The scene below is an ordinary everyday moment during a trip to work on the train, but we think it is such an interesting image as it reminds us how diverse and multicultural the city of Cape Town is. Viva our Rainbow Nation :)
When I told my friends about my plans to leave our little tin box of a country for South Africa, they imagined me riding to work on an elephant, communicating via drum sounds and smoke signs, wearing a leopard skin and hunting and gathering for food. Yes, we Dutch are a bit shallow, but also quite trained in the exaggeration. Unfortunately after 1 year and 3 months of stories, some of them still haven’t made up their minds. Guess it was the right time for me to make some new friends.
Although Cape Town is on the continent, people would still refer it to the ‘least’ African place. On the one hand that is weird, simply because it’s a part of Africa, but also understandable, because it’s probably the most westernized place here. But don’t be fooled by the exterior though, because as a foreigner there’s lots of integration to be done.
Integrating in a culture sounds cool, but what culture to integrate in? Culture wise, this place is hectic. I’ve been trying to integrate, and unintentionally took some cultural snippets from everyone. My accent is a mix of everything, I’m answering questions with “Yebo!“, ending sentences with “hey”, driving people mad with “izzit?” and confirm statements with humming “hmm” (apparently Sotho for yes). My patience’s been tested a million times, and whilst visiting my home country I noticed how well I’ve become slow. Riding minibuses is literally ‘integrating ‘in this society. Nothing lovelier than having a jiggly upper arm sneak into your armpit whilst enjoying the smell of your neighbors’ KFC at 8.15 in the morning. Sports wise, there are difficult decisions to make here as well. You can either enjoy watching a group of scarily oversized men smashing into each other (and occasionally kicking a ball) or watch a three day long match of 2 active men (and a lot of inactive just-standing-in-the-field others) with mathematical equation scores of 279 (63) 19 vs 204 (45) 12 and beards. Ok, can someone please explain me the rules of cricket?
Still after a long period of time, I tend to show up everywhere on time. Dinner reservations are the funniest, starting off with the surprised look of the waiter when you actually show up at the reserved time. Following is the semi-awkward I’m-not-alone-at-this-restaurant-but-actually-waiting-for-someone-at-the-bar moment. If 45 minutes have passed, you’ll know that people have either concluded you have been stood up, or you are actually enjoy having a Fanta orange at a restaurant bar, memorizing the menu and going through old text messages on your phone. Or is that just me?
Step by step however I’m learning and improving on understanding the way of living in this place. Talking to other people from other cultures helps you gain perspective on so much. I am incredibly jealous of the dedication that South African people have to their families, their respect for elderly, and for their interest and hospitality. Beneath all their trouble and occasional lack of efficiency, South Africans still know how to live life, and ‘work to live’ instead of ‘live to work’. This country also provides an amazing amount of space, tranquility, and obviously a beautiful scenery and climate. Going to work in the sunshine, waking up to bird orchestra’s in Kwazulu-Natal’s rainforests, swimming in the warm Indian ocean near the Wild Coast, driving through the vast scenery of the Karoo, and drinking sundowners at a Goldfish concert, interacting with all these different people along the way, I still can’t believe this is all one country. To be honest, I wouldn’t change it for anything else.
I came across this article on Twitter, and I think it's so beautifully written. As a proud South African, I wanted to share this so that the often 'unseen' beauty of South African and its people can be heard :)
It is written by Jonathan Jansen - a professor of education at the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg.
"My South Africa is the working-class man who called from the airport to return my wallet without a cent missing. It is the white woman who put all three of her domestic worker's children through the same school that her own child attended. It is the politician in one of our rural provinces, Mpumalanga, who returned his salary to the government as a statement that standing with the poor had to be more than just a few words. It is the teacher who worked after school hours every day during the public sector strike to ensure her children did not miss out on learning.
My South Africa is the first-year university student in Bloemfontein who took all the gifts she received for her birthday and donated them - with the permission of the givers - to a home for children in an Aids village. It is the people hurt by racist acts who find it in their hearts to publicly forgive the perpetrators. It is the group of farmers in Paarl who started a top school for the children of farm workers to ensure they got the best education possible while their parents toiled in the vineyards. It is the farmer's wife in Viljoenskroon who created an education and training centre for the wives of farm labourers so that they could gain the advanced skills required to operate accredited early-learning centers for their own and other children.
My South Africa is that little white boy at a decent school in the Eastern Cape who decided to teach the black boys in the community to play cricket, and to fit them all out with the togs required to play the gentelman's game. It is the two black street children in Durban, caught on camera, who put their spare change in the condensed milk tin of a white beggar. It is the Johannesburg pastor who opened up his church as a place of shelter for illegal immigrants. It is the Afrikaner woman from Boksburg who nailed the white guy who shot and killed one of South Africa's greatest freedom fighters outside hishome.
My South Africa is the man who went to prison for 27 years and came out embracing his captors, thereby releasing them from their impending misery. It is the activist priest who dived into a crowd of angry people to rescue a woman from a sure necklacing. It is the former police chief who fell to his knees to wash the feet of Mamelodi women whose sons disappeared on his watch; it is the women who forgave him in his act of contrition. It is the Cape Town university psychologist who interviewed the 'Prime Evil' in Pretoria Centre and came away with emotional attachment, even empathy, for the human being who did such terrible things under apartheid.
My South Africa is the quiet, dignified, determined township mother from Langa who straightened her back during the years of oppression and decided that her struggle was to raise decent children, insist that they learn, and ensure that they not succumb to bitterness or defeat in the face of overwhelming odds. It is the two young girls who walked 20kms to school everyday, even through their matric years, and passed well enough to be accepted into university studies. It is the student who takes on three jobs, during the evenings and on weekends, to find ways of paying for his university studies.
My South Africa is the teenager in a wheelchair who works in townships serving the poor. It is the pastor of a Kenilworth church whose parishioners were slaughtered, who visits the killers and asks them for forgiveness because he was a beneficiary of apartheid. It is the politician who resigns on conscientious grounds, giving up status and salary because of an objection in principle to a social policy of her political party. It is the young lawman who decides to dedicate his life to representing those who cannot afford to pay for legal services.
My South Africa is not the angry, corrupt, violent country whose deeds fill the front pages of newspapers and the lead-in items on the seven-o'-clock news. It is the South Africa often unseen, yet powered by the remarkable lives of ordinary people. It is the citizens who keep the country together through millions of acts of daily kindness."
This past Sunday (6 March), volunteers enjoyed the vibe of the Kirstenbosch summer concerts, which are held every Sunday during summer in the most beautiful botanical garden in Cape Town. Each week, an up-and-coming or established South African musical performance thrills the crowds, while they picnic, taste some wines and enjoy the beautiful setting of the gardens. This was our biggest social to date, with almost all our current 68 volunteers joining in on the fun!
We even bumped into past volunteers, who’d returned to magnificent Cape Town!
Apart from the amazing talents of the band, Goldfish, who had the crowds dancing in record time, we were entertained by Lily, who had a dance-off with two young spectators!
Top right Fiona Schmidt (German, 1 month, human rights) and Suzanne Schmidt (Danish, 3 months, animal care)
Middle Right Ornella Fily (French, 3 months, journalism)
Bottom Right Linnea Llindemann (Swedish, 2 months, surfing), Maja Larsen (Danish, 3 months, journalism), Teresa van Roey (Belgian, 4 months, teaching and building), Fiona Schmidt (German, 1 month, human rights) and Suzanne Schmidt (Danish, 3 months, animal care), Kaustubhi Sharma (UK, 2 months, journalism), Ornella Fily (French, 3 months, journalism).
Top Left – Four of our human rights volunteers: Sarah Maguire (Northern Ireland, 3 months), Mitali Biswas (USA, 1 month), Mignonne Fowlis (UK, 2 months), Anjali Kamte (Australia, 4 months).
Top Right - Ryoko Tanimoto (Japanese, 6 weeks, care), Michele Simonsen (Danish, 3 months, occupational therapy).
Bottom Right – Meschak Bugaye, volunteer coordinator
Top Left - Hugo Woldendorp (Dutch, 2 months, teaching), Lily van den Broecke (British, 3 months, human rights), Jennifer Brown (British, 2 months, human rights and journalism), George Wakeford (British, 3 months, surfing and business), Max Ehlebracht (German, 4 months, business and surfing)
Bottom Right - Lily van den Broecke (British, 3 months, human rights), in the dance off.
Staff members Olga Kousi (volunteer coordinator), Tiffani Wesley (volunteer supervisor for the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office), Emma Graham (Social/Media manager), Gisela Madden (assistant director), Meschak Bugaye (volunteer coordinator), Maria Mulindi (Legal Services Coordinator for the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office)
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