The last two weeks in Mthatha have been a crash course in patience and the ability to simply wait. We finally made it to Mthatha and the Nkululekweni site, only to be told that the student strike was still on and had become violent with students blocking faculty and staff from the campus. When we arrived, classes had been suspended and the police had evicted students from their reside nces.
Our first assignment was assisting with the Student Session and I learned:
1) how entrenched political affiliations are (especially with the ANC) as the impromptu and rowdy political rally at the end of the night demonstrated
2) how long people here can ramble on for
3) the challenges that all women still face.
It was an eye opening experience and yet another example of how little I know. During the Gender Commission, Sarah and I both had to bite our tongues as almost only men contributed to the session and yet when a woman volunteered to present the discussion to the whole conference, she was nearly heckled off the floor.
The second and most interesting part of the conference was the Capacity Building and Training for Community Development Workers which redeemed my faith after the student session. Community members met at the Centre for Rural Development for an intensive week of workshops. Sarah, Jason, and I sat in on the introduction and were pointed out as the “mlungus” (white people) and unmarried too! Sarah and I assisted with much of the basic logistics (apparently we looked like we knew what was going on) as well as proofreading and adding content to the workshops on HIV/AIDS and gender. The community members also prepared a presentation for the main conference to address the rural voice and confront the academic and government population.
The final part of the conference was the main conference—I didn’t see a lot of it, but as it consistently ran hours later than scheduled, I am not too heartbroken. It continues to amaze me how people can speak simply because there is a microphone in front of them and assume that the audience is interested. I did however get roped into addressing the crowd for the Vote of Thanks in the closing ceremonies on behalf of Niagara College! The best part of the main conference was meeting all of the student volunteers; being “mlungu” is an easy conversation starter, but they made us feel very welcomed and we will hopefully all see each other soon. I also got my first marriage proposal from a local chief with a herd of 600 inkomos (cows) as part of the bride price (a tradition that continues today).
Although we did not see much of Mthatha on this trip because of our marathon days and no weekends, Sarah and I did have the unique pleasure of staying with Professor Bello and his family. We tasted traditional Nigerian foods, learned some basic Hausa (a language spoken in northern Nigeria), and got a lesson in the marketing of the Texas spring onion (Prof Bello’s PhD concentration). My Xhosa vocabulary has grown hugely in the last two weeks and we continue to surprise people with the words we know. I also learned that the word for a nearby town, Qunu, can be pronounced incorrectly and become a vulgar term for a body part. That always gets a few laughs! I have developed a great appreciation for Xhosa cuisine-tons of meat, nqushu (beans and samp), creamed greens, pap, beets and squash, and Rooibos tea. Only a few uncomfortable run-ins with the Mthatha washroom facilities, but it has only reinforced my belief that one should always carry a roll of toilet paper.
Now, we continue to wait for transportation back home—it seems to be a never-ending tease that we will make it back to East London and it has come to the point where you just search for the cleanest dirty clothes you have and hope that tomorrow is actually the day!
PHOTOS COMING SOON