October 31, 2010

For that I am happy and grateful

Welcome to Project Carry-On: Halloween Edition!

(Note: This post actually has nothing to do with Halloween, because the only people who celebrate it in South Africa are American/European students and volunteers. But because I know so many of you at home are enjoying your favorite day of the year, I had to at least mention that I am actually aware of what day it is. )

Last week, in a conversation with a new friend (one of the care workers at my placement), we spoke about the political and social status of South Africa. At one point, she said, “South Africa is black and white, really any way you look at it.” 

The context of this statement revolved around my friend’s perspective that the South African government overlooks coloured people (this is the title given to mixed-race people in South Africa; it’s not an un-pc term like it is in the US). Now, I don’t feel as if giving my own commentary on group discrimination by the South African government is at all significant here, seeing as I’ve only been in the country for three weeks. However, her “black and white” comment resonated with me, and I think it’s a good metaphor for my experience.

As I’ve said previously, the disparity between the rich and the poor in Cape Town is quite obvious. But I feel like it is SO difficult to get across how glaringly polar it is. I didn’t realize when I arrived in SA how much I would contribute to this disparity. After I do my volunteering in a poor area with kids who come from low-income families, I usually go home and spend money.  I sometimes feel torn between these two different worlds- working in poor areas and attempting to make a selfless contribution to the greater good, and then going and spending money on meals, drinks, and touristy excursions that seem so extravagant after spending time on the other side.

It really hit me just how privileged I am when the same friend told me that as a head waiter at a restaurant, her husband only makes 150 Rand (about $22) a WEEK as base pay. He has to make the rest off of tips from patrons, and if shifts are slow, then the family really struggles to make ends meet. But it’s all just the way of life for her- she wasn’t complaining, just trying to show me that getting by is still a struggle for many people in SA, even after the end of Apartheid.

I’m not trying to elicit pity for anyone here; I simply want to give a glimpse into what I observe every day. It’s always a hot topic of discussion between the volunteers.  Spending time in the townships gives me an even greater appreciation for what I have- not only in terms of material items- but also for opportunities like this.  It’s so incredibly refreshing to step outside of my comfort zone, every single day.

After three weeks here, I’ve decided that this trip is really just about compassion. Compassion not only for the kids and women I work with, but also for my fellow volunteers, myself, and for humanity as a whole. There obviously is much work to be done, but I am here willing to do my part, however small it may be. And for that I am happy and grateful.  The experiences I have and the relationships I am building here will forever shape me, and for that too, I am happy and grateful.

Love, xoxo

It's a penguin!
At Boulders Beach Penguin Colony

Erin and I are trying to blend in with the 80 Japanese people who had just taken a photo at this sign

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