Cape Town, South Africa

Lauren Greenwood

I was doubtful that my time in Cape Town this summer could surpass the time I spent there last year, but I was completely wrong. This summer, I grew so much as a person, as a researcher, and as a global citizen.

My time in Cape Town this summer was truly incredible. The Town Two community welcomed me with open arms, and I learned so much about township life, the research process, and myself in my time there. Through my research, I was able to see the world from another point of view and learned to talk across layers of difference. I am so thankful to have had this experience.

My research allowed me to deepen the relationships I had developed there last year, while also forming new ones. I interacted mainly with people aged 20 to 25 years old, and most of the time, I was only the only researcher present at my focus groups. As I am also in my early twenties, the conversations were very casual and there was a sense of relatability. Both my research participants and myself were in a period of transitioning to some form of “adulthood,” filled with all sorts of life decisions and uncertainties. Because of that, I felt they were open and honest with me. While the exact manifestation of this differed, I found that many of their desires and hopes for the future were similar to my own – they wanted independence, stability, adventure, education, and to be seen as an adult.

Similar to many young adults, I found that my research participants employed specific strategies, consciously and unconsciously, to make their hopes a reality. My conversations also revealed that many of the strategies utilized by this population are often seen as public health and community development issues. A few examples of this include: young women purposely going off birth control to conceive a child to prove their adulthood and the seriousness of their relationship, young men engaging in multiple concurrent sexual partnerships to avoid a serious relationship that could lead to a pregnancy causing them to drop out off school to provide for the child, and young men involving themselves in crime to get the money they need to open a business. I think these findings and examples prove the value of my research and the importance of understanding how people view the world in order to tackle public health issues effectively.

Bonga Maqogi outside the community center in Town Two, Khayelitsha, Cape Town
Bonga was one of the young men with whom I hung out with the most during my ethnographic work. He is the son of a local pastor, Monwa, who was my primary field contact. Bonga participated in my focus groups, helping translate portions that were in Xhosa, and also participated in the youth group that I observed. In his early twenties, Bonga is the typical age of the people with whom I spoke. Bonga loves rap and hip-hop, and this photo was taken while hanging outside the community center.
Photo Courtesy of Natasha Kannemeyer

Spending a second summer in Khayelitsha, I felt I saw the challenges people faced more intimately and that people were more vulnerable in sharing the struggles of their lives with me. My field guides had become my close friends, and I care deeply about them. I went to church one weekend in the township with them, and while this was a very joyful experience, there was a lot of underlying sorrow. I heard stories of what it was like to live in a shack during the winter, and I would look outside the church to see lines of people collecting muddy water with buckets. This was one of the times when I felt defeated; like structural violence was a boulder I was trying to chip away at but would never really move. While this was very difficult for me to handle emotionally, I also saw the resiliency and spirit that existed in these communities – they would not let these challenges overcome or define them.

As I continue in my journey to make an impact in the field of global health, I will take these stories, moments, and memories with me, letting them guide, shape, and motivate me. I am incredibly thankful to have had this experience and have collected these memories, and am extremely grateful to CGH for providing me with the opportunity to do so.

Bonga, Siyabonga, Lauren Greenwood, Siphosihle, and Sonwapile in Monwa’s church in Town Two, Khayelitsha, Cape Town
This was taken following my final focus group and thank you event. For my final focus group, we discussed my four remaining questions about the future, support, uncertainty, and relationships and wrote out their comments and thoughts on a whiteboard. Everyone was very proud of their work and the whiteboard – several asked for a picture with it, as is the case here. Siyabonga and Siphosihle were my two primary field guides for my time in Town Two. Bonga and Sonwapile also participated in multiple focus groups.
Photo by Monwa Maqogi


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