All posts by Erin

Friday Happenings

Today was a bit of a mixed bag. We got the home stay issue resolved, and the two students were moved to dorm-style rooms in the Obs (near me) for the weekend. Monday afternoon they will settle in with a new family. The folks at Good Hope Studies were very responsive when we met with them this morning. (It was cool for me to be back at their compound in Newlands as that was our home base for our 2012 program.) And, we had fortunate timing when we moved out the guys in that the couple was not home. I appreciate how supportive GHS has been – as well as how gracious the students have been – throughout this ordeal!

We met up with the VACorps staff and dozens of other students for our afternoon outing to the cheetah encounter. One of our students wasn’t feeling well, so Oliver from VAC took her to the doctor. We were sad to have her miss the cats, but the good news is she has some medicine to get all better! Her host family insisted she rest – as I’ve said before, we are in very good hands here!

We drove – by a caravan of minibuses – to Somerset West, and the students patiently waited to pet the cheetahs. They got some good pictures of each other, which I’ve shared here. Then VAC took us all to Triggerfish, a cool brewery, for some libations. We drove home to a beautiful sunset and enjoyed our driver’s fun style.

Tomorrow is a free day, and we hope to ride the hop-on/hop-off bus (complete with a stop at Table Mountain!) all together. Thanks for thinking of us and following along! 🙂

Thoughts on Forgiveness

Today while the students were at their volunteer placement sites doing good work, I finished reading, A Human Being Died that Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid, by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. She was born in 1955 in Langa township, which we will tour next week, and is a psychologist who has focused her work on forgiveness. She was appointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1996. You can read more about her here. I’ve known of this book for some time, and recently Dick Hill reminded me of it. I regret not reading it sooner.

In today’s post, I thought I would share some messages from her remarkable book, which is based on hours of interviewing Eugene de Kock, “the man whom many in the country considered the most brutal of apartheid’s covert police operatives, ‘Prime Evil'” (p. 4). Here is the guiding question: “How can we transcend hate if the goal is to transform human relationships in a society with a past marked by violent conflict between groups?” (p. 15). (In order to better understand the context, you may wish to read a brief synopsis of Apartheid.) She answers, “This question may be irrelevant for people who do not have to live as a society with their former enemies. But for those whose lives are intertwined with those who have grossly violated human rights, who sometimes even have to live as neighbors with them, ignoring the question is not an option.” (p. 15)

Through her many hours of conversation with de Kock, along with her own recollections growing up in Apartheid, Gobodo-Madikizela helps her readers understand this: “If memory is kept alive in order to cultivate old hatreds and resentments, it is likely to culminate in vengeance, and in repetition of violence. But if memory is keep alive in order to transcend hateful emotions, then remembering can be healing.” (p. 103)

She continues in chapter 7, titled I Have no Hatred in my Heart, by describing the victim’s triumph: “the decision to forgive can paradoxically elevate a victim to a position of strength as the one who holds the key to the perpetrator’s wish…the victim retains that privileged status as long as he or she stays the moral course, refusing to sink to the level of evil that was done to him or her…forgiveness does not overlook the deed, it rises above it.” (p. 117). She described experiencing this sense of triumph when interviewing de Kock.

Gobodo-Madikizela acknowledges that what happened through the TRC may not generalize to other contexts. Still, I believe that the powerful stories told and lessons learned surely have application, both in our individual and collective lives. To forgive is empowering; to show compassion to our enemies is transforming. It is not easy, nor does it come quickly, but it can repair human brokenness, again both individually and collectively. I will carry her lessons with me as I move throughout this country, as well as when I return home.

Milkshakes off Main Road

Today the students returned to their placement sites, and they had (mostly) good things to share when we met to debrief. Those at Ihata Shelter are coming up with fun, crafty ideas to do with the children there. The two students at the Heideveld Clinic got to observe some interesting sounding procedures in “theater” today. We met at a cute cafe in Obs to check in, which is where the group photo was snapped. We enjoyed processing the day and other important feelings over snacks, cappuccino, and milkshakes. Yum. Then we went to the market, ATM, and post office together, successfully crossing busy Main Road (twice!). The students accompanied me back to my flatlet to wait out he traffic before Ubering back to their home stays.

Speaking of which, they are having mixed experiences with their hosts. Aysia and Paige are with a couple who is relatively progressive in their thinking. On the other end of the spectrum is the couple with whom Vadim and Ernesto live. Frequent racist and judgmental (in a variety of domains) statements are voiced. We are working through this and have avenues of support here if a change in location is needed. Mo, Kaelyn, and Sarah are with a Muslim family and are experiencing a bit of Ramadan. So much is learned about culture through home stays, but it can be a challenge at times.

The weather was fairly nice today, breezy and in the mid-60s, which Capetonians consider cold (it is winter after all). The mountain remains a bit elusive, as seen in the photo behind my flatlet. There is construction next door which has sounds of clanging and singing. We definitely aren’t in Portland anymore! 🙂

Placement Ups & Downs

Today the students went to their placement sites for the first time. They will spend six days serving in the community of Heideveld, a suburb in the Athlone part of Cape Town. Over 90% of the population of Heideveld is coloured, the local term for multiracial. Our driver, Ibrahim, told me that about half of the residents were displaced from District Six, which was a residential area of Cape Town that was forcibly disbanded during Apartheid. We will learn more about this as we continue our time here.

Five students selected the Ihata Shelter for their placement site. This women’s shelter strives for a society free of gender-based violence. Women and children can reside there for six months where their basic needs are met while they heal and grow. The students got a tour of the facility, but also of the impoverished township. They were able to interact with little ones, and tomorrow they will be more involved in counseling settings. It sounds like they had a great experience today, and I’m excited to hear more as they continue to serve!

Two students chose the Heideveld Community Health Clinic, a government run facility. We arrived at a crowded clinic and passed through the metal detector. We saw many waiting to receive care in several different areas. Loyiso, our placement coordinator, had informed us that people arrive early in the morning to be triaged, receiving a green, yellow, orange, or red code, indicating the severity of their needs. Those coded as green may not get seen in the course of the day. Unfortunately, the site supervisor for our students is out this week, and the day was not productive. Loyiso will be there tomorrow to address the students’ learning objectives, and if it seems they will not be met, they will likely move to Ihata. I appreciate our students’ flexibility, as well as those on the ground working on our behalf.

We are in good hands here and being well looked after by our host agency, VACorps. Thanks for following along!

Getting Our Gumby On

Today we set out for the KirstenBosch Botanical Garden, hoping to learn about the amazing flora in South Africa. We were able to visit the inside exhibits, but we had to abandon our plan to stroll the grounds. The reason? Downpours! Best reason ever to have to end our visit, as the rains are desperately needed here. By the time we reached our minibus, we all were soaked. To the bone. We are happy that us Oregonians brought the rains. 🙂

After a quick stop at the students’ home-stays for dry clothes, we made our way to the city center and the Slave Lodge. This is a powerful museum about the history of slavery in South Africa, as well as how modern day still has stories of exploitation and victimization. It was a moving exhibit that opened our eyes. I am certain that we will continue to think on what we experienced.

Tonight is a cultural outing with VACorps, so we shall see what that holds. I appreciated the students’ flexibility today – Gumby is a good mascot for us!