Thursday was our last day at Kalksteinfontein primary school. My colleague, Felicia (top right), and I returned to the fourth grade class we were in Tuesday and Wednesday. Felicia and I taught an English lesson which we began by sharing information about our lives in America. We ended our lesson by having our learners write letters to Felicia's American students. Thursday, in the midst of sharing about my life, helping students write in English, beat boxing and taking pictures during breaks, and sharing my contact information with a bustling crowd of students, a lesson continued to form in my heart. This lesson has been about love and impact. It began to form when I first met 11 year old LeeAnn on the plane two weeks ago and witnessed how she immediately began to look up to Melissa. It developed when I stood before 10th graders at Stanza Bopape Secondary school last week and has continued to form through my multiple interactions with hundreds of South African learners and multiple school visits throughout the course of this trip. Teachers have a noble job. Each day, teachers have an opportunity to impact young minds that will impact the world. In addition, despite the challenges my country may face, America is still admired by many. Many Americans, especially those filled with love, have an opportunity to impact the lives of people, young and old, in other countries.
The idea of music being an international language has really come to life since We've arrived in Cape Town on Sunday. We have visited over 4 different schools within the past 3 days and have witnessed everything from learners dancing with cans and sticks and stumping with boots and hard hats, to students singing in a choir and playing musical instruments. The most powerful musical experience, however, has taken place at Kalksteinfontein Primary School here in Cape Town. Prior to arriving on campus, we were told that Afrikaans was the first language for the large majority of learners at Kalksteinfontein (English being their second language). This became evident soon after trying to engage learners in conversation during their break for free time on Tuesday. During the break, however, the communication barrier between the learners and I was suddenly removed once I learned that one of the students in class was beat boxing while doing his class work. I immediately began showing my beat boxing skills to the students. Within seconds, I was surrounded by about 20 learners (some listening in and others rapping). What was supposed to be a short 10 minute break, turned into 20 minutes. To my surprise (and fault) the teacher extended the break due to the student’s engagement with the spontaneous cipher session taking place in the back of the classroom. Within the last 2 days, there have been about 10 cipher sessions. Students have assigned me the role of designated beat maker and the learners, boys and girls, rap in Afrikaans! Though I do not understand their language, I feel myself connecting with these learners in a powerful way when I make beats with my mouth and they rap. To top things off, the lesson Felicia (a fellow SAI participant) and I introduced today, started off with everyone singing “Baby” by Justin Bieber. The learners knew all the words and spoke fluently as they sung.
Today we left the Hyatt Regency in Johannesburg and flew to Cape Town. Here in Cape Town, the Rutgers team and I are staying at an African Villa. It is a home that has been transformed into a hotel. The team and I will be spending the next and final week here in Cape Town.
The Soweto Uprisings was a series of high school student-led protests in South Africa that began the morning of June 16, 1976. Students from numerous Sowetan schools began to protest in the streets of Soweto, in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. About 20,000 students took part in the protests, 700 were killed and another 4,000 were injured.
Friday, instead of returning to Stanza Bopape Secondary School, we traveled to the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto. The Hector Pieterson museum was created to honor Hector Pieterson and other youth who were killed during the Soweto Uprising. To our surprise, while walking through the museum, we received word that Antoinette Sithole (the sister of Hector Pieterson) was present and she agreed to share her story with us. For her, sharing the story of the death of her younger brother has been a part of a healing process. To the above right, is the famous picture of Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo after being shot by South African police. Antoinette Sithole runs beside them. Pieterson was rushed to a local clinic and declared dead on arrival.
Thursday was an important day. I returned to Stanza Bopape Secondary School and had the opportunity to interact with 10th grade learners. For the past 3 years, I have wondered what such an opportunity would be like. I walked into class a bit nervous as the morning activities called for me to be flexible. Despite not having a solid lesson plan, my purpose was two-fold and clear. As an educator, I wanted the learners to be informed about life in the U.S. And as a learner, I positioned myself to learn more about South Africa from them. I called on learners to ask questions about the U.S. and share one thing they wanted me to know about South Africa.
Learners asked good questions concerning language, religion, circumcision, music, wealth in America exc. When I asked the learners to share one thing they wanted me to know, many learners made an effort to ensure that I felt welcome. One of the written responses embodies the sentiment of the majority, “I want you to know that you’re welcome in Stanza Bopape Secondary School with warm arms and a big smile on our face. We like having you here!!!”
Wednesday was an amazing day! The Rutgers group and I traveled to the National Zoological Garden (NZG) of South Africa. The NZG is considered one of the top zoos in the world and is located in Pretoria. Our tour guide, Mrs. Vee (seen above in red) was full of energy as she, and other staff, drove us around in golf carts to see the animals and research facilities. Some of the animals we saw Wednesday included: tigers (one of them white), komodo dragons, crocodiles, giraffes, lions, gorillas and rhinos. For lunch, we were taken to a den near the elephants and dined as the Elephants passed by. I had one of those frequent, “WOW, I’m in Africa” moments.
In addition to eating with the elephants, the group and I transferred from the Protea Hotel in Pretoria to the Hyatt Regency in Johannesburg. Both hotels are gorgeous. I’ve seen South Africans managing the hotels and the zoo better than any other hotel and zoo I’ve ever been to. People are very humble and take pride in providing the best service possible.
The Rutgers team and I travelled to schools within Pretoria today. I attended Stanza Bopape Secondary School and had the opportunity to interact with learners and teachers. I had the opportunity to talk extensively with Mr. Simon (seen on the left) a Physics teacher. Mr. Simon has been teaching for about 10 years in South Africa and today was only his second day at Stanza Bopape. Mr. Simon was a great guy and answered many questions about education and politics in South Africa. As Maudivi (a Rutgers student) and I talked to Mr. Simon, I found our discussions about education and corruption within the ANC most informative.
After returning to the hotel, after school was over, all the participants debriefed concerning our days at school. I mentioned how I felt unwelcomed by some who may have viewed me as an outsider.
We ended the night, upstairs in our hotel’s conference room, where we joined students from NYU and participated in a discussion by Dr. Joseph Diescho from the University of South Africa (UNISA) concerning the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I posed the question to Dr. Diescho, “In your opinion, do you believe the TRC demonstrated a perverted sense of justice by failing to imprison or execute those who committed great injustices under Apartheid (e.g. like murdering Stephen Biko)?” He responded by saying something to the affect of, Mandela (who initiated the TRC) tends to see deep in to the future. His impacts have shown that he is a very extraordinary human being! Many stories from Dr. Diescho left me with a deeper respect for Mandella!
Today the Rutgers group and I travelled to two important venues in South Africa that told two different stories. First, we travelled to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. After studying the life of Mandela as well as South African history and culture, this experience brought many things to life. I was touched by the videos, pictures, writing exc., within the Museum. When I walked into one of the jail sails, I empathized with the mental and emotional anguish of physical bondage and having everything stripped away that blacks who revolted against apartheid must have felt. There were times when I saw pictures of younger Mandela and instantly thought of my older brother Raheim who stands tall and whom I’ve always admired for his humility, fearlessness and intelligence. As I saw pictures of Mandela as a free man surrounded by hundreds of dignitaries, I saw the powerful affect that a man’s revolutionary thoughts, prudence and wisdom had on the lives of so many! It was a spiritual moment.
After attending the gift shop and having lunch, we travelled straight to the Voortrekker monument. The Voortrekker monument was constructed by the Afrikanners, in 1949. It is a symbol that commemorates the history of the Afrikanners in South Africa (specifically the Voortrekkers who left Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854). Once arriving at the monument, we met our tour guide who was Afrikaans. Throughout the tour of the monument, our moral consciousness was struck by many words of our tour guide. Many of us felt anger, and questioned in a way that was not ungraceful. The Afrikanners saw South Africa as their God given territory and themselves as bringing civilization and development to South Africa.
I take from these experiences a greater understanding of two different narratives. One filled with a history of despair but a present and future of great pride. And one filled with memories of being conquered by the British and the Africans.
My flight leaving JFK airport yesterday @ 11:15am started out great as I had the opportunity to talk to my mother, my younger brother Rahman and my younger sister Rashida!
Yesterday morning also started off a bit rough as I made an effort to detach myself from the stress of last minute big decision making and free myself to carrying only my checked baggage. I was empowered to travel to Johannesburg with joy with the help of various wonderful things that I experienced while flying South African Airways!
First of all, the flight attendants were all natives of South Africa and treated all the travelers with great grace and hospitality. I caught myself many times studying their every move with fascination and pride, knowing that we shared the same skin color.
Secondly, I met LeeAnn. LeeAnn is 11 years old and was returning home to South Africa after spending a week in NYC performing a song that led her to winning an international talent show! LeeAnn sat with Melissa, one of my fellow participants on this trip who has such an incredible personality! LeeAnn and Melissa became friends, or more like sisters, on the plane. I was able to meet LeeAnn and I enjoyed hearing her sing a song in Xhosa titled “Click Song.” LeeAnn’s bubbly and friendly personality reminded me of my baby sister Rakayla. She was such a joy, had such a bright smile and made me increasingly excited to meet other South African children!
Finally, the icing on the cake was waking up to the rising of the Sun as we quickly approached Johannesburg. I could not help but to Thank God for this opportunity and for all those who helped make this journey possible.