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03/17/2011

Home for the Weekend

The modern day nearndathal

By the time you are in your fifth year at university (Yes! That’s me…*awkward silence*) you have become accustomed to fending for yourself. You are so used to hunting down all the stores with the cheapest bargains, all of the markets that have food that will not keep toilet paper companies in business and restaurants that prepare good and affordable food, not because they fear being sued when the proverbial fly is in your soup, but because they can and want to. You will also have learned how to make your last pair of underwear last an extra three days (Trust me, this is a handy skill to learn) and what to do when the electricity bill has not been paid because the sneakers you saw in the shop window were just too good. In short, after about a year in university, you will be a modern day Neanderthal – suited for survival by the skin of your teeth and the swipe of your credit card. You don’t really need your Mommy for anything. Maybe to top up your bank balance but that is about it.

The point I am trying to make perhaps, is that after a while, you stop being a Momma’s boy or a Daddy’s girl – home is that other place you go to when there is nothing else left to do when your university closes. It sucks, but it happens. At least, to me it did.

The feeling of being away from home, being away from people who genuinely want to look after you, spoil you just for the sake of it, be around when you need conversation and provide that “home sweet home” feeling came down in ways I could not imagine when CIEE Cape Town treated its students and RA’s to a homestay weekend in Ocean View, a coloured community near Kommetjie in Cape Town.

Ocean View

The history of Ocean View, is a tumultuous one – the inhabitants were uprooted from their original homes in Simonstown during the apartheid era and relocated to Ocean View under the Group Areas Act – an infamous piece of legislation that had whole families removed from their homes to suit racial segregation policies. Coupled with poverty, close family groups and the legacy of apartheid, a strange culture has thrived in Ocean View – it is the South African “other”…but not disconcertingly so. It is different…but not really. It is home…but not quite.

Carrying a negative stereotype, Ocean View is an area of the greater Cape Town metropole that is spoken about but rarely experienced. It’s tag as a dangerous area is unwarranted – I have lived in places where even the flies can rob you, Ocean View is not such a place. True, it is not the most affluent of areas, but it is a place that is heartwarming in a way that cannot be described. The people are shaped by their environment and they in turn shape the world around them – like any other place in the world, it is a give and take relationship that is not understood by people who have never been there. Most of the stereotypes are just pure ignorance.

With just two days in Ocean View, students were given the opportunity to see how the other half lives – escaping the bright lights of Cape Town where one can be deluded into thinking clubbing and studying are the only things to do. It was shift in perspective, in expectations and personal convictions that I think affected most, if not all of the students in positive ways. From personal experience, I don’t think I will look at coloured communities in the same way again.

Home for the weekend

Home for me, is a place that is characterised by fights with my brothers about who gets the last slice of cake, who gets to hold the remote (because that controls what is watched) and perpetual avoidance of chores and other mundane activities mothers dream up to keep their boisterous sons occupied. For once though, and with all due respect to my family, I was allowed to live my fantasy of being an only child.

And boy, was it good.

For all of two days, I was the centre of attention, a living deity that was worshipped by my host family – every hour of the day, they would bring food and beverage sacrifices to me, they would take me on tours around their neighbourhood and introduce me to friends and family alike, where I walked there was a small crowd of followers that swarmed behind me, ahead of me there were people on the streets staring as I passed by. I am quite sure I heard a fanfare at some point. In short, it was sheer bliss.

My host family, a mother, her son and her niece doted on me in ways that would make my mother jealous. The way I lapped up the attention is sure to get me disowned if she reads this. Nevertheless, it was a welcome break from the continuous hubbub of university life – it was good to just sit around and talk to a family without worrying about academics or what to cook for supper. It was good to just be at home.

The Ocean View homestay effectively ticks of one thing on my bucket list: live with a host family in a strange part of the world. With CIEE Cape Town set to have more activities around the corner, I think I won’t have a bucket list to speak of – I will be allowed to die in peace.

 

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