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Journal 6

11/17/03

Curry, saris, and crammed mini-taxis; anyone (who, like me, has never been there)
would think this is India. We are, in fact, in the second-largest Indian settlement
in the world outside of that country, and the largest is only several kilometers
away. A group of thirty Americans receives the same kind of stares that we have
come to expect, but on our part this is indeed a wholly new African experience. Our
host families live in Phoenix, a large district of Durban, the tropical port city
dubbed "South Africa's Playground."


Phoenix is home to mostly people of Indian descent, many of whom are fourth
generation or more in South Africa. Yet the community has maintained a strong
Indian flavor, due in part to the Group Areas Act of the Apartheid Era, which
designated separate areas for the racial categories determined by the white
government. The Apartheid system is no longer in effect, but the results of such
forced residence are still quite visible. Many years of racial discrimination have
left Phoenix with a difficult set of issues, as it has for black communities in
South Africa.


At the heart of these issues is the question of identity. Many people in Phoenix
would identify themselves as Indian, despite the fact that many of the younger
generation (and perhaps the older as well) speak not a word of an Indian language.
"Have you ever been to India?" I asked my host brother. "No," he replied, "but I
know someone who has." India is, in some ways, as foreign as is England or the
United States, yet remains close enough to call a mother country.


Among the people I have encountered here, I sense a pride in self-sufficiency; many
have pointed out Indian communities' initiative toward building educational centers,
businesses, and religious sites. "It is good that the blacks have gained their
freedom," one man told me. " We Indians gained ours one hundred years ago. They
have Nelson Mandela. We had Mahatma Gandhi" (who spent twenty-one years as a lawyer and nonviolent activist in South Africa).


Building an effective community in the context of an oppressive system has
established a strong identity in Phoenix. Here, like everywhere else, people have
demonstrated the inherent right to dignify themselves through their own efforts It
has truly been an honor to be welcomed here.

- Peter Sensenig

Photos::
(from most to least recent)

Gallery 6

Gallery 6

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

Gallery 4

Gallery 5