While on the trip I made notes in my phone on the events that made me definitely feel the cultural difference between Canada and South Africa. This one I had to share. It was something I had never experienced before.
May 9th 2017
We just went through a township, a township is not what I was expecting. It’s a township of squatters. I recently learnt that squatters are people who are living in poverty and have taken unoccupied or abandoned land to create a shelter for them and their families. Together these squatters form a community called townships. Through our travels around Cape Town we have seen quite a few townships from the highway, but this time we got up close and personal.
We entered the township behind a cop, feeling comfortable, when the cop turned left and the direction the GPS was telling us to go was straight… that’s when the fear grew and our breaths stopped.
These houses were made some of tin, some of part brick and stones. Most… cardboard and tin. What ever material they could find I guess, some were put together with wood and sticks. Built right on top of each other. Their entire house was probably the size of my student house bedroom, 4×6 meters, maybe. The garbage and litter added colour among the rows of houses. People roaming around everywhere. Mama’s carrying their babies on their back, many just there talking amongst themselves. Standing only a few inches away from our car.
My moms holding her breath, close to being blue in the face, my palms are sweaty, holding on to my sorority sweater tight like a teddy bear. My dad… he’s driving as fast as he can. Running through two red lights and a stop sign, saying fuck that, just going right through, dodging humans, chickens and cows. My mom pressing her hand against her chest forcefully through her breath saying ‘just go just go!’ There I am sitting in the back, squished against the window by the pile of our suitcases beside me! I remove my ray ban sunglasses so I don’t look like a diva, for some reason I lifted the collar of my jean jacket possibly to hide behind it or… to maybe look intimidating, who knows what was going through my mind. These car windows are not tinted. So yes, we are white, and have a pile of visible suitcases in our car, if that didn’t scream we’re not from around here, I don’t know what does.
Why were we scared? Was it the fear of the unknown of what could happen? We were clearly tourists, was it the fear of standing out.
It’s hard for me to understand where this fear comes from when I live in a place where most accept and knowledge differences. To me I was tense because of the tension in the car, I was sweaty because it was a community that was new to me, something I had never experienced before. It didn’t come down to a difference between colour, it came down to a different between culture.
As I made eye contact with many, they looked harmless as they were going about their day, just as we were with ours. This fear came from the stories I’d heard. That in some chances, there could be a bad egg in the carton. Where if we’d stopped at the red light or stop sign one of the people standing oh so close to the car could have popped a car tire, slammed something against the windshield, throw something at the window anything to get us distracted and get out of the car, giving them the opportunity to get in contact with us and therefore a higher risk of robbing us.
Robbery, theft and rape are all worst case scenarios of what has and can potentially happen in these townships. My mom who lived in Africa for her entire upbringing explains that squatters don’t pay tax, many don’t go through proper education, and due to their environment catch and carry many diseases. Because of these factors it is the explanation of why some act unmorally.
Later about ten minutes on the highway, my dad asks my mom if her blood pressure is finally down. She laughs and just that fast it became a funny story.
Driving further down the highway, there’s hitch hikers upon hitch hikers. People selling individual apples on a highway while cars are going 120 (that’s the highway speed limit here). As I’m sure they would be good fresh apples, but a) we’re on the highway and b) don’t want to stop and put ourselves in the vulnerable state to potential have our stuff stolen, again.
Mom: most nerve racking thing I’ve done in 16 years.. I’m not sure what happened 16 years ago but must have been pretty bad cuz today was terrifying.
I later found out that some tourist companies offer a package for visitors to get driven around townships and get an understanding of their way of life. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. This seems wrong to me…how could a tourist company think it was ok to parade through a town in severe poverty. But then again… this experience brings awareness to the low quality of life that exists in the country. Seeing is believing. So I’m hoping that these tours are done to help those in need.
I totally understand that everyone experiences things differently and what they take from it is up to them. This was my experience and it is something that will stay with me forever. It is the moment where I felt and could clearly see the difference between the country I grew up in and the country I was born in. This experience made me understand the country a little bit more. The history, the culture and the people for which I have a larger appreciation for.
Till next time Africa