Two days ago at this time, I was sitting comfortably at a bright pink table, sipping on a warm vegan chai tea latte and journaling while Margot and the Nuclear So and So's melodic rhythms offered the perfect journaling vibe. A man in his early 20s sporting a black turtle neck and an ironic mustache served me a glass of water with ice, and I wasn't even scared to drink it. Gulped that chilled liquid gold right down without a thought. Cape Town, man. I was definitely feeling some type of pampered, while I sat on my pink throne, free wifi in hand. I looked up a hot yoga studio nearby and called an uber to deliver me there. While I waited for my valiant steed, aka David in his Chevy, I was approached by multiple beggars.
I have been debating the begging situation since I first landed in Africa. There are two easy options: give them a dollar or two and think you are helping or don't give them anything and claim that you're either helping them by declining their request for drug and alcohol money or like me, try to justify passing beggars by citing the corrupt system to giving and dependence. Anyways, somehow, the beggars in Cape Town felt different. In Dodoma, the rich and the poor don't feel incredibly divided. Because even the rich still do not have air conditioning or access to things like cheese, and everyone is black. In Cape Town, you drive past mansions just five minutes after passing a township, which are shacks made from corrugated iron and other found materials. Left over residential areas from apartheid. The divide between rich and poor is so obvious because of the immense wealth and the skin color associations with the class system. It may have been a higher quality of life in Cape Town, but I felt far less safe than in my lovely shit hole Dodoma. And I completely understand why crime would exist in a place where the haves and the have nots are sitting next to each other, and it is blatantly obvious who is who based upon their appearance.
But bridges have been built in order to help people across the trench that separates white, colored and black people. By the way, colored is not a slur but the official South African government term for someone who is a mix between white and black. My friend Callie, who I was visiting, works at a woman's clinic called Mosaic, which helps to counsel abuse victims as well as their abusers, because they believe addressing the root of violence is as important as finding a way for the abused to flee. On Saturday, Callie volunteered us to look after children while their parents took part in a group session. There were nine children of varying ages: the youngest was three and the oldest was ten. It was a very tough job. And it was even tougher not to decipher a child's story through their actions. There was one boy who dominates the group as number one tyrant. I will never forget his mean spirited nature, purposefully belittling the other boys and physically pushing the girls. At one point he inquired, "If you are friends, do you hit each other?" Red flag! Red flag!
The children were racially diverse, black, white, colored and Indian. Mosaic's advertisements purposefully displayed three fists raised into the air, one white, one black and one colored. The racial divide is not something South Africans tried to immediately wash away with the diffusion of apartheid because it is impossible to fix a problem by pretending it is not there.
Callie and I also met up with her friend Edwin who is a Kenyan guy living in a boy's home that Callie heard about through a bike tour she did her first week in Cape Town. The owner of the company was helping to train the young men living in the house to become tour guides so they would have a steady income. Since the majority of organizations focus on helping women and children (understandably), struggling young men are often left without resources. The boy's home is there to help close that void. On top of the tour guide company, the home also has a coffee shop which trains them to be baristas. A couple of the men have gone on to work at higher paying cafes thanks to the work experience they received at the home. And now, Edwin is trying to start a new initiative for the home's benefit. It is an environmental start up that is based off the communal idea and free blueprints provided by Precious Plastics, funded by the Dutch Government.
Callie and I sat at the outdoor cafe at the home for a few minutes before Edwin greeted us with a warm smile and casual demeanor. My head was twirling slightly and my stomach was gurgling as my body tried to combat the vodka consumption of the night prior, so in the beginning, my interest was faltering. We followed Edwin across the parking lot and into a room that looked like a storage unit. Plastic bottles and bins filled half of the already limited space. In the center was a bizarre metal funnel contraption with metal pipes on either side. He had built it from scratch and fortunately was able to play around with the given rations in order to create the machine from found materials. He had just enough of an accent to skew some of my understanding, but it is clear that Edwin is extremely smart and has a mission to provide jobs with this creative initiative, which benefits the environment and the community by transforming littered plastic waste into marketable knick-knacks. My hangover was not strong enough to vanquish my rising excitement about his project. It is the perfect mesh between social and environmental problems, just like I was complaining about on my previous blog!! Edwin was the beacon of hope that I needed. Although he is getting design help from the Cape Town Design Institute and random civilians, Edwin still has a lot of work to do such as drafting a business plan, creating a marketing strategy and extend his product designs, since he is currently spinning some somewhat wonky lamp stands with his melted plastic.
So in closing, I want to talk about a recurring quote throughout Trevor Noah's book Born A Crime: "You can't teach a man to fish unless you give him a fishing pole." South Africa can be a completely self reliant country because there is so much wealth within its borders, but in order to empower the poor, they must be provided with resources to help themselves. Mosaic and the boys home are both examples of community resources that are helping people help themselves.