About Me

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Hello! Welcome to my online travel-food-life journal/virtual scrapbook. I am a poet, playwright, journalist, editor and basic jack-of-all-trades writer. I was born in El Salvador and raised in Minnesota. I have just returned home from a year and a half in South Africa.

28 June 2012

Cape Town: Townships

I think many of us have heard the term "township."  Around the world, I think the name Soweto is probably just as well-known (if not more so) than Johannesburg or Cape Town.

But it is one thing to know about them or to have perhaps read about them and it is another thing entirely to come face to face with them.

They are the ugliest, most grievous remnants of apartheid. 

During apartheid non-white South Africans were evicted from areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into segregated townships.  Sadly, the end of apartheid did not mean the end of townships and today, most South African towns and cities will have at least one township associated with them.  Many times, there will also be informal settlements ("squatter camps") at the outskirts of townships. 

Many townships suffer from poverty, gangs, violence, overcrowding, poor (or non-existent) sewage, water shortages and illegal (and highly dangerous) electrical use.  I say "many" because some townships (like Soweto, for example) have developed wealthy and middle-class areas.  But they are not the majority.

Aaron and I have been warned any number of ways to stay away from townships.  And it is a very logical warning -- after all, most of the horrible crime statistics associated with South Africa (rape, murder) occur there.  But it is very frustrating.  I feel like there is this whole other side to South Africa that I will never know, or see, or understand adequately.  Of course there are those "township tours" but they feel very ugly and voyeuristic to me -- something seedy about going to gawk and stare at "how the other half live."

The pictures below are the closest we have come to townships.  Noel and Karen drove us around near Khayelitsha one whole afternoon because, in Noel's words, "You must see this, this is part of the real South Africa."  Some of the photos have big splotches on them -- that's from the windows when Noel said we had to keep them closed.  We never left the car.  We never really stopped.  And this is the closest I will probably come to how many South Africans live.

It is as sick and sad as you can imagine.  I find the murals particularly heart-rending.  That bit of beauty trying to survive in such ugliness.

26 June 2012

Cape Town: Bo Kaap Museum

One of things I love most about Cape Town is that is is home to so many different cultures.  Of them, the Cape Malay and Islamic communities have been a vital force here for at least 300 years.

The Bo-Kaap Museum is a tiny little museum that focuses on these communities.  From their website:

"The Bo-Kaap Museum, situated in the historic area that became home to many Muslims and freed slaves after the abolition of slavery, showcases local Islamic culture and heritage. The Bo-Kaap itself is well worth a visit. Colourful houses, steep cobbled streets, the muezzin’s calls to prayer, and children traditionally dressed for Madrassa, add to this unique Cape experience."

And indeed, the Bo-Kaap area is a must for visitors to Cape Town.  It is gorgeous (even when photographed on a cloudy day): 

And here's the museum.  Told ya it was tiny:

Inside, there are displays that detail Islam in this region and it is furnished in the style of a typical nineteenth-century Muslim family.

What is interesting is that, as their website says, "Today, the museum is in a transformation stage.  The museum is being changed into a social history museum that will tell the story of the local community within a national socio-political and cultural context and two new displays with this theme have already been completed."

I found these the most compelling of all the displays:

It is so odd to go through the visitor's book and see signatures from the time of apartheid, and then go into the next room and read about apartheid's impact in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood.

I hope that the museum continues to add more of the socio-political displays (and perhaps gets more space!) and that anyone coming to Cape Town takes the time to visit this little gem.