South Africa

Khayelitsha, Home Sweet Home

In Khayelitsha, the community accepts outsiders as family. This isn’t a process that’s earned or takes time, it happens immediately. Older people are addressed as “Mama” or “Dada,” younger people are “sisi” (sissy) or “brother.” Host families are just that – your family. That feeling I had arriving in Khayelitsha the first day, it was indeed foreshadowing. 

I have felt accepted and protected from the day I got here. My host mother in particular has gone out of her way to make me, and my roommate Laurel, feel at home.

My host mama’s name is Nontsasa (Known-sah-sah) and her daughter, my sisi, is Andiswa (An-dee-swah).

When we arrived, Scott walked right up to Nontsasa and gave her a giant, bear hug. They exchanged a few words and then we were introduced to one another. The two took us into the home and showed us around. The home had three official rooms and small back room behind the kitchen. The entrance had a good-sized living room with a television, couch, and a few chairs. To the left, the kitchen, and continuing to the left, the master bedroom. the house was warm and pleasant, it smelled like freshly baked bread. Nontsasa and Andiswa generously gave us the main room to sleep and store our things and they took the room behind the kitchen.

The restroom, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, is a well-made outhouse located on the front, side of the house. It has a sturdy concrete wall around a toilet. Not all homes in townships around South Africa have this luxury and we were grateful for it.

Water is brought in from the well outside and heated inside over a kerosene stove for bathing, cooking, and tea or coffee. Nontsasa noted to us that she ensures she has coffee on hand for visitors as she knows Americans love their coffee. This is true for at least this American.

Nontsasa prepares us meals each day. If we’re out of the house for work or an adventure, she’ll pack us a lunch if we want one. So far I’ve been able to try paloney sandwiches, Umngqusho and meat mixture, local meats and vegetables, and Wheetabix cereal, on which you pour boiling milk. To be completely honest, I don’t know how I’ve survived life thus far without Wheeatabix.

So before I left for Cape Town, I noted that it will be winter during my stay. It’s a little balmy, it feels like California for the most part, in the winter. I have a hard time warming up, as to be expected of an Arizonan near the beach in winter, so I have learned to layer and dress appropriately.

Of all the things I tried to anticipate, the history, the food, the weather, etc. I never could have anticipated how much I love it here.

Andiswa, Nontsasa, Laurel and I are getting along really well. Luckily, we all seem to really appreciate one another. Nontsasa is constantly laughing at my attempts at Xhosa, or any other weird things that come out of my mouth. It’s like I’m unable to censor myself around this family, I’m just the same as I am with my family at home. This morning I got lost coming home from my internship and by the time I walked back in the door she was in tears laughing at me.

Speaking of Xhosa, I will go on record and say it’s a challenging language for an English speaker to learn.  There are three sounds that do not occur in English and the group walks around most days trying to do our clicks (X, C, and Q are all different types of clicks) and not many of us have made much real progress beyond our favorite dishes and a few pleasantries. Most people speak a little English and are generous enough to use it when talking with us.

I’m really loving it here. I feel so comfortable, I’m surprised. A few people in our group are really struggling adapting to such a vastly different culture. For some reason, I’m not there yet. I feel at home here, I’m wondering when (and if) my breaking point will come. I try to push myself everyday to learn something new, to do something outside of my knowledge. I ask my mama a thousand questions a day about this and that. We talk politics and human rights. We talk about the transition from apartheid to democracy. It’s wonderful, and so stimulating.

Today we are in town, sitting at an internet cafe writing our families and friends and enjoying our time together. I’ve been thinking about all of you. I find myself talking with my family here about work, family, and friends back home and in turn she tells me about her life, her friends, and family. Most families in Khayelitsha that I’ve met so far seem to be single parent (mama) homes. The men seem to find their own way, which I’ll be interested in learning more about in the future. I have so much I’m taking in, and so much I’m learning about myself and this beautiful community. Wish you all could see what I see, I’ll do my best to describe it to you. Love you all, thank you again for your support, and I will talk to you soon 🙂


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