08 November 2009

Asking Open-Ended Questions

One needn’t travel far from the Waterfront to realize that South Africa is indeed a country of contrast, of extreme degrees between people and their environments. A few miles from the Waterfront marks the edges of the township neighborhoods, what laymen’s terms can only call “ghettos” or “slums.” On both sides of the gravel pathways are shacks of slapdash bricks with holey, cracked tin roofs. Dust settles into the clothes drying on strings tied between neighbor’s windows. I see no adults anywhere, but children flock at my feet. Their smiles consume their entire faces.

Established in 1867, District Six is one of the oldest townships in South Africa. Until government declared it a white-only area in 1896, it was the only district that housed multiple races. I learned this at the District Six Township Museum, where I interviewed our guide and the only grown up I could find. Ivy was contagious. She called everyone baby and gave us big bear hugs when the day was over. I didn't know what to ask, I just wanted to talk to her.

Ivy taught me that the contrast between black and white is only the beginning of disparity in South Africa…

Me: Tell me about family structure here.

Ivy: Just like white families, men are the head of the house. A big part of black culture is to respect men as the dominant. It’s hardest for black women because we are inferior in our skin and our sex. South African black women are the most oppressed.

Me: Tell me about your employment.

Ivy: You know that image of a man on the couch reading the newspaper while his wife makes dinner? That is over baby.

Westernization has made women and men’s roles more 50/50. Well, maybe 48/52. Men are starting to share duties at home, and women are looking for better jobs.

Me: What do women do together outside of work?

Ivy: We don’t meet in the kitchen! We get together to keep up our spirits. We embroider, have tea parties, and talk.

Thanks for the in, Ivy. And more importantly, thanks for the bear hug.

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