View of the ocean and of Ocean View from my temporary home stay parents bedroom.
As part of my study abroad program (CIEE) students are required to spend a weekend in Ocean View, an underprivileged colored neighborhood in Cape Town. As I said in a previous blog post, the people who live there were moved from various neighborhoods around Cape Town during the 60s and 70s when white people decided they wanted to live in their neighborhoods.
Overlooking Ocean View.
Many host families took their students to show them the houses in which they grew up. These houses were in places like Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town, which are towns right on the coast that now host beautiful summer homes. It is crazy to see how close Ocean View is to these extravagant summer mansions on the coast. One man I spoke to, who was forcibly removed from Simon’s Town when he was ten, dated a white woman for three and a half years during the Apartheid, but her father forbid them to marry. Years later after he had separated from his white British wife, that same father married a colored woman.
I’ve seen many townships since I’ve been here, and I was honestly expecting to spend the weekend in a one or two room house with a family that had little plumbing and no electricity, but the families that we stayed with lived in small but cozy houses with running water and full electricity. The house I stayed in had three bedrooms and a bathroom. My roommate, another CIEE student and I had a room to ourselves. We unknowingly kicked their 19 year old son out of his room, but he didn’t seem to mind too much. The bathroom consisted of a toilet and a bathtub, so we did everything that you would usually do in a sink in the bathtub. It was surprising to realize that something as simple as a sink is a luxury, yet I had no problem going without one. A bathtub does everything a sink does, it’s just a little bit closer to the ground.
My bedroom for the weekend.
My roomate Katy and I stayed with the Corker family: Veronica and Cedric, their three children Elreza (age 24), Elrenzo )age 19), and Elretha (age 12), and their granddaughter, Schyler (age 4).
Schyler in the Corker family’s living room.
They are a deeply religious and close knit family. Veronica just quit her job because she said she had a calling from the Lord to do ministry work. Cedric is self-employed and does construction work and odd jobs. Veronica says because their house depends on a self-employed salary, their well-being is very closely tied to the ups and downs of the market, and they tend to fall on rough times every now and then. Elreza has a job in a factory that makes high end outdoor gear and is like the South African version of The North Face. Elrenzo, who graduated from high school last year, works at Pick n’ Pay, a popular chain of grocery stores.
I wasn’t expecting to see such a close community in an area that is so wrought with crime. My host mom for the weekend explained to me that everyone here knows everyone else. This means that when her son was robbed of his cell phone a few weeks ago, it was probably by people that he knew. When they held him at knifepoint they were wearing balaclavas, so he couldn’t tell who it was, but it’s very possible that he said hello to them on the street at some point the very next day. Even with poverty and crime the way it is, people still watch out for each other. A few doors down from where I stayed there was a family of fourteen living in the exact same 3 bedroom house I lived in. My host mom was joking that they must take shifts when they sleep. A few children of the house stopped by and we gave them food, and my host mom explained that one was a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome and the other was a child of a tik (crystal meth) addict. It’s common for the children of tik addicts to be neglected, and so the community will take care of these children. Several other students in my program mentioned that their families took care of “lost children” whether it was providing them with a meal on a Sunday afternoon, giving them pocket change, or taking them into their homes full time.
Tik is what they call crystal meth here, and there is a major crystal meth addiction crisis in Ocean View. Everyone there knows multiple people addicted to it, and many have passed through phases of being addicted, including my host sister Elreza. This crystal meth addiction problem breeds crime and violence, even within families. My host mom explained that though she allowed her brother, a crystal meth addict, to live with them for a few months, they had to lock up everything of value that they owned because he had a habit of stealing from his family (including their mother) in order to feed his habit. He couldn’t explain or control this compulsiveness to steal because his only thought was on where he could get his next fix.
Alcoholism is also an enormous problem in Ocean View, and many students got to see that first hand. We stopped by a neighbor’s house at two o’clock on Saturday afternoon, and about 8 women were sitting in the living room drinking whiskey, and had clearly been doing so for several hours. Many of the host families took their students to parties throughout the weekend lasting late into the night. It was so much fun for these students to see an Ocean View party for the weekend, but it’s clear that in some cases the drinking is excessive and cuts into their daily lives.
Ice, the family dog, smells meat cooking in the kitchen.
It is overwhelming how many issues are present in this community, and this was a colored township. The African, or black, townships, have many, many more problems. It made me wonder what could possibly be done to change the living conditions there, and how much time it would take. It’s honestly hard not to get discouraged by the ongoing list of factors preventing the children in this community from having better lives than their parents. As I’m studying international development, my future job will have to do with improving the crippling situations present in marginalized communities. But where do you start when there’s so much to be solved?
Caleb, one of the neighborhood kids who stopped by to see the white people, playing hide and seek in front of the house I lived in for the weekend.
My temporary homestay Dad, braaing (grilling).
Even though there certainly are many issues within this neighborhood, I wouldn’t want you to pity this community. I spent the weekend getting to know the community as people. The people who live in Ocean View are hard working and honest. Although I didn’t find this surprising, I think I should mention it as well. Ocean View families are just like every other neighborhood in the world. Kids are kids, no matter where you go. Students participate in after school activities: there’s a high school band, a net ball team, countless dance groups (a South African form of hip hop is extremely popular), vocal groups, training for bicycle races, church groups and ballet. As a whole the community is a happy one. They watch out for each other. The father of my host family did the laundry and washed the dishes: men and women aren’t confined to their stereotypes. They share their food and their blessings. They say hello to everyone they meet in the street. They laugh and joke constantly. They welcomed us to their community with open arms. My host mom happily answered my never ending stream of questions, even when they got personal.
Pot luck lunch after church… Such yummy food. This was after everyone had eaten their fill.
My host family took us to church, which was Pentecostal and a total culture shock. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that here in South Africa I am in the minority as a Catholic for the first time. It’s the first time in my life being Catholic hasn’t been the norm for my community. People are intrigued by my religion, but I’ve also found myself having to justify it for the first time. It has forced me to think about why I chose to be Catholic. Before church on Sunday, my host Mom warned me that sometimes they were called the “happy clappers” and that it might not be like the church that I am used to. That was a major understatement.
One of Ocean View’s two primary schools, where church took place.
Most of church was very long passionate songs, and the audience participated and yelled responses like “Amen” to the pastor as he preached. Two of the most unusual parts of the two hour service were at the end. First, the pastor called all the men up to the front of the church, and had the women of the community gather around them in a circle and pray for their commitment to their wives and families. It was nice to see such an emphasis on commitment, but when the women got up to pray for them they stood in a circle yelling their prayers. Some became so passionate that they began to cry. It wasn’t like any experience of prayer that I’ve ever experienced. Instead of being peaceful and consoling it was loud and chaotic. At the end of the service, the pastor called up a specific boy from the congregation. He was 19 ,just about my age, and had impregnated a girl without being married. The pastor explained this to the entire congregation as the boy was standing in the front. He said that the boy had been punished for 9 months, but now the baby was born and he had realized that he had done wrong, so he would no longer be “punished”. By punished I think that meant in addition to being publicly humiliated regularly, he couldn’t play the drums in the church band. From what I gather playing the drums was his passion, so maybe this was a hefty punishment. I know I felt humiliated even watching his personal life shared with the entire church as well as about 10 American outsiders. He didn’t look particularly happy to be up there, but he wasn’t surprised either…Well. That’s one way to dissuade teen pregnancy.
Katy, Schyler, and I at the Sunday lunch with the church community.
I’m really frustrated with this post because I don’t think that I can put my experience this weekend into words. I learned a great deal about problems prevalent in disadvantaged areas, but I also learned so much about the meaning of community. There was a lot that was discouraging to see, but so much of what I saw was positive and inspiring. These people haven’t had 5% of the opportunities that I have, yet they are still so optimistic about their futures. Every day that I’m here I appreciate everything I’ve been given more and more.
Family gathered by the fire after dinner Saturday night.
There’s so much more I couldsay about my weekend, but this post is already almost three pages single spaced, so I think I’m going to stop here. If any of you have any specific questions about anything, I’m so so happy to talk more about this weekend. Living with a family in Ocean View was a completely different experience from driving through it. I learned so much and I am very thankful that I was able to participate.
Michaela Gaziano is a student from Villanova University.