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South Africa: not ok

posted by Brett - he traveled to South Africa during July and August of 2008 for hands-on experience in public health, one of his concentrations at NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study

We visited a townships and informal settlement yesterday (Gugulethu) and I took pictures and had a hard time and got uber messed up and unsure about photography as a medium and don't know how to compromise. How do I take pictures?

But while in the 3 bedrooms of about 9 families I took photos of the room, because one guy asked me to come in and look and would point things out for me to shoot, or so I assumed. So I got interesting photos that way, and then when I got out of the house, the kids saw my two cameras as well as the cameras of my peers already outside and they started posing on the stairs for me and asking to see them. I also randomly had Trident from my girlfriend before leaving for abroad, and some Doublemint, so I gave them pieces of gum which created a tidal wave of children.

Soon after we drove out of the settlement (which is what my issue was with, we could have taken a 15 minute walk out there instead, and we should have been split up into smaller groups) we were taken to a place that the driver, who lives rite next to the townships, owns. She has turned her home into a bit of a cigar lounge and sports bar to create revenue. About 8 locals were there, so we got to eat some of the random pastas they had prepared. A guy there was HIV+ and who's viral load, he just found out, is undetectable, which is great, except that if one is above a CD4 count of 200, then one is no longer eligible for the federal grant of R850 that is given when below 200. So it can be bittersweet. Fasi, the HIV+ guy, was open about his status, which is pretty unusual. Though people often know, individuals are not open, especially men, about their status. He spoke to us, and we talked with him, and it was interesting because he seemed shy and soft-spoken, but was very emphatic about his message of door-to-door education and this and that and the other.

I'm not giving the tour credit and am being rather straightforward about it because I feel like it's impossible to try to convey the unease that I felt and how much more conflicted I am about photography. To the point that it is much more of a convoluted love-hate relationship than ever.

We got back home, chilled for a spot, then Sarah, Annie and I asked other people to come to Long Market St. with us, but people were going to Waterkant (the Waterfront, commercial area with more international branding, etc.), so we went on our own and picked up blander normal food, like margherita pizza and a chicken and avocado sandwich. After the pastas it was a must. I downed a bunch of coffee and then we walked and got to a place called Mojito which was a Caribbean rest/bar.

We got back to the house around nine and then played 30 Seconds, which is like Taboo but with a board and references a lot more English and South African things than we could deal with.

Then bed.

Today I'm going to go to the green market and I want to find some local textiles, made by people in the townships.

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@ 11:34 PM, Blogger Mark Mayfield said...

Hey man. It's Mark Russell. I was checkin out your brother's facebook and saw the link to your blog. I don't know quite what you are doing but it seems both fun and educational so thats tight. It seems like you have a lot of love for these people; I'm sure you will be a blessing to them. Hope to see you when you get back. Much love.


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