Monday, February 1, 2010

Johannesburg, the beginning.

Okay, so when I started this whole blog thing I knew I wasn't going to be super good at it. Seeing as how it is now two weeks in to my trip and all my friends who have blogs from abroad seem to be updating at least once a week I guess I should probably do the same. So here it goooooes...

We all arrived at the Dulles, Washington D.C. airport on Saturday evening to take the group flight to Johannesburg. Everyone seemed pretty tired from their connecting flights or long drives, but we all chatted for the couple hours until our plane left. It was SO weird to think that we were finally leaving for Africa, something that we had been preparing for for so long. At this point I was still a bit sad from leaving my home loves, but excited for the semester! We got on the long plane ride (17.5 hours to be exact) to get to Johannesburg. OF COURSE, I was sitting in the middle of 4 seats, next to a really old man who I felt so bad nudging when I had to go to the bathroom, and this man who kept attempting to watch movies but his screen wasn't working, and he kept cursing and swearing at the flight attendants. Awkward to say the least. I think I watched about six movies over the course of the trip, because I hate planes so it's hard for me to sleep for fear of crashing or death. Finally, after a connection in Dakar, Senegal, we arrived in Johannesburg for our first travel seminar!

We arrived at the airport in Johannesburg around 5:00pm on Sunday the 17th of January. We were all exhausted, confused about the time, but really excited to finally be in another country. The minute we stepped of the plane, we were all sweating and extremely warm because we were mostly still in our northern United States attire, a.k.a. winter clothing! It was a great bonding experience to say the least. We were picked up from the airport by Urbanus, our politics professor, and Moketze (unsure how to spell his name), our homestay coordinator for South Africa, and a native of Soweto, who drove us around and taught us about the region. We got in to two combis, which are basically large vans. We drove for about a half hour to St. Peter's Place, the guesthouse which would be our residence for our Johannesburg travel seminar. We had dinner immediately, and met Pastor Sharon, the woman who ran the old seminary. We learned a little bit about the place. Archbishop Desmond Tutu did some of his early theological work there, and it was the place where Hugh Masekela first picked up his trumpet! Pretty cool. We then all got our computers and attempted to find a signal for some wireless internet to inform our loved ones at home that we were alive and safe. With all seventeen of us trying to get on at the same time, needless to say it was pretty slow going. Eventually, we just ended up hanging out in the beautiful South African warm night, and calling it a night.

The next day we jumped right in to getting to know the area and doing some things. We woke up early, ate your basic breakfast, and did some brief introductions and a talk on safety and culture. Then, we met a man named Molefi Mataboge, who would become the love of our lives and, as a native of Johannesburg, became another tour guide and great resource. He gave us a brief history of apartheid in South Africa. Then, we traveled to Soweto in Johannesburg. During apartheid, Soweto was an all black township. Now, you can still really see some of the poverty and struggle that its residents are going through. It is full of matchbox homes, animals running loose, little kids everywhere, fast and dangerous drivers, and much more. We drove through Soweto, and eventually arrived at the Hector Peterson Museum. Hector Peterson was a thirteen year old boy who was murdered by white police officers during the Soweto student uprising in 1976. Basically, during 1976 the apartheid government mandated that Afrikaans, the language of the white oppressors, would be the language in which students were taught, even the young black South African students who didn't know Afrikaans. The students at various schools in Soweto decided that they would do a peaceful march and protest through the streets of Soweto, and end at the Orlando Stadium to discuss the new legislation and have debates and forums where people could talk. However, after the began their march, police forces blocked the street and wouldn't allow them to continue. Something happened, and the police officers began shooting the protesters, all of which were children. Many died, including Hector Peterson, the thirteen year old boy who the museum is named after. We got to the museum, which chronicled the struggle of apartheid in the schools, specifically in Soweto, and also had large scale images of the famous photograph of Hector Petereson, being carried through the violent streets by a friend, while his sister ran along side of him in horror. You should check out the photo, because it became an extremely popular image of the horrors of apartheid to the international community, and as a rallying point within South Africa. Then, we were so lucky that we got to meet Hector Peterson's sister, the girl in the image, and she told us what she remembered of that day. She is normally a tour guide at the museum, but was on leave, but we were lucky enough to talk to her. I cannot imagine the strength that it must take for her to walk in to that museum everyday and see the image of her dead brother, and remember that day. That is one of the most striking things that I think I encountered in South Africa - people's willingness to talk about an extremely difficult past. People talk about the deaths of family members, the beatings, the rapes, and arrests, the imprisonment...I don't know how they do it. South Africans are so strong.

After that, we had a brief lunch at the Maponya Mall (basically, the black mall in Johannesburg), where, little did we know, we would spending much of our time over the next few days, ha. Then we left, and Molefi gave us a personal tour of Soweto. We stopped at this beautiful church called Regina Mundi, where black groups used to hold meetings during apartheid. There is a very interesting altar there, where, when attempting to break up a meeting, a white police officer slammed his gun down so hard on the altar that the corner shattered. They still have that altar in the front of the church today. That night, we got back to St. Peter's Place and watched Sarafina, a movie about the Soweto student uprising, and apartheid in the schools.

The next day, we visited a semi-private school called St. Martin's, in Soweto. It is basically a K-12 school. I think collectively it was one of our favorite stops on the whole Johannesburg trip. Our group got broken up so that there were about four of us to each three or four student tour guides. They took us around from classroom to classroom and we introduced ourselves to the classes, and they got to ask us any questions that they wanted. They asked questions from "when was the White House built" (which embarrassingly, no one in my group knew!), to "do you see any potential in our school?" I got to talk closely with one of our tour guides, who was graduating this year. We talked about a range of things, but two things stuck out to me. One was our discussion about the World Cup, which is coming to South Africa during June and July of 2010. I asked him if he was excited about it and he said that he wasn't really. This wasn't an answer that I expected, so I asked more. He said that he wasn't really excited about it because for one thing, he won't be able to afford to go to any of the games, and neither will most South Africans. Another thing was that during the World Cup, a bunch of the schools in the areas where games are happening get closed down for the duration. Therefore, his school was going to get shut down for about six weeks during his finals period and during the final days of his career there. I hadn't known that these things were happening, and I had never thought about the former much. The second thing that we got to talking about were school uniforms. I asked him if he was excited about graduating and moving on the his next school, and he said yes, but that he was going to miss the school uniforms. Again, this was not something that I expected, but he explained to me why he liked school uniforms. He said that in Soweto, people come from really different backgrounds and social classes. Some students don't have shoes, others don't have changes of clothing, while others wear Nikes and Adidas all day. School uniforms act as an equalizer for students of different wealths. I had never really thought of uniforms in that respect, but seen them as a hindrance. Needless to say, I learned a lot from those kids!

We then left the school, much to our disappointment. We had lunch and then left to go to downtown Johannesburg, to the Khulumani Support Group. This group is a collection of about four people who are attempting to deal with the unfinished business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC was a series of hearings during the post-apartheid period, where perpetrators could apply for amnesty for the atrocities committed, and victims and victims families were given an opportunity to voice their stories to the public. However, the TRC did not really get to all of the victims, and the Khulumani group was hoping to reach those whose voices had not been heard. They search out people who haven't gotten to tell their stories and listen to them. They also allow them to register with the group so that if they ever need support, they can call the group for help. I think this group brings up some interesting questions and issues surrounding the TRC, as well as historical memory (D. Gordon!). We then traveled back to our house to listen to an economist talk about the economy in South Africa in the post-apartheid period. I was actually falling asleep a little at this point and couldn't much concentrate on the speaker, which was unfortunate because he seemed interesting! That night, we had dinner at Robbie's Place, a DELICIOUS bed and breakfast in Soweto. It was sooo good. It was my first experience with pop, a white porridge type thing that Southern African people use to wipe up the remnants of meat and sauce at the end of a meal. We had chakkalaka, a really good sweet potato and carrot and bean thing, great meat of all kinds, awesome much food. We were so full at the end. I also got to have Windhoek Lager for the first time, which is the beer that is made in Windhoek, Namibia, where we are living for a majority of the time. It's pretty good too! That night we left and went back to the guest house and hung out for the night there.

The next day, we went to the Apartheid Museum. This was a really interesting museum chronicling the experience of apartheid in South Africa. Unfortunately we didn't get much time there, but the time we did get was fascinating and sad. When you enter the museum, you get a card saying that you are either white or non-white. You then enter whichever door corresponds to that card. I had the non-white card, so that was the path that I followed in the beginning. You enter and there are images of the passbooks that blacks were required to carry in order to be in designated white areas. Then, you go through the museum and learn about the history of apartheid, the laws that were enforced, the big events in its history, the major figures, etc. There was also a wonderful exhibition on Nelson Mandela going on while we were there, with his original journals, some letters, clothing, etc.

Later that afternoon we met with a woman from the ANC who told us about what the ANC is doing now, and what it was like to be a woman in the organization. Later that night, we went our to the Market Theater in Johannesburg, where we got to see HUGH MASEKELA. IN REALY LIFE. He was in the show we saw!!! It was INSANITY. Hugh Masekela is a really famous trumpet player from South Africa, who was exiled during apartheid and now is back, performing. The show that he was in was about migration, and the theme of the train in black men and women's lives during apartheid. For example, because blacks and whites and coloureds and Indians were forced to live in separate areas and many blacks worked in white areas, they were forced to carry passbooks which proved that they were allowed to be in the white areas. However, only the person who was working was allowed a pass, so they often had to leave their families behind, take the train in the white area, and not see their families for some time. These trains were horrible images for blacks, both leaving their families, and those who were left behind. Although much of the play was in Zulu, the music was beautiful and the play interesting.

The next day we had a few speakers in the morning, and then in the afternoon were rained in, so went back to the mall. That night, we watched Amandla!, a movie about music in the resistance movement.

The next day, we heard a few more speakers and then went to the Bruma Market, an awesome outdoor market with lots of crafts and little stands. We were given money for lunch, and time to walk around and spend lots o money. In these stands, the sellers are extremely aggressive and you have to bargain with them constantly to get them down to a good price. For those of you who know me, imagine me trying to haggle someone in to lowering their prices? I am so bad at it, ha. By the end, I resorted to pretending to leave over and over until they lowered the price to one that I want. It actually worked pretty well. I ended up buying this beautiful, small canvas of a woman drumming. I absolutely loved the large, colorful bell pants that the drummer was wearing, as well as the image of the drum. I have actually been good this trip at not buying lots of things for myself! Basically I have resorted to buying things for my wall - that canvas, and a Mandela poster from the Apartheid Museum. I have even bought a few other people gifts already! You would all be proud.

After the market, we had a tour of downtown Johannesburg with Molefi. We got to see some of the interesting buildings, for example, the building where people had to register their color in order to work, find out where they needed to live, and to collect their passbooks. We got to see a museum of the mines where black men used to come in and work, and some other sites as well.

That pretty much wrapped up our tenure at St. Peter's Place in Johannesburg. Next thing up was our homestays!

(PS If you want to look at pictures go to Facebook. Uploading them here takes too long with my internet service!)

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