Thursday, March 29, 2012


Today I took a "township tour."  First stop was Bo Kaap, where Muslim people live in the brightly painted houses which originally held former Malay slaves.  

Bo Kaap neighborhood

Then we went to the District 6 Museum, housed in an old church east of downtown that was one of the few buildings in the district not bulldozed when this formerly racially mixed area was declared a "white" (european) area and anyone not white was forced to move to a township.  The townships themselves were segregated into black, colored and Asian (mostly Indian and Indonesian) areas.  District 6 was formerly a lively area full of musicians, churches, schools and people could walk to work.  When they had to move, they lost their neighbors and sense of community.  They had to take buses or trains to go many miles to get to work, school, or church.  As families grew, they built shanties near their small one bedroom houses out of whatever materials were available to get extra room.   Workers from rural areas were allowed one bed in dorm like buildings.  After the pass laws (where everyone had to carry identification noting their race) were abolished, the workers brought in their families, who all shared the one bed allotted to the worker.  Needless to say, the townships became beyond crowded with much substandard housing.  Black children were considered to have no need to be educated since they were barred from most skilled jobs under apartheid, and schools are still underfunded compared to those in other areas.  School is still not compulsory, but children are fed at school, which gives them added incentive to attend.

Langa is the oldest township in Capetown (1926) and has about 100,000 population.  We spent about an hour walking around with a local guide.  It felt very clean and the people seemed busy, although the rate of unemployment is very high.  They seem to welcome tourists, as they bring in money to the community in the form of a percentage of tour proceeds and purchases of arts and crafts displayed.  Some of the houses had solar water heaters on their roofs, part of South Africa's effort for sustainable development.  The World Climate Change Convention was held here last year.  There are still many shanties, but we also saw new housing where shanties had been torn down.  We went inside several housing units.  They pay from $3 to about $50 per month rent and after 8 years they own their homes.  They cannot sell them, but if they move out they can remain in the family.  There is a waiting list for homes.  If they six or more people in the family they can get a two bedroom unit.  We also saw the Beverly Hills area of town, with bigger houses, gates, and driveways where the more prosperous and professional people have bought houses.  Apparently they can afford to buy in Capetown proper, but stay in the township to show the young people that they can get ahead.

Sheep's heads (with lots of flies) for sale

Township store inside a container

Containers put to good use


This township bar featured in a recent movie

Inside a shanty home

Next we went to Khayelitsha, another black township with about a million people.  We visited Vicky's B&B, originally a container (the metal kind they ship things in) and now has grown to a two story building with a balcony, kitchen, living room, and six bedrooms.  They have their own website and are listed in Trip Advisor and many other sites.  The owner's husband is a builder and the whole thing apparently grew haphazardly and beautifully with wood, tile, glass and whatever he could scrounge up.  We talked with the owner, who said she saw buses coming through the township on tours and people never got out of the buses, so she decided to start a B&B, and now there are 18 of them in the township with visitors from all over the world.  For myself, I am happy with the half day tour.  The guide did tell me that they have a problem with a lot of drinking and drugs on weekends, but the gangs are mostly in the colored townships, like the one I worked in near Muizenberg.  The black townships did seem a lot cleaner and more prosperous than Capricorn, even the shanties.  Which makes me think of the colored person I met in Johannesburg who told me that the blacks get much better treatment than the coloreds now that they control the government.
I went back to RCaffe for lunch to get the salmon pasta. They would not give me the recipe, but it is penne pasta with a cream sauce with roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, sage, basil, and parmesan cheese.

In the afternoon, I walked to the Center for the Book, which was built in 1906 to house the University of the Cape of Good Hope and later was bought by the government as part of the National Library.  After the 1990's, it became a center to encourage reading and oral literature in many languages, including several native ones, to increase literacy in the country.

I walked on through the Company's Gardens to the National Gallery.  I thought it would have a lot of World art, like old Masters and such, but the main exhibits were of South Africans.  Peter Clarke, a black artist born in Simon's Town in 1929, left school at 15 to become a dock worker but persisted in studying art and became very successful.  His family was forced to move to a township, where he still lives, and his art was limited under Apartheid, but people helped him and he was able to study and work in Europe and the United States and has published several books.  The other main exhibit was colored ink drawings by Barbara Terrell, a white South African fashion designer who visited many southern African tribes during the 1940's to 1960's and preserved the way the people looked on paper, including women at many stages of life, shamans, men doing many activities, and chiefs.  This is an important record, since I doubt they dress the same way now.

Jan Smuts in front of the National Gallery

I got back to Ashanti Lodge just before it started raining.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


On Saturday, March 24, I left Muizenberg and took a taxi to the Ashanti Lodge in the Gardens area of Capetown, right below Table Mountain.  It cost $40 versus about $1.25 for the train, but at least it was door to door.  Sometimes having luggage is a real pain.  I don't think I could be here for a year without it, though.  Some stuff I rarely use, like my umbrella, but when you need it you need it.

The Ashanti Lodge is a fancy backpacker's lodge.  It has dorm rooms but they were all filled up.  I opted for a single room with shared bath, which cost about $40 a night.  There is a sink in the room, but I am finding it very inconvenient to have to put something on and go out to the toilet at night or early in the morning.

On Sunday I found that hardly anything in Capetown is open on that day, including stores, museums, etc.  I went to the Holocaust Museum, which is run by the Jewish Museum and is closed on Saturdays, not Sundays.  I also visited Pic n Pay, more like a WalMart than our Pic n Save chain.  I needed to get things like milk and soap, since they don't supply it at the hostel.  The coffee is free, though.

On Monday I walked downtown to get some malaria pills.  I took them (doxycycline) for a few weeks around the last time I went to Zimbabwe and got very sick till I figured out that is what was making me dizzy all the time and went off them.  This time I opted for a kind I had taken before (Larium) with no problems.  The added benefit is that it is once a week instead of daily, as I tend to forget to take them everyday.   You are supposed to need a prescription, but the pharmacist gave them to me when I told him I had taken them before and inferred that it was just a renewal.  I am not going to start taking them till just before I get to Botswana, since the less the better, and I doubt there are mosquitoes in Namibia since it is mostly desert.

I went to one of my favorite places in Capetown, RCaffe on Long Street, for lunch and was surprised to see former roommates Julia and Courtney there.  We had lunch together before they went on to check out my hostel for future reference, since they are still volunteers in Muizenberg.   I went to the South Africa Museum and Planetarium.  The Museum is very well done and has replicas on dinosaurs that lived in South Africa and many current animals I have never seen before.   They also have a whole floor about whales, dolphins, and sharks.  False Bay off of the Cape Peninsula is the most active breeding ground for sharks in the world, and they have had their share of shark attacks.  

Julia from New York and Courtney from Washington, DC

Humpback Whale (front) and Blue Whale skeleton at South Africa Museum

The Planetarium Show I went to was about the coming "Profound Change" on December 21, 2012, which is the end of the Long Count of the Mayan calendar and supposed to be either the end of the world or beginning of a huge transition period (where have I heard this before?)  It actually was very interesting.  The Mayans were expert astronomers and were able to predict when the earth, sun and Milky Way would line up, if I remember it right.  Supposedly they observed it once and it happened again during their history, but 2012 will be the end.  

On Wednesday I walked through the Company's Gardens, a long central park that used to be the vegetable farm for the original Dutch East India Company settlers.  Capetown was a sort of refueling station for ships on the way to or from Holland and the colonies in Indonesia and other parts of Asia.  It reminds me of Central Park in New York or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, in that it boasts pleasant walkways, plants from all over the world, a big rose garden, an aviary, museums, a cafe, numerous statues and fountains, and the Parliament Building.  It also has the Slave Lodge, where slaves were kept until they were sold.

Company's Gardens, with Table Mountain

South Africa Museum and Planetarium

Cecil Rhodes, a long lost relative of mine, according to my grandmother, and known for the country of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Rhodes Scholarships, imported the original squirrels in the park  from America.  He has a huge statue in the park, as well as memorials on Table Mountain and other places in South Africa.  His dream was a unified colony running from Capetown to Cairo in Egypt and tried to build a railway to further that goal.  He was not as successful in this as the railway robber barons in America, but was still a very rich man.  Besides the statue, there are squirrels throughout the park, a living remembrance of a man who tried to make his huge dream happen and benefitted many along the way.

After a buffet lunch at a restaurant called Bread, Milk and Honey, I walked to the Castle of Good Hope, an old Dutch Fort and one of the oldest structures in Capetown (1666).  It was originally on the shore, but there has been a lot of landfill, like in San Francisco.  It was too close to closing time for me to go in, so I will return if I have time.

Castle of Good Hope

I walked back through the park to the Ashanti Lodge.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Girls at recess

Emma, grade 7, at her first computer lesson

Volunteers Chun from Australia and Tabitha from Germany

Molly and Brook from Colorado

Yesterday was my last day at Christian David School.  I cannot say I am sorry to leave.  It is beautiful here but there have been increasing incidents of volunteers being accosted on the way to or from school, so it does not feel as safe as it did here.  The school itself has a locked fence and barbed wire, so we feel relatively safe inside, unlike the day care volunteers, whose facilities are right in the middle of the township.  I have not formed strong bonds with any of the kids here, probably due to not having a regular assignment and floating around until teaching computers the last two weeks.  

Me and some of my guys

Frst graders lining up for class

May from Egypt gives a concert

Keeley from Germany helping with math

Aaron from Australia tries to control the class

5th graders waiting to get food donations

Jemma from Australia teaches math

Kelsey from Minnesota

I could have stayed in the volunteer house another week for $20 a night, but I am tired of living with 10  young girls/women and one bathroom and am taking a single room at a backpacker's hostel in Capetown.  Tonight I went to the movies at a huge upscale mall in Claremont with Patsy and Sandy, two of the only other older volunteers.  We were to see something that sounds like Marigold Hotel, but that was the only movie that was sold out.  So we went to War Horse and enjoyed it very much.  That is the first movie I have seen in a theater in a year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Capetown can be a pretty scary place, though reportedly safer than the other big cities in South Africa.  Volunteers in my house had already been mugged on the beach and given "roofies" at a bar to sedate them.  We are told never to go out alone, so the volunteer walking alone did lose her purse with camera, some money, and credit cards, while the person at the bar was taken home by other volunteers before whatever nefarious deed was planned came to fruition.

There are many gangs here.  The volunteers at the day care center in the township seem to hear often about plans for strikes, gang wars, etc in the township and know when to lay low or they cancel day care altogether some days.  The kids at school warn us that we are not safe walking around the neighborhood because we stand out.  My fellow volunteers at the primary school always walk the two miles to and from school in a group.  I was walking home with just one other guy one day and we had some scary looking black guys in hoodies following at our heels for several blocks till they finally passed us.  One volunteer got her water bottle taken away while walking to a store near the school but a car stopped and chased the guy away.

I often take the train to Capetown, about a 40 minute ride with 20 stops.  There are two classes, and we always go first class because it is only a few cents more and hopefully the low lifes are in the second class cars.  We are told to sit near other people, and if someone questionable sits next to you, to move, as they might stick a knife to your side and ask for your bag, unseen by other passengers.  I was in a train car by myself one day, and a Muslim lady came from another car to sit near me because she was in the same situation and feeling uncomfortable.

Last week, I tried to get off at a stop on another route and could not get the door open so ended up getting off at the next stop.  I am unfamiliar with all the town names and never know if it is a bad area or not.  I went up and asked the lady in the ticket booth at the station if I could get a taxi and she just laughed and said "taxis don't come here."  So I got back on the train going the other way and got off where I should have in the first place.

Another issue I had with doors that don't open is when I was alone in a  portable classroom at school and the door handle fell off when I tried to open the door.  I couldn't get out.  There were bars on the windows so you couldn't open them and call out, even if there had been somebody around.  I called a fellow volunteer on my cell phone and she got the guard to come and get me out and fix the door.  If I hadn't had my phone with me I would have been in there awhile.  

The homes in the township seem to be made of whatever is available, including a lot of corrugated sheet metal.  They use a lot of barbed wire.  The homes in better areas have a lot of electric fences and signs that say "armed response."  Even my condo complex has a security gate, electric fence and a couple of guards who patrol the perimeter.  You can buy an oceanview condo here for $100,000, but this is not a place I want to live in.   However, it is probably not much different than the beaches near Los Angeles, but more beautiful.

We have a new volunteer this week, Christy from Texas.  After orientation she said that she felt very safe here.  Her very first day walking with another volunteer to the day care where she will be working, a black guy with a hoodie  came up to them and said, "Hello, pretty lady."  She said no then he pulled out a 12 inch knife (at least it looked that big to her).  Her first thought was that he was trying to sell her the knife and she said no.   Then two others came up behind and he said, "Give me your purse."   She struggled to get it off her shoulder while they were pulling at it from behind.  Finally it was off and she and Kate ran towards the school and called the police.  Although very shaken up, they were taken to a house in the township but could not identify the thieves.  All she had in her purse was a peanut butter sandwich and her keys. to the condo.  Kate had camera, money, phone and other stuff in her backpack, but they did not take that.  Tim says we should vary our routes walking to school, but all routes would go by that point where they were robbed.  The neighborhood gangs know we walk by there every day.  The next day the locks to the condo were changed.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Every year the primary school I volunteer at has a track meet with two other Moravian schools in the area.  This year is special because it is the 60th and 75th anniversaries of the schools.  Christian David won last year, and we were hoping for a repeat win.

Our Sports volunteers have been working with the kids for several weeks.  It seemed very unorganized and the kids don't often listen to instructions.  They were like different kids the day of the meet, however, and all seemed on task.  We had three large buses pick us up at school at 8 a.m. then drove to a nice college stadium near Capetown.  The three groups of kids paraded around the track with flags then sat in the stadium until their events were called.  There were many running events, short and long jump, and discus throw at various age levels.  We had some very enthusiastic cheerleaders, although I could not understand what they were yelling since a lot of it was in the local language.

Mr Hans, grade 7 teacher, watches running practice

Molly from Colorado with students

The Sports volunteers take a break

Clayton from Minnesota gets mobbed

Track meet parade

Christian David School athletes

Our cheerleaders

Jacki from NY does face painting

Our school ended up winning with almost 300 points.  The next best school had about 2/3 of that, and the last school only about 90 points.  The kids were ecstatic!  You would never know it by seeing them daily, but it shows they can pull through and succeed if they want something.  The school secretary had told me most of them only come to school to get the free food.  The township schools definitely seem underfunded when you see the facilities at the schools in wealthy areas, but improvement is possible if the community pulls together and the kids see they may have a future if they work hard.  

Friday, March 9, 2012


Kate from Connecticut and I had a Friday off and took a tour around the Cape Peninsula, which includes some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, in my opinion.  Tom Cruise must agree, because he has a house in Clifton Bay.  Next to that is Camp's Bay, where many foreigners are snatching up million dollar plus houses, according to the Capetown newspaper.  

We drove down the west coast to Houts Bay, which is incredible, and Long Beach, a miles long wide beach attached of miles of natural preserve land.  I looked down at the beach from above and saw two people on horseback riding along the shore and not another person on the whole beach.

The tip of the peninsula is a national park and includes Cape Point, near where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, and Cape of Good Hope, discovered by Portuguese explorer Bartolomo Dias, who died in a shipwreck there, in 1488.

We drove up the east coast to False Bay, where there are more sharks than anywhere else in the world.  We had lunch near there then went on to Simon's Bay, a naval headquarters, and walked along Boulders Beach, where there are pretty stone formations and lots of penguins.

Hout's Bay

Long Beach

Kate from Connecticut at Cape Point

Penguins at Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach, where you can swim with the penguins