Long Days in Soweto: part 1

27 Feb

I only know the basics of my day when I wake up in the morning, but I can tell that it will be long. I wake up in my bunk in the compound in Soweto and lay there a moment, listening to the sounds of people waking up around me. My roommates are getting ready for the day with quiet shuffling and murmured greetings, but the boys on the floor above us are certainly audible: their feet on the metal grating and the slamming of doors, the calling of greetings to those of us below. I like the sounds of life in the morning, and that gives me the energy to drag myself out of bed and prepare for my day.
Breakfast is quick and efficient, and soon we are gathered in the courtyard, listening to our partner Mpho explain our day. I was right, it will be long, but also hopefully educational and ultimately beneficial. I find over the course of our week in Soweto that Mpho fills our days and minds to the brim, and that I come away from each day feeling that the day really was woth every second I put into it.
We bus first over to Constitution Hill, where sits the Constitutional Court, built on the site of an old prison. We are given a tour of part of the prison, where black inmates were kept during aparthied. Hearing and reading the descriptions of their treatment at the time reminds me of something, though right at that moment I can’t put my finger on it. Later on in the day I realise that I’m reminded of visiting Mittlebau-Dora, a concentration camp I saw with my family in Germany a couple years ago. The horror stories are comparable and it brings me back to the fact that it truly hasn’t been long since the people of this country were suffering things I find it hard to imagine. Despite also seeing inside the courthouse, which is beautiful and reflects the optimism of the future, we come away from the place solemn.
We go next to the university, where we listen to a lecture on the state of the education system in South Africa. This, too, is sobering, and we ask many questions. I think about my own education and the days that I resented having to get up and go to school. Only in grade seven or eight did I realise the privilege that it was for me to go to school and the importance of a good education. But now I could see the differences and it made me profoundly grateful for the quality of education I received and the people whose life’s work is to teach us and who can take pride in it. Not so here, where those who do have an education rarely choose to go back and give others that chance. We eat lunch afterwards on the grass outside and then move quickly on.
Our next stop is the Apartheid Museum. Here many people drift through, their brains already full of information. But I love museums, and I get caught up in the flood in information in the Mandela exhibit, then move on to the main feature. But despite my efforts, I’m not even halfway through the permanent exhibit when it’s time to go. It’s a good thing we hear about the history so often!
For supper we go to a traditional sort of buffet, where we find not only some really good food that we’re reasonably familiar with, but also chicken feet and intestines. The restaurant is on the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners have lived: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. And that is how a group of students ends up making towers out of their straws on a world-famous street.
We are all very tired when we get back to the compound, but we make time to spend with each other, chatting and relaxing after our day. I sit on the wall and swap testimonies with a friend, as promised, before heading to bed. Again, I listen to the noises of the community as I go to sleep, a reassurance that they’ll be there when I wake up again. I don’t know all the details, but I know it will be a long day.

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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Around the World


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