Monday, July 29, 2013

Lessons from a City Walking Tour and a 10 Grader

Since it is impossible for me to succinctly recount all that I learned during my first week on this project, I will focus on a few that stood out the most. The first two photos below were taken during a city walking tour of Durban, led by our trusty guide Doung. The last photo was taken today, during our first day conducting research "in the field". It was a discarded note from one of my students (or "learners", as they call them here). One thing I've discovered in my short time here: when you are an outsider in a foreign culture, you never know who your "teacher" is going to be- be it a knowledgable tour guide or an insightful 10th grader.

This is N3, one of the major highways that runs from Durban all the way to Joburg. According to Doung, during Apartheid this highway essentially operated as a racial divider: whites lived to the left of this road, and blacks lived to the right. While the neighborhoods have since become more integrated, it was obvious as we proceeded on our walking tour that a stark contrast still exists between the two sides. 

Throughout the tour, Doung pointed out several instances where people used graffiti to make a statement about important issues facing them today- not in the negative sense that most people think of grafitti.  I found this one example particularly poignant. The "HV" stood for High Voltage- this is a picture of a generator- but someone wrote the "I" in the middle to write "HIV".

The city walking tour crew. Doung is in the middle with the blue pants. Dr. Mosavel, her children, Katie, Carrie and I all agreed that the tour was truly unlike any other we had experienced.

I found this note in Kenneth Gardens. It was lying among the weeds, either discarded as trash or perhaps accidentally lost. Curious as to what it said, I picked it up. Midway through reading it, I realized that this flashcard was from during one of our Photo Voice exercises, when we asked our student mentees to reflect on what various pictures taken meant to them. Since today's Photo Voice assignment was to take photos of the "places and spaces" that were most important to the student learners, this note was particularly well-timed and compelling. It reads: "It's like a place where no one lives in it. An unprotected place where the government or individual who owns the places doesn't look after it." Such poetic, insightful words. I am proud of whichever student wrote this note. It is just one small example of the perceptive thoughts and bright imaginations that characterize the Brettonwood students with whom we have the pleasure to work these next few weeks. 

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