Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Photos from South Africa

The Divide

Cape Town is a prospering, luxurious metropolis — and, a poor, violent township.

I went into a mall — a real mall. With designer stores and beautiful architecture. I watched American television on a huge bed. I took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain and my skin turned wet as I walked through a cloud on a blustery day. I went on a safari through Kruger Park and sat inches away from some of the most beautiful and powerful creatures I’ve ever seen. I had a vacation. I had a luxurious vacation. And, that’s what most Americans, Europeans or Germans do when they come to South Africa — especially when they visit Cape Town.

I also spent time visiting the townships. Just a few blocks down from the high-rises, university, spacious theaters and fancy restaurants are hundreds of shacks, made up only of metal scraps leaning in disarray. The ground is dirt and rocks. Black women move through their daily work of scrubbing their clothes and corralling their children. Black men smoke cigarettes and talk to me about how they wish their houses were homes. It is difficult for the men here because it is hard to find work and women are cheaper labor. But, even for women, life is not easy. They are stressed taking on positions of homemaker and provider. Because of disease and violence, families are often fragmented — which makes life within the impoverished townships even more complicated and exhausting.

An American might think Cape Town is a city like New York or Baltimore — all have a bad side of town and a prospering side. But, South Africa is so different. The divide between rich and poor is blatant. There is absolutely no middle class. There is a white man sipping expensive wine in a multi-million dollar beach house in view of a drunken black man beating his wife to try to numb the feeling of having so much less than his neighbor.

While I have witnessed extreme poverty in the townships of South Africa, I do see ideas for change. I visited the Indlovu Project, a plan for sustainable development for a township community, and spoke with a woman who has a true passion and is making progress— she has new buildings, a way to deal with sewage and she has the intelligence to make a difference. This is something that was not as evident to me in Morocco or Ghana.

I see plans, I see organization and a will for prosperity. I see plans for a better township. I see wealthy people starting to mobilize those plans. And, while this process has not been speedy or as efficient as it could have been, I think South Africa has hope for a middle class. For example, tourism is a true moneymaker in Cape Town and townships are starting to realize how they can profit from people who are looking to buy crafts and pieces of African culture. There is a market in Cape Town, there are rich people and I believe that this part of Africa has the tools to reverse the corruption and chaos that has brought so much pain to this area.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Phone Numbers from Ghana

Ghana greeted me, with colors, open arms and music.

Sometimes I felt myself overlooking the sewage filled streets, the trash left scattered and the homes that barely stood on their cracked foundation. I merely saw the smiles, the “God loves you” signs, the love of Americans and the children waving at me as I rode past them. It was easy for me to spend a few days in Ghana, buy a drum, hike through a rainforest, give candy to a child, listen to a tour guide and leave with the sense that Ghana is a happy place. But, as I reflect on my experiences, I realize that Ghana is not always happy — poverty is everywhere. And, it’s important to study the problems that lie beneath the smiles and hospitality.

There were hints of desperation. I spent an entire day watching, learning, drumming and dancing with talented locals a few minutes away from the port. It seemed clear that the men who were single wanted to let all of the American girls know their availability. And, when I interviewed a musician about his ideas of love and marriage, he gave me a ten-minute speech about how he wants so much to marry a white woman. At first, I thought these advances were amusing and harmless, but I began to question why exactly people in Ghana love white people so much.

When I decided to go out at night with friends to see a live band and dancing, I spent more time with the friendly locals that had the same idea of becoming ‘fast friends.’ My friend Aman met the four local guys the day before. He played football (soccer) with them and they paid for his lunch. They seemed like nice people who were relatively well off. We thought they were safe and not just looking for charity.

So, we decided to go out with them. We were three ladies, one American, one Venezuelan, one Indian, and a guy, Indian. I was the whitest person there. I felt like a light bulb in a dark room — an awkward light bulb.

They wanted my telephone number, the young girls who were dancing the day before wanted it too. They wanted to meet with me later. They wanted to keep in touch. I hadn’t even been in Ghana for a whole day and these people wanted to be lifelong friends. I thought, maybe this is okay; maybe this is just their way. But, I still didn’t give them my phone number. It didn’t feel right.

I don’t know exactly how to feel about the people of Ghana.

I left with the idea that Ghanaians see white as salvation. They want to connect to white. They want to marry white. They think white will pull them from poverty and take them places. I can’t say that my experiences speak for all Ghanaians and I hope that my ideas are wrong. But, four days and over a dozen phone numbers later, I can’t help but think that the people of Ghana are desperate for something.