Sunday, 27 February 2011
“You will have to sit in the back,” Rachel says as she opens the car. She grins ruefully. “The front door is stuck. I keep telling my husband we need to sort it out but he is Johannesburg a lot at the moment.” I clamber into the back seat. The interior of the car is like a furnace; my shirt clings to my back. It is 7:30am but already hot. Rachel revs the engine and we move out of the parking lot.
“Where are you from Rachel?” I ask as we pass the boom-gate of the medical campus and onto the highway.
“Zambia. I came a few years ago to study at UCT. And then I stayed.”
“Why did you leave?”
“I did my medical school in Zambia but there are not many opportunities for graduate study up there. And my husband had more opportunities down here.”
“Do you think you would ever go back?” She smiles and shrugs.
“I don’t know. Its home but what would I do up there? And the children are in school here. They didn’t like it much at first – it took a while but now they are happy.”
“What made school difficult?”
“Oh – just settling in, you know. It was hard at first because most of the black kids were Xhosa and would speak Xhosa to them but they didn’t understand it. They hung out with just the white kids at first because they spoke English. But now they are settled and have loads of friends.”
We are on the freeway now, heading out towards the airport and beyond that, Khayelitsha. I am being introduced to the clinic – and vice versa. A concrete fence shields the road from the huts behind. I notice one spot where a few posts have been removed creating a gap. A gap just big enough – it would seem – for a cow. For tethered by a rope a few metres from the road two cows stand grazing on what little grass grows on the verge, untroubled it would seem by the vehicles hurtling past at 130 kilometres an hour. We leave the freeway and few minutes later and follow the road into the township. The central reservation is beautifully landscaped with palm trees, rocks and scrub. It leads to a gleaming new building that looms incongruously among the tumbledown shacks. “Visitor Centre”, a sign proclaims, a heritage of the World Cup and the tourist interest in township life. Rachel points out landmarks to help me find the clinic when I come on my own. Turn right after the shipping container that has been turned into a hair salon, go through the next “Stop” sign and then turn right at the BP garage, NOT the Caltex garage. The clinic is after the Shoprite store.
“I would come a few times with someone else before you make the journey alone,” she says to my alarm.
“Why?” I say nervously. “Is it dangerous to come alone?”
“Hmm? Oh. No. But you might get lost.”