This week has been a frustrating one. I feel like I have come to a roadblock in more than one area of my life. I haven’t had much to do at work, and I’m not one to be content just sitting around doing nothing. I feel worthless in the workplace when I have no point in being there, and I just want to go back to my job at home. I’m also frustrated with how judgmental some of the locals are of Americans. Today I’ve been here one month, and I’m hoping the next month and a half start looking up.
I have been working on my first project, and although it’s nice to have some responsibility, it’s not much. I have had the chance to learn a few things from this – that it’s important to keep my coworkers in the loop, even if they aren’t a part of the planning process, and that people want to be involved even when it’s not their project. It’s nice to have the first-hand experience to really drive home the point that at work, your projects are not your own. They are everyone’s, and you can’t take full ownership if you want the best results; everyone has something to contribute.
What sent me over the edge this week was one of my co-workers. He asked me if I was being paid for this internship, and when I said no, he said, “Oh your parents must be rich.” Excuse me, what?! But when I said that no…they actually aren’t, he ignored me and said, “Yeah, how much are your parents giving you?” Is it SO hard to believe that I worked my way here? That I don’t have everything handed to me? That maybe not all Americans are rich?
I’m so sick of the stereotypes here. At first I really empathized with the South Africans I met who had these notions of what Americans are like. I understand that we are sometimes ignorant and take things for granted. But those people who can’t grasp the fact that we don’t all fall into that Beverly Hills stereotype are doing so much more harm than good. I left work that day bitter at everyone in South Africa. Everyone who sees me seems to think I’m this spoiled white girl on holiday, and they couldn’t be further from the truth. It hurts me so much that people can’t see through that.
On another note, I am so grateful for where I come from. Today we walked around Langa township and had the chance to really get to know the locale. I was in awe of how cheerful people from such an impoverished location were. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, more than happy to invite us into their homes and share their stories. I am really happy I decided to go with everyone to see the township. I was a little wary at first because I thought it might be like we were going to observe people from the outside. It turned out to be well worth the visit; we walked around the streets and heard first-hand about the development projects occurring in the area. We also visited a sangoma, a hostel, a traditional shebeen (and tried the interesting home-brewed beer), a few craft markets, their development center, and Mzoli’s (in Guguletu). It was all very eye-opening. Our guide also tried to teach us a few words in Xhosa, but I couldn’t really catch on. We had the opportunity to see just how hard it is to rise out of poverty when you are born in a shack - I saw a suit hanging up in one of the hostels, covered in a trash bag, and it really hit home seeing how hard it is just to keep your clothes clean, let alone get a job.
Unfortunately my camera died, but these are some pics one of my friends took:
The man who showed us around brought up very legitimate points – guilt is a very common feeling among privileged people who visit these areas, but it’s not doing anyone any good. Pity helps no one. Understanding that the people living in Langa are doing the best they can, and that they aren’t “others” really helped me face that feeling. However, I still have mixed thoughts about the situation after hearing about how the people aren’t allowed to build past their boundaries, and that the government doesn’t want the public to see the shacks. However, seeing life in the townships firsthand was worth it, and the sense of community there was pretty inspiring. To the people who let us walk around their township and showed us how they live - enkosi!