South Africa

Observatory Day Trip


I walked into the office yesterday and made myself busy. A lot of conversation has been had in regards to potential projects on which I could work.  However, it’s only been a little over a week and I’m not quite sure any of us are totally clear on what to do with the intern.

So never having been one to sit still, I cleaned the kitchen. I set up the sugar, the tea, and respective silverware. I straightened up the cupboard and rearranged the dishes. Mentally mapping out that next on this list, I was going to sweep the floor. Then, halfway through my dishes, it was post-breakfast and a few to be done, one of the counselors in the office entered the kitchen and told me to stop what I was doing.

“Today we’re going to Observatory, grab your cup of tea and we will hurry out the door.”

Quickly dropping the rag back in the sink and eliminating cleaning plans from my brain, I gulped my tea turning on one heel and ran to grab my coat. Having no idea where Observatory was, yet knowing a few of my friends worked there, I knew it was a neat town. Adventure is what I hope to find here and saying “no” was something I’d resolved not to do in Cape Town.

Unfortunately, I never really seem to have any actual idea where I am in this country. The first problem being my utter lack of internal compass and a corresponding proclivity to get lost a lot. So I don’t really know how far away this town is or where we are really headed. So I pop into the car and head off in a direction, some direction, towards Observatory.

The drive was quite nice. Myself and two other volunteers drove the little distance together in a roomy car, they gave me the back seat so I stretched out and took in the surrounding areas by myself as we sped along the highway. We drove to an undisclosed location in Observatory to the Cape Town Rape Crisis Center in Observatory. This is new to me. It makes so much sense. Of course a Rape Crisis counseling center would intentionally obscure their address from the public. Safety is a high priority for this organization and is something that cannot be ignored.

This is the epicenter of where this organization began and I am so eager to be involved. As we walk through the doors, there’s a noticeable change in energy. On the walls hang inspirational posters and survivor stories with strong women’s faces on them. The air smells like coffee and fresh paper and the high ceilings give a feeling of openness. There are likely close to 20 women in the office and stairs leading up to another office space in the back. I’m introduced to leaders within the organization and volunteers present for the meeting that day.

The whirlwind was certainly unexpected but greatly welcomed. Today was the advocacy meeting and I was graciously given a seat at the table where to discussion took place. This organization is highly active in community advocacy, most especially advocating for the rights of women in South Africa and closer to home in Cape Town. South Africa has not always been a safe place for women and Rape Crisis is working to make this a thing of the past.

I sat, engaged, in awe. Never in my life have I been in a room with so many dynamic women. these women, fighting against an almost unseen social prejudice and doing it because they can and they want to. Of course, the women I was with were unfazed, they’re used to this environment. I’m not sure anyone there knew just how inspired I felt, and encouraged that change, real change is possible.

After the meeting I had a short conversation with one of the directors and she let me know that I would be splitting my time between the Observatory location and the Khayelitsha office. I’m not 100% certain yet what this will entail, but I do know I will now be commuting to Cape Town every other day or possibly more. The days I am not in Obs I’ll be in Khayelitsha.

I took some time to explore the office before we left. There’s a room with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and a computer in the corner. The staff tells me this is where interns do most of their research and that likely this is the place where I will spend the majority of my time here. Also, there are plans to head to Parliament as a group where a representative from Rape Crisis will speak on behalf of the organization and surrounding community. I was told I’d be able to tag along on this trip and at this point I am planning on being there.

We say our thank you’s and goodbye’s to the ladies in Observatory and head back to the car parked on the street. What a remarkable organization with equally remarkable employees and volunteers. These women choose to spend their time helping other women wade through an extremely difficult period of time in their lives while simultaneously educating the community and helping to prevent sexual violence from occurring in the future. For the millionth time since the plane touched down on the tarmac in Cape Town, I feel a sincere gratitude for this experience. My dedication to learning as much as I can and contributing whatever is asked is renewed and strengthened. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

We drive away, back towards Khayelitsha, and I gaze out the window, eyes wide open.


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