Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hello from Cape Town

Woooo, it's time for an in-vacation blog! I'm in Cape Town at the moment, with the Boy and really enjoying it. What's been most shocking for me, even though it obviously shouldn't be, is how much diversity there is everywhere. We just had dinner on the V&A Waterfront surrounded by people of all colors and it's tremendous to see. It's so normal in my real life and so alien to my Peace Corps life (aside from our PCVs of color). Cape Town has been a real awakening to how much has changed and how much progress has been made. I know I always tell people how hard it is to constantly jump between the "third world" in the village and the "first world" in Polokwane or Pretoria, but Cape Town is absolutely incredible. I can't believe that this is the same country as my village.

We've kind of made this first part of the trip the "deal with South Africa's depressing recent history" section. Two days ago was the Soweto tour, which included visits to the Apartheid Museum (ok, but very "great men did this" retelling of the story without too much depth or focus on ordinary people) and the Hector Peterson memorial/museum (which is excellent and deals with the Soweto uprising of 1976). I wasn't so impressed by Soweto, mostly because it didn't feel alien to me at all! I guess I've acclimated more than I think. Today we went to Robben Island, where the government stashed all of the male political prisoners of color (black, Indian, coloured). It was a very interesting experience, not the least because of the queue for tickets. They're fully booked until Jan. 10, so there were a lot of crazed people trying to buy standby tickets. Luckily, I booked a couple of months ago! It was an interesting, very choreographed tour. You got herded on to a bus for a 45 minute drive around the island, then a 45 minute tour of the maximum security prison, including the reverent filing past of the cell where Mandela spent 18 years. I can't say it was a particularly emotional experience, however, and I somehow thought that it would be. On the up side, there were penguins!

I'm also simply more confused about this place. I get so frustrated with its potential and the things that are so, so bad and then feel guilty when I remember how much the people in my community have struggled. And I think about how much has changed, which is incredible, against a pessimistic niggling that nothing will ever get better.

I guess I just have a few other random thoughts:
1) The Johannesburg domestic terminal is fantastic! We checked-in at a kiosk and dropped off our bags without ever waiting in a queue and no one ever harassed us before we got on the plane! I'm usually completely stripped of my dignity and ready to kill someone at airports, so this was fantastic. On the two hour (and $100) flight to Cape Town, they even gave us sandwiches. Veggie Boy got a whole chocolate bar with his cheese sandwich, but the rest of us got one sad cookie.

2) For Christmas, I received a beanie bear wearing the uniform of the Boy's rugby team (Harley is the mascot's name, since the club is the Harlequins). I have now purchased a miniature springbok wearing a South Africa rugby jersey. Harley has been retaliating, beating up said Bokkie (and the Boy has helped, although he swears he's over England losing in the World Cup final).

3) Christmas was amazing. Another PCV and I went to the nearby Dutch Reform Church for their Dutch services, which was great, and we met some really nice people afterwards. Then, 13 of us SA-16ers all gathered at one of the backpackers (hostels) to cook more food than two times that number could have eaten! It was fantastic. Wonderful food and so many friends. I really do love my PCV family.

Possibly more to come.