“Let’s dialogue about important issues, guys!”

I pulled out a notebook on the train, the train that we’ve been warned time and again to not travel on, the train that is “sketchy” and “impoverished” and where, as white Americans, we’d stick out sorely. They warned us against it because they fed us an unspoken message of, “when you’re white it’s better to just live in the protected bubble of being seen as middle to upper class; it’s better to stay away from that which you don’t know.” We took the train because it was cheap, less than a dollar from Stellenbosch to Cape Town. We took the train because sometimes being uncomfortable is the best way to learn about a culture, learn to survive on your own, learn to be an individual that doesn’t allow society or stereotypes or cultural conflict to dictate your identity. We took the train and identified as students studying here, wanting to spend the weekend in Cape Town. People looked at us curiously, not menacingly. We were smart– didn’t wear flashy jewelry and take out iPods. We sat fairly quietly, and when we talked we talked about general things, not of the conveniences of our culture back home, the luxuries we have on campus. And I found myself overwhelmed at this adventure, this crazy venture into a part of the culture here that I haven’t been privileged enough to see yet. And I wanted to write it, to think it, to remember it. So the nerd in me took out my notebook and looked down the row of seats where the group of more than a dozen of us sat, and filled with excitement I said,

Let’s dialogue about important issues, guys!” (I could still hear the groans of my 7th grade peers going… oh god… what is she getting us into THIS time…)

And I started writing, wrote the first line and passed it down.

And this… is the transcript of what came out on our first train experience in South Africa.

Date: 23 February 2008

1: I wonder if we could make the train into a dance party – everyone hittin’ the (platform) floor…

2: Notice how you wrote your date? Transforming into an Afrikaaner?

1: Just trying to assimilate to a culture – plus, we speak the slang (tief, ek sow yo snay!), so why not write the date? 🙂 …everyone is looking at us – as if they’re suspicious. Even when we’re quiet, not flashy, we stand out like a sore thumb – white, carrying bags as though noting to everyone that we have belongings to take with us, enough privilege to be able to worry about things like hygiene and our looks.

2: First off, wasn’t this supposed to be just one line?

1: Looking like you’re not freaked out is the best plan [written while motioning to one girl who is making terrified faces and squirming and generally calling attention to her nervous, uncomfortable self]

3: (girl that is uncomfortable) It’s all in my head. I am just freaked out. I’m a minority right now. Ah!

1: I think it feels good. We live in a world where even when white is a minority, it’s the elite group. It feels nice, for once, to be put out of that comfort zone. I hate living in the bubble of pre-determined “superiority.” It’s bull–

2: Maybe bull—, but it’s comfort. I like/prefer comfort. I do realize how we are viewed and what benefits we get as being white. What can I personally do to change that? As in any society no one can truly be equal. You can make small differences in your day to day life with the people you encounter. Beyond that I can’t do enough.

3: I like that. So… I’m excited for dinner. tonight will be a good night. I’m not so scared anymore.

4: Despite how much time we’ve spent here [in Stellenbosch], I still feel like a tourist, being white and all. I wish we could all be the same color (I know, it’s a little naive). Especially after visiting the township. Have you been yet?

5: Your head is making my head crazy.

6: Galen’s a strange one…

3: Our ride is coming to an end. Hooray. Thank the Lord. I could go for a nap now. I’m a bit sleepy. O man, us girls are getting crunk tonight!

7: Yes, for sure dawg.

3: The woman across from me — her hair looks like a sea urchin — from the Little Mermaid (don’t look up!)

2: Love the Little Mermaid!! Watched it a few weeks before I left. I was Ariel when I was little in the pool and the bathtub and the creek (total Dub-V right there!). …. hey I’m pretty sure we were supposed to be really talking about real issues.

1: eh. the transgression from race relations in south africa to getting ‘crunk’ to the little mermaid – i mean, i think we hit ALL the important issues in life!

and thus concludes the story of what happens when 13 students on a train try to talk about serious issues in a notebook.

or better – what happens when a nerd is on the loose on a fun weekend trip with a bunch of fellow college students 🙂

Published in: on February 26, 2008 at 12:30 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You are making your mom very old very quickly!!!
    Is it totally against your religion to stay safe???????
    White hair really sucks and you are giving it to me!!! lol

    Love you bunches!


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