Wednesday, October 24, 2007


First off, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: introduce you to my wonderful African family.

Front, from left to right: Jessy from Germany, host mom Gertrude (or Nzwaki), baby Sitetile, sister Evelyn, host dad Boi (or Tetile). Back, from left to right: sister Thania, brother Sipho.

Tetile, better known as Boi, works for SA intelligence/national security, and I’ve heard him described as the James Bond of South Africa. While this is probably true in that he has access to some serious spy equipment, guns, and inside information, I’d say he’s more teddy bear than ladies’ man (albeit a teddy bear who can do an intense 180 if necessary).

Nonzwakazi, also called Gertrude, is the director of Angels and Starfish, but she’s involved in an endless list of projects, all for the sake of community development. In 2000, she founded South African Female Empowerment (SAFE), which is the umbrella organization for Angels and Starfish. She’s also the chairperson and co-founder of the Mandela Park Economic Forum (Mandela Park being the township that neighbours our home).

As for my siblings....

Evelyn is my age and we get along really well. She loves to cook and dreams of opening her own tea shop someday. Sitetile is her adorable daughter, born in March of this year.

Thania is finishing up her senior year at the American International School and will hopefully start classes at the University of Cape Town in February. She recently got a job with Projects Abroad as their “social director” – proof that she definitely knows how to have a good time (not to mention the details on virtually every club/cafe/hangout spot in Cape Town!).

Sipho, the youngest and the only boy, is a sophomore at the American International School. Despite the fact that he’s quite a few years younger than me, he still feels we should get married – after all, “Age is nothing but a number.” Somehow I doubt he’d feel this way were it not for my chocolate cupcakes!

Favorite family hangout spot: mom and dad's bed! Everyone piles in together to talk, watch TV, and even eat. Sounds weird, but it works :)

Auntie Thania and Sitetile, hanging out on St. George's Mall.

Sitetile and me, hanging out on the couch.

And now for a disappointing (and even slightly teary-eyed) goodbye. Jessy, my cohort in the crèche and at home, left for Germany early this morning, a month earlier than anticipated. I’ve been debating whether or not to share the reason behind her departure, and I’ve finally decided I should, as the whole incident is shaping up to be an integral part of my experience in South Africa.

This past Friday, Jessy and I joined fellow Projects Abroad volunteers for a weekend trip to the Robertson Wine on the River festival. Before we left, Jess said goodbye to her parents, who’d come for a visit two weeks prior and were scheduled to depart the next day. All seemed well as Jess and I headed off for a few days of wine tasting and relaxation. But when we returned Sunday evening, Jessy’s family called with some disturbing news.

After we’d left on Friday, Jessy’s parents were at the crèche with Gertrude, playing with the kids and taking some pictures. They left around eleven and walked back towards our house, just up the road. Gertrude said goodbye before leaving for a doctor’s appointment, and Jessy’s parents continued on to their guest house. They didn’t get very far, though – as they turned the corner from our house, two young men jumped out and attacked them. One of the men placed a small white pill in his mouth before stabbing Jess’s dad in the hand, creating a wound 2cm deep. The men got away with his camera bag and cell phone, and Jess’s parents filed a police report before flying home the next day. By the time Jess got word of all this on Sunday, her parents were adamant she come home straight away.

I suppose it makes sense, especially considering that this isn’t even the first incident to have occurred. About a month ago, a young man attempted to mug Jess in broad daylight, just down the street from our house. Luckily, I was able to pull her away and nothing was stolen, though she did end up with quite the scrape on her arm. We, too, filed a police report, but nothing has come of it.

I don’t want to frighten or mislead people, which is why I’ve debated sharing any of this. South Africa is a magnificently beautiful country, and so many of the people here are absolutely incredible. Still, crime obviously exists. And it makes me so angry. I hate that crime can detract from all the good in a place, that crime is the reason I’ve had to say goodbye to a friend.

While I may be angry, I’m trying not to be afraid. Fear takes away one’s freedom, restricts one’s thought and movement. And a lack of freedom in this supposedly “new” South Africa seems pretty damn ironic.

So, anyone up for a visit?