Almost Half Way There

It’s hard to believe that it is already Wednesday night, that I have been gone for over four weeks, and that I only have about five weeks left. Despite the fact that my time is speeding by, I am making the most of the summer and trying to get a lot accomplished work-wise. This past weekend, I went with 9 of my housemates along the scenic Garden Route, a section of highway that runs along the southwest coast of the country. After a beautiful drive with rolling green hills and an impromptu stop at a delicious and free-flowing winery along the way, we made it to the Garden Route Game Lodge for a game drive. Although I went on a real safari last summer, it was still cool to visit a game preserve and see elephants, lions, cheetahs, and giraffes in their natural habitat….plus the dinner buffet was pretty delicious!!

Sunday, we continued along the Garden Route passing by rocky coastlines and bays on our way to the Bloukrans Bridge, the site of the world’s highest bungee jump. Some of my friends decided to make the 200+ meter plunge, but I decided to reduce the damage to my wallet and ensure my continued existence by opting to zipline across the bridge instead of jumping. It still provided me with some incredible views of the canyon that the bridge traverses. After jumping, we piled into the small car (5 of us) and made the long 6 hour drive back to Cape Town.

The work week has been going pretty well so far. Most of the day Monday was spent preparing for the museum’s Youth Day program for the following day, Tuesday June 16. (Youth Day in South Africa commemorates the 1976 Soweto uprisings when high school students protested against the use of Afrikaans as the official language of instruction in public schools. Their peaceful protests were greeted with violence by the apartheid government, and at the end of the day several students lay dead. The students’ protest ignited a wave of resistance in the following weeks and months, making the country ungovernable and ultimately leading to the end of apartheid nearly two decades later).

The program planned for Tuesday’s celebrations was designed to be an intergenerational dialogue between high school students and former residents of District Six (most of whom are in their 60s and 70s) about Youth Day and, building off of the museum’s soccer exhibit, the ways in which soccer and soccer culture have changed over the past decades. On paper, it looked like a promising afternoon. In reality, things didn’t quite work out so well. Not only we were poorly organized and frantically setting up last minute, half of the young students who RSVP’ed cancelled, leaving an highly uneven ratio of youth and former residents. Despite the uneven numbers, the dialogues went fairly well. From my perspective, I was fascinated to listen to all of the adults’ stories from 1976 and see their reactions to a video about the Soweto uprisings. Almost all of them gasped in unison when Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, was interviewed on screen.

The end of the program was when things really went awry. A group of high school students were scheduled to perform a small skit to conclude the day. Their extremely corny skit, which ended with a singing of “I Believe the Children are the Future,” was good compared to what happened next. All of the sudden, some old man went to the front of the room, seized the microphone, and crooned an awful rendition of “Lady in Red” followed by the Stevie Wonder hit “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” While this was happening, I just sat and looked around the room at my co-workers to see find out what was going on, but I was only greeted with blank faces—they were equally confused. Let’s just say that this musical tribute didn’t exactly fit in well with the theme for the day. If nothing else, it gave us all something to laugh at after a long day of work.

Today, I spent some time at both the museum and the National Library. At the museum, I finalized a visitor survey that will be administered next week, and I succeeded in making contact with both several German museums and some Cape Town tourism officials. I do have to say that it is a bit awkward calling people out of the blue and asking them for help, but it is getting me valuable information and giving me a brief glimpse of what life was life before email! At the National Library, I made progress reading through transcripts of Parliament from 1994.

So far, I am really enjoying my research. This afternoon, as I walked out of the library, past the South African Parliament buildings, and towards the train station, all I could think about was how lucky I am that Duke is giving me the opportunity to be on the ground in Cape Town learning more about South Africa and its history. Today was a good day…let’s hope tomorrow follows suit.

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