Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sea Kayaking

This post is comparably dull, but I just wanted it to go on the record that today we went sea kayaking in Simon's Town. The weather was beautiful, the water was wet (and salty), and we saw seals about 10 feet away from our kayak. Well, the seals might have been 20 feet away, but they were pretty darn close. They would come up above the water wringing fish this way and that. The food chain in action! We also got quite close to the African (Jackass) penguins. However, when they saw the seal thrashing the fish about in the water, they backed their littles selves right back up the rock where they were standing. Smart birds. What a great day to be on the water.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Make Plans to Break Plans

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." -John Lennon

There is a certain amount of planning that should take place in one’s life, an amount that should not be exceeded. We make a plan, and that plan begins as our plan. But as we begin to execute the plan, it becomes someone, or something, else’s. We only have a certain amount of control over our lives. The rest is up to some other cosmic being, or a web of human interconnectedness, or some intricate global balancing scale. Or chance—coincidence, if you will. Call it whatever you’d like, but I prefer to think that there is a reason for everything that happens.

This afternoon Laurie and I were on a mission: We would go into the city centre to the Harley-Davidson shop there to purchase gifts for our motorcycle-loving fathers. (It is very easy to choose a gift when your father is fond of Harley-Davidsons, and I am grateful for this!) Had we not stopped for coffee and postcards, we would have arrived at the shop before it closed. As it would be, we arrived at 2:03. That’s 3 minutes past 14:00. So we laughed at ourselves, rejoiced at the fact that yes, we could indeed navigate our way through the city, and proceeded with the rest of our plan.

The main event of our day was to go to the Bookery – a room somewhere in town that Equal Education has rented so as to collect books that will soon be donated to a school library. Laurie and I were going to help laminate the covers of the 3,000 books that will soon be donated. The many security guards (who are extremely friendly and helpful, by the way) were kind enough to point us in the right direction when our own sense of direction was becoming less keen. When we were probably about 5 minutes from our destination, we noticed that a filming was taking place on a side street we were passing. So naturally we observed for a few minutes what was going on, wondered if we were trespassing on some sacred piece of ground, decided it was okay, and continued walking further down Commercial Street.

Although this particular street is not the Hollywood of filming commercials, this particular filming did in fact turn out to be for a Coca-Cola commercial. Standing on the sidewalk, leaning against the wall of a building, we watched the set crew fasten the “sun” – a huge stage light covered with tinted film – to the outside of the bus. Inside the bus, a makeup artist was touching up the faces of a dreamy blond-haired boy and a pleasantly plump white-haired granny. We waved to the granny whose eyes had met ours, and her face lit up. She smiled a great big joyful smile, the kind that only a white-haired grandmother can smile.

A few minutes later I noticed a gentleman standing to my left. Oh, another spectator, I thought. I continued watching the set crew balance carefully atop ladders, working adamantly to properly attach the sun to the side of the bus. I was enjoying watching the whole process play itself out, remembering the many stories my sister shared with me about her experiences working on a film set (for the movie “The Fields”) as a makeup artist. It is really an excruciatingly long process. The older gentleman nudged my arm and struck up a conversation. He, it turns out, has been married to the white-haired granny on the bus for 41 years.

Standing to the left of the white-haired granny’s white-haired husband was a short, plump, Indian man sporting a plaid cap and a blue apron. In the commercial, he would be the worker at the concession stand. And so, as the granny’s husband and the short, plump, Indian man waited on set, Laurie and I engaged in a conversation that would last for three hours. Yes, we spent the remainder of our afternoon standing along Commercial Street watching the bus with a pseudo-sun move forward and backward, take after take, until we moved inside to the wardrobe where we sat around so as to escape the Cape Town winds.

For about the first 15 minutes I was checking the time on my phone regularly, as I felt compelled to get to the Bookery, where we had planned to spend the majority of our afternoon covering books. But I never expected to come across the filming of a Coca-Cola commercial on a side street in the middle of the city in South Africa. And so I decided that this was an opportunity to be seized, and that the Bookery would be okay without my volunteering there today (I was feeling only slightly guilty for this).

What I enjoyed far more than the fact that I was watching the filming of a commercial that I will be able to view on television in approximately 13 days was the sharing of stories that happened among the four of us. This world is a remarkable place, and it is filled with remarkable people, each with a story of one’s own.

The granny’s husband (who was himself an actor in the movie, “Doomsday,” as well as an Israeli film and Mexican film of which he cannot remember the names) met the granny at the dance studio she opened up when she was only 16. She had studied ballet, enrolled at a school in England when she was 15, attended school for one year, and opened up her own studio outside of Cape Town, South Africa. The granny’s husband (his real name is Roger Pote) signed up to take classes, and she was his teacher. He doesn’t remember how old they were when they were married, but they have been married for 41 years, and he is 68. (As we are talking he fiddles with something in his pant pocket and opens his hand to see what he’s found – it a pair of pearl clip-on earrings, which I assume belong to granny.) Somewhere in between meeting each other and getting married, the granny was in England and the two of them corresponded by letter. This, he pointed out, was before the advent of email and mobile phones, which again made me thankful to have this technology today.

The plump Indian man (Vijay Lalla) met his wife in some sort of shop. He was a customer and she the cashier. He was taken aback by her beauty and felt he had to introduce himself to her. And that was that. They have been married for… 31 years? 34? Since I had yet to meet an Indian practicing Hinduism in South Africa, I asked if he was Muslim. Then I realized that I had just met my first South African, Hindu, Indian. This came as a pleasant surprise. My k√™rel is Hindu, I said, practicing what little Afrikaans I know. (Earlier that day I spoke in Xhosa to a restaurant worker, who also gave us directions.) Vijay’s parents were born and raised in Southern India, had a traditional Indian wedding, and moved to South Africa with the hopes of escaping the poverty they had known in India. (However, Roger informed me that South Africa is moving backward, and that the poverty here is getting worse.) Vijay and his wife also had a traditional wedding, and they continue to live in South Africa.

Oh, it was a great day—far better than any I could have planned. The past few days I have felt as though I am on some sort of high. Today I realize that I am feeding off of the energy of the magnificence of the ordinary people around me. Yes, it’s true. I will say it again, that every single person in this world has a story to tell, if people would only listen.

Vijay offered to take Laurie and I home, an offer which we accepted but later turned down as it was getting late and we were growing tired and in dire need of a toilet. Earlier in the afternoon Roger and Vijay had suggested that we turn our purses around when we carry them, or we are likely to get pick-pocketed. Also, we should make sure to leave before dark, before 6. So at 5:00 PM we hopped a taxi back home, grateful for a day that went nothing as planned and buzzing from the energy of hours of hearty conversation. Next weekend I am thinking to make more plans, merely so they can be broken.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Great Day

Today was a great day. Aly and I went shopping with three of the girls (Nokubonga, Nomzekelo, and Linda) at Kenilworth Centre near Claremont. It took the girls more than two and a half hours to get to the mall, as they came by train from Khayelitsha; when the train got stuck on the tracks they had to take a taxi the rest of the way. Oh, we had a great time. My goal was to find a pair of blue jeans and possibly a plain long-sleeve cotton shirt. The girls adamantly informed me that I do not have a sense of style, and before I knew it I was in the fitting room with an armful of clothing, including a brilliant yellow and rich fuschia jacket that I had no intentions of buying. (They wouldn’t even let me take the plaid shirt into the fitting room.) Still, they insisted that I acquire something fashionable and so, being the good sport that I am, I tried on all of the clothing they had hand-picked especially for my unfashionable self and modeled each piece for them. And so I left the store with a pair of “skinny jeans” which I described to them as feeling glued to my legs. They downplayed my complaint and explained that this is precisely what skinny jeans are supposed to feel like – that’s why they’re called skinny jeans!

I’ve never been much of a shopper, so I especially enjoyed the after-shopping affairs. After our shopping adventure was complete, we went to the grocery store to get some foodstuffs to take home for dinner, as the girls would hang out with us for a bit at our house near campus. So, on our dinner table, we had a heaping plate of homemade hot chips (French fries) with salt and vinegar, a loaf of white bread, a Styrofoam box of baked chicken, pea and onion samosas, and a bottle of Coke. Aly commented that this was just like having lunch at Equal Education, but with plates! I can never forget the first time I saw these kids eating chips on bread (French fries on bread, that is). I could feel my arteries clogging with every bite.

My favorite time of the entire was after dinner when we all sat on the floor in the living room, playing guitar and singing. First we sang Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, complete with harmony and everyone joining in full force on each chorus. Afterward we sang some songs in Xhosa, drawing a crowd of housemates who were keen to listen in. There is something about trying to speak or sing in another language that truly draws different language speakers together; it is as if the honest desire and attempt to understand the other person is more important than whether or not you can actually accomplish this.

Before we knew it the night was over, and the girls had to catch a taxi home. Next time, we decided, we need to make this an all-night affair. No shopping, just hanging out together. Perhaps we’ll have a sleepover. And, before we leave South Africa, we’re going to make a recording of some of our favorite songs. I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Creeper Who Followed Me Home

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that I have a sign on my forehead that reads “In Need of Salvation,” a blatant statement to the world that I have fallen from grace.

Note: I am posting this with the knowledge that this post is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but that’s okay. I’m posting it anyway. You can stop reading now if you so desire.

As I was about to leave Upper Campus just now, a man who introduced himself as Jonathan* began talking to me, asking me my name and where I come from. The United States, I said. Yes, you are right, I do not sound Capetonian. Jonathan, it turns out, is a pastor on campus, and it seems he had a hidden agenda of talking to me about my religion. Hoping that he would get the hint that I was in the middle of something on my computer, I continued with what I was doing and purposely showed little interest in the conversation he was trying to make. He did get the hint, but that didn’t mean I had escaped being the subject of yet another lengthy evangelization.

I put my laptop inside my backpack and headed to the bus stop where I would take the shuttle to Lower Campus. Much to my dismay, there, at the top of the steps, was Jonathan. Yes, I am finished with my “work,” I said, but now I must go and catch the bus. Why am I taking the bus? Because I don’t want to walk to Lower Campus alone. I prefer to take the bus, that’s why. (I didn’t come off as sounding this hostile in my verbal speech, of course.) I handled the situation in the best way I knew how.

Long story short, Jonathan followed me (actually he walked beside me and talked about religion) the whole way from outside the library, to the bus stop, on the bus, off the bus, and to the gate outside of my house. Now, you might be asking yourself why I allowed this guy to follow me the whole way home. Well, I knew that it would be safer for me to be at the bus stop where there would be more people around. Same thing with when he got on the bus – there were people around. And when he got off the bus and walked to the gate outside my house, I knew that our security guard would be there waiting.

All this time I listened to his claims about Christianity and responded with my own polite rebuttals. I didn’t, however, ask the question that I really wanted to ask—namely, Do you believe in Jesus Christ on your own volition, or because the people who colonized your ancestors forced it upon you? (Jonathan was originally from the Congo and has lived in Cape Town for nearly a decade, so the question would have been legitimate and supported by historical fact.)

At one point on the bus ride he handed me his cell phone and asked me to enter my number. Rather than explaining that I don’t give my phone number to random people that follow me to my house, I politely entered a made-up number.

Let me clarify here that I do not believe that all Christian pastors behave in this manner, nor do I believe that Christianity is inherently bad. However, I do believe that this is a terrible way to go about sharing God with someone. And I have very, very negative feelings toward evangelism, conversion, war and conversion in the name of any god.

*I am using a pseudonym for the mere fact that, as it was pointed out to me so well, “Jonathan” is very well-known on campus. Indeed, he told every person that he met and greeted on the way down to Lower Campus that he had not seen them in a while – where had they been? Since he knows so many people on campus, and since I am here until June, and since someone could potentially find this blog at random on the internet, I have decided to call the man Jonathan. That is all.