The strangest thing happened to me today. I was walking along Main Road, waiting for a minibus. It is MiniBus Law that when you want one, you will have to wait for one, and when you don’t want one, five of them will pull up alongside you and their operators will practically DEMAND that you take them, even you are clearly walking in the opposite direction from which it is going. Oh, sorry, Minibusses are these white 15-passenger vans that broke down and rusted out in 1982 and are still in use today. They are NEVER full, contrary to what you or the law or a sane, non-blind person might think – because they are 15-passenger vans and this is Africa, they typically drive along with about 23 people in them. They are usually driven by someone who may know what the gas pedal is, but only occasionally remembers that there is a brake and finds “turn signal” and “red light” to be laughable concepts. But they are cheap and I’m cheap even by student standards, so I take them wherever I need to go.
But I digress.
Anyways, I was waiting for a minibus to get to a little strip of road a few kilometers from my house. There’s a coffee shop there. It’s not Starbucks, but it’s as close as I’ve come to one in this country. Finally a minibus passed. I hailed it like a true New Yorker hails a cab – and you don’t even have to hail these things because as I said, they practically beg or force you to ride in them. I just hail them for kicks and giggles – maybe because it’s in my genes to hail cabs (my mother is from New York).
But the minibus sailed right on past me. And another, and another. It was most curious. They weren’t full – as I said, according to the driver and the energetic pair of vocal chords that call people to ride in them, they are NEVER full – and they clearly saw me, I was practically standing in the middle of the road. I was bemused, befuddled, etc. Especially when they pulled over not 20 metres ahead of me and picked someone else up.
I don’t know why it happened, but I wonder if it has anything to do with the anti-foreigner sentiment in Cape Town right now (well, in most of South Africa). I’m sure you’ve read about it in the news – apparently, TIME magazine said something about a civil war in South Africa? I don’t know that it’s that bad, but it’s quite scary and quite sad, even though I am not affected by it because of my priviledged position as a white, (comparatively) wealthy, American student in a white, wealthy area.
There’s so much I could say about the situation here now … but all I will say is that it makes me so sad to see this country which I have grown to love so much be hurting so badly. It is also strange to be so personally unaffected by the situation when people just like me in the townships live with so many things like this violence and xenophobia every day. The violence hasn’t turned towards foreigners in general yet – it is more so against Zimbabwean refugees and such – but I wonder if it will. Things like this can escalate in a day, or never.
I found it strange to be passed by minibus after minibus. I can’t say it’s because I’m a foreigner although I don’t have any other explanation right now (I am clearly a foreigner because although I look and have come to act like I could be a white South African, white South Africans NEVER ride minibuses, it’s only foreign students … I was told this is because we are not savvy enough to fear them).
It’s a strange place to be, with people SO similar yet SO different and SO divided; with distinctions and divisions being created and re-constructed and de-constructed daily. Maybe it’s a part of living in a country that is still figuring out who it is, or a country that has experienced so much turmoil in such a recent past.
When I first got here, I was looking for a place to volunteer – I did a lot of volunteering in the States and I missed it. I joined an organization that, coincidentally, advocated for refugee rights (this was before any of the xenophobic violence that is occurring now) (though South Africa has a history of xenophobia, many claim). I was looking somewhere else as well – something with less of a political bent to do as well, and I stumbled across the Animal Rescue Organization’s website. I called them up and they agreed to take me on as an intern.
Animal charities in the States are some of the cushiest places you can volunteer – as a general rule they are generously funded by ladies named Mitzy and their Toy Poodles, named Moofy. That’s a stereotype and I don’t mean it harshly – it is WONDERFUL that Mitzy and Moofy exist and are so kind as to fund these worthy organizations. I merely offer up that stereotype to show the stark contrast of working with animal charities here in South Africa. They are not well-funded because, as the first part of this entry probably showed, there are so, so many human tragedies and causes that the government and the citizens are struggling desperately to address. Human needs must come first, of course, but it is very hard for me to see animals fall by the wayside. So I started working here and I’ve learned a lot so far and hope to keep on learning. It certainly isn’t as cushy as the animal charities in the States where I’ve worked before, but it’s a good reminder of how fortunate I am and how much a few good people working hard – the guys that I work with – can do for a few mangy, waggy-tailed strays. It’s alleviating suffering just a tiny bit, and if that’s all we can do then so be it, it’s better than nothing. The really cool thing about the organization – which I would like to see more of in animal charities in the States – is its strong human component. They are focused on the people they are providing for – many of the people to which ARO provides vet care depend upon their dogs for hunting and guarding, their cats to keep rats (rampant in the townships, big suckers too) out of the shack, and so on. It also uses humane education in township schools as a vehicle for discussing nonviolence and conflict resolution and the importance of environmental responsibility.
So … that’s it in a nutshell, right now. I’m really excited for the rest of this summer, even though it’s Cape Town’s winter and it promises to rain buckets for most of it.