Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Some Things I Learned in Cape Town

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This blogpost is way overdue. I have been back for a few days from an exhilarating few days in Cape Town. For the slides and talks from my UCT visit and the conference, see this page on my blog. But here are the other things.

  1. Saving water. Although the main crisis drought was over when I got there, there were still some good watersaving measures in various places. Some of these required individual initiative like shorter showers, no baths (I never take baths and my kid hasn’t since she was 2) and saving excess shower water in buckets and reusing it for flushing (toilets have two different options, the small one uses less water, the big one uses many litres of water – the bucket thing saves loads of all of this). I love this one and continue to save money from showers and ablution when I have a tub or something available (like at home). Some are more systemic like reducing flow of water in public taps to a drizzle. That’s usually all you need anyway. Antibacterial gel was always part of my life, so it was good to see dispensers everywhere, too. My kid totally internalized the messages of saving water and was repeating them and measuring the time we spent in showers. She kinda became the water police, but for a good cause, so we encouraged it. :))
  2. Ice breakers matter. Laura Czerniewicz used a really cool ice breaker for the event “Making a Plan” which worked so well for groups of people from every institution in South Africa and where almost no one knew more than 1-3 others. She asked people to come to the front and say what their “superpower” was. It gave space both for positive affirmation and humor, and I think it took us all to a great great start. I also did an ice breaker at beginning of my open pedagogy workshop at UCT that involved people who mostly knew each other, but I only knew 3 or 4 of them. I put some artwork (pictures of Egypt, either nile or pyramids) printed by my university press on tables and asked folks to sit by one and introduce themselves and say something about the picture that spoke to them. People all chose to share quite different reflections, some v personal, some quite intellectually deep and relevant to the topic, some very humorous. But all really interesting and showed different dimensions of folks. I got the idea from Sherri Spelic on a VC session a week earlier when she was at #DigPed!
  3. Hospitality can go really far. In-person hospitality is much more complex than virtual hospitality. It involves actually moving your body to places, convincing your family to come along or let you go, and so much more. And Sukaina Walji (and her husband) showed me a whole new level of this the moment I got to Cape Town (OK even from the moment I agreed to go!) and several more times throughout with gifts and food and actions and just being there – including a visit to her home for a late lunch after a visit to a farmer’s market with our families and others from UCT. Everyone at UCT from Laura to Cheryl to Jakob to others I have never met were so welcoming and helpful in so many ways. Nicola Pallitt too, though she is no longer at UCT, was at the conference and gave me such thoughtful gifts. Honestly everyone was amazing.
  4. Context. You can never fully understand a context until you are immersed in it. I know in 10 days I didn’t suddenly become an expert on South Africa or Cape town. But I did see so many similarities to my own context – this never happens this way in a US or UK context, for obvious reasons. Differences also still huge and i have a lot to learn about decolonizing in this complex context
  5. Being a tourist in another African country is special. It was my first time. And the way we shared African pride was really different than how Europeans or Americans looked at us when we said we were Egyptian
  6. Being a keynoter in another African country is special. I did it online before, but in person I got later opportunities to high five people for African pride and hope. That’s powerful, seriously.
  7. Respondent is a good place to be/task to do. Aside from keynoting first day, Laura also asked me to be a respondent to wrap up the conference. I loved this. It made me focus so much more on what others were saying in lightning talks, activities and panels and try to make sense of them real quick. Helped me reflect more and think of how to add value – to audience AND myself!
  8. My kid and I love animals. I always knew we did, but so many opportunities in 10 days to be close to animals was so special.
  9. Me with monkey on my head
  10. At World of Birds and monkey sanctuary

Child petting tortoise

My kid with tortoise at Vineyard hotel

I need to stop now :)) But I learned a LOT more than this!

P.S. I couldn’t figure out on my phone app how to add Alt text for the feature image but I wanted to give commentary. This was an art gallery in the same mall (retail center) near the Diamond Museum- the sculpture is a transparent/glass body of a woman with a slightly overweight body, but carrying superwoman inside. I wondered if also sometimes women who outside appear to be superwoman are deep inside less secure about themselves. I also wondered if this superwoman is her inner self (her potential or her hopes for herself) OR just now I thought maybe she is pregnant with a kid whom she hopes will be superwoman. I really liked it!!

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