I hope everyone is still doing well since I last heard! I am doing well and having a wonderful time. Our research is going very well and we’re ahead of schedule compared to last year’s group out here, which is allowing us to do some touristy things like visiting the UShaka Marine World in town and going to other parts of South Africa (Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, and possibly Johannesburg for an AIDS benefit concert). We leave for PE on Tuesday and will be staying with a friend of Adrienne’s family, and then we fly from there to Cape Town on Thursday, and return to Durban on Monday the 27th. One week later, on Tuesday, July 5th, Gonzalo arrives for a two week stay! Adrienne and I get a sponsored trip to the Drakensberg mountains and to a game reserve through our program, and we decided to schedule these trips when Gonzalo’s here so he can go, too. The Drakensberg mountains are actually the border between our province and the country contained in South Africa, Lesotho (also known as the kingdom in the sky). I’m really excited for all these trips and being able to see different parts of the country, especially if I can meet people from these places.
We’ve been keeping busy the last few weeks, and are lucky enough to have made some friends that have helped us really enjoy ourselves here. I mentioned the karaoke outing in the last email with our friends Keith and Menzi; they have been hanging out with us a lot lately. They are friends through a poetry program a what is known as the BAT Centre (Ballard (I think that’s the name) Arts Trust). The BAT Centre sponsors many arts and culture events and programs, and Adrienne and I have been going there quite a bit lately. We joined Keith and Menzi there two weeks ago, after a recommendation from Nkule, one of the girls who works with us (she actually met her current boyfriend, Mthobisi, there during the Wednesday poetry circles). Mthobisi took us there and we sat and listened to some poetry for a while? we were a little surprised, however, to learn that it was a poetry circle and not a slam, which means that we are supposed to go there as a forum for sharing our own poetry instead of just going to listen to what others have to say. Needless to say, we were unprepared, but fortunately it was very laid back and we weren’t forced to say anything. There were only three women there, two of which were us, so we got some glances when we walked in? not to mention that I was the only white person there. Someone actually shared a poem with a line in it about “fakeness, like a white woman’s smile in a dark, empty street”, which provoked a lot of glances in my direction. It was quite an interesting experience! We went back last week as well, and Adrienne was going to share a poem she had written, but unfortunately, one guy kept talking and talking and never let anyone else share? maybe in two weeks, after we return from PE and Cape Town! I am not much of a creative writer, so I probably won’t be sharing much? I prefer to channel my creativity into jewelry-making and visual arts.
Speaking of visual arts, the Durban International Film Festival is currently happening, until the 26th of June. Our friend Menzi is working at one of the main venues, so we’ve been able to get in very cheaply (=free) a couple times and may be able to get a free T-shirt? they’re blue! We went to the opening night movie called “Paradise Now”, which is about a suicide bomber/martyr from the West Bank and his decision to be a bomber. It was interesting to see the Palestinian point of view, because this is not often discussed in the media where I’m from. Another movie we saw was about a 13-year old girl who wanted to have a baby, which had potential, but the movie itself was not what I thought it would be or should be. It did have some funny parts, but overall, I was not impressed? We’ve seen two South African films, one called Red Dust and one called Zulu Love Letter. They both discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission trials, which just happened recently (about ten years ago) here in SA. The producer, director, and main actor attended the opening night of the Zulu Love Letter, when we watched it. It was the SA premier, which was great to witness. We were glad to see some South African films during the festival, so we could learn more about SA’s recent history and consciousness.
We’ve been seeing a lot of movies lately, actually, and one was Hotel Rwanda. I’d seen it in the US, but it was different to watch it with mostly Africans and being the only white person in the audience. I had a different perspective from this side of the Atlantic, after living here for a little while, and knowing some of the ideas people have about their place in the world and people of European descent. I still think it’s a great movie and that you should see it if you get the chance. I don’t remember hearing much about the genocide in Rwanda when it was happening in 1994, much like I don’t remember hearing much about South Africa becoming an official democracy in that same year? it’s true that I was in middle school and maybe not that interested, but it could also be the importance placed on international, specifically African, news in the US? what’s your opinion on this? (yes, I expect that question to elicit responses about this topic, thanks!)
June 16 is a national holiday in South Africa, called Youth Day. It commemorates the youth uprising in 1976 in Soweto, the largest township in South Africa. As you remember, townships are places where the apartheid government forced urban black people to live, and the conditions were not the best. On June 16, 1976, school-aged youth rebelled against the apartheid government and the education system that was intentionally in place to keep all the non-whites subservient. For example, education was only in Afrikaans, which was spoken natively by less than fifteen percent of the population (who were all white), and math wasn’t taught, because “Africans don’t have the mental capacity” to learn math (according to the apartheid government). The youth burned down schools and were generally rebellious, and some were killed by the all-white police force, mostly shot in the back as they were running away. Now, there are many commemorative events, and we attended a day-long performance at the BAT Centre and saw some of the Comrades Marathon. A friend from the poetry sessions, King Zorro (yes, that’s what he goes by, seriously), was organizing workshops all last week for street kids, to culminate in the performances on Thursday. Adrienne and I had a really great time watching the youth have a great time! The Comrades Marathon didn’t used to be in conjunction with Youth Day, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be, but I think they just schedule it for the national holiday so they know people will attend. The marathon is actually a double-marathon between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban, which reverses routes each year. This year the finish was in Durban, and there were parties all night and concerts and such. It was a really fun day! We of course topped it off with one of the Durban International Film Festival movies :-)
Something else that Adrienne and I have gotten involved with is volunteering on Tuesday afternoons with learners from one of the townships near Durban, Cato Manor. About 15-20 learners come to the YMCA at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and we do workshops or other educational, interactive programs. Our first workshop was about poetry, which was run by someone’s friend from Trinidad who is getting a master’s in creative writing. It was great to see the learners’ energy and hopefulness at learning about something they hadn’t before. We heard about the program from one of our neighbors, Sarah, who is a student in the Development Studies program at the UKZN. We’ve met a couple of the other university students who help with the workshops before, when we went out with Sarah, so it was a good feeling to recognize people out here! We met some new students there, too, and have hung out with one another time. Her name is Bongi, and she lives on campus, so we went with her this past week after our session and met some of her friends and saw what residence hall life is like at the UKZN. The university students just went on a six-week winter holiday, so many of the students left for home or are traveling, but Adrienne and I are going to help Dina, the coordinator, run some workshops in their absence. We’re lucky with the timing of the learners’ exams, which are last week and this week, because we would have had to miss this week’s session (due to our PE/Cape Town trip), but there isn’t one! If you have suggestions of things we could workshop, send them this way (be creative, because I can’t do many physically intense things, due to my darn knee injury)!
Another thing we’ve done recently is try to learn more about rugby. The University of Michigan students that were here last year for our research project met some guys that play rugby in Durban, and they gave us their contact information for us to meet them. Their names are Colin and Aubrey, and they’ve been really helpful and nice since we’ve met them. The first time we met them, a long time ago now, we didn’t really know what they looked like, but fortunately Colin was wearing a Michigan t-shirt so we knew it was them. They both play rugby still, and I’ve attended two of the games (Adrienne couldn’t make the first one, since it was when Tracy was here). Unfortunately, Colin is injured right now (a KNEE injury? I feel his pain!), so we haven’t gotten to see him play, but it’s been fun watching Aubrey play. He’s at least a head taller than everyone else on the field, so it seems kind of intimidating for the opposing team? Colin actually plays for two different teams right now, one of which is the junior team of the Durban Sharks, Durban’s professional team. Aubrey has played in Wales for six months before, too, and is looking at moving back to the UK. Colin will be moving to Ireland this autumn to play rugby, too, so they’re pretty good I guess! I’m still trying to learn to enjoy rugby, but the more I watch, the more I get and like it. I definitely still like watching soccer, football, basketball, and hockey better, but I’m trying! We watched the South African national team, the Springboks, play last weekend, against Uruguay. It was very interesting, because “normal” (similar to soccer and hockey are usually in the 1-4 range, basketball is around 80ish, and football is 20-30 range) rugby scores are around 20-30 points, but this game was 134-3. No, I’m not joking? South Africa beat Uruguay in a record-setting scoring game, in which one player for the South African side, who was playing his first international game for SA, scored six tries (which is similar to a touchdown in US football). I really felt bad for Uruguay, but maybe they should stick to soccer? The Springboks played France on Saturday and tied 30-30. That was much less of a blowout!
The South African national soccer team, Bafana Bafana, played Saturday in a World Cup qualifier against Ghana. The game was in Johannesburg, and we almost went, but it was difficult to find information about tickets and it was too last-minute to arrange transportation, tickets, and accommodation. We watched the game at the BAT Centre with King Zorro and Keith. It was a sad time, because we lost 2-0. There’s still hope for SA, though, if they at least tie and win their next two games (which they have a high probability of doing).
We’ve been keeping an eye on the news over here as much as we can. It seems that the South African press loves to talk about the latest court dramas? I definitely have heard enough about the Michael Jackson trial, and recently, the Deputy President of South Africa was fired by the President for his ties to someone who was found to be financially irresponsible in the government. There’s a lot of talk about how the ANC, the current reigning party (African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela), may break up due to this controversy, but we’ll see. Have you heard about this where you are? We’re also keeping an eye on what’ll be happening at the G8 summit coming up, because of two topics: the environmental disagreement between the US and the rest of the world, and African debt cancellation. Of course, the international games of rugby and soccer are also all over the news right now, as well.
Another interesting (small) thing that has happened is that we saw some monkeys walking in the street when we walked to the grocery store last week! It was weird to see animals I’ve only ever seen in a zoo just freely roaming about. On the way back, we saw them again, except this time, they were within six feet of us, walking on a wall above us. We stopped and looked for a second, then decided we better move on before they smelled our food and wanted to help themselves to some!
Other than everything that’s mentioned in this way-too-long email, we’ve been having fun at work and doing some other things to keep ourselves busy. I’ll write more later, after our trip (we leave tomorrow morning!). It’ll probably be just as long or longer than this email? oh, and if you have anything you want to give me, Gonzalo will be leaving two weeks from today, so you can give it to him to give me :-) Things I’d appreciate are Mexican foodstuffs you can bring into a different country (shells, tortilla chips, and meat seasoning? mmmm!). Mexican food just isn’t very big around Durban; we’ve been searching for some, since we both love it so much, but we’ve been unsuccessful thus far. I can’t wait for two weeks to pass so I can make myself some homemade tacos!!!
I hope all is well with you and that we talk soon! I was sad to miss Father’s Day, so happy Father’s Day Dad and Lynn! I love you :-)
Talk to you soon,