Tuesday 24 November 2009
After a two hour flight from Durban, I arrived in Cape Town feeling very excited, yet a little nervous as to what would lay ahead of me for the next two weeks. I was hoping to get involved in some community based volunteer work, however, nothing had been organised or ‘set in concrete’ as of yet. So, here I was, in a big city all by myself, not really knowing where, how or what I would be doing before my overland tour commenced in two weeks time. I think it was more overwhelming than scary. I had just moved from a very rural area after six months of living with the bare essentials; for me, city life was something I was going to have slowly get used too again; city lights, cars everywhere, people rushing to work, shops, real food and REAL variety of everything, running water…

Wednesday 25 November 2009
I was woken by my alarm at 8:00 today – still no people in my room (which has 8 beds in it) – GREAT! I had a shower (the bathroom was nice and clean…a bit different to what I was used to!) and got some breakfast from the hostel’s restaurant which looks over the beautiful Table Mountain, one of Cape Town’s most well known tourist destinations!

…My taxi arrived on time and by 9:40 and R130 later ($20), I was at the volunteer centre. The morning talk was to learn about our rights and responsibilities as a volunteer, as well as some of the volunteer placements that were on offer. Pamela, one of the staff members was able to find me a placement 15 minutes away from where I am residing. Whilst I know very little about the placement, I am led to believe that it has something to do with women and children…and that’s all I really know! T.I.A!

I met a man called John at the centre this morning, who would have been in his fifties. He was unemployed (as were most of the nine other people who had shown up today) and was not mentally ‘all there.’ Nevertheless, he was very friendly. Instead of me catching a private taxi back to the backpackers, John offered to show me how to use the public taxis and train system to get back, as he only lived five or so minutes away from where I was staying. We ended up spending the afternoon together; he took me to a local market and we stopped at a shopping mall for some lunch. I’m not going to lie; by the time we reached the backpackers, I was more than happy to say goodbye to him – he was very nice and a great ‘guide,’ but by the end of the afternoon, I had learnt more about his life and his views and opinions on society than I could handle!

John grew up during the apartheid era and for a period of time and was consequently forced to enrol in the police force. John did not agree with the government’s attitude to black people, nor did he accept the way in which they were brutally beaten and taunted by the white police. But, during this terrible period, John had no choice but to abide by what the government and consequently, the police force ordered him to do. He said that he was expected to enlist and essentially bash and even kill black people for no apparent reason; to rob them of their dignity and freedom. It got to the point where John could no longer do what was ordered of him; he could no longer kill people just because of the colour of their skin. Unfortunately, one of the only way for him to get out of the police force, was if he was mentally unstable. As a consequence, he began to consume large amounts of alcohol so as to deliberately intoxicate himself. He also began to smoke weed. Over time, his body began to show the effects of alcohol and drugs. But whilst his is brain became like mush, he had managed to get himself out of the police force.

After many years of substance abuse, John is still suffering today. H no longer smokes and he can now drink a glass of wine socially, without falling of the wagon. He does, however, still slur his speech like someone who is drunk. Mentally, John still suffers. He is very negative and no matter what we talk about, it somehow relates back to the apartheid era and the ‘injustices’ of the past and present world. Even when I tried to divert the topic to something more positive and something that had nothing to do with the apartheid era, racism or politics, he would always, without a doubt, find a way to link it back to the issues of apartheid etc.

Spending time with John was a real eye opener. Whilst it was hard being around someone who was always so negative and pessimistic and also challenging to listen to him constantly talking about the past and current day political issues relating to race, it was a real eye opener to speak to someone who had actually lived during the apartheid era. As a society, we tend to hear about the effect t apartheid had on the black people and the struggles and pain they went through. But whilst we are aware of the hardships they went through, we very rarely hear about the struggles some white people went through. Spending time with John made me appreciate that there were some white people who did not agree with the apartheid system and racial segregation and that for some, their lives were just as much ruined by apartheid as what the black people’s lives were. John did not agree with racial segregation, to the point that he chose to abuse and ruin his body just so he did not have to be part of such an injustice.

Today, John is till very cynical and pessimistic about the South African Government. He still believes racism exists (which I strongly agree with) and he still believes that South Africa has a long way to go before complete equality is achieved, if this ever is achieved. He wants nothing more than to leave the country for good. Ideally, he would like to call Australia his home, but due to Australia’s tough immigration laws and due to his mental health record, he is finding it extremely hard to be granted a visa to Australia or America.

Thursday 26 November 2009
This morning I caught a taxi to St Anne’s shelter in Woodstock.
I really had no idea what the shelter was for or the types of things they did etc. After reading the pamphlet, I have established the following:
– They provide rooms for abused women and their children
– There are various workshops per day for the women to attend (e.g. cooking, sewing, human rights, computers, how to find employment etc)
– During the day, whilst the mother’s attend workshops, try to find jobs etc, their children are looked after bin the crèche/baby rooms.
Because it was my first day and they already had volunteers in the crèche, I helped to tidy up the storeroom which housed lots of boxes of donated clothes. It was upsetting to see them all going to waste – the clothes were not been used! It makes me wonder just how many of the donations that are given per year actually get used in an effective way by organisations such as St Anne’s Shelter.

I did this the whole day with a man called Justin, who was also here for the first time. He is 29 years old and is currently attending and living at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre near Cape Town. I was alarmed at how open he was about it all! He said this is his ninth time he has relapsed! He normally lives in Hong Kong. Apparently his girlfriend was sentenced to 27 months imprisonment for being caught with two ecstasy tablets! He said that the rehabilitation centre encourages its patients to give something back to the community and he thought this would be a good way of doing it, whilst also getting out of the rehabilitation centre three times a week.

Friday 27 November 2009
Today was my first full day at the St Anne’s shelter helping in the crèche and baby room. My day consisted of playing with the toddlers (whose average age was 2 years old) and cradling and feeding the tiny babies, some as young as one month old! It was all very cute, but I must admit, by the end of these 2 weeks, I will be ready to move on – it is not stimulating enough!

I first went into the crèche to help. The children were all very cute, but there was one boy in particular who really pulled on my heart strings. He was so tiny, skinny and very timid and just sat there looking into thin air with his big eyes. He didn’t interact much with the other children – he was very shy. I went and sat down on the floor next to him and he reached out his hands to me and started to cry. I went to pick him up but one of the other volunteers said not to as he will apparently just cry all day. But how could I not cuddle this gorgeous child!? He looked like he needed someone to cuddle – a warm and affectionate snuggle…I just wanted to wrap him in my arms FOREVER! As time went on and I began to interact more and more with the kids, playing with lego and for the older ones, cutting and gluing magazine pictures, I picked up on a few things that indicated a possibly different upbringing to what I for instance, am used to.

A lot of them were quite happy to keep touching me – they wanted to sit on my lap or hold my hand – they wanted the sense of touch that maybe they lacked previously. There were also two older girls, five years of age, who came over and asked me what my Mum’s name was and my Dad’s name. When I asked them what their parents name was, they were able to tell me their Mum’s, but some of them did not know their Dad’s. I also found that both these girls were great friends, but at times, they would get very stroppy with each other. At one point when this happened, one of the girls stood their staring blankly at the other girl, her eyes glazed with tears. She looked emotionless, yet at the same time, upset.

For the rest of the day, I went and helped out in the baby’s room. There were about five babies, all of which would have been no older than 2 or 3 months. One of them was only one month old and was so gorgeous! (then again, they all were!) I helped feed them, change their nappies and comforted them when they were crying. The mothers only ever came in when it was time for their baby to be breastfed, but even then, we would sometimes have to go and find the mothers as they had forgotten to come!

There was one girl who was two years old who was also in the baby crèche. When I asked why she was not in the crèche room, Sweetness (the carer of the babies) said that a couple of months ago Kenya came to the shelter not eating or drinking anything. Her kidneys were beginning to shut down and she was scheduled in for an operation at the hospital, but could only get in next April! Sweetness started feeding her very small, sloppy portions until her body was able to handle food again. Thankfully, Kenya is now better, however they have decided not to take her to the crèche until the new year as it is so close to the end of the year. I personally don’t see why this matters!?

My heart went out to Kenya when I saw her leaning against the wall dazed and un-energised. The poor thing does nothing all day but sit on the mat, as they are not sending her to crèche yet which means she is surrounded by sleeping one month old babies and therefore no one to play with. I went over to speak to her, but she was very shy and didn’t respond to me showing her toys etc. Even the toys were only things like stuffed animals – definitely NOT what a 2 year old needs in order to be stimulated!

I decided to take her outside for a play on the swings. I had to carry her out as she wasn’t too keen on moving from her mat – what has probably become her comfort zone! After a few minutes on the swing, however, she began to smile and by the end of our play together, her face had lit up and she was smiling! Another mother, whom Kenya and her Mum share a room with walked past and said that I had been a blessing and that Kenya looked so much happier now that she had had a play on the swing!

After lunch the ‘House Mum’ walked me down the street to the second St Anne’s shelter. After asking if they provided accommodation for volunteers, Zeta has offered me a room in the second stage house which is currently being renovated. This house will be for women who are dependent enough to not have to live in the shelter, yet who still need a place to stay until they can better their finances. There is currently only one mother and her toddler living there.

Saturday 28 November 2009
Today, I did a Cape Town Hop on hop on hop off city bus tour. It was like a big red London bus! I sat up the top and listened to commentary in between getting on and off the bus whenever I wished.
We started at Clock Tour, before heading past the new Convention Centre and onto St George’s Cathedral. I got off here to have a look at the church. It was amazing! It was a big cathedral with beautiful high ceilings, decorative pews and furniture etc and colour glazed windows – very different from anything on the Gold Coast and VERY different to Ingwavuma!

My next stop was the District Six Museum. Basically, this was an area of Cape Town where black, coloured and white people used to reside – together. The white government later decided that they needed to do some ‘town planning’ and demolish all of the houses and everything within District Six! This evidently forced the black people out of their homes and into a slum area. Today, many black people are in the process of making applications to the government to reclaim their land! Some have even moved back into the District Six area and are living in apartment blocks. They are also given the option of monetary compensation, although it is only around $2000!

Late morning I went to the Castle of Good Hope. This is an old castle which was built during the Anglo-Boer war to protect the Portuguese from the English soldiers…

Once on the bus again, I was driven up to Table Mountain to see the spectacular view of Cape Town! The next stop was Camps Bay. This is such an amazing area and has seen celebrities like Robbie Williams visit! It was such a lovely day and there were colourful umbrellas upon colourful umbrellas scattered on the beach. There was even a massage tent on the beach for people to indulge in! On the other side of the road, there were lots and lots of restaurants, many of them seafood.

I got back on the bus and passed through Sea Point which is another beach/bay type area. There were some lovely big enclosed playgrounds for the kids to use – it was all set up very nicely. We then returned back to the Clock Tower. Along the way we passed the new soccer stadium for the 2010 world cup.

I was dropped off near green market square to end my tour. I was busting to go to the toilet so I went into a deserted shopping mall and asked one of the security cards where a toilet was. He was very helpful and walked me down and unlocked the toilets for me! When I came back up to return the keys, he asked me if I thought he would need maths to do a degree in event management. I am always in awe over how little knowledge African people have about university etc – no wonder so many lack educational qualifications and a stable, well earning job. Nevertheless, I was very glad to help him.

Sunday 29 November 2009
This morning I went across to Robben Island with two Australian backpackers I met at the place I have been staying at.
The tour was very surreal – to actually be on the island that people like Mandela had been imprisoned on was weird. We began with a bus tour around the island. All of the tour guides are ex-prisoners, so it made for a very interesting tour. Our guide told us about his experiences in jail and what each section of the camp was used for.
We were then given a guided walking tour through one of the prison buildings, by another ex-prisoner. We got to see Mandela’s prison cell, as well as the tiny kitchen, recreational and bathroom facilities that hundreds of inmates were forced to share.

Monday 30 November 2009
Faith, the lady I am now staying with in the second stage shelter (St Anne’s) received a packaged of donated clothes and linen tonight. I have always donated and given old clothes and so forth to charity, but as I am sure most of us do, I don’t think much about it after that. So, as you can imagine, it was a real eye opener for me when I saw the look on Faith’s face when she received second hand clothes, shoes, a bag and some bed linen! She was beside herself and was so excited for the rest of the night. It made me realise that even though some of the old clothes etc that we donate are not what we would call ‘in fashion’ or worth keeping, that there are people out there who are grateful for absolutely anything!

In saying this, it would be great if someone could donate a fridge to the house! The house I am staying at is extremely run down. The kitchen cupboards are hanging of their hinges, the oven barely works, the microwave doesn’t work and there is no fridge! I must admit, this is all a little daunting. I am having to either buy food the day I am going to be using it, or just stick to the basics – soup, pasta, bread etc. I’m definitely not complaining, after all, it is about the experience and it is possible to live without appliances such as a fridge, however, what concerns me, is that the Mum and her baby who live here on a regular basis do not have appliances that are fairly necessary, especially with a baby to feed!

Upon arrival at St Anne’s, I met some volunteer students from a local boarding school. On one occasion, they invited me to come with them and a group of teachers and their students to a local slum area to donate some bags of clothes and shoes to an orphanage.
…To be on the safe side, we were instructed to keep our windows up upon arrival into the slum area. There were people sitting on the side of the dirt road, many trying to sell food produce, others daydreaming and some, staring at us as if we were a group of spectators invading their homes.

The orphanage was very welcoming. It was an unbelievable set up! The house was rather small (keeping in mind this is a slum area), yet it catered for around 100 children! Even more unbelievable, was that it was run by one lady who all the children referred to as their very own Mama! I have no idea how they manage to cater for all of the children! Each room of the house is just filled with beds – from wall to wall. Of course, the bed is not just for one person, it is for as many people as it can possibly fit! There are only two toilets and a couple showers. There is one whole room that just had piles of clothes which is where the kids are given their clothes from every day! Food is cooked in the kitchen on a series of gas stoves, in numerous gigantic pots.

The kids were very excited to see us and I got attached to one or two of them that were happy to hang on to me the whole time I was there! I can still remember this one girl, who would have been two or three, who I just wanted to take home with me! She had these massive eyes and just looked up at me and she clung onto my leg!
There was even a 24 year old orphan who had been there since she was a baby. When I asked her if she plans to leave the orphanage one day and go to university or get a job etc, she said no. She said the orphanage is her home and she plans to spend the rest of her life helping her ‘Mama’ with the role of bringing up the younger children – her brothers and sisters.

Last weekend in Cape Town
After meeting some volunteers from St Cyprians (the boarding school who invited me to the orphanage), I was invited to stay at their volunteer house in the school grounds for the weekend. Whilst most volunteers had already left the school/placement to head home for Christmas, there was one English volunteer who I spent the weekend with.

Rebecca showed me around the school. It was as if it was out of the Harry Potter movies! Old stoned buildings, long passages and hallways and well groomed gardens! The night I arrived, there was a ballet concert on in the school auditorium, so there were Mercedes and BMW’s everywhere! What’s more, the school hires 24 hour 7 day a week security staff to man every entrance into the school!

As for the girls; they were all very well groomed and dressed in very posh looking uniforms and dainty ribbons in their hair…and I was soon to learn, that some of their attitudes mashed perfectly with this image! It may sound stereotypical, but so many of the girls were true ‘posh borders.’ The whinged, they complained and they bossed each other around! After teaching Nansindlela students who had next to nothing, I found it really hard to listen to the girls whinge and complain about each other, or how hot it was or how hot, crammed and long the 20 minute drive was going to be to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for their weekend excursion!

The Kirstenbosch Gardens were amazing! I was lucky enough to be given a ticket by the school so that I could also go and enjoy the concert that was being held on the lush green grass, with Table Mountain in complete view, just behind the outdoor arena! It was a spectacular afternoon and whilst some of the girls do whinge about things I now see as ‘petty,’ once I got to know them a bit better, I saw how lovely they are…except when they whinge 

The weekend at St Cyprians was a real eye opener! I got to experience another type of school environment in South Africa, this time, in a city! Not only did the school give me a ticket to a very popular music performance in the renowned Kirstenbosch Gardens, but they also provided me with accommodation and all meals for the entire duration of my stay!

Last day at St Anne’s
My last day at St Anne’s was extremely busy! I spent the entire day in the baby room – feeding, changing nappies and trying to get babies to stop crying and sleep! For the most part, I was looking after the entire room by myself as the staff member was absent. Two new Mum’s had arrived the night before with their MANY children (I think we had five new babies to cater for), so it also meant that I had more babies to look after. The new babies were also quite unsettled; it was a new environment for them and it was their first day of what would be a hard few weeks of trying to get them into a routine!

I moved back to the backpackers tonight. This time, my room was filled with other backpackers. It was nice meeting new people and sharing each others stories… except when I became awfully ill! I had been feeling off colour after dinner and it wasn’t until I just managed to make it to the room’s sink, that I realised something was wrong! I was vomiting (among other things!), and was breaking out in sweat, before all of a sudden feeling cold…and then hot again, my face was as white as a ghost and no sooner had I used to the toilet, did I need to use it again! I am almost certain that my bout of sickness was from the amount of dirty nappies I had changed today, especially since some of the babies had upset stomachs themselves! Apparently there was a bug that had been going around, not that that made me feel any better!

So, for the next couple of days (I had finished volunteering 2 days before my tour started so that I could explore Cape Town), I pretty much just stayed in bed the whole time! It was horrible being so sick whilst sharing a room with 5 other people, but this is what backpacking is all about…right!? What I find ironic, is that for the last 5 months, amongst all the challenges of rural living, I did not fall ill once, yet, now that I am in a large and clean city, I do!
Hopefully, I will be better by Saturday when the overland tour starts!

Stay tuned for what I am sure will be a 3 week experience of a life time!!!