Juniors Ali Foreman and Kate O’Brien, along with senior Peter Jorgenson, have returned back home after a seven-week exchange trip to South Africa. Their host siblings will come visit Whitman in April. Below is Foreman’s last blog entry:
As I write my last blog post on my 19-hour flight home from South Africa, I’m filled with overwhelmingly bittersweet emotions. Just a few hours ago, when I was packing up my bags, I couldn’t have been happier to be getting back to see my family. The excitement of knowing I would soon tell my friends and family of my adventures face-to-face completely overshadowed the sadness in my heart over leaving my host family and Cape Town.
It wasn’t until we reached the airport that it hit me: I was really leaving. My time in South Africa has truly been extraordinary. Since my last blog post, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the top of Table Mountain, eating the best “braai’d” meat in all of Cape Town, and making some amazing friends. Most importantly, my experience visiting an impoverished township has inspired me to keep my South Africa memories with me and work to help the people there.
At Mzoli’s, a small township restaurant that’s known for its meat, was delicious and in some ways bizarre. The townships of South Africa are numerous and extremely impoverished; for example, the neighborhoods around the restaurant lacked proper indoor plumbing and sanitation, two things most Whitman kids, myself included, couldn’t imagine living without. As we entered the restaurant and selected our meat, I saw the dirty walls and floors, as well as the roaches, mice and stray dogs that roamed the area, and had some hesitations over whether to order.
But after my Bethesda sensibilities subsided, I was struck by profound sadness. The food was phenomenal, and the people were so friendly, but the idea that some children would grow up visiting restaurants like Mzoli’s to never know the luxury of a clean, air-conditioned place to eat was heartbreaking. Experiencing such a low standard of living made me recognize just how much I have to be grateful for. But more than my own situation, it also showed me just how much needs to change throughout the world.
My official “township tour” gave me an even better idea of just how lacking some communities in the world are today. We rode bicycles around through the streets and passed dozens of houses. Some children, who don’t typically see bicycles, much less ride or own them, came out and waved to us. We then went and visited a hostel where the “Happy Feet Youth Project” takes place.
“Happy Feet” is a group of children who’re taught African boot dancing in an effort to keep them out of gangs and keep them in school. I held a two-year-old girl while we watched the older children dance and was amazed by just how tiny and tough she was. While she was happy, just as any little girl would be, I knew she deserved better than the conditions she was growing up in. All of the children were too precious and too special to be asked to accept less.
I had all of these feelings even before I saw their real living conditions, and when I did, my desire to change it became a need. Made up entirely of scrap metal and pieces of wood, the house we entered was no bigger than my bathroom at home. Equipped with a small kitchen area, dirt floors, no indoor plumbing and one double bed, this shack managed to house six people. Besides the cramped space, the home presented a huge fire hazard and used an unsanitary water supply that could carry deadly parasites. But worst of all, AIDS, the number one killer in South Africa, could easily claim the lives of these children or their parents by the time they are forty.
The reality is that these children and their families live in great, constant danger. They deserve the support we as a community can give. I know I will never forget my time in the township, and while I know not all of the Whitman community will be able to experience what I have, I do ask that if any readers can, please visit Happy Feet’s facebook page at www.facebook.com/HappyFeetYouthProject.
The connections I made with the people of South Africa were so genuine and touching that I know I will carry them all in my heart for the rest of my life. From my host mom, Noelene, to my best friends in art class, to my host sister (who will attend Whitman in April), and the children of the Happy Feet Youth Project, the relationships I have made during my time here will be what binds me to South Africa for life. I may be heading back home, but I will always feel that pull of love in my heart, telling me to “Come home to Cape Town.”