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Wrong Train


I wrote this a little while ago about a two-day span of incredible bad luck that left me feeling unsafe and terrified during a stay that was relatively unmarred by anything remotely dangerous.

Re-reading this now, I sound like I was terrified of poverty. Keep in mind that I had spent the month and a half previous to the incident working at a newspaper based on stories from the townships and was repeatedly told by other journalists that I should never, EVER, for any reason take an unknown train, be out late at night or head into townships without one of them for whatever reason.

This was from people who grew up and lived in Cape Town, South Africa.


I didn’t realize immediately where we went wrong. I was still in a state of shock from the night before. Those tiny, grubby faces surrounding me, the band-aid on the face of the oldest and the crazed look in the eye of the youngest haunted my recent memories of the train station. [“Give me your cell phone.”]

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Using Public Transport to get to know the locals

Riding the train daily is giving me real insight into the lives of the people that I routinely see. Waiting for the train to leave Cape Town station is always a buzz of activity. People swarm the platforms yelling “chippies, cool drink?” as they lug their boxes of multi-flavoured chips (Greek lamb is actually very good) and buckets of soft drinks for sale to waiting commuters. Apart from this ingenious idea of making money, there are blind beggars that ride the trains. Yeah, we have this type in Toronto, but they’re the “deaf” people who hand out cards. These guys ride the train with someone who can see and collect change while they sing and play a keyboard hanging from their shoulders with rope.
These are all part of the many everyday things that I wish I could photograph. I don’t pull out my camera at every opportunity for two reasons: 1, I don’t want to be robbed, 2. I don’t want to look like a tourist. I always knew that fitting in would be a struggle, but one reporter warned me harshly that I shouldn’t even talk on the train because people will instantly know that I am a foreigner.
Yes, I have an “accent” and it’s not the “aboot” that everyone thinks Canadians talk like, but I guess it’s just more the lack of an Afrikaans accent missing from my speech.

For now I hope you’re all enjoying your heat wave while I’m sitting here in a long sleeved sweater shivering a little (but not enough to even worry about.. haha.)
It’s hilarious here seeing people layering it on for their winter while I’m wearing a thin sweater and maybe a jacket. Then again, here at the office they’re laughing about today’s “heat wave” in Toronto. Apparently they had a heat wave a few years ago where it was above 40 degrees all week. And that’s not “what it felt like” that’s what the thermometer read! SO glad I’m not here during summer! haha.

Youth Day & Life at The Office

It amazes me how quickly I’ve gotten used to Cape Town. I’ve been here three weeks and no longer worry for my safety on the train, mainly because I know where I’m going and wouldn’t dare take it at night.(save the minor panic attack I had when I thought I was on the wrong train to meet up with other volunteers for a potjii social)
I’m also kind of amazed at myself that I take the train regularly and have a good idea of which routes go where.

Seafood Potjii

On Tuesday June 16th we had a social for a South African public holiday called Youth Day. It is a day that commemorates the beginning of the Soweto riots when youth protested against teaching Afrikaans in black schools, and aprox. 500 people were killed.
To remember this day, we had a true South African cook-off, potjii style. A potjii is a big black pot with three legs that you use to make stew. We made two different types, one including a whole wack of fish; snoek, (the traditional South African fish that is sold everywhere, (I’ve seen it selling on the streets in townships for R20 for a huge fish!) calamari and crab, as well as a chicken one. It took forever to cook them, we started making the fire at around 10:30 or 11, and didn’t eat until around 3. But it was worth the wait! They were so tasty, filled with flavours of all different vegetables and meats.

Some days at the office there is a lot to do, and some days I am left with absolutely nothing.
If I could browse the Internet normally, time might not drag on forever, but I have no patience when it comes to these computers.
I’ve decided that I’m going to stick it out here, I can contribute a lot, and today, June 23, I had four stories published. Two of them were a co-op article that I contributed to, but my contributions are what made the headlines based on thoroughly researching and developing knowledge in a subject that I previously knew nothing about.

The story I’m proud of was about the use of tik (meth) in black communities, as opposed to the majority of use in coloured communities. I spoke to professional researchers as well as social workers, but couldn’t find the township angle (due lack of contacts as well as inability to speak the language, isxhosa) which is the reason for the co-operation with another reporter.
The editor-in-chief loves my show (as Andrew would say… God I miss him!), I had a talk with him the other day and he said that it seemed like I’m fitting in here quite well. I explained some of the problems that I was having. He told me to be honest, and while I held back some of my bigger concerns, (the actual integrity of the paper) I made sure to tell him how hard it was for me to find work to do, except being assigned work.

That’s aside from “my” front page, where I went out on assignment and tried talking to people to get information, but everyone spoke isxhosa. (“kosa” and yeah, that’s the one with the clicks, it actually sounds REALLY cool). I also got the contact information and made sure that the traffic communications officer sent a media release to us to verify what happened.There were 105 kids and eight adults in a taxi (a mini-bus meant for 26 adults, including the driver). It was a front page, as well as a spread.

I’ve started keeping a journal. Maybe not everyday, but once in a while I just sit down and collect my thoughts, mainly what I was hoping to do in my blog, but that will be my completely uncensored version of my personal feelings and thoughts.

And let me tell you, working here requires a little bit of an uncensored outlet.

The Daily Voice: First day in a Cape Town newspaper

I just finished my first day at the Daily Voice.
I was really only in the office for about 25 minutes before one of the other interns, Venencia(sp?!) took me out on a story.
We went to the township of Wesbank, and I really got to see what I’m getting myself into…
The living conditions there are very poor, and the houses are right next to a cow and goat farm, so there are cows and goats walking the streets near the homes.

The story was about a dead baby, who was suspected to have been killed by the mother (who is only 14 yrs old) but she claimed that she only turned her over for a minute to change her diaper, and when she turned her over again the baby was dead. We talked to the mother, who was obviously in distress, the police and some local people who knew the woman as well as the baby’s father.

The annoying thing about the day is that everyone speaks Afrikaans and I had no idea what was going on. I’m sure that I’ll catch on, but everyone speaks so fast. Luckily, I am able to pick up snippets because there are a lot of words or phrases that are spoken in English.

Hopefully it will get easier, and I’ll feel like less of an observer and actually get started on some wicked stories! I can’t wait!