My husband and I started going somewhere at the turn of every year when it dawned on us our kids really were grown-ups and had lives of their own. Our daughter is married to a man from Spain, and the DaC (Day after Christmas), understandably, they fly to visit family they don’t get to see the rest of the year. Our son is a nurse and worked the days between the holidays so his colleagues could have time off to spend with their children. After they leave, the house is a mess with evidence of their presence, but there always seems a void. With such lovely reasons for not being around, we cannot fault our children for leaving us to sop up our feeling of emptiness with the leftover turkey.
Then we had the brilliant idea to just leave town and go somewhere! The only criterion, it had to be somewhere warm.
Hawaii was first on our list and we hit it a couple of years in a row before branching out. Last January, we found ourselves in South Africa and this year (right before the coronavirus pandemic hit) we explored the City of Gold in the UAE. We had plans for visiting several other places this year when suddenly the now infamous micro-organism seriously slammed the pause button on our globe-trotting.
So now we wait. But wait – and as I wait in this ToC (Time of Covid) I now have time to actually look at the photos of the places I’ve been to – and review the many things I’d bookmarked to look up along the way. On my way home from Dubai, I met a fellow traveler on his way to Colombia. The delightful young man encouraged me to post my photos on Instagram, something I’d not done before. With so many years and trips to choose from I didn’t know where to begin, until an article caught my eye.
Written by Tom Slater, the article was about the history of Cape Town’s District Six and announced that Joe Shaffers would be receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburg, Scotland in November 2020. Last year in South Africa, ‘I met this man named Joe’, and have recounted many times what meeting him meant to me. Joe is one of the Education Officers at the District Six Museum. And please read my bLog below for more about the day I met Joe. Sharing my pictures of Joe seemed perfect; a way to at the same time, celebrate his upcoming honor and pay my respects to a man who’d taught me something. For sixteen days I posted photos of Joe and the District Six Museum.
Not knowing where to go next, I pivoted to my most recent trip and posted photos of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. But as the pictures built up on my Instagram page, the stark difference of District Six 2019 juxtaposed with Dubai 2020 emerged before my eyes and gave me something to earnestly think about.
At the District Six Museum, Joe and the other Education Officers recount unfailingly the story of how one of Cape Town’s most diverse neighborhoods was literally picked apart and flattened. The Groups Areas Act, was one of the three-part tragedies of apartheid leavened by South Africa’s governmental rule that fermented the diaspora of friends and families into zones based on their income, race, color and creed. In many instances integrated families were no longer allowed to live together.
In contrast, my next batch of posts were of the gleaming Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, where in one minute I zoomed up to the 124th floor! The back-to-back visual comparison of these sets of pictures provided me a sober metaphor to swallow. How fast things can be torn down. How quickly things can build up.
When I flew into Dubai I witnessed before landing, a gorgeous sunrise that gave promise the city would live up to its’ nickname. It did and more – Dubai is incredible. Each structure is a glorious feat and example of what can be accomplished by encouraging your children to play with Legos and Erector sets. Scrolling through my pictures, it’s still beyond my comprehension of how architects could dream up, let alone actually construct such grandeur. Dubai, a microcosm of stability in its’ region, literally is a shining example of what can be created by working together.
Comparing cosmopolitan Dubai to a rather humble but very proud (and past) District Six – before its’ destruction – at first seemed far-fetched but in these two cities by the sea I found an allegory.
From the dating in the evidence of pottery excavated from the sands of Dubai and the well-documented European record of sighting Table Mountain and the Cape, we know both areas have been occupied and built upon on and off for centuries. Ignoring the obvious and vast differences, what happened in each place during the 1960’s and the contrasting results of actions taken was what captured my attention.
In the early 60’s Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum began Dubai’s grandiose fifty-year infrastructure development program, built an airport and twenty years later, hired Maurice Flanagan from British Airways and launched the state-owned and premium Emirates airline. Like the excellent hosts they are, Dubai reformed its’ laws enticing companies and people from the world over to come and, in true Western style, live with all the amenities.
Meanwhile in the early 60’s, Cape Town’s District Six was already a well-developed community, well-integrated with businesses and people from the world over, albeit in less luxury. They were happy and satisfied when in 1966 everyone was handed eviction notices. In tearing District Six down for a supposed greater development, a great development was indeed torn down, and nothing substantially constructive has been built since.
“We’re such a rich country,” Joe Schaffers told me last year, “South Africa has so many resources, it’s still hard to believe what happened and the land of District Six still sits mostly vacant.” The price of laws that separate instead of uniting.
It’s my good fortune to have picked these two places to visit on consecutive January trips. I’ve seen from the top of the world’s tallest building breathtaking Dubai, where it’s said that ‘everyone and everything comes from somewhere else’, a modern, successful example of what can be accomplished and built up by assimilating difference and in harmony creating something bigger together.
And I’ve been to splendid, spectacular Cape Town but also know, from a first-hand source, about its’ empty space in the heart of the city where people who all had ‘come-from-somewhere else’ once congregated collectively together in relative harmony fifty years ago. District Six was a place where people of all colors lived and loved. While not a shining example like Dubai of structural engineering, it was a shining example of excellent social engineering – a cultural melting pot, before apartheid tore it down and threw it out.
“We’re working on it,” meaning District Six says Joe; such an elegant man and former resident smiles and bids me goodbye with his motto, “To each one, I teach one…so as to not allow this to happen again.” Happy Birthday today Joe, you’ve reached this one, and many, many more than just one.