I've been here for more than a week now, but I feel like even during this short amount of time, I already have to much to write about. I know that no matter how much I write though, I wont do South Africa any justice.
Stepping off the plane into southern hemisphere sun and an incredible amount of coastal wind, I knew immediately that I would love it here. East London is so beautiful! The weather has been incredible for the end of winter. I've already been down to the beach and put my feet in the Indian Ocean. We've had one overcast day so far and the rest have been warm and sunny. O I can't wait for spring to start!
I've been learning pretty quickly to navigate my way around the city and am already a pro at catching taxis and crossing the street (these things are not as easy as they sound). Walking around downtown can be somewhat of an ordeal depending on what street you walk on. It's clear that not many white people walk on Buffalo Street from the way people stare and others shout "umlungu!" (white person!) Four white girls walking around in a group would attract a lot of attention anywhere in the world though. My favorite incident so far has been when we went to visit a daycare in the Duncan Village Township. Upon walking into a classroom full of children under 5, they all shout "umlungu!" and start jumping up and down chanting "teacher, teacher!" And then they proceed to attack you and grab on to any part of your body they can get a hold of. Lastly, they all give you a shop (thumbs up) and want to touch their thumbs to yours. I needed about 20 more hands.
Food has been great! Lots of curry, biscuits, and rooibos tea. There are no words to describe the chocolate and caramel ice cream here. I have only had a few typical traveling abroad mishaps including not being able to access my money, frying my flat iron, and getting sick for a few days. I have learned to just expect this kind of stuff to happen and just go with the flow. Things have worked out ok so far!
I've already met several of the many local friends to past BYU students and plan on making many more friends. People here are incredibly laid back and outgoing. They accept you immediately upon meeting you and treat you like family, calling you bhuti or sisi (brother or sister). I absolutely love my host family! Our Mama and Tata, Kathy and Cornelius, have just opened up a used book shop a few blocks down the road. They host little firesides there on Friday nights (basically a time for intellectuals to gather and talk). Need I say more? There are 11 people living in their house right now, including us. All four races of the rainbow nation (black, white, coloured, and Indian) living under one roof--so we like to say that we are a rainbow house.
Despite the greatness of South Africa, it still has its problems.There is currently a huge public workers strike going on right now for about an 8% increase in wages from the government. Teachers, nurses, police are all refusing to go to work. It's such a big mess and the only thing that has really happened is that children are suffering in school and patients are suffering in bed. The opinions on this hot issue are almost as diverse as the country itself, but one thing is for sure, nothing at all is getting accomplished. I get the feeling that South Africa experiences these kinds of standstills a lot because no one is willing to give a little or be flexible. It's still so astonishing to me how I can stroll down an enormous mall/casino on one side of the city and then 20 minutes later find myself looking over an even more enormous township packed with tiny rundown shacks. The progress since apartheid has been substantial indeed, but there's still a long way to go.
Yesterday I was able to get out to the orphanage that I intend to work at and spend most of time while I am here. It's called Isaiah 58 Children's Village. I'll probably be doing a little bit of everything at this place. They are in need of as much help as they can get in almost every aspect. As Macrae and I were getting a tour of the place, we walked by the playground where all the really young children were playing. They saw us and ran up to greet us by hugging our legs.Within a minute, they had us sitting on the ground and were climbing in our laps and playing with our long hair (or rather, tugging it in every direction). They also thought our "chucks" shoes were pretty awesome. The manager of the orphanage, Pastor Mervyn, showed us where the children sleep and I was blown away. I have never seen a tidier children's room in all my life. They are so proud of their own space and their few personal possessions that they keep the place spotless. These children literally have the bare minimum. But I'm so excited to start working there and I can't wait to get to know the kids!
Anyways, I've been having an amazing time so far and I think I'm already beginning to love this place!