first week of my fulbright (dit is wat dit is)
Exhausting train of events to build a life here for the next eight and a half months—I can’t even begin to describe all of the processes and it would bore you anyways, but some of them include: finding lost luggage, learning to drive on the left side of the road (traffic circles are the worst), and moving from guest house to flat to guest house to flat (and living out of suitcases the whole time—but at least I have my suitcases…)
As my new friend Ruan would say, dit is wat dit is. (“It is what it is,” in Afrikaans).
The school crisis—
The roof leaks, the plumbing is barely functional, and there are many buildings with fire damage that have never been repaired. The whole property is surrounded by ten-foot walls and barbed wire fences, like those you might see closing in on an prison. The broken windows are caged in with bars. The metal in the roofs and the storm drains have been stolen for money.
The miracle is that this school is open at all. Right now, all of the schools in the surrounding areas are closed until further notice: there are literally no teachers and no money to keep the schools open. The woman who we just signed a lease with was talking about how her children have been at home since the beginning of the term—almost a month. While the government doesn’t want to admit that this is a “crisis,” the teachers and principal of Paterson High insist that it is.
There is a lot of frustration with the government in general. “Zuma must fall,” is a phrase heard uttered in passing and even seen on people’s Whatsapp profiles. We’re living in a post-apartheid South Africa, but honestly…sometimes…it is hard to tell. Like in the United States, there is a heavy divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” And like in the United States, this divide is very much linked to race. This divide is made painfully apparent by the state of our school, which is populated entirely by black & coloured students (see here to understand what “coloured” means in South Africa), compared to the manicured lawns of the other schools in wealthier, whiter parts of town…
While Chineze and I have only been in Port Elizabeth for about a week, and most of that time has been spent trying to sort out our lives, we have already started working at the school and setting up base in the school library.
George Orwell, Alan Moore, & Shakespeare—
The school library is…sparse. There are a couple of bookcases not shown in the photograph below, but that’s pretty much it—and only two computers—for 900 students. And if there is anything the students want, it is more books—one of them already suggested Animal Farm by George Orwell (yes), and another even requested more Shakespeare plays. One student told me that she just finished reading The Watchmen!
So Chineze and I have our work cut out for us to get more books for these students. We have also been in contact with neighboring schools about holding some career workshops, and we have already spent some of our grant money on basic school supplies, of which there is always a lack. We are scheming & dreaming up ideas for clubs, because currently there are little extracurricular activities in place for students who constantly seem bored (many of them have even offered to help us clean the library, just to have something to do). We are currently conceptualizing not only a reading club, but a creative writing club, an art club, and a theatre club.
Still getting to know the students, but for the most part, they are lively, curious, silly high school students—(same as all high school students.) Many of them have been incredibly helpful to us become familiar with how the school works—something I am eternally grateful for.
A Port Elizabeth Circus Society is in the works—
Every city I’ve lived in the past five years (Baltimore, Cape Town, New York City, Washington DC) there has always been an established flow/fire artist group easy to plug into. Now, in the quiet beach city of Port Elizabeth, I take on the task of starting my own. I have garnered a lot of interest from simply walking around with my toys and encouraging people to play with them. Already, through the kindness of strangers & neighbors, there is a possible location for our meeting place at a church in Summerstrand. I even suspect that some practice hoops will be shipped to me from the pixie folk from Connect & Flow in Cape Town…magic is certainly brewing here in the windy/friendly city.
Can’t wait to stomp around to some psytrance this March…planning a weekend trip to Cape Town to attend Altered States.
No longer in the United States of “Unlimited”—
Cameron: You need a work permit in order to buy a data plan. (for our router)
Chineze: …Well, we have treaty permits…do those count?
Cameron: Uh…What are those…?
Thalia: ?? It’s the thing we spent forever getting so we could come to this country in the first place!
Cameron: Uh what
Thalia: It’s this stupid little sticker in our passport! Look at it!
Cameron: Oh. Huh.
Thalia: Look at it! (He looks) It says…we’re here to do research! Here! In South Africa!
Chineze: Doesn’t that count?
Cameron: Hah, no. Definitely no.
A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for—
Chineze and I can be never be reminded enough from people about how dangerous it is to live in South Africa, especially as two women our size. I heard the same things when I lived in Cape Town…and Baltimore…and pretty much everywhere else.
Do I sometimes wish I were a man so I wouldn’t have to worry about it as much? Absolutely. Do I sometimes wonder if this was all a huge mistake and I should have stayed home where it was “safe”? Completely. But more than anything, it has been reaffirming my reasons for being here in the first place—because there is work to be done. Through my literacy and educational work I sincerely hope to also empower women as well as myself—currently I am drawing on the works of Nayyirah Waheed and Clarissa Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves for inspiration.
If you want to read my roommate/teammate/South African life partner Chineze’s perspective on everything, you can read it here.
Love, light, & fire.