This last weekend we had our homestays in the township of Langa, which is about 20 minutes from our house. My friend Eva and I staying with a Mama who was about 60 years old and her 6 year old grandson. I really didn’t know what to expect before going into the weekend because we have seen so many different examples of townships. We have seen nice houses that look like they could be in a more suburban part of the US and we have seen people living in one room shacks made out of scraps of metal and wood. The houses that we all stayed in were definitely on the nicer side as far as township housing goes. Ours had two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. To be honest, the houses and their furnishings were almost nicer than I expected, but they still lacked certain things that we take for granted such as hot water and a shower.
The houses are all extremely close together and you usually end up walking through someone’s yard, or house even, to get to another house. But this doesn’t cause any problems, it just makes everyone closer. The sense of community that they have in Langa is something I have never experienced first hand. They are all black South Africans, Xhosa speakers, and have lived in Langa for a long time because it is the oldest township. This makes them all extremely close, reliant on each other, and trusting of the whole community. Just to give you an example, the 6-year-old boy would be gone for 5 hours and no one would be very worried. They just know that people will watch out for him and no one is going to purposefully harm their “sisi of bhuti” or sister and brother. Although there is still a safely issue of foreigners, we never once felt threatened or uncomfortable.
We were able to eat their tradition food, which includes a variety of variations of meal (corn-like grain), sour milk, spinach, chicken, tripe (cow’s stomach), pasta salad, steamed bread, and more. Since I am a recent vegetarian, it was very interesting to eat meat again in this setting. I must say that I am so happy that we got to eat their traditional food and I enjoyed some of it, but I did eat a lot of Tums over the course of the weekend.
During the weekend we were able to walk around Langa and see many different areas. We saw the new houses that the government is building for the people. We saw a room no bigger than my dorm room where 3 families lived with a total of 16 people. We saw the meat market where they sell every part of an animal imaginable on wooden tables in the open air. We went to a saloon at night where we were practically treated like celebrities, which was a little awkward at first but we ended up meeting some very interesting people. We went to a Baptist church on Sunday with our Mama and were there for 3 hours until we left early.
This whole experience made me realize so many things about myself and my life, along with so much about their culture. I realized how much excess I live in, and I would really like to be conscious about realizing the difference between a need and a want. I also realized how important a sense of community is and how we really lack that in some many parts of the States. And I realized how self centered and focused we are on constantly being better in our culture. We are not meant to be satisfied until we have done everything we possibly can to be successful, but this past weekend I met many very content and happy people because they had loving family and friends and a safe place to live. Many of them did not have jobs and their husbands had died of left them, but they were happy with their life and didn’t spend their time worrying about how to get more. I feel so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to create relationships with people of a totally opposite culture, and to learn from them about how I want to live my life. Until next time, salani kakuhle! (stay well)