About two weeks ago, I had a homestay in the township of Gugulethu. The point of the experience is to stay 24 hours in a township and get a glimpse into what every day life is like there. There were about 20 or so people there that participated in the stay with me. At the beginning, we were split into different homes with one or two other people.
The women definitely run the home here. The women that took us into their homes insisted that we call them our Mama for the time we stayed with them, since for at least a day, we were going to be their children. In a lot of ways, this made me feel less like a guest, and more a part of the community. We kept the kids busy by playing games with them, we helped cook and clean, and we engaged in family activities as if we were actually home.
My Mama, Mama Nogs (pictured below), was the first woman to open her home for homestays. She has a two bedroom, one bathroom home for her, her husband, and her son. She also has a daughter, who is now married and has a daughter of her own. The granddaughter was staying with Mama Nogs on the night we were there, so we got to interact with her as well. We asked Mama a bunch of questions about her life in Gugulethu, how she began and grew the homestay program, and her experiences both during and after Apartheid. She told us about her childhood and the struggle of living under that sensitive period in South African history. She also told us about the joy the nation felt when Nelson Mandela was released from his imprisonment, and again when he was elected President and the country started showing visible change.
She cooked us a meal of chicken, mixed veggies, mashed carrot, and a sort of cornmeal dish that looked like mashed potatoes. Mama Nogs doesn’t own silverware, so we had to get our hands a little dirty, but my plate was practically licked clean in no time. I could hear my mother’s Long Island voice in the back of my mind telling me to eat every single thing Mama Nogs put in front of me and to not have any leftovers for her to throw out.
Before we went on the homestay, we were told that it was a nice gesture to bring a gift for our Mama as a thank you, and we were urged to give her something that said something about us personally, and where we come from. After a lot of thought, I decided to bake almond cookies for my Mama. When I’m home, I always make a dessert for my family when we visit each other, whether for Thanksgiving or Easter, or for a casual get-together or summer barbecue. Something made from scratch always means a little bit more, in my mind. After dinner we had a few with some tea before watching Sarafina, a musical about Apartheid that Mama told us was mostly very accurate.
After sleeping in Mama’s guest room, the three of us staying in the house met up with the rest on the trip and we walked to church. Service was awesome, taught in English and translated into Xhosa. After service, we headed to a bar and grill called Mzoli’s in the township. Mzoli’s is known for one thing: meat. We ate sausages, chicken, ribs, and probably way more than I can remember. I’ve never seen so much meat in my life at one time. After eating, drinking, and dancing, it was time to head back and say goodbye to Mama Nogs before heading back to Cape Town.
IES has taken us to a handful of townships since we've arrived here. I've walked in townships that were no more than tin-roof shack against tin-roof shack, and I've been in townships with small, but comfortable homes. A couple of people opted out of the homestay experience, because they felt it was awkward to them because it seemed like we were making their hardship a form of entertainment for ourselves. I can see how someone would feel that way, but at the same time, there are lots of reasons why I personally don't feel this way. For one, the people welcome us and encourage us to see and experience their culture. They want us to walk through the township, because they are proud of where they come from and the change that is happening there constantly. Second, I've learned a lot from experiencing townships on all kinds of levels. I’d say that I learned to be thankful for what I have while I was in Gugulethu. Mama Nogs had a front yard of flat, hard dirt, and still the kids came to play with us. We didn’t have silverware, and we still found a way to get the food from the plate to our mouths. The night was cold, but there were plenty of blankets to keep us warm while we slept. I’m becoming more aware of the fact that I used to think certain things were a necessity, and that now, when there’s a challenge presented, I can figure out different ways to get the job done.
When I first got here, a woman told me that the best lesson I would gain from South Africa is that when one way of doing things is unattainable, there are always other more creative ways to do the same thing. When you don’t have the tools to do something the way you’re used to, there are always other tools to do the exact same thing, if you would only think on it for a minute. I’m learning to tap into my child-like imagination again; where I don’t accept that something is impossible just because I don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. That’s a cool lesson that I’m constantly adding to each day.
My Mama had this cool little way of showing us that even though things might look a certain way now, there is always the hope that tomorrow will be better. Maybe tomorrow, your own personal Apartheid will be over. Maybe tomorrow you’ll get to see the changes of a world forever different. But you can’t get those results unless you get through today. It might be a battle, it might be difficult, but the satisfaction of getting through will always be worth it.
<div>Cortney Cordero is a senior majoring in journalism at Hofstra University with a minor in creative writing. This New <span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">Yorker has wanted to travel to Africa since she was in Kindergarten. This fall, her dream is finally coming true, and she </span><span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">wants to share her experience with you.</span></div>