Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trip to Eastern Cape Province

A few years ago, I interviewed health care workers in townships surrounding Cape Town as part of a volunteer project. These health care workers, called Patient Advocates were truly inspiring individuals who work tirelessly to support people living with HIV in taking their medication and living healthy lifestyles.

Eastern Cape
Most of them, like many other South Africans in this area, hail originally from Eastern Cape Province.

A mostly rural area, Eastern Cape is said to be the home of the Xhosa people. It also happens to boast some of South Africa’s most famous, including the first and second presidents of democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki as well as founder of the Black Consciousness Movement Steve Biko (just to name a few!).

Needless to say, I've been wanting to visit the Eastern Cape for some time. 

I was lucky to receive an invite from a friend to join him on a trip home to East London (one of Eastern Cape's major cities) for a visit. There ended up being four of us travelling together, two friends from East London, a German expat and myself.

The 18-hour bus ride in itself was very eye opening. We move into more rural areas and pass through smaller towns. Siseko points out young Xhosa initiates wearing blankets with faces painted white, walking along the side of the road.

It felt new and familiar at once – in some places the level of development made me think of a less populated Malawi. 

One of my favourite things in the world is travelling overland to new places - I am always giddy with excitement and childlike as I press my face up the window to take in the new surroundings.

View from the bus window - Eastern Cape Province

East London is situated on the Indian ocean. The waterfront is beautiful and the weather more temperate (a treat after Cape Town winter). Rather than playing tourist as I usually do upon arriving in a city, I went along with whatever my local friends were doing - which was a lot of hanging out (and a lot of fun!).

East London
Street vendors posing for a picture - East London

One highlight was going to a Chisa Nyama, which is a barbeque restaurant. You buy raw meat from the attached shop and give it to the cook to have it braaied (barbequed). There are picnic tables to sit at, big bottles of beer to wash the meat down and loud, fantastic music.

Cook at Chiya Nyama, East London
Braai @ Chiya Nyama
I also stayed in a township for the first time which was both an eye-opening and heartwarming experience. People were extremely friendly and welcoming. A walk through the location quickly turned into hours hanging out on the street and chatting. The day was a beautiful blur of people blasting music from their cars, greetings, conversations and laughter.

The last evening, we visited another home and were met with (yet again) wonderful hospitality. We stayed up late into the night dancing in the living room to South African music (a mixture of old freedom struggle songs and newer stuff). What a beautiful glimpse into a different side of South African culture and life. 

Ewonke busting a move
Below are some pictures of our time in East London, most taken by Siseko in the community where he grew up. 

Owner of Lungi's Tavern - She invited me in to chat and hang out with her grandchildren (below)


Following a few days in East London, I continued on alone to Durban (next post!).

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