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Thursday, 06 November 2008

South African Culture at Eye Level - Page 2

Written by Jessica Borges
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While trips to tropical islands or tourist-studded hot spots have their appeal, some travelers opt to go the non-traditional route to quench their travel thirsts. For one Boston resident, a trip to South Africa was a goal she had for years. In hopes of getting a glimpse of the unique culture, meeting the native people, and taking in the surrounding sites, Kaitlin Kirwin packed her bags with friend, Laurel Fulham for a 10-day adventure in Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. A large part of the trip was spent with friends who volunteered to teach in South Africa for a year, giving Kaitlin the kind of exposure to South African culture she had hoped for.

 

Durban had a downtown area where there were a lot of restaurants, and Cape Town had more of a bar scene and a more active night life. During the day Cape Town had a really nice upscale waterfront, which was less crowded than the bar scene at night. During our days in Durban, we sat in the classrooms where our friends taught. At night we’d either go to a church with them because that’s where they met a lot of people their own age, or we’d go to the beach and hang out there. It’s very much a community atmosphere there. It wasn’t really a typical vacation experience; we really went there and observed how our friends were living among the native South Africans and we learned a lot about the culture and lifestyles. It was definitely nice to see the school they teach at and the kids that they were around every day. The school had one classroom for toddlers and it went all the way up to classrooms for kids around age 17 and 18. Our friends taught third through sixth grade. It had a modern look and it had more of set up you’d see at a private school with different buildings for each classroom.

In terms of poverty, it’s all relative. That’s just the lifestyle there. People automatically assume our friends were there to rescue people who are less fortunate but they were just doing a tremendous job at a school with kids who were lucky to even attend this school. You can definitely tell that some of these kids were from poor backgrounds and some kids had to walk miles to school each morning and it seemed like a really tough situation. They do what they can with what they have and the volunteers are definitely leaving a significant impact on the school and the people who attend the school. If given the opportunity, I could definitely see myself doing that; I would love to be able to take a year off and put all of my energy into that sort of project.

South African Culture at Eye Level, Durban, Cape Town, South Africa, travel Durban, travel Cape Town, travel South Africa, Table Mountain, South African culture, teaching school Durban, Kaitlin Kirwin, Laurel Fulham, Jessica Borges

inTravel: Did you feel safe?

Kaitlin: Both Durban and Cape Town have a high crime rate it seemed, but it’s just like anywhere else in that it’s not safe to be out on the streets after a certain time, especially in a place that’s not far removed from apartheid and there’s some racial tension. During the day there was never a point where ever I felt unsafe or that anyone was trying to rip us off because we were foreigners. But still, everyone that we asked for advice about traveling in South Africa gave us the same advice you’d give to anyone going anywhere: you don’t want to be by yourself anywhere or be out too late. We definitely didn’t stay out too late in Cape Town. We’d go out to dinner but it really wasn’t worth trying to push it much later since it’s not the situation where we’d want to go out. We were two females by ourselves in an unknown place. Still, everyone was accommodating; the hotel staff was helpful and honest about threats that do exist in country. And there’s definitely racial tension and they’re still trying to deal with that.

 

inTravel: What were some of the biggest differences between South Africa and the US?

Kaitlin: In Durban we were only there for short period of time, but just in talking to the people, the kids, and the volunteers there, there’s definitely a sense of community. People are very aware of other people’s situations and there’s a great sense of ‘what’s good for the group is good for the individual’ and vice versa. We went to the church one night with them and I was amazed to see how people have such a strong sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone around them. After mass, people would make dinner together and someone at the end of mass may talk about plight of the church financially and people would chip in where they could. We got the sense that people genuinely cared about the wellbeing of their community. In Cape Town we didn’t really get to experience the daily life of Cape Town inhabitants. This part of the trip was more of our vacation time, where we stayed in a hotel secluded from the townships and without the personal connection to the townspeople.

 

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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