Journal Entry for May 30th
Wow! What a day we had on Saturday! We woke up and spent the day in Soweto, which was amazing. We began by visiting the water towers that were quite visible in the skyline of the town. Our tour guide, Nel, told us the water towers were the Soweto equivalent of the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. It was pretty exciting to visit especially since one of them was brightly painted with people who have impacted on life in Soweto. We had planned to take a cable car to the top of one of the towers, but when we arrived, the power went out in Soweto, a common occurrence for people in this area.
After we finished there, we moved on to visit Kliptown, an informal settlement in Soweto. I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the experience. Many of us were expecting to be quite saddened by what we were about to see, but we were instead uplifted at the end of the experience. Yes there was poverty and serious needs in the community, but the spirit, the optimism, and the pride seemed to really stand in the forefront of our minds. Thulani, a community leader who lives in Kliptown, led us through the informal settlement.
A sign welcoming us to the Youth Center was created by the children and displayed as we arrived. Many of the families had remembered the last Skidmore group and wanted to make our arrival special. A performance done by the Kliptown Youth Program followed the grand welcoming. They danced, sang, and dazzled us with their unbelievable talent and enthusiasm for performance. At the end of the performance we donated 25 handmade quilts to the preschool crèche, as the children did not have blankets for rest time. We also presented some samples of our story-quilting project.
We spent the early afternoon eating lunch in a shabeen on the only street where two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, lived. The food was delicious and it was a wonderful experience to be on a street where so much history began.
Later in a seminar we reflected on how we would like to see the next group in 2011 focus efforts on creating quilts to keep more children warm and supplying books for the new library.
When we finished our meal, we hurried down the road a bit to see a special rehearsal/performance by the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble. As we all ushered into the Reform Presbyterian Church (where their rehearsal was taking place), we were mesmerized by not only the beauty of their sound, but also the wide age range of instrumentalists in the room.
The youngest player was a boy of age 10, while the oldest appeared to be at least 25 years of age, if not older. They played several classical pieces with grace and elegance while we all listened intently and took pictures quietly.
After a short break, the instrumentalists showed us (and their conductor, Rosemary Nalden who has played and recorded extensively under such conductors as Sir John Eliot Gardinar, Sir Roger Norrington, Sir Simone Rattle, Christopher Hogwood, Frans Briggen and Gustav Leonhardt) a piece that had been arranged by one of the musicians. This piece was most interesting and original as it was African inspired yet rooted in classical music. It was remarkable to hear the violin in unison with the African drum and vocals, all of which gave this original piece an extra splash of flavor. It was also great to see the engaged talent of these young musicians, as this piece was put together entirely by the students. We plan to represent this group on the Art Story Quilt with a more extensive story about their work in South Africa and internationally.
As the sun began to set, we all filed onto the bus, got as comfortable as we possibly could in our “cozy” seats, and made our way back to Edendale for a goodnight’s sleep (only to wake up at 2 AM for a night-long bus ride into Durban!).