Since yesterday was Chelsie’s last day at the National Gallery, Selina and I were on our own this morning as we sleepily danced about our room in search of the perfect last-day-of-work outfits. Though our erratic sleep schedules have vastly improved thanks to the structure our internships provided us with this summer, we had stayed awake until nearly 3 AM making handmade cards for everyone at the Social History Center (everyone from the director to our supervisors to the door guy to the janitorial staff) expressing our thanks and gratitude to all of them.
Aside from taking over Gerda’s lounge room with our markers, paints, paper, glue, and thread, we also took over the kitchen as we whipped up a homemade batch of No Bake cookies, fresh squeezed lemonade, and a chocolate cake. OK, so maybe we bought the cake at Spar, but nobody else needs to know that.
Since we weren’t too keen on the idea of walking to work while juggling a large platter of cookies, a chocolate cake, and two large pitchers of lemonade in our arms, we decided to spoil ourselves with a taxi. You will all be pleased, and perhaps a bit shocked, to know that during our four week internship, we only succumbed to the laziness of taking a taxi to work three times.
Since we spent more time in Bradley’s office than Bradley himself these past few weeks, we surprised him by taping handmade nameplates under his this morning with our names written across in big, bubbly handwriting. Though our pink paper stars weren’t quite as convincing as his metal plaque, he told us he is going to keep them up forever, or at least until someone else takes it down. So, in other words, we now have our very own office at the Social History Center.
We then went on a treasure hunt with Janene and Bradley to the Rust En Vreugd museum. The treasure at the end of our quest wasn’t gold, however, but the William Fehr collection and Iziko t-shirts! After giving ourselves a private tour of the first floor, one of the staff members – Melody – took us up a narrow and rickety old staircase (the Rust En Vreugd was originally Willem Cornelis Boers house, and was built in 1777 when Selina and I were -212 years old!) to give us staff t-shirts. While we were up there, she also offered us free posters. Though we greatly wanted to scream, dance, and jump up and down, we contained our excitement and calmly and collectively thanked her and told her that we would love free posters. She then brought us down to one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen since I’ve been in South Africa – a long series of shelves adorned with dozens of different posters from previous Iziko Museum exhibitions. Melody kept piling more and more posters into our arms, and we managed to walk away with a total of ten. We, of course, did not forget about Chelsie, and managed to snag a Steven Biko poster for her so that she can sit underneath it while reading the Steven Biko book she purchased at the Apartheid Museum. It’s all about the synchronicity.
Upon returning to the Social History Center, we found out that it is not only very difficult, but it is also very rare for interns to get staff gear. Yacov, our resident archaeologist, conveyed to us that he has been trying to get t-shirts for his own interns for 9 months, all to no avail. We are so grateful to have somehow managed to get them in such a short period of time! I opted for the scoop neck, and Selina and Chelsie (or rather we opted for Chelsie) opted for the v-necks. Regardless of the neck configuration, though, they are all the loveliest t-shirts any of us have ever owned, and mine will be coming home with me with the title of “most prized and loved souvenir.” They say “Ubuntu” on the front, and while wearing them in town tonight, we kept a running tally of the number of people who commented on them. Seven. Seven people made comments along the lines of, “Ubuntu! Right on!” “Are you working at the Ubuntu festival this year?” “UBUNTU!” “Ubuntu power!” “Oh, wow, man, Ubuntu!” It was quite surreal, especially when – embarrassingly enough – one takes into account the fact that none of us knew what Ubuntu meant at this point in the day. For all we knew, it meant “stupid American who doesn’t know what this word means.”
After looking it up, we couldn’t help but smile and shake our heads up at the stars when we discovered it is a philosophy that roughly translates to “I am who I am because of who we all are.” Origins Center anyone?
Clad in our brand new t-shirts and toting our new posters, we arrived back at the Social History Center to find everyone congregated in the break room for our going away shindig. Selina and I began the ceremony by giving impromptu speeches thanking everyone for not only being so incredibly welcoming from the moment we walked through the front doors on the first day of our internship, but also for teaching us more in 16 days than we learned in some of the semester long classes we took in undergrad. After a long stream of individual compliments, as well as a series of observations we had made during the past four weeks, the director of the Social History Center, Lalou, asked us if we would write up the basic premise of our speeches and e-mail it to the C.E.O. of the Iziko Museums. Bradley, Janene, and Fatima were visually excited at this suggestion, and after we told her that we would be honored to, Janene promised us that she will share a little bit of her money with us when she inevitably gets a raise.
Next, Lalou, along with the collections manager Lindsay, assistant collections manager Thando, my supervisor Bradley, conservator Fatima, and intern Chris gave speeches thanking us for our enthusiasm and hardwork during our time, albeit brief, as interns here. After they spoke, we were presented with beautiful homemade cards that Bradley’s wife, Mercia, made for us complete with thoughtful comments and signatures from everyone at the Social History Center. Cue really dramatic sobbing noises and very wet faces. It was such a lovely and unnecessary gesture, and this card now join the ranks with my Iziko t-shirt as most prized physical possessions acquired in South Africa.
After the party, Selina and I hand delivered our own handmade cards to everyone in the building. They were all so surprised and appreciative when we popped into their offices with brightly colored pieces of paper proclaiming our thanks and gratitude, and we were told that we are not only the first interns to bring treats for everyone on the last day, but we are also the only interns to ever have given them thank you cards. We were shocked, as thoughts of what to draw and write on each of the individual thank you cards had been reeling around our heads since our first week as interns here! When we gave Fatima her cards, she began to cry before even opening them. She told us how much she has enjoyed our presence at the Social History Center, and told us things will not be the same without our smiling faces and helping hands in the conservation lab each day. As she told us that she views us as her daughters, our own eyes began to tear up, too. We promised her, along with the others, that we would be back to visit soon. Though we haven’t left yet, we’re already in the process of planning our return trip.
After passing out cards, Bradley told us he had one more gift for us. We were confused, considering he had already given us Iziko t-shirts, posters, a beautiful card, and a going away party, but we’ve never been ones to say no to free things. Free is, after all, Selina’s favorite price. Janene then walked into his office with two large gift bags that Mercia put together for us. Inside was a very nice blue shoulder sling bag from the University of Western Cape, as well as a scarf, a cute notepad with a matching pen, an Iziko calendar, and a postcard with the Koopmans-de Wet house on the front. If trying not to cry in front of Fatima was difficult, then warding off the tears at this moment during our day was impossible. We exchanged hugs, and promised we would be back tomorrow for one last goodbye before we leave Cape Town. Though Chelsie flies back to the States tomorrow (oh gosh, quit it with the tears, eyes), Selina and I will be staying in Bellville for the weekend. Apparently, unbeknownst to us until this afternoon, Bradley and his family also live in Bellville! While thanking Mercia for all of the thoughtful gifts on the phone she mentioned coming over for dinner tomorrow night! She didn’t have to ask a second time. Just as Selina and I have never been ones to say no to free posters, we have also never been ones to say no to a free home-cooked meal. Or a free anything, really.
I could go on and on and on some more about how wonderful today and all of the todays from the past seven weeks have been, but I’ll save that for another blog post as all of your eyes must be getting tired from reading so much text on your computer screens.
So, totsiens for now, dear readers. Dankie for following us on our adventures!
And to you, Social History Center, this isn’t a goodbye. Just a see you later.