From England to the Western Cape (Part Two)

There are eleven official languages in South Africa. Our guide for the half-day township tour spoke Xhosa, and explained that Cape Town’s centre was designated for the whites. All other ethnicities (coloureds, blacks, Indians) were moved to separate areas around the city. There was a bench at the museum for ‘Europeans only’ and during apartheid, he said, Africans viewed white people as the boss of them. I tried to think whether I’d ever heard Nicky say my name, and suddenly it seemed vital. I didn’t consider myself anyone’s boss.

There are five black townships and seven coloured. Nicky lives in one of the coloured townships called Mitchells Plain, in an area known as the Cape Flats. We were shown around Langa, and the school was disappointing. We watched the children sing and dance, but soon afterwards, our guide was urging us to leave. He didn’t translate for us, and one child appeared resentful when someone took his picture. Any presents we brought had to be given to a teacher, which makes me question whether the children actually received them.

We were allowed to join in some African drumming, but the most interesting place was definitely the pub! The ladies would prepare the fire and the African beer (called Umqombothi) in its five-litre container. Only the men were allowed in to drink it. The same container would be passed around throughout the night, as each man blew the froth off and tasted the beer.

Our discussion moved on to husbands and wives. Our guide told us: “You can marry as many times as you want in South Africa. You pay for your wife, and if you can keep her, you can marry her.” He said a man’s family sent negotiators in to the woman’s family to agree the payment. This seemed so foreign to me that I asked Nicky about it when we met. She called it Labola and said it was mainly within the black cultures. After a lot of searching online, I came across this short programme about how it can involve paying up to six times a man’s monthly salary. Sadly, fifty-five per cent of South African divorces are caused by financial pressure.

Lastly, our guide took us to what he called a ‘Traditional doctor’ – a witchdoctor, in other words. I waited outside. I didn’t want to hear about his practices and Traveleyes were fine with that.

The following day, after we’d hugged and laughed and just enjoyed finally being in the same room, I asked Nicky about witchdoctors. Was that something her church prayed against? Having also heard about Labola, I wondered if her church would have vastly different prayer-needs to the ones we have here. I was surprised to hear their main concerns are unemployment and drugs.

On Sunday, I went to Nicky’s church and back to her house for lunch. Her mum told me that during apartheid, white people called the Africans Kaffir – an extremely insulting word meaning ‘No belief in God’. It was a real shock to her that in the UK, some people are proud to say they’re atheists.

Nicky has a little niece called Mackenzie, so I discovered “Baby Shark” (which had totally passed me by, but it’s popular worldwide). Nicky’s mum started to tell Mackenzie: “Sarah’s here today” when she changed it to: “Auntie Sarah’s here today.”

I came away feeling I had a family out there where I belonged, and wondering how I spent so long having known so little. You can’t truly appreciate a country until you’ve experienced it, and I hope to travel more in the future.

From England to the Western Cape (Part One)

January was an exciting month for me. I was quite apprehensive to begin with. I hadn’t flown since pre-9/11 and all the extra security measures. Now here I was flying into Cape Town, mainly to meet a friend. When Compassion had a website for sponsors, I connected with Nicky. We both sponsored girls in the Philippines and started talking about them, but eventually exchanged Email addresses. After 10 years, we still hadn’t met face-to-face and it was time to change that.

I went with a company called Traveleyes. I’ve written about them here before, but for anyone who doesn’t know, they take blind people on holiday and those who can see get it cheaper because they’re the ones guiding us around. It’s a great idea, and well-organised enough to make it worth the money. I arrived at Heathrow by train and met with the rest of the group. I don’t know whether they had the same luxury in the gents’, but in the ladies’, we were treated to S Club 7’s song about reaching for the stars and dreams coming true. I did wonder about the way back, but the loos in Arrivals are music-free!

On our first full day in Cape Town, we ventured up Table Mountain. It’s sometimes closed due to weather-conditions, so our tour-guide was prepared to reschedule, but we got up there straightaway. It had been a dream for years and I had such a sense of excitement as the cable car jerked into action. Although we exceeded 3,000 feet, the air wasn’t noticeably thinner. The top of the mountain felt so flat, walking seemed easy compared with my local hills at home, but it wasn’t a let-down; far from it. As little furry rock hyraxes warmed themselves in the sun, we learnt there were more plant species on Table Mountain than in the entire UK.

There were other highlights too, like the last day when I stroked a cheetah. The Cheetah Outreach we went to protects them by having dogs guard their enclosure. The non-confrontational cheetahs won’t approach a dog, so it stops them going after farm animals, which means the farmers don’t shoot them. I’m not normally into animals, but a friend’s daughter loves cheetahs, so I forced myself to do the encounter and get a photo for her. I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t what I expected. The cheetah didn’t feel like a cat, but more like a horse’s mane would feel. I’ve been on horses before and I’m used to the feel of them, so I was actually quite comfortable! The cheetah was called Kibwe, meaning ‘Blessed’ in Swahili, and I do feel blessed to have stroked him. I’m only sorry we didn’t hear him purr.

Overall, my biggest surprise was the amount of new information I came back with. One day I paid extra to go on a tour of Langa (one of the black townships in the city), and that combined with our subsequent trip to Robben Island gave me a great introduction to black Africans and their culture. Too much to cram into one post, so stay tuned for Part Two.

Learning from Naomi

Naomi’s family lived in Moab for roughly a decade. During a famine, they left Israel in favour of a place where there was food. Her husband died, but she watched her sons settle down and marry. Then they also died, leaving Naomi with just her daughters-in-law.

When Naomi decided to return to Israel, she was distraught about her life-choices. First, her family had put filling their stomachs above living in the land God promised to them. Secondly, her sons had married women from Moab instead of Israelites, which was contrary to what God wanted (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Naomi obviously felt guilty about this because she told her daughters-in-law: “My life is much too sad for you to share, because the LORD has been against me” (Ruth 1:13). Not only had she lost her family, she’d lost her security in God.

Do you want to know what impresses me about Naomi? You can read more at Worship Unlimited Ministries, home of the Worship Unlimited radio-show, and why not sign Alex’s guestbook while you’re there? I’m sure she’d be pleased to see you.