Already broken

"I want to break the machine, not to be a cog in it!"

I was playfully riffing off of one of Daenerys Targaryen's familiar lines on a lunch-break walk to Eastern Food Bazaar with the other LRC interns. Two of us had just finished a rough morning interviewing families whose children have been denied birth certificates, and I was frustrated. My last interview was with a father whose wife's refugee recognition had expired, so they were not able to get a birth certificate for their child. He had two other legal issues he needed help with, and instead of doing a duty (the process by which we interview a client to understand his legal claim), I told him he had to come back next week during our regular clinic hours. I felt terrible seeing his confusion because I understood what his face meant. He was in our offices right now and I am telling him to take more time off work to come back because he had other issues that fell outside the scope of today's purpose. But those were the rules, and I am generally not a rule breaker. Especially only in my second week, I was not going to go against what I was told when I asked if a lawyer could talk to him today. The rule was put in place for a good reason, right? Who am I to come in and decide to start rewriting rules because my sense of justice was offended? So my attempt at being playful was really revealing my deep disappointment in not having the guts to follow through on my feeling that it was not right that we turn this man away. Whatever the reason for the rule, it was not right.

We were holding marathon interviews on Friday, outside of our regular clinic hours, because there are a large number of refugees who have been unable to obtain birth certificates for their children born in South Africa. A major consequence of not having a birth certificate is that children are unable to attend public school. I spoke to three families on Friday morning to collect information about them, their children, their marriages. Nothing else. I sat in as a candidate attorney conducted an interview before mine began for me to observe what to do. I immediately noted the attorney's even-handedness. Of course families want to share their experiences of being toyed around in a system designed to work against them, but there isn't time, or emotional capacity, to entertain them all. I had also realized last week that the best sort-of advocate I could be for our clients is one who doesn't also toy with them by providing false hope because of my bleeding heart and eagerness to help. This system is not working for their benefit; it is working against them. Reviewing client files last week demonstrated this. The most humane thing I could do for them is be honest and effective, and check my own desires at the door. 

This was not the version of Mechelle I was expecting to have to be. I am also not sure how to be good at it. But after two weeks, I think I know that I don't want to be the kind of lawyer who encourages people seeking my help to forget that they are living in a country hostile to their staying here. These refugees have created lives and put down roots that may be disrupted because a person in Home Affairs decides, without researching, that the Democratic Republic of Congo is no longer unsafe for political dissidents now that Felix Tshisekedi is president, for example. Their children, born here, know nothing of their parents' country, but South Africa does not make the process of recognizing them as citizens easy. I do not want these families to be unprepared for the day that they may have to return against their wishes or risk living out their days in South Africa undocumented.

All of this I am thinking about as I prepare for next week when three of us interns tackle a new set of client interviews for another issue. But I will get to that in the next blog.

Full belly

Does it seem trite to now talk about the privilege I have of living carefree in Cape Town after discussing the heavy business of refugee life in South Africa? Yes. Is it necessary to find ways of restoration in order to give this business my best effort? Absolutely. Was some of this me eating my feelings? Uh huh.

  • I fell in love with France the moment I started taking French in junior high, so you better believe Café Swan caught my eye on the Uber ride home from Truth Coffee Roasting last week. The next morning, I was seated at the window-side bar enjoying a savory galette, a red flat white (flat white coffee drink with rooibos tea added to it), and a Paris, Je T'aime tea (plus, a special one-year anniversary crêpe cake slice for dessert). (A note about rooibos: It is a native South African plant used to make herbal tea, which I believe is still only grown here. Every restaurant, office break room (probably), and grocery or convenience store carries it.)
  • A bar devoted to gin inside a chocolate shop, aptly named The Gin Bar is a gorgeous way to spend an evening if you are looking for a well-crafted, unique cocktail. For those skilled at capturing the perfect IG moment, their courtyard provides a picturesque setting. 
    Black like I like my coffee
  • Every Thursday, food vendors set up on St. George's Mall. I forgot to capture the name of the stand I stopped at, but they loaded me up with traditional "seven colours" meal that was fantastic. They told me everything that was served (I later topped it off with chillies to add heat), but I instantly also forgot it.
    If I live to see the seven colours
  • The Friday walk that started this post was on the way to Eastern Food Bazaar, a food hall serving well, eastern food. You order and pay at a cashier food from one or more of the vendors, and then you take your receipt to the vendor to have your dish prepared. Generous is not the word for what you are served. You could easily make at least three meals from the portions at a very reasonable price.
    East eats
  • Ka Pa Tée was one of the first places to make it onto my list of places to try, but its impossible hours made it hard for me to get to sooner. The wait for tea and brownies was worth it. As a tea snob, I was delighted by the selection of new-to-me choices and the preparation was a show itself. 
    Tea machine
  • Finally, winter has not fully arrived in Cape Town, so it was a perfect day to wander The Old Biscuit Mill. With food, beverage, and clothes and merchandise vendors (Saturdays only), you could easily return day after day to have a new culinary experience, but if I return, it will be for the coffee from Espresso Lab Microroasters for more inventive takes on a good cup of espresso. The view is pretty great, too.
    Table Mtn or Lion's Head, I don't know