Tag Archives: history

Two Days ‚ÄĒ Two Tours

Sunday we had a historically interesting and stunningly beautiful tour of Stellenbosch. Monday we had a historically interesting and stunningly beautiful tour of Langa. Across these two days we experienced two very different tours.

Sunday in Stellenbosch: It was a perfect day weather-wise…sunny, clear, and around 21 degrees. Our friends William and Ibrahim were our guides, and we set out around noon. We drove east out of the city to the Cape Winelands. The Mediterranean-like climate is perfect for growing grapes, and the hillsides are abundant with vineyards. Being that it is the end of autumn/early winter here, the leaves were golden, particularly with the sun shining brilliantly down.

William slowly strolled us through the old center of town where we admired the gleaming white buildings and Dutch architecture. We saw the posh boutiques, vibrant galleries, sidewalk cafes, many churches, an old trading post, and another slave lodge. The streets were lined with oak trees, first planted by the town’s founder in the late 1600s. We rejoined Ibrahim and drove through the lovely University of Stellenbosch campus where around 30,000 students attend. Quite idyllic indeed.

Next we set out toward Paarl, still awaiting our alleged wine tasting. The region is famous for its wines, particularly pinotage. We drove for quite some time, listening to stories of the area, the mountains, and the rich history. Finally we arrived at The Spice Route, where we could choose to sample wine, but also craft beer, chocolate, pizza, and biltong (similar to jerky). We now understood why William brought us all this way – some 27km past Stellenbosch – there was something for everyone!

We sat and watched the sun go down, remarking on how it must be one of the most beautiful views in the world. With Table Mountain about 65km in the distance, we marveled at the beauty around us. We drove back to Cape Town quite content, thanking William and Ibrahim for a truly lovely afternoon.

Monday in Langa: It was a less-than-perfect day weather-wise…windy, rainy, and about 15 degrees. Our new friend and guide, Zuzeka, lead us through the streets of Langa Township, her home. She shared how she was born and raised in Langa, and she still lives there today. She is working toward become a third-grade teacher, and once she finishes her education, she will teach at a primary school in Langa.

Langa was originally created as a settlement for working men. Then during apartheid, it became a Black township (primarily Xhosa) with harsh living conditions. She said it is a “small” township (by township standards) with around 70,000 residents today. Local guides like Zuzeka proudly take tourists through Langa, and you can read more about our specific tour company, Siviwe.

As in 2012 when I did a similar tour with students, we began our experience at the Visitor Center and saw the lovely pottery and other handcrafts made at Langa. A large new theater was built in 2013, and Zuzeka said many performers share their talents with local audiences in it. She added that architecture students built it out of reclaimed materials. Now the rain began, so we put up our hoods and set out through the streets of Langa.

We visited the various types of living structures in Langa, as Zuzeka called them the “low class” hostels and shacks, the “middle class” government apartments and small homes, and the “high class” private homes. (She said she lives in a middle class home, and, although she called the high class homes “Beverly Hills,” they were still modest by our standards.) She explained how payment works, meaning if you pay rent, or only for utilities, et cetera. We went inside a hostel and shack to see how people were living. They were dark and cold, though a lot of human ingenuity was on display. People creatively and resourcefully live in Langa.

There are shops (groceries, barbers, clothing, driving schools) in Langa, mostly housed in shipping containers. There are services (doctors, libraries, schools, police) in Langa. We stepped into a dark shack where traditional African beer is made from sorghum, maize meal, and water. We sat around the fire and heard stories about celebratory rituals (manhood, marriage) when the beer is made by the women. We got to taste the milky beer, somewhat reminiscent of kombucha.

We stepped into a brighter “5-star shack,” the home of Shooter, called that for his “shorter” height (his actual name is Shadrack, and he has been told he resembles Morgan Freeman). He described how he moved up from a cramped hostel-type setting into his shack made ingeniously out of recycled materials. He described how fires can swiftly tear through the shack communities, how wires are strung from shack to shack to share electricity, and Zuzeka told us he moved his daughter out of the community to protect her. He was a man we all quickly admired.

We walked on and saw the sheep heads on tables where they had been prepared. This site was not one I wanted to see again, but it is an important part of the Xhosa culture that I respect.

We found a cheerful preschool full of rambunctious children, stepped in out of the rain, and played with them for awhile. The teachers must be weary after tending to them from 0700 to 1800 Monday through Friday.

We went inside a lovely home where a woman has a catering business. It was warm and smelled of wonderful things. We were fortunate to be able to purchase small bread rounds for 3 rands (or filled with egg and mayo or chicken and mayo for 4,50 rands). We happily ate these warm delights.

We returned to Cape Town with new images in our minds. We heard rich stories from Zuzeka of hardships and struggles, deep connections and traditions, and the triumph of the human spirit. She told us to never give up, despite our circumstances, and that sure means a lot coming from her: a truly lovely young Xhosa woman, working hard to better her life, yet staying tightly and proudly connected to her community.

Two days, two tours.

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.

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Signs & Symbols

Thursday was busy with site visits for me. I went to Peamount Healthcare in the morning to see what Jamie has been doing, and I visited St. John of God in the afternoon to check in with Jamieson. Both places provide services for individuals with intellectual and other disabilities. The students have been doing good work here while being immersed in the Irish culture (it hasn’t just been about pubs and tours!).

Reed stayed home with the kids while I was traveling around Dublin and its outskirts. Jackson now has the Irish cold, so that is a bummer. Hopefully he will be better quickly and it will avoid me completely!

 

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Tony, our AIFS guide, and our students

In the evening, the students and Tony met up at our apartment, and they headed out (along with Reed) for some “trad,” or traditional Irish music. We presented Tony with some thank-you gifts, including a Concordia fleece jacket that is a bit too big for him (he wasn’t quite what we had pictured back home when we gathered our items!). He laughed about it and said now he looks like an American tourist. ūüôā

 

While out and about in Dublin, I took a few pictures of signs and symbols. The photos are tagged with captions, but I thought I’d go into a bit more detail since I don’t have much else to share today.

 

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Official Dublin Flag

The flag of Dublin says “√Āth Cliath,” which is Irish for “fording point” on the River Liffey. The name “Dublin” originally was “Dubhlinn,” which means “black pool.” Where the Dublin Castle Garden is now located used to be a small lake for mooring ships. As the city grew in the early 1700s, the lake was covered over. I like the shades of blue on the flag, alongside the castle and ship (and imagining a lake beneath the city!).

 

The beautiful clock and “√Ārd-Oifig an Phuist” sign are on the O’Connell Street General Post Office (GPO). This massive building has an interesting history. During the Easter Rising of 1916, the GPO served as the headquarters of the uprising’s leaders (remember the likes of Patrick Pearse, and later Michael Collins?). The building was destroyed by fire in the course of the rebellion, and the facade is all that remains of the original building.

 

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GPO and The Spire of Dublin

There was a pillar (Nelson’s Pillar) in the center of O’Connell Street adjacent to the GPO. However, it was destroyed by the IRA in 1966. The shiny “Spire of Dublin” now stands in its place…it is nearly 400 feet tall! There also is a marvelous statue of Daniel O’Connell in front of the GPO. He was a political leader in the first half of the 19th century who campaigned for Catholic emancipation. Leaders such as Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King are said to have gained inspiration from O’Connell and his leadership style.

 

On more of a pop culture note, I included signs related to Starbucks, soccer, and a sandwich. I had a few minutes while waiting for my first bus to get a coffee. I happily bypassed the Starbucks for the more local Costa Coffee. It was delicious and satisfying (and it’s good to know that Starbucks hasn’t taken over Dublin!). While waiting for my second bus, I enjoyed reading the upcoming soccer (football) schedule of the Premier League. Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to watch all of those matches? Finally, while waiting for my fourth bus, I enjoyed a sandwich: tuna and sweetcorn on oatmeal bread, handmade in Ireland. Who knew that combination of favors would be so delicious? (Sorry, it was a quick transfer to my third bus and I didn’t get any pictures!)

Just one more day in Dubhlinn, √Āth Cliath…

 

 

Exploring the sights, sounds, and tastes of Ireland

As I write this, our students are at their service placements for the first time. Can’t¬†wait to hear how their experience is! (More on that¬†tomorrow. )

Yesterday was a very fine day indeed! We met up and made our way through the Book of Kells exhibit in the Old Library at Trinity College. History within history within history.¬†The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels that “represents evidence of a scholarly and artistic culture of the highest achievement.” (Killeen, 2012) There’s more on it here. After that we were¬†led on a walking tour of Dublin by Sean Finnigan, a Dubliner of many years. On that tour we learned about¬†the history of the south side of Dublin, passing through Trinity College (where we heard some anecdotes about Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker, as well as a few other former students at Trinity).

From there we walked through the city soaking in what we could about Irish history and culture. Perhaps the most interesting point of the tour came at its end (2.5 hours into it!) in the old House of Lords. It was there that Mr. Finnigan exlored the political and religious divisions here while invoking William of Orange and his father-in-law James the II,  the hoi palloi, the Protestant ascendancy,  and, eventually, Bill Clinton and the peace process in Northern Ireland. Certainly well worth our time.

We wrapped up our day at Oliver St. John Gogarty where Jamieson impressed us all with his ability to down copious amounts of food! All in all, a great day.