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Project 19:14 and Other Big Things

24 Mar

Stellenbosch is a university town in the heart of South Africa’s wine country. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains, their slopes covered in vinyards. It’s upon arriving here that we discover my favourite place in South Africa to stop for a quick lunch. The Food Lover’s Market is not only a grocery store. It has a salad bar, and a dessert bar, and biltong and other warm, healthy meals (though it isn’t hard to be healthier than McDonald’s and Steers). For someone who has been eating lettuce and cucumbers for the past month, the salad bar is the best lunch option ever. I leave a wide berth around the tomatoes and feta cheese (the reasons for my lack of veggie intake) and fill my plastic bowl with carrots, peppers, lettuce and little pieces of biltong. I never thought I would be this happy to see a salad.
That evening we are settled in to a camp just outside of town. It is in this beautiful setting that, over the course of two weeks, I learn to play cricket (badly), have countless life talks, cut my face open walking into a tent rope at eleven at night, and get red South African dirt everywhere. Actually, though. Feet, clothing, sleeping bag, backpack: that dust gets everywhere. I love it. The camp is still under construction: we are the first group to stay there. But we have a lot to do outside the camp, too.
Our big job for these two weeks is to design and put into action our own service projects in the township of Kayamandi. This is a week that everyone has been looking forward to, and we have some big expectations for our time here. Our team works with volunteers from Kuyasa, a crèche/after-school-programme, who will be our guides and translators. We are split into smaller groups and, after two days of learning our way around, we present our projects to our leaders and Johann. My group has partnered with another as we decided to rennovate a park, which needed more than just one group could provide. Helped by members of the community, we repaint the structures, put up soccer nets and paint a huge mural. It is a joy to see everything coming together and to know that we are making a difference, even a small one. We meet a man who coaches a local soccer team, and he tells us about coming to the park one evening with his team and wondering ‘where did those nets come from? Did they come from heaven?’ Some of us have the chance to work next door at a crèche, building relationships with the kids there, and on our last day they all come out to see what we’re up to. The mural that we’ve painted along the fence is my favourite part of the project, though. Through the combined efforts of a couple artistic outtatowners and some community artists, we cover the fence in fun, colourful pictures. In the center is the South African flag, made up of handprints from everyone who came and worked or played. One one side we have the verse ‘Let the children come to me, and do no stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them.’ from Matthew 19:14. The rest was done by others: a rabbit, a heart, a cross… When we step back at the end to look at the finished product, it is a lasting representation of our partnership with the community to make this park somewhere people want to go and can be proud of having built. An image that will stay in my mind forever is this, from the last day of our project. I was coming around the corner towards the park with a couple of others (we had gone up to a church to see another project that was going on – this was where we met the soccer coach), and as I came around the corner, I saw the last few community kids washing their hands after putting up their print in the flag. The mural was finished, the paints were all off to one side, and kids and outtatowners were playing shirts and skins soccer together. It was exactly the coming together that we had hoped for when we started this project, and it was incredibly fulfilling to see it happening.
Our time there wasn’t all work and soccer games. On days that we weren’t doing service work, we did other fun things. Our evening entertainment included a rugby game and a night at the university learning to sokkie dance. Everyone loved sokkie dancing, and every once and a while, if there’s music on, a few people will get up and dance – including one time, on a bridge over a ravine, in line waiting to jump off… more on that later!
I have now hiked to the top of Table Mountain. I’m not a big hiker, so I wouldn’t say it was one of my favourite experiences, but I have done it. It was foggy at the top and we saw almost nothing. But hey, Table Mountain is famous and all that, so I guess you have to go if you go to South Africa, right? That’s what I’m telling myself, at least.
On Valentines Day, many of us hopped on a boat and went out looking for a shark to be our Valentine. Shark Diving was a blast. The ocean was cold when we were just sitting in the cage, waiting, but when a shark came by and we ducked underwater we forgot about the cold. Sharks swam right by my corner, less than a metre away from me! It was insane, but so cool. The view from the boat was good, too, and we saw some come out of the water looking for the fish head that had been thrown in as bait.
A last memory was of driving into Cape Town to meet Desmond Tutu. We got stuck in traffic and missed the church service, but fortunately we still got to meet him. He was very kind and gave a nice encouraging speech, and there were pictures all around. It was really quite a nice morning.

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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Around the World

 

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