Our first visit to the townships immediately prompted confusion and questions. How do you act when you’re interacting with residents? How do you communicate? Should you communicate? Can you communicate without insulting? I was incredibly uncomfortable. This immediately created barriers. Barriers that are unnecessary and tiring.
We toured the townships on a small bus, which seemed like the first mistake. It fueled a feeling of being on the outside looking in. Rather than engaging with the residents for the majority of the day, we were simply gawking at our surroundings, taking pictures here and there. It was voyeurism at its worst.
It wasn’t until we stopped at Rosie’s kitchen in Khayelitsha that I began to feel any sense of normality. Rosie was born and raised in the township. She has been running her kitchen for the past twenty years (see photos below). The aim of her operation is to provide some sustenance for kids, who are constantly battling hunger. Three times a day, Rosie and volunteer residents serve up basic meals for the kids in the neighborhood. Rosie charges a price of 60 cents. If the child doesn’t have the money, she requires labor that ranges from preparing the meals to work around her house.
We arrived for the afternoon meal of peanut butter and bread; the kids knew we were coming. They greeted us with wide smiles and excitement. Initially, I reacted with a very guarded manner, but kids are kids. Their happiness was contagious, and, in no time, I was off playing soccer in the street.
I’m sure that this won’t be the last time I find myself flooded with the initial uncomfortable feelings, but I need to remember how insignificant I am in the context of these townships. At the most, my actions will have incredibly minor effects. I can never approach these opportunities reserved or timid because the only result will be more barriers and boundaries. There are more than enough as it is. I’m looking forward to exploring service learning at a more intimate level in the classroom and at Abalimi.