Although we have gotten busier with academics, there are some excursions that were organized for us as well. One of my favorites so far was Hout Bay. As a group we travelled to there with Jean Poluta, who had organized the first two weeks of our program. The day included a mildly rocky boat tour to seal island, where we got an up-close view of the cape fur seals that live in the harbor. Between the seals and the fishmeal factory in the area, the smells were less than spectacular, but the tastes were amazing. Our group went to Snoekie’s, a local classic, for lunch where we munched on some fresh fish n’ chips, and my clothes that were still damp from the boat tour got to dry out in the sunshine.
We also got to meet with Prof Alan Morris, a retired professor from UCT, who gave us an informal lecture on race in South Africa. Although we had already been given a handful of lectures on this topic at Stellenbosch, Prof Morris’ background as a forensic anthropologist provided a new perspective. We talked about how culture and ethnicity can — but do not always — overlap, and we discussed Cape Town-specific cultural phenomena like the “Cape Flats smile”.
In Hout Bay, race is a particularly salient topic because of the communities and neighborhoods that are each still typically representative of a single racial group. This can make political questions, such as where to locate a new clinic, controversial and challenging for Hout Bay leadership.
Afterwards, our group had the opportunity to take a tour through Imizamo Yethu Township, an informal settlement in Hout Bay. We were guided by the local ANC representative, Kenny Tokwe, and we visited a variety of homes, schools, and community centers. The homes in the community varied: we saw some that were simple shacks, divided between a bedroom and an all purpose room that served as a kitchen, laundry room, and dining area. Other homes, while still small by American standards, had as many as six rooms, with fully functioning kitchen appliances, separate bedrooms for parents and children, and living rooms with childrens’ art projects framed on a bookshelf. These homes had been built as part of an effort by Niall Mellon, an Irish businessman who funded the construction of hundreds of homes in the area.
One of our last stops on the tour was to iKhaya le Themba, which translates to “Home of Hope”. It is a community center that provides programming, home-cooked meals, and a safe space for children who have experienced trauma to go after school until their parents are home from work. Getting to interact with some of the children at this and other community centers in the neighborhood was certainly a highlight of the tour, and I am so grateful to have gotten to see such an in-depth view of this community.
There are many beautiful things to see and do in Cape Town like climbing Table Mountain, going to the beach, or trying new foods; but having had a chance to explore a less typical tourist destination and spend the day interacting with people and hearing their stories brought a new level of depth to my time here that I hope to continue to find in our last two weeks.