"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Africa Journals, Chapter 56, Shanties and Sheep Heads

The Africa Journals

Chapter 56
Shanties and Sheep Heads
(Part Two of The Cultural Connection)

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. ~ Maya Angelou ~

We leave downtown Cape Town, leave behind the ultra-modern buildings, the four star hotels, the huge shopping mall at the harbor, and drive up the busy highway that takes us to the other side of Table Mountain.   This is the area known as Cape Flats.

As late as the 1950s, this area was all but uninhabited and covered with soft sand of marine origin, blown in by the vicious winds for which Cape Town is famous.  The sand made travel by wagon impossible.

 The apartheid policies of the Nationalist government forced many non-whites out of Cape Town proper, and in as little as a generation, it became a densely populates area of squatter shacks and modest homes.

Cape Town is located along the narrow coast in the foreground, with Table Mountain behind it and Robben Island to the left in Table Bay.   Cape Flats is circled.

Mile after mile of shanties line both sides of the highway, set back across a green grassy area and a fence meant to keep the residents from attempting to cross the busy road, and perhaps, hide the tumbledown shacks from view.  Though the effort has been made to prevent crossing the highway on foot, every year a number of people die while trying.

Shanties in the back yards of nice homes.

But, there are holes in the fences, boards missing here and there.  People slip through the fence and use the grassy area as a toilet in full view of the passing traffic, not even attempting modesty.   Maybe the rows of portable toilets are too far away, or full, or whatever, but watching women pull up their pants and men zipping up theirs is quite a shock after leaving clean and beautiful Cape Town only minutes ago.

We enter a neighborhood of modest one-family homes and our coach drops us off at a community center where vendors hope we will pause to shop. 

Instead we are escorted into a workshop where ceramics and pottery are made, giving the local residents jobs and business experience.   This man spoke to us for about five minutes about the project and its successes to date, and I don’t think he drew a breath in all that time.  Either that or he has learned, like didgeridoo players, the art of circular breathing.

Apparently, she's heard this spiel before.

In the same building, we seat ourselves in a small auditorium  and watch a one-man performance.   The actor tells the story of growing up under apartheid and ends, as an old man, the day he was allowed to cast a vote as a free man.   It is quite moving as he mimes an elderly man walking with the aid of a cane, and dropping his precious ballot into a box.

Back aboard the coach, we travel a short distance and turn onto a narrow road through a shanty town.   All these neighborhoods have names, according to the maps, but the only name I hear is Langa and I have no way of knowing if we leave it or stay within its boundaries.  

As we wind through the make-shift shacks and shanties, we see many people trying to eke out a living with tiny businesses.   And then I see smoke and hope-to-God this place isn’t on fire.   It all looks like a tinderbox, and with all the outdoor cooking over open fires, I cannot imagine how people could escape a runaway fire here.

We round a bend and behind a huge pile of pallets and assorted scrap lumber, I see the smoke comes from contained fires.   A slight breeze blows away the smoke for a moment and reveals two women preparing sheep heads.  I wonder if this is the poor man’s food—the offal and heads being all he can afford.


The guide brings one woman aboard, introduces her as Winnie, and explains she coats her face with clay to protect it from the heat of the fire.

I did not know, until I returned home and happened to catch an installment of Anthony Bourdain’s TV series Parts Unknown, that sheep heads are considered a treat.  Stripped of hair and thoroughly washed, the heads are par-boiled and then roasted over a fire.  The heads are called Smileys locally.   Why?   Because when a sheep dies, it smiles and the roasting emphasizes that smile.   It is a favorite of the ethic Zulus and Indian  (from India) population. 

Even restaurants with clientele anxious to try indigenous foods are serving them.

We continue on through the shanties for the next part of our tour.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Africa Journals, Ch. 55, The Cultural Tour, Part One

The Africa Journals

Chapter 55

Brian joins us in the lobby of the Cullinen Hotel before our “Cultural Connection” tour and says our coach awaits.   Please don’t be a museum, I think.

I board the bus and the front row seat is empty, so I sit there.  This is the second time I have selected the front seat.  I usually sit in the back row because it is raised and I can see out both sides.  Please don’t be a museum, I repeat as I sit down.

Brian, who won’t be going with us today, introduces us to Desmond, our local guide for the day.  Please don’t be a museum.   I have no idea what to expect from this optional tour, but since I paid for it, I didn’t want to miss it.  I simply hoped it wasn’t going to be a long afternoon in a museum.   As I mentioned before, I wanted to see living people going about their lives and learn about them, not looking at artifacts and dioramas in a dimly-lit museum.

It was a museum.   But first, we drove by the former City Hall, slowed briefly in traffic so we could see the small balcony from which Nelson Mandela made his first public speech shortly after being released from prison.

Desmond talks about this, saying he was there that day.  He pointed to a large paved square across the street, and said it was jammed with people waiting to hear Mandela.

The Grand Parade and statue of King Edward VII of Britain.

According to him, Mandela spoke of the brutal Apartheid regime and talked about revenge.

There was utter silence for a long minute, said Desmond.   And then Mandela said there would be no revenge, that everyone needed to learn to work and live together.   The crowd cheered, said Desmond, because nobody wanted to fight for revenge.”   This is how Desmond remembers that electrifying day.*

Next was a stop nearby where the original star fort built by the Dutch East India company was relocated.   It originally was built during 1666-1679, along the shore of Table Bay, but moved further inland in over a period of years during land reclamation.

Across the street in the open area, is where thousands listened to Nelson Mandela's first speech after his release from 27 years of imprisonment.    The City hall balcony from which he have that speech, is behind the coach, under the ornamented clock tower.

Castle of Good Hope in downtown Cape Town.   My photos were taken across the street from the words "Grand Parade."

We have only a few minutes as our coach is parked illegally and the fort is now the center of military operations in Cape Town.

From downtown Cape Town, the coach gains altitude and passes by a large open area of shrubs and the occasionally chunks of broken concrete.  This, says Desmond, is District Six, a notorious black eye on South Africa’s face.

One of the most onerous things the Apartheid government did was make blacks and Coloureds  live in undesirable areas.  As the white population grew and needed more room, the government took away the land where those people had settled and forced them to relocate to even more undesirable areas.

Homes and shanties alike were demolished and the occupants moved into the Cape Flats areas and other place farther away from town.  Only a few buildings and churches were left, and one of them housed the District Six Museum.   A group of schoolchildren were seated in the main room of the museum, listening to an African.   We walked around the inside perimeter, looking at signs and photos and displays of what was once a thriving,  culturally-vibrant neighborhood. 

Interior of District Six Museum   photo from Wikimedia Commons

Brian told us later that when the city government offered the confiscated lands for sale, no white person would purchase a lot, a form of protest against the Apartheid regime.  Right in what should be some of the most valuable land available, the empty fields of District Six are an ugly reminder of an ugly era.  A few homes were built by the government and offered to former residents.  More building of this type is planned.

The vacant land of District Six, where more than 60,000 blacks and Coloureds were forcibly removed from their homes by the Apartheid government.

We re-board the coach and the driver turns towards one of the places where the African natives and Coloureds made an attempt to salvage their lives, the nortorious Cape Flats.

Cape Flats, with central area of Cape Town along the coast.  Robben Island is on the left.

*  This was how Desmond described the day he listened to Mandela's speech.   I have read the speech and can find nothing to indicate it was spoken that day.   Rather, Mandela urged them to keep up the struggle for freedom, and for both whites and blacks to learn to work together.

For a story about District Six printed by Newsweek, follow this link:


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Candy Crush and the Theory of Relativity

Pretend you can see into my living room. 

You see me in my comfy sofa/chair playing Candy Crush on my iPad.   Lazy, lazy, lazy, you might think.   Middle of the day, doing nothing but playing a silly game instead of mowing lawns, or splitting wood, or doing laundry, which is what I should be doing.

Not my fault.  I am being pushed into my chair by unseen forces, forces so powerful that without them, we all would go spinning off into space.   My authority for this is none other than Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity.

You can add Sir Isaac Newton and gravity, too.

I just learned all this on my drive home from litter picking this evening.  The time was after 7 P.M., and the radio was on, and Dr. Michio Kaku was talking about scientific things on Science Fantastic.  What he said about Newton (remember the apple-falling-from-the-tree guy?) was that he didn’t go far enough with his theory.   I mean, gosh, give the guy a break.   He’d just discovered gravity.  Let him rest on his apples for a while.

Then along came Albert Einstein who considered Newton’s discovery and posited that matter (you, me, and other solid things) bends space.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?   Everything bends the space around it.   Einstein’s next step was that space pushes down on matter.  

Voila!  Theory of Relativity as understood by someone who was dodging cars heading to the Kenai for salmon fishing/dipnetting, getting into or out of her vehicle, bending space to pick up litter which was being held to the ground by space pushing on it, and maybe missing a thing or two of what Dr. Kaku said.

I heard enough for my purposes:   It’s not my fault when I’m sitting in my chair playing Candy Crush on my iPad.

There is one thing, though.   Airplanes and lift.   I’ve always heard that lift is generated by air moving over wings.  That’s the Bernouili Principle.   But shouldn’t that air be holding the plane on the ground just as I’m held in my chair playing Candy Crush on my iPad?

Well, you have to add motion and tilt to get upwash and downwash to that air/wing thing to create lift and get that plane off the ground.

All of which is far too taxing on my brain.   I barely made it through high school biology 101.

I’m more in tune with Newton’s First Law which states that a body at rest will remain at rest.   Just until I finish this game and then I’ll go mow the lawns.

Ooops.   Raining.   

Oh, dear.  That naughty space is pushing me down into my chair.   Might as well play some more Candy Crush.  

And one more thing about that space pushing down on matter?   Is that why my bathroom scale shows such an obscene number?  Maybe a smaller bathroom so there isn't so much space to push down on me and the scale?    Would I weigh less in a tiny outhouse?