could all fit and all but a mere few of us got on the luxurious boat back to Cape Town. The trip back was a lot faster and much less rocky. It was really windy, but it was still so much nicer than the first ride. When we got home, my roommates and I made a pact to stay in and with some difficultly, we managed to do so despite feeling anti-social.
Today we went to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It was absolutely beautiful as well as massive! We walked through a good bit of it, but we didn’t manage to cover the entire grounds. As far as this trip goes, I think it would be unjust to be the narrator—though pictures could never describe the beauty of this place, they can do so more articulately than myself (AKA visit my facebook page).