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.

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