If you’re following my blog religiously (I sure hope not), you might have noticed it’s been a while since I’ve posted. There’s been plenty to write about, including power outages for days, explosive car batteries, five hour church services and multiple requests that I “Tell Barack Obama SA says hi”. Still, it seemed strange to write about my host family on a blog. After my 10-year old host brother, S’bahle, insisted that I give him a shoutout online, I finally decided to go for it.
When we first arrived in Cape Town, one of the phrases we kept hearing is “you can’t change South Africa”. Well, obviously. It was a bit insulting that our professors seemed to think we were arrogant enough to think we would make some monumental difference during our 4 months in the Rainbow nation. Yet, the more time I spend with my host family in Cato Manor (a township just outside of Durban), the more I felt my American savior complex showing.
On the multiple occasions when my host brother was sent home from school because of teacher absenteeism, I insisted that we spend extra time reviewing the math and English concepts he was learning. I was determined to help him memorize his multiplication tables so that figuring out 7×7 would not involve 5 minutes of counting on his fingers and toes. I tried, as often as I could, to make his homework into a game so he would stop hating school. My brother humored me and always played along, but the truth that I would only be here for four weeks kept looming over us. In truth, I was unqualified to teach my brother all of the fifth grade in a month. In fact, the hours we spent going over worksheets and times tables probably made him resent math even more, as it took away from valuable TV time in the evenings.
Similarly, constantly being exposed to evidence of corporal punishment in schools and in homes shook me up every time I walked around the neighborhood. Resigning myself to the fact that it was not my place to inquire about these instances and report teachers who sent their students home bleeding was frustrating. The list goes on, but the point is that it was too easy to see all of the things I might find troubling, especially when these are all things that happen in my own backyard but are somehow easier to ignore at home. In that way, it’s almost easier to cross the ocean than town. So I put my savior complex away and allowed myself to just learn everything I could. (Ok, I’m still working with S’bahle on multiplication every night. Math is AWESOME, and I don’t want him to miss out on the fun.)
Of course, the point of having a homestay in a township is not just to look for things that might be “wrong” or missing. Part of the beauty of living with a family in a tightknit neighborhood is the relationships, surprises and assets of the community that suddenly become available. By far, the most important connection I have to the residents of Cato Manor is my growing (though admittedly meager) knowledge of isiZulu. Walking around Cato, we often receive interested or confused looks as the only umlungus (“whitey’s” or “European/Americans”) for miles. However, as soon as we greet people with a cheerful “Sawubona”, we are rewarded with laughs and almost immediate acceptance.
Children run up to us and start playing with our hair everytime we walk by, and after school soccer games with dozens of the neighborhood kids have become a routine. The kids are uninhibited, energetic, and wholeheartedly welcoming. They are also unafraid to point out our privilege by asking if we have iPhones, whether everyone is rich New York/America and whether we have TV’s, microwaves, fans, AC, and multiple bedrooms in our homes. Best of all, they love laughing at our attempts to speak Zulu, pointing out every time we use the wrong click or mispronounce a word.
I could go on for days about the budding love I have for Cato Manor and its residents, but I will leave it at this: in what universe does a girl with no hand-eye-foot coordination decide to play soccer with pretty talented kids every day? A universe in which the company is worth the bruises and embarrassment.
Sala kahle, friends. Stay well
My lovely abode in Cato.
Preparing for our rural homestays in Nzinga and Sandaneszwe…
S’bahle is a selfie master. I need to learn his ways
Makin’ brownies 🙂
S’bahle’s cousin, Phumelelo, really wanted a pic of her “Mickey Mouse ears” to go online.