Monday, August 4, 2014

Hayley and Madiba in South Africa

Cape town and Table Mountain from Lionshead
Imagine never having to choose between the beach (surfing, sunning, shark cage diving), or the mountains (hiking, biking, paragliding). Imagine never having to choose between national parks, botanical gardens, and wine lands, or between bustling city centers and laid back small-town communities drenched richly in their culture and history. Welcome to the Western Cape of South Africa where Madiba the dragon and I spent our summer, where all of these things manage to flourish at the tips of our fingers, or should I say at the end of my camera lens? 

Hayley at the Cape of Good Hope
 Hayley and Friends at the Cape Point

Muizenberg Beach Cabanas
Thatched roofs
 These environmental circumstances, shall we call them, holds a culture that gravitates towards almost anything that includes a picnic, an outdoor concert, wine, and a general good time. The result is almost an entire culture of laid-back elegance, where being warm and hospitable is not a compliment you receive for being friendly, but something that’s just a part of your daily festivities. The result is a culture that almost instinctively enjoys one another, but one you can’t quite explain either.

Fried Livers
You see not too long ago, South Africa was a country that hung onto its existence with only a few threads of hope. Like many other countries in the world at the time, havoc wreaked throughout its land as the apartheid government attempted to keep races separate. Britain vs. Afrikaaners, Afrikaaners vs. Xhosa, Xhosa vs. Zulu – the bloodshed was too high for too long until one day President P.W. De Klerk made an announcement. Almost overnight, the apartheid laws were disembodied, prisoners were set free, and Mandela stepped in. With courage and grace, and without a bitter bone in his body he began to stitch the country back together. 

A non-traditional African Dance Circle
Rich in Joy
Hayley and her Learning Sustainability and Community Engagement classmates
South Africa is a beautiful country to say the least, but I think what makes it most beautiful is that its people are not afraid of their history. The circumstances of its past lasted into social issues that are pressing and prevalent today, but it is rare to come into contact with stagnant water. With 11 national languages, 5 of which are sung in the national anthem, there is a continual essence of progress in the social transformation and diversity of the country. At Stellenbosch University, the very place where the apartheid laws were constructed, I took classes from professors who have dedicated their entire lives striving to create a space where everyone from every walk of life does not simply exist but has room to flourish. In class, South African students would discuss the difference between learning how to tolerate one another and learning how to celebrate and enjoy one another’s differences, whilst still sitting comfortably and entirely in their very own skin.

The Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Paragliding off Signal Hill
Groot Contantia Wine Farm
I could never explain exactly what a typical South African is because typically, South Africans come from all over Holland, all over India, Indonesia, and Malaysia, they come from all over Britain, and they come from all over Africa. They exist as a melting pot but not actually one that melts at all. You’ll experience a new world and different culture simply hopping around the Cape as every little suburb, nook and cranny has its own irreplaceable and vibrant culture. Many enjoy house music and curry, or rugby and braais (BBQ-ing), or gospel choir and sokkie dancing, or wine tasting and whale watching, or cheetah conservations and organic markets.

Hayley riding an elephant!
Obligatory food photo.
You can imagine my surprise the first time I attended a hot yoga class in downtown Stellenbosch when the instructor and owner of the studio walked in. He just so happened to be an Afrikaans speaking male, who was also a clean-shaven ex-rugby player with thigh muscles that bulged out of his contextually very short rugby shorts and arms that could lift most of us in the class, at the same time, that were bulging out of his vest. I just had to laugh and say, “oh yeah, I’m in South Africa”. Why would I expect my yoga instructor to be female, perhaps with dreads, a tattoo maybe? Or AT LEAST one that actually wears yoga pants. Oh and did I mention more than a quarter of the very packed yoga studio was also very stealthily built males? That’s a glimpse of South Africa.  You never know what to expect.

"Kyasa" means A New Day in Xhosa
Hayley and friends on a sunrise hike in Stellenbosch
The distribution of wealth exists all the way from the very bottom to the very top, and the variety of culture(s) exists all the way from the very left to the very right.

Girls from Zimbabwe
The Grounds of Vision Afrika
Students at Vision Afrika

With high regard to things that are rare and valuable, therefore able to be cherished and learned from, Madiba and I leave with only a handful of things to pinpoint about a typical South African. Generally speaking, typical South Africans are able to work through their history whilst not remaining defined by it, they are some of the hardest working people on the entire planet whilst doing so, and because of this hard work typical South Africans thoroughly enjoy to enjoy one another.

Enjoying one another
Hayley Oosthuysen
The Sustainability Institute
Stellenbosch, South Africa