Molweni! Unjani? (Hello! How are you?)
I’ve officially been living in Khayelitsha, a township (or province) of Cape Town, for the past week.We packed up the kombis (comb-ease) and set off to the second part of our journey last Tuesday. Driving out of the city and into the township our leader, Scott, began to tell us more about the community in which we were about to live.
There are so many things about this country an the history of apartheid that put goosebumps on your arms. It’s difficult to hear how intentionally and precisely premeditated segregation was here. In my preparation for this trip, I read a handful of books detailing the history of apartheid and the intense emotional and physical destruction created in its implementation. However, with that said, there was absolutely nothing that could have prepared me to see this firsthand.
As we drove from the city to the township, we traveled through an area with grass on either side of the road for miles and miles. There were several items of apartheid created to keep distance between native Africans and white South Africans. One of them was simple: distance. When native Africans were moved from their homes out to the townships, those implementing segregation determined it would be prudent to ensure native Africans were far enough out of the way so as to not encroach on white land easily. It’s so hard to comprehend a person actually putting pen to paper on something like this, thinking it was a good idea and convincing an entire country to follow. The only other time I’ve felt this sick, heart thumping feeling was standing in the Museum of Tolerance, looking at all of the shoes of the people who were killed in concentration camps.
As we drove through the grass-lined highway, Scott explained a few things differentiating townships in South Africa from other areas. He says, the way you know, in South Africa, if you are in a township or in a city, is by the lights. Drive into any community and look up. When townships were originally established, the lighting was large, football-stadium lights every few blocks or so. Not including lighting inside the home, these lights serve to light the community. This was intentional, of course, should there ever be a riot or movement, then the lights could be turned off and electricity cut.
I would think it’s very challenging to rally in the pitch black as it is here at night.
In my short 21 years on this planet, I know now that the human being is capable of extraordinary kindness and unbelievable cruelty. There isn’t much to say on either right now.
As we continued east, I could see lights in the distance. Tall steel poles reaching into the sky, their lights reaching off to each side. I started to see homes on the horizon, all different colors, blue, teal, red, and yellow. All single-level, made of corrugated roofing and lined in a row. As we get closer, the road we are driving on is paved, but it seems as though we are approaching a different kind of pavement. I see people outside, vendors maybe, with carts in front. There are a few little chickens pecking at the ground. There are larger structures, shipping containers maybe, that have signs like Vodafone on them. Renewable cell phones? From the line out front, it looks like it.
People wave as the van rolls by. Do they know us? Maybe they do. This isn’t the first trip to Khayelitsha this group has done. I know our group leaders have good relationships with our home stay families and with other families in the township. Perhaps this nice, informal welcoming is indicative of the remainder of our stay in the community.
The energy here is different and oddly yet the same somehow. There’s a spirit to Cape Town I still can’t pin down, a momentum I jive with, like everyone is looking forward, moving towards the next best thing. There’s also a friendliness I have not experienced before, a welcoming spirit.
Yet what’s really going through my head, all I can actually think about. I can’t believe I’m finally here. I can’t believe I’m about to meet my family. I’m here.
Inhale. Exhale. I’m so excited.
We’re driving through my neighborhood now. Group mates, Laura and Brie get out at their home and a few others are dropped off along the way. It looks like my roommate and I will be the last stop. The next stop will be for four of us, we will be neighbors. We pull up to my our new homes, they sit side by next in a corner. Their home to the right, a larger single-level home on a larger plot of land, and ours to the left, single-story and a jewel-toned, teal green with a wash line in front and a small outhouse on the side. Scott stops the car and begins to walk Laurel and me inside. There is a woman standing outside to greet us, this must be my host mom!