Archives for posts with tag: Daily Life

South Africa has 11 national languages. Many other YAGM programs around the world start with language training. However, South Africa can’t do that as a group, because we are learning different languages. Between the 10 placement sites this year, there were 7 languages that were used daily. This means that I arrived in Cape Town, in a Coloured community that is primarily Afrikaans-speaking, knowing how to say “thank you,” but nothing else.

The language Afrikaans has a complex history. It developed in the 18th century as Dutch settlers had to communicate with other inhabitants of Southern Africa, including their slaves. It is largely comprised of Dutch, but has bits and pieces of Khoisan, Portuguese, Xhosa, and languages from Southeast Asia and Southern Africa.

It is also the cause of a lot of controversy. Afrikaans is the mother-tongue of the Afrikaaner people, and it was a group of Afrikaaner people who developed the governmental structure of apartheid. The Afrikaaner people are often credited as being the “architects of apartheid” and Afrikaans as the “language of oppression.” In fact, the Soweto Student Uprisings of 1976, often credited as the beginning of the end of apartheid, started due to the students’ frustration at being taught in Afrikaans.

While that is the history of the language nationally, in my community, it is different. The coloured community is majority Afrikaans-speaking, but it is not the same Afrikaans spoken by the Afrikaaner people. In much of the Western Cape, Afrikaans and English are mixed together in a blend of language and dialect. Some things are said only in English, and other things are said only in Afrikaans. Some sentences it’s common to mix the two together. Words are even pronounced differently.

I have lived among the coloured community for nearly 11 months, and yet I am nowhere near fluent or even conversational in Afrikaans. I can understand most of the simple sentences spoken around me, and my church-related vocabulary isn’t too bad, but I still often have to ask for clarification in English. I can speak some simple sentences, but my friends always laugh and tell me I speak Afrikaans with a German accent (how that is possible I just don’t know).

The thing is, though, the Afrikaans I have learned is the bilingual mix of my community. It is beautiful, and I adore hearing it spoken. But it is unexpected for many people to encounter a white person who speaks this dialect of Afrikaans. Often, when I am in other parts of the city or country, a person will approach me speaking Afrikaans. I will realize, with a shock, that I can’t understand anything they say because their accent and way of speaking is so different. I have even seen looks of shock and anger on the faces of people when I speak “improper” Afrikaans.

Sometimes, when I travel to other YAGMs, I get a whole different reaction. For example, when I was able to visit Soweto, I would tell people I was learning Afrikaans and some would respond with anger that I would learn the “language of oppression.” I felt the need to defend my community, to speak up for their use of Afrikaans, and to explain that it was not just the language used to write apartheid laws.

It is the language with which I greet my students, with which they call out to me on the street as I pass by.

It is the language my supervisor uses when she speaks to her husband about their work trying to make life better in my community.

It is the language in which I have learned The Lord’s Prayer, in which I have heard hymns and the Lutheran liturgy for the last year.

It is the language I helped my host siblings practice spelling words for, the language with which I am greeted as I pass my neighbors, the language spoken when I watch soccer in the hostel, the language with which people say “How are you,” “Sleep well,” “I love you,” and “I will miss you.”

Afrikaans is not my mother tongue, but it is the tongue of my mothers in Cape Town, and I feel so blessed that I was able to spend a year struggling to learn bits and pieces of a bilingual and imperfect dialect of such a meaningful language.

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In my life in Cape Town, I rely on five main modes of transport: trains, taxis, buses, friends, and feet. I’ll give you a brief overview of each so you can get an idea of how this chick gets around town. 

1. Trains: Cape Town has a pretty solid MetroRail system. When I was living in Muizenberg, I took the train to and from work. I love the way trains move, the way musicians and vendors walk through trains with things to sell, and the way people on a broken-down train quickly become friends. 

2. Taxis: Taxis are one of my absolute favorite things about South Africa. They probably deserve their own blog post. You see, “taxi” here does not mean the same thing as “taxi” in NYC. Here, that is a “metered cab.” A “taxi,” or “kombi,” is a mini-bus. Most are 15-passenger vans, and in most parts of South Africa, that means they fit 15 people. In Cape Town, however, a 15-passenger van can fit up to 23 adults (ask me about that story sometime).  Basically, you wave down a taxi as it drives past you on the road, hop on, and tell the driver to stop when you want to get out again. They are usually blasting house music, hip hop, or R&B. There is a taxi that goes from my neighborhood to the Bellville Taxi Rank, where a multitude of taxis sit, waiting to fill up with passengers before they leave for their different destinations. Taxi rides, locally, are no more than R20, and you can get to a lot of places using taxis. Granted, you might have to take three separate taxis to your destination, but you’ll get there. I love love love sitting in a taxi, crammed with a bunch of strangers, listening to ridiculous music and a variety of languages, and looking out the window at the city I now call home. 

3. Buses: Buses here are pretty much like public buses in the U.S. They are sometimes late, sometimes crowded, but usually just fine. I take buses on Fridays to the church office where I work, and appreciate the relative peace and quiet compared to taxis and trains. 

4. Friends: If I need to get somewhere that public transportation doesn’t go, I am lucky enough to know a few people with their own personal cars. For the most part, people in my community don’t own their own cars. However, there are a few exceptions. I enjoy car rides with friends for the chance to have conversations or sing together to songs on the radio or discuss just how crazy it is that people in the U.S. drive on the other side of the road. 

5. Feet: Let’s be honest, this is my main mode of transportation. I have two feet attached to two legs, and they get me just about anywhere. Currently, I walk to and from work, the post office, the grocery store, or just about anywhere else I need to go on a typical day. Even if I take a bus, or a taxi, or a train, I will still have at least a 10-minute walk to and from the vehicle I will get on. One of my favorite moments of my daily life is turning onto the street that leads to the hostel, and knowing I am nearly home. Walking means I often end up sunburned or soaked in rain or freezing cold, but I get to where I am going and I am able to take time to think, appreciate the beauty of my life, and pray. 

After a year of relying on these varied and usually convenient forms of public transportation, I worry a bit about transitioning back to Arizona, where the public transportation system isn’t great. Even though I will have access to a car, I hope I remember to take public transportation whenever possible. It is a chance to meet new people, take in the world around me, and appreciate the diversity of each day. 

I am shocked by how quickly time passes- I only have six weeks left in my community of Bellville South. In these last six weeks, I want to throw myself into daily life, but I also want to communicate daily life with my international community. For that purpose, once a week for the next six weeks I will do a blog post about something in my daily life, from language to laundry. I hope you enjoy hearing about the not-so-profound parts of my life here!

First up: TV!

For the most part in South Africa, I haven’t had access to DSTV (the equivalent of cable in the US). Instead, I have access to SABC1, SABC2, SABC3, and e.tv. These four channels have the same evening line-up every weeknight: news and soap operas. The news is broadcast in different languages at different times, and almost every South African culture has a soap opera, or soapie. There are lots of popular South Africa shows: Isidingo, Rhythm Cuty, Muvhango, Generations, 7 de Laan, and Scandal, to name a few.

In mid-October, I moved in with a host family and began to regularly watch 7 de Laan. It is primarily in Afrikaans (all shows have English subtitles) and my host family let my host siblings watch it to help them practice their Afrikaans for school. I was skeptical at first, but quickly got hooked. One of my absolute favorite TV moments was watching 7 de Laan at the Children’s Home I worked at one day in December. The teenage girls and I were all hoping Danelle and Bernard (characters on the show) would get together, and during the couple’s first kiss we all cheered and danced around the room. I have continued to watch 7 de Laan throughout the year, and have fond memories watching it in every place I have lived in Cape Town.

In January, I moved into the hostel where I currently live. Now, at 8 PM every night, you’ll find me sitting with some of the students who live here, absorbed in the drama of Generations. We usually can’t make it through the show without an argument breaking out amongst the students: is Sibusiso evil or every man’s hero? Should Senzo and Jason break up? Is Noluntu or Dineo more beautiful? I’m now even vocal in some of these arguments (Sibusiso is a horrible person and Noluntu and Dineo are both gorgeous). 

There is plenty of debate in the world about the value of television, but spending time each night watching TV with the people in my life has been a blessing. It gives us something to talk about, helps me feel like I truly belong, and forces us all out of our rooms to spend time together in community.