Our first full day in Cape Town was met with rain and sun and clouds over Table Mountain and sea-soaked seals and new friends and tea with Desmond Tutu. Yes, Tutu and tea! **Mom, if you’re reading this: I’m drinking tea now!
But let’s start at the beginning. Due to our 9:00 am ferry ride to Robben Island being cancelled as a result of bad weather, we had the chance to spend the morning exploring the museum at the ferry departing point alongside educator Vanessa who toured us through the two floors of temporary displays that focused more on post-apartheid history. Video clips showing the reunion of Rivonia Trial prisoners (Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu) commemorating the anniversary of the release were displayed on the walls, accompanying texts of speeches that were read that day. During the tour, I had the chance to meet Nadia, Robben Island Museum’s founder and previous director’s daughter who’s in her eighth year in school. As we walked to the next museum site (the docking point for prisoners who were headed to Robben Island), I had the chance to sort of pick at her brain as to what South African schools are like and what they’re learning in their history courses. I found her observations comparative to that of the U.S. as she stated how she felt frustrated with student and teacher reactions to history and heritage. When a teacher asked the students why they celebrate Youth Day (June 16), a student replied “Sharpeville Massacre?” And the teacher responded, “Yes. I think so.” No!—we were both annoyed. Nadia described how students don’t feel the need to know those dates or important events anymore. This made me upset, and I kept thinking back to my own high school education. To be honest, I couldn’t really recall any important history lessons or even history classes. My school in Michigan focused mostly on math and sciences and sometimes English and writing. But what about history and art? This only made me feel more passionate about wanting to pursue a career involving the two.
Next, we went to the actual docking place for Robben Island prisoners and had the chance to hear and have a tour from an ex-prisoner himself. Vincent showed us around the small, cramped site and into the cell that held prisoners before they were to leave on the ferry for the island. He told us about how prisoners would get a new name—or a number, calculating them by the number of prisoners before them that year and the year in which they were imprisoned. Nelson Mandela’s number was 466/64. He then took us to a room upstairs covered in reproductions of handwritten letters requesting access to visit separate prisoners (rejections and acceptances). There’s something so close and intimate about reading someone else’s handwriting and sort of undergoing the process they went through to see that imprisoned person.
Now to Desmond Tutu! We went to the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation and sat for some tea with the former archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner which was overall inspiring. Later in the afternoon, we went to two craft organizations that used beading as a form of job creations for those in the townships. Streetwire, our first stop, sold everything from key chains and magnets to complete wall decors, and we were able to do a workshop with one of the crafters named Jethro. I produced two oddly shaped key chains which made me appreciate even more the craft and the artistry that’s put into beading. Jethro told us about the supply and demand of the company, how crafters create based upon what’s needed which contrasted from the second organization we went to, Monkeybiz. Monkeybiz’s artists work in the home, constructing animals from the colorful beads and are waged on how many they produce—bought & sold by Monkeybiz. I found these creations even more whimsical with their surreal interpretations of giraffes and poodles and (my favorite) porcupines.