On my first day of work, I had the same butterflies I get every year at the start of school. I was excited to finally get into a routine in Cape Town, nervous to meet my co-workers, and overall way too eager. We had a meeting arranged with our boss at District Six to have a quick overview of the museum’s programming, before officially starting work the next day.
As most introductions go, Ysanne and I were asked to share about ourselves – where are we from, why did we want to work at District Six, what did we hope to get out of the experience? I shared I was American (kind of) and British (but not really) and my interested in journalism and political communication drew me to the museum. I talked about storytelling, and when my boss discussed the stories of the ex-residents who give guided tours of the neighborhood, I instantly thought of numerous ways to document their stories. Journalism, politics, creative writing, etc. everything I have convinced myself that I am moderately interested in seemed to work its way into the foundation of the museum my boss was describing.
That was until she bluntly told us we would not be able to help in these departments. For example, we could transcribe interviews that had already been conducted, but we are not able to start our own project. The phrasing of her explanation was along the lines of our inability to help stems from the inherent bias we bring to the work we produce.
At first, I was angry – work had not even begun and I felt judged before I had started. I came in eager to help and if I was going to spend the next seven weeks at the museum I wanted to have the chance to at least explain my ideas and work with the ex-residents to document their stories.
After two weeks though I have come to better understand and agree with her sentiments. Yes I may be eager to help, and yes I may have ideas on ways to do produce something indicative of my time spend here, but the reality is I don’t know the community; I don’t know the history of forceful eviction and the lengthy struggle to reclaim the space that residents once called their homes. I have never seen my house bulldozed, the street that I grew up on now inexistent, with a gentrified ‘New York Bagel’ shop and bakery in its place. I just simply don’t know, and no matter how much I read about the area, or speak to ex-residents, I will never fully comprehend.