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Settling in, but seeing new places

We have finally settled in at Stellenbosch for a few weeks, and we have begun to get into a routine. As someone studying Industrial Engineering at Northwestern, our classes have exposed me to a lot of new content, especially pertaining to global health and biomedical engineering. In addition to classes about technology, a large component of understanding healthcare in South Africa has included having a chance to better understand the context of the country and culture here. We have had some great lectures from professors at Stellenbosch that have added to our understanding of the legacy of Apartheid, racial dynamics, and contemporary political issues.

Outside the classroom, we have gotten to see and learn even more about these with our off-campus visits. Our weekend in Cape Town last week included tours of Robben Island, District 6, and Bo Kaap. On Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held for many years, we were given a tour around the museum by a former prisoner. It was jarring to hear his story firsthand, but also a unique experiences that I’m sure won’t be possible for the generations of visitors after us.

Our guides at District 6 and Bo Kaap were also people native to these neighborhoods respectively. Bo Kaap was very colorful, filled with tourists taking photos, historical homes, beautiful mosques, and spice shops while District 6 was empty by comparison, its historical infrastructure having been destroyed during Apartheid. Although these two areas were extreme opposites on the surface, what they have in common is that their people were proud to be from where they grew up, and both neighborhoods are facing a great deal of change. Gentrification is everywhere, and influxes of money have the power to alter who will be able to live in these neighborhoods in the near future. Having a chance to meet people from these places and see their homes through their eyes was a truly memorable experience.

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