Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
20Trip End Feb 15, 2005
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P.E is generally regarded as a sleepover city for those travelling along the Garden Route and the area beyond hotel steps is rarely visited. This all makes for a city not polluted by heavily crowded hotels alongside shops designed for tourists. Port Elizabeth and her inhabitents live their lives without laying out any red carpet for foreign visitors. It is a necessary stop for those wishing to gain an insight into unaltered life in South Africa.
During a journey, every travellor accumulates their own list of Must Do activities in a lifetime. The first on my list during this adventure? Transportation in the form of a minibus. Not out of necessity but merely for entertainment purposes, we flagged down a minibus to get to the city centre
We awkwardly made our way along the sidewalk, somewhat in sync with those around us. Being the only caucasions per every 100 persons, it was impossible not to draw attention to ourselves. The new sights, sounds and smells carried with them an air of facination, another new experience and the realization we had stumbled into the heart of daily life of Port Elizabeth.
From behind tinted sunglasses, one's eyes are free to safely dart accross the faces you pass, overlook the store windows and stare at vendor material without causing interest on behalf of the merchant to start his sales pitch. A glimmer of people's lives can be learned from a brief, hidden observing look.
American music blared in one ear as we passed shops; a pathetic attempt of shop owners to 'westernize' their products
After soaking up this experience, we went back to the hostel via school bus. Stay with me as I explain as this was not our original intention. A vehicle seemingly identical to a minibus (with the exception of being bright yellow with 'yellow submarine' plastered across the windshield) was flagged down. It wasn't until after we had gotten in, shut the door and paid the driver that we looked up to see many wide eyed 13 yr old African school girls staring at us. opps Nevertheless, the driver operated it the same as other public transit and dropped us off at the desired intersection.
Following a quick dip in the pool, a man came to say he had arrived to take us on our Township Tour. We had booked it a few hours earlier and had no real idea of what to expect. Climbing into his ratty red car (running on empty - I love Africa! :) ) he began by informing us of our trip to Walmer Township, his current residence. It would be useless to do such a drive with a well-paid coach bus driver reading from his history book. The next three hours plunged us into an experience superceeding any previous encounter with wildlife (no matter how cute the penguin,) more memorable than any mountain or sunset and more impacting than the most facinating of museums, literature or lectures
As we drove towards the outskirts of the township, we were educated on the still present initiation into manhood. Consisting of a one-month stay secluded in the forest and the smearing of one's body with white clay, the ritual ends after the 30 days with the 18 yr old being circumsized while simultaneously screaming "I AM A MAN!" (that macho thing, it makes them the same everywhere) whereby the newly crowned man eats his own foreskin. And that is why Kevan is very happy to not be of Xhosa descent!
Our first few minutes in the township is difficult to explain. The atmosphere inside was opposite of what I expected. Instead of a depressed people, we passed laughing children, boistorous youths talking and our driver enjoying brief conversations with his neighbors that he passed. A township is not a confused mass of land with haphazardly placed lean-to's. There are roads, street signs and numbered residences. Quite self-sufficient, the townships' own city centre has a laundromat, grocery stand, churches, funeral director, pubs, waiting taxi's and buses and phone booths.
The homes are in various stages as some areas of the township have already undergone construction with materials provided for by the government. Newer homes are being built by the tenants themselves and other areas are awaiting development
The idea of a neighbor is ever present in Walmer Township. There are street committees and area committees, all looking out for the homes and their tenants. Laundry hangs precariously on ropes as children wander streets without any overzealous parent hovering over their every step. After school activities do not include being cooped up inside homes and watching endless TV; instead, children are outside, enjoying the air and playing with each other without endless worries of safety and being pent up, away from the world.
We stopped in a the Community centre inside the Township, where computer education and ceramic classes are taught. Preschool and additional job help are also provided. Our fabulous tour guides were previous learners that are now teaching their fellow neighours life skills.
Our tour was finished in a local shebeen, a pub with more character than anything you'll find in North America. Kevan and the tour guide each enjoyed a local cold brew, the bill coming to R12, the equivalent of $2.50 CAD.
It was during the first few minutes of this experience that I knew there was one more thing to be added to the Must Do list:
1. travel by minibus
2. explore a township
From the sweet Xhosan girl of Walmer Township, "good afternoon"