False Bay

Painting and Playing all day long: Day 45

There's nothing louder and simultaneously as comforting as rain on a tin roof, even during monsoons. This must be what makes the Cape Town area look so clear, clean, and lush. And surely, when we emerged from our rooms that second day in False Bay, the world was dripping and new. Into Masi again, we went into a few creches where children from the township can receive child care and an education while their parents work, in hopes that they will someday be at the same academic level as their peers. The first one was hooked up, resources stacking the shelves in an organized, well-labeled fashion. At our arrival, one volunteer was reading a book in English, and a teacher next to her translated the story in Xhosa, chocked full of clicks and tongue smacks. Activity time commenced with drawing and painting, and we tried getting our hands and minds in there with the kids. I ended up stacking toys with young 5 and 6 year olds, trying to teach them colors and shapes. One teacher came over, asking me if I've been "teaching her children". When the kids nodded their heads, she looked really touched, and I was filled with...dare I say...glee.

The second creche wasn't nearly as organized, discipline-oriented, or effective in making a difference for the kids. These 2 and 3 year olds, as well as babies, pretty much danced around a building erected by previous volunteers and entertained themselves. Part of the process, though, of programs coming in to help various establishments is waiting for an invitation and a genuine intention to progress towards something sustainable. Though this creche had made great leaps towards improving the conditions for the kids, moving them from a flooded and moldy room in the back of the house to a clean, dry, well-lit structure, they didn't have daily routines or enough activities to calm their busy minds and bodies. Luckily the ones at this creche move on to the previous creche and receive the skills that will get them somewhere.

And the women that run these places often don't receive enough donations to function but must work themselves on the weekends and evenings for funds to run their creche. That's some noble, admirable dedication right there.

Our volunteer coordinators, Ally and Isabelle, treated us to a much appreciated meal and took us to our final destination of an orphanage in a colored community. Something Ally informed us of early on is the use of racial terms in accepted speech. In South Africa, people describe others as white, black, or colored. Simply using these words does not imply anything derogatory. The term "colored" differentiates those who have dark skin and other influences of Arabic, Asian, and so on. Anywho, the orphanage is better than many that exist in America today and had been visited by Melinda Gates. They had resources, though an odd stance on nutrition (the meals of custard answered questions about the quite round babies). We played for a bit after a tour of the facilities and returned to our hostel, feeling pretty content from the incredible treatment we received for two days straight.

Thomas Jefferson was a fan of travel: "Travel makes you wiser, but less happy." In a sense, I think he was on target, but global and social awareness can also bring a feeling of hope and enlightenment that can empower and please. I didn't feel happy seeing children and adults living hard lives that I observed as a cushy tourist. But I loved being witness to their strong characters and seeing the moments of success that emerge from the hardships. You can hear about the problems in South Africa and easily forget about them. You can see the problems in South Africa and remember them well. You can do something for the struggles, learn about the solutions, and interact with South Africans and understand viscerally until the end of your days. For this reason, I volunteer, because I don't ever want these hard realities to be easy to forget.

No need to cry, kitty...there's TEARS

The barking from TEARS reverberates across the entirety of Masiphumalele daily, but what's represented by those sounds make the annoyance of constant dog yelping kinda comforting. The Emma Animal Rescue Society takes stray animals as well as domestic pets from the local communities for vaccinations, fixing, and disease treatment at a price that no one can argue with: free. Instead of putting down pups with horrifying skin diseases, they do what they can to ensure that every animal gets a chance at survival and adoption. And when they wander across a pet cat that hasn't been neutered yet, they create a positive relationship and rapport between TEARS and the owner, gaining respect and trust among people who don't often have the money to do the right thing for their beloved pets. We took a tour of the facilities to observe feral cats hanging out, sweet and healthy kitties propped on columns ready to be loved, and dogs dancing around their cages eager for chow time. One frisky barker had moves like Spiderman and bounded from the ceiling of his shared cage down to the ground, really darn excited for his Kibble. We gave treats to those that were being especially friendly and then moseyed to the wrestling puppies. There was a whole lotta cuteness going on at TEARS, and I think Chris and I could have entertained ourselves for hours playing with the animals.

The rescue squad, or mobile clinic, or whatever it was called invited us to join a ride through Masi to observe how they find the needy animals and connect with the communities. There was one man living on the very edge of the wetlands who absolutely adored his large, golden canines but couldn't feed them and treat them they way they deserved. TEARS built him a kennel out of the rain water and helped him out with dog food. The man was so grateful, he put his palms together and dipped his head in a sign of extreme and humble thanks.

When we turned a corner and saw a small cat staring at some snacking birds, we paused to laugh, and then the mobile crew took a gander to make sure she was fixed. Nay! TEARS squad members unite! One man spoke in the local language of Xhosa to tell her they could take care of everything and bring back her cat in a few days at no cost to her. One less animal out and about with procreating abilities or susceptibility to bad diseases.

In the next township of Mountain View, we came across a man who adored his massive pitbull, a canine who was quite obviously not fixed. The dog's homemade sweater was connected to the chain around his neck and had felt letters sewn on spelling "I'm so hood". It was just too perfect an ensemble. The owner reeked of booze and had an odd smear of white surrounding his mouth. He insisted that he'd never taken his dog to a fight, but he's killed 13 dogs before. And he took impeccable care to pair his fella with only the most worthy pitbull ladies, spreading the good bloodlines he called it. In this community, it's common that the men keep incredibly virile and dangerous dogs to solidify their own manly image. This was a case that would take weeks for TEARS to work, and they began by talking about dog fight victims to get on this guy's sappy side. We watched from afar at their wicked skills of coercion.

We left them to their jobs of keeping the animal peace and went for a volunteer bbq at the i-to-i house. It involved the kind of good food that puts hair on your chest: beef, sausage, potaters. The volunteers were all young, chatty, and very sweet, and their perspectives on travel, their volunteer projects, and South Africa were refreshing. It looks like more guys need to be made aware of this volunteer program, as they were scarcely represented. Fellas, South Africa + a bunch of ladies and you living under one roof...think about it.

Getting our Backs into it: Day 44

I looked at i-to-i a while back when I was weighing my post-graduation opportunities. My trouble with volunteer projects though is always that I'm not sure whether my presence will be accepted, appreciated, and utilized for the maximum amount of assistance I can provide. Sometimes you show up, and it's pretty obvious a project is just about getting people to donate money and get out. Other times, you've got a very devoted group of people ready to work, but there aren't any resources or guidance to make the developments occur. i-to-i had all these issues figured out, and we could see and feel there was a need for volunteers to be there. We drove from Cape Town around the mountains to False Bay during the brilliance of a harbor sunrise. The first stop was a no frills walk around a township called Masiphumalele (which stands for "we will succeed"). Townships areas were set aside during the apartheid era as a place to "put" the colored and black communities that weren't wanted in the residential white zones. Masi, for short, is the only informal community in the Cape Town area that's centered in a "white" zone and is also the township with the highest percentage of people with HIV and AIDS...42%.

Charlotte, a local resident who can only be described as delightful, showed us around the community centers, libraries, relief centers, and even her own home, which is a privilege for visitors. We inquired about the expenses of living in this township and discovered a shack, built with a corrugated tin roof and roughly assembled panels, would go for about $500. Day care for a young child is $10 per month, but since these facilities wouldn't send a child away if the parents failed to pay, often that fee never gets collected. The township also bordered a wetland area, which floods with each heavy rain, and unfortunately it had been pouring the week prior to our arrival. Many children couldn't go to school or day care because they didn't have dry clothes to wear, and parents flocked to the relief centers for blankets to get through the chilly weather.

We walked amongst the kids singing in the street, the dogs roaming and barking hysterically, and the wandering people making their ways to local shops or passing taxis. This is definitely the way to do a township tour. Go with someone from the township, and walk, don't ride. It's also important to make sure your photography isn't about exploiting the people who live there, so this is one of those events that calls for intense sensitivity with clicking the shutter.

We then hit up our lunch stop, which also happened to be an educare center for children of pretty abysmal living situations and histories. Carrying in bags of rolls and deli ham, Chris and I began slathering mayo and folding ham for the kids' lunches. When we walked in, there was earth-rumbling screaming. When we passed out sandwiches, a mouse could have passed gas, and all would have turned their heads to look. And once the children consumed the food before them, it was back to unstoppable energy. The volunteers were personal jungle gyms for some kids, while others found joy in just being held. I attracted some gigglers with the always-reliable crowd pleaser, the tickle monster. Wherever you looked, there was a runny nose and a smile. It was a good scene.

Our expert sandwich assembling abilities came in handy once more when about 20 loaves of bread and flats of peanut butter came into the kitchen. We found ourselves in an efficient assembly line partaking in the relief efforts from recent rains. All those families whose homes hadn't a dry board received PB&Js to curb the devastation just a smidge. It felt good to spend even part of this trip doing something as useful as making cold and hungry families food.

Outside, volunteers stood propped up by rakes and shovels, smoking and chatting, waiting for the top soil and manure to show up for the care center's new garden. This project led by the volunteer program proposes to provide the children with fresh vegetables for stews and make better nutrition possible for very little money. And considering the owner of the establishment spends all her free time working for the funds to run the joint, anything to ease the heavy financial load is ecstatically appreciated. We got our backs into it for a bit and then had to move on to another social improvement project...this time all about the canines and felines.