Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Last weekend I went to Durban and my South African friends showed me around their hometown. Durban is on South Africa’s east coast, on the Indian Ocean, so the weather was much nicer than in Cape Town and we were able to spend a day at the beach for a family picnic. I didn’t get to see much else of Durban that weekend but a definite highlight was watching Durban’s rugby team, the Sharks, secure a place in the Super 14 playoffs. We also went to uShaka, South Africa’s take on SeaWorld. The aquarium was great because there were a lot of local marine life that I had never seen before. Even though it boasts the tallest waterslide in Africa, the waterpark section was disappointing, though our South African friends loved it—I guess I’m spoiled from growing up a few hours away from Wisconsin Dells—and I promised to take my friends to Hurricane Harbor if they ever make it to America.
I know many of you have seen the headlines about the xenophobic violence here in South Africa, which has just recently permeated into the Townships of Cape Town. I assure you that I’m safe—there are bad neighborhoods everywhere and I’m avoiding any area where my safety may be compromised. In recent weeks some South Africans have become militant against immigrants, particularly from Somalia and Zimbabwe, who threaten their economy by taking jobs and reaping welfare benefits. Coming from Texas, it seems analogous to the American immigrant crisis, albeit without all of the violence. It’s incredibly sad that these immigrants who risked their lives to escape the horrific conditions in their home country are now met with such animosity and hatred. It often seems antithetical to what most South Africans took to heart after Apartheid, the messages of Mandela and Desmond Tutu, who preached about a “Rainbow Nation” of inclusion. What’s worse is that little has been done to curb the violence and few South African figureheads have publicly condemned the violence. TIA—this is Africa.
On a lighter note, I’ve finished with classes and I now have four finals interspersed with three weeks of nothingness. I’ve made a list of things I’d like to accomplish before leaving Cape Town on the 16th and I have been working diligently to cross things off the list. This weekend I visited an African crafts market before doing a sunset climb up Lion’s Head, a mountain with a panoramic view of the Cape. Yesterday I visited the National Art Gallery and the District Six Museum, a collection of personal effects to tell the story of forced removals during the Apartheid era (I also stopped by the Jewish Museum but didn’t make it past their cafeteria). And there’s much more on the itinerary for the weeks to come—restaurants, tourist attractions, even a tour of Parliament. I’ll keep you posted, and I promise to upload some more pictures soon.
Of course there is a downside to wrapping things up in Cape Town. I had to say goodbye to Nasiphi, the little girl I’ve been tutoring for the past semester, which was difficult since we’ve become close over the past few months. There are so many things I’m going to miss about this country, but I’m simultaneously looking forward to getting back to the familiar. I’ve made a mental list of the things I’ve missed most since being abroad—Mexican food, YouTube, and NBA playoffs top the list.
Also, congratulations to everyone who graduated over the past couple weeks—yay adulthood. Look forward to speaking to you soon!
Sunday, May 11, 2008
We left on Sunday morning, traveling due north through the
Namibia's take on Table Mountain
Soon after crossing the border, we drove to
look how geometric the mountains are. geology is awesome.
We had booked a place to stay in Aus before we left
mountains near our hotel
Aus is famous for its wild horses, so we made a special stop to see them before continuing our journey north into the
admission inside the castle was too expensive, so that's all I got
We continued our journey the next morning to Sossusvlei, home to
We knew we were in for a long drive up the coast to
We made it to Swakopmund before dark so we were able to explore the town for a while and make reservations for the next day. Swakopmund is a very quaint beach town with a distinctly German feel. We went to bed early as we planned to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to see the sunrise over the dunes. When we woke up, we found that it had rained during the night and our driver admitted that the fog was too dense to see anything that morning. We were disappointed, but we were lucky that the weather had cooperated up until then.
i know these look as fake as a Microsoft Windows background, but I really did sandboard on them
After a short nap (and game of Jenga) we met a guide who drove us out to the dunes. The weather had cleared up by then and we were able to go sandboarding—sliding down the dunes on a piece of cardboard (a “Kalahari Ferrari,” as the guide called it)—which was a definite highlight of the trip. The guide had a radar gun and tracked me going 74 kilometers an hour down the dunes (I was the fastest of the day on one of the rides). We ate a quick lunch before shuttling off to
This semester’s winding down. I’ve finished all of my papers for the rest of the term, but I have two more tests before exams begin on the 29th. On the bright side (literally!), the blackouts have ended, allowing me to write this post. It’s also winter here now, which means I haven’t seen the sun since the middle of April. It’s a good thing, too, or else I would never want to leave…
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
After a late Thursday night in
The next morning we boarded a truck that took us to an opening of the Okavango Delta. The ride took us through rural
When we entered the Delta, we packed our luggage into the mokoros which would take to our campsite. A mokoro is a traditional wooden canoe which is the chief means of transport in the Delta. The driver has a long wooden stick which he uses to propel and steer the canoe. (My driver, Chris, let me to try to drive the mokoro, but I couldn’t figure out how he seemed to position the stick on the floor of the river, so I used the stick like a kayak paddle. Hilarity ensued.)
Once we got to the campsite, an island in the middle of the Delta, we swam in the river before leaving for a nature walk in the afternoon. Though we didn’t see any animals then, our guide, Saulo, showed us the poop that denizens of the Delta had deposited as we watched a beautiful African sunset.
I don't know what happened with this picture, but I think it's pretty cool
Somehow one of the guides had convinced us to sleep outside that night (while they themselves had put up tents). It was pretty miserable with all of the mosquitoes– thank God for Malarone!—and all of the other Delta critters, but at least we were already awake for our early morning walk. It was soon obvious that Saulo was quite good at manuevering around the Delta and finding animals. We were able to spot tons of elephants, giraffes, and springbok, and beautiful fauna. It was also unbelievable that Saulo knew exactly where we were in the fields of the Delta, to which he likened to us being able to navigate ourselves in our hometowns. I have a feeling it’s slightly different.
We took another mokoro ride deeper into the Delta that evening. That night, we had a campfire with our guides who insisted on putting on a whole musical production and made us play some childish games. Needless to say, it was a great night, in no small part thanks to my return to tent-dwelling.
In the morning we said goodbye to our guides and returned back to the campsite in Maun where we had stayed before our Delta excursion. We stayed there just long enough to take our first shower in three days and eat lunch before leaving for another day on the road. We arrived at our campsite after dark after a delay at a pointless Hoof-and-Mouth Prevention checkpoint.
We woke up early the next morning for the drive up north to
hungry, hungry hippos
good morning, springbok
Coincidentally far from the water, we passed this herd of water buffalo.
A few moments later we ran into this gorgeous animal which I swear was either called a buku or a kubu, but now I can’t find any mention of it on the internet.
We saw some jackals, which are less frightening than I had imagined and more like puppies.
After seeing these wild dogs, we needed to see some wild cats. Our driver received word on his walkie-talkie that there were some lions deeper into the park and we caught them just before we had to return to the campsite. I was so excited; I felt like the lion paparazzi. Here are some of the best of the bunch:
three Nalas, no Simbas
After our game drive, we packed into our replacement bus, which was unexpectedly smaller than our original vehicle. It wasn’t a long ride before we got off to hop on a ferry to cross the river into
After lunch we headed to
The next few days were left free to explore the area around
The atmosphere across the border was eerie. Though
We began at the market where the vendors were more interested in goods than actual currency. I traded a few t-shirts, a few pairs of socks, some hair ties, and a Bic ballpoint pen for some artisan crafts, and I tried to include a few dollars or rand in each deal as a charitable contribution. I could tell they truly valued this bartering; nearly every one of the shopkeepers was wearing a shirt that they had obviously received in such transactions.
As we headed to the Victoria Falls Hotel for lunch, I have never seen such a stark difference between dearth and excess. The hotel is a bastion of a memorial to colonial rule; you can just picture old white men in their safari jackets sitting on the lawn. The walls are adorned with pictures of a 1946 visit by Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to
After my exhausting experience the previous day, I elected to spend my last day of Spring Break as a true Spring Breaker—lying by the pool. The poolside bar had a TV set, but there was little news about the “elections” so the bartender flipped the channel to VH1, which was apparently devoting its entire broadcast to the music of George Michael (to which I hypothesized that in a desperate move for power, Robert Mugabe had killed the former member of Wham!). After another sunset cruise that evening, I said goodbye to Zim, Zam, and the
A quick, semi-related note to conclude—since arriving in Africa, I have been on high alert for mistakenly pre-printed sports apparel (that is, shirts that hastily declared the Patriots World Champions before the Super Bowl was ever played) as it is a known fact that much of these items typically end up in Africa. While I have been less than successful in this particular pursuit, I’m pretty sure I saw a brand new Charlotte Hornets hat in
Monday, March 17, 2008
I started tutoring a sassy little eight-year-old, Nasiphi, at the children’s home where she lives. Together we’re working on her reading skills—last week we read a traditional African story about a man who saves his marriage by planting sunflowers. To get Nasiphi to read, I have to promise her a piggyback ride at the end, which is probably just as much a reward for me as it is for her. I’m very excited to see her this afternoon because I truly felt a special bond with this child even after only one visit.
I spent this past weekend participating in a homestay with a Coloured family in Cape Town’s Ocean View community. Ocean View is a product of apartheid policy, as Coloured families once located on the beachfront area called Simons Town were forcibly relocated to less desirable properties (despite its name, Ocean View has no view of the water). My family consisted of a grandmother, her four grown daughters, and her eight grandchildren. One of her daughters and two of the grandchildren lived on the property, and the two women welcomed us in with open arms. The grandmother spoke to us about the tight-knit community of Ocean View and taught us swear words in Afrikaans. Her 12-year-old granddaughter was obsessed with American pop music and the Disney Channel and was very impressed that the three American girls staying with her had all visited Disney World. On Saturday the mother and her daughter took us shopping in a seaside area called Kalk Bay and brought us to meet some friends in Fish Hoek. Despite their Muslim faith, the mother and her sister took us out to the reopening of a bar after its renovation Saturday night. Throughout the weekend, I was constantly being fed delicious home-cooked meals and sweets. I had a fantastic weekend and I hope to get a chance to visit the family again before I leave.
I’m sorry this entry is relatively short. This will be my last post before I leave for my mid-semester break in Botswana and Zambia, so my next entry is sure to be filled with pictures and great stories.
On a separate subject: I’m trying to figure out my summer plans, but nothing has panned out so far. If you know of anything that may be available for me or if you’d like to play around with me in Africa, please let me know!
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
It’s been a crazy week here in have posted pictures of the evening's festivities.
have posted pictures of the evening's festivities.
On Friday I had my first surf lesson at Muizenberg,
I joined the Mountain and Ski (read: Hiking) Club hoping to get some exercise while seeing South Africa’s stunning sites, so when the club planned a hike up Table Mountain this Saturday, I was really excited to participate. However, mid-hike I realized that as an out-of-shape asthmatic with bad knees, I probably wasn’t going to be the Mountain and Ski MVP (not to mention I was getting over a cold and still sore from surfing the day before). I was misled into thinking that the hike would be a brisk stroll up the mountain, but I could not have been more mistaken. The first part of the excursion was a steep walk up a windy path, which was intense in itself but the easiest part of the hike as a whole. The next section was more of a crawl over large boulders, while the last leg of the hike included legitimate vertical scaling of cliffs. There were some parts of the route that were—at most—2½ feet wide. Let me add that there were no path markers and we traveled by the mantra “when in doubt, go up.” My legs were so cut up by the vegetation that I have started to tell people that I was in a knife fight with a midget. I promise you that I am in no way exaggerating the extent of this expedition. The hike up took over 5½ hours, while the hike across the summit to the cable car (you better believe I took the cable car down) took about an hour. When we reached ground level my friends and I recovered at the beach for the rest of the afternoon. Despite all of this, I had an amazing time—the views from every stage of the hike were breathtaking—and I can’t wait to go on another Mountain and Ski adventure when I can move my legs again.
**Update: Apparently we came in contact with a plant called the Blister Bush during our trek, resulting in bubbling blisters across our legs. The website we checked out said that there is no remedy for the blisters, and that the effects of the bush only present themselves on Caucasians. See, even the plants here are obsessed with race.
It’s almost surreal that I have been in
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Last Friday we attended UCT's RAG Big Bash, which is analogous to WashU's WILD, except for the fact that it actually is wild. Someone told me that it is the largest party in the Southern Hemisphere, which sounds true and probably is. It was held at an amusement park and had three stages for the performers, who apparently were top African performers. One of the bands, Goldfish, appeared to be just a guy with a trumpet and a guy a with a turntable, but our newly-befriended South African insisted that they were hectic("hectic" is this ubiquitous word meaning crazy/cool/ridiculous, in a good way... I think). The Big Bash was crazy/cool/ridiculous, in a good way and it was probably the first time I felt like a member of the student body instead of just an outside observer.
This weekend our program took us to Stellenbosch for wine tasting at one of South Africa's vineyards. I had a great time (I think we were purposely over-served), and afterwards my friends and I arranged to spend the night in a hostel in town. Stellenbosch is a quaint, sleepy town about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town with many art shops and an African market. Because of its prominent university, Stellenbosch turns into a college town after dark, and we enjoyed meeting new people and exploring a very different part of South Africa as most of the people we encountered were white and spoke Afrikaans. In Cape Town, we have to take taxis everywhere after dark (and pre-approved taxis, to make sure we will not be ripped off or worse), but in Stellenbosch, it was safe to walk around at night, even without male escorts. It was refreshing but also quite sad as it made me realize and how segregated South Africa still is and analyze the inequality and poverty problems which plague the country. A couple of the kids we talked to made some offensive and racist statements, which I do not condone but understand why they made such comments. The students my age are unique in that they have lived in both an apartheid and post-apartheid eras. It will be interesting for anthropologists and sociologists to study these people as adults to see how the political empowerment/disempowerment affected them, especially within race relations, as I can already see the effects in these students in their twenties.
I knew going into this trip that it would be an experience unlike anything else, but despite all my reading and prior preparation, I am still surprised by things I encounter. For example, I was unaware of how few people speak English, with most speaking Xhosa or Zulu and more speaking Afrikaans than English. UCT is clearly an elitist institution, but outside this bubble I have encountered many instances of a language barrier. Race is always a topic of discussion in every issue, from the energy crisis to the national soccer team. In the aftermath of apartheid, Blacks and Whites and Coloureds and Indians often still impose a self-segregation upon themselves, as I have noticed on campus and around town. Despite all of this, it is almost refreshing to hear people talking about racism, whereas in the
I am not sure how much coverage this is getting in the US—I had only seen one or two articles from CNN and the New York Times before I left—but there is a severe energy crisis in South Africa and blackouts are of real concern. The energy provider has become a national joke, and many are worried about how the crisis will affect South Africa’s abilities to host the 2010 World Cup (which, if you are counting like multiple billboards in Cape Town, is 830-something days away). Inevitably, the energy crisis has become a race issue with poorer Blacks suffering more than the richer Whites, as generators have become a hot commodity for those who can afford them. I have also heard that while
On our first day of orientation, our director aptly described
And a happy Savior's Day to all of my friends in the Nation of Islam.
Monday, February 18, 2008
I arrived in Cape Town on a Wednesday morning after traveling two days on three continents in four airports. After some introduction formalities, we hopped on a bus to go to Table Mountain. Cape Town’s mountains are an exquisite backdrop to the city—especially behind the buildings of my new university—but Table Mountain is particularly popular as its flat summit makes it an ideal spot from which to view the entire city in a 360˚ panoramic view. Though some decide to hike up Table Mountain, we rode to the top in the revolving cable car, which in itself was tremendous. At some points we were higher than the clouds, and I got to watch my first African sunset before heading down.
view of Cape Town from the cable car
one of the only pictures you'll see of me on this site
On Sunday, all of the international students were herded onto buses for a tour of the peninsula. Though the weather at first did not allow us to enjoy the beaches, we were able to hike Cape Point, the mountain overlooking the Cape of Good Hope, before stopping to see the penguins on their protected beach.
Cape Point-- yeah, I hiked it.
Penguins! on Boulder Beach
We had lunch in a Coloured township, where we were entertained by a young woman who sang (badly) Celine Dion songs and watched a group of kids with some ridiculous (but slightly age-inappropriate) dance moves. My program has arranged for a weekend home-stay in the same community, so I will be writing more about this in the future. Later that night, we found a diner that was showing the Super Bowl on a projector screen (albeit with Rod Stewart blaring on the jukebox simultaneously). I watched the first half, which ended just before 3:00 in the morning. It was nice to find something that was familiar amidst all of the culture shock, and I had a good time explaining what was going on to all of my African friends.
The university has yet to adopt an electronic registration system, which means that a student has to get approval from each department for each course he or she wants to take, and then stand in line for hours, waiting for numerous signatures and for someone to officially register the student into the classes. There is also no posted timetable for the classes, and I had to go to each department to figure out my schedule. Much of the UCT orientation for international students was dedicated to preparing us for this and preparing us for the differences in class structure and grading procedures. One speaker even tried to tell us ways to hide our “American-ness,” which I found very insulting. But by far the best activity of orientation was an African drum lesson, and all of the international students got to play their own drum. I can confidently say that after this one lesson, I can play the drums better than the tenants above the Cognition offices.
Since there was a week between registration and classes, a group of my friends decided to travel within this period. We planned to do the so-called Garden Route, a beautiful coastal region on the southern tip of Africa. We first stopped in Knysna, a quaint town famous for its lagoons and waterfront. We did not see much of the town but we had an enjoyable stay at a backpackers hostel, where all of eight of us shared a dorm room with bunk beds. The next morning we had planned to spend the day in Jeffrey’s Bay, one of the top beaches in the world, but the weather was uncooperative. We were able to spend a little time there, enjoying the smooth sand and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. We also spotted some jellyfish and I collected some beautiful shells.
Jellyfish-- picture taken especially for Samantha
Jeffrey's Bay, or J-Bay, like the cool kids call it
We planned to stay in hostel in Port Elizabeth for the night, but we were a little uneasy about the safety of the city once we finally arrived at the hostel. We debated about continuing on to find a better place to stay, but the owner of the hostel came outside and was so friendly that we convinced ourselves to stay. On his recommendation, we spent the evening at a jazz club, and I can honestly say that this was one of my favorite nights of all time. The musicians were all so talented and it was a great atmosphere in which to become closer with the kids on my trip, most of whom go to WashU.
In the morning we drove out to Addo Elephant National Park, a protected area for the indigenous animals. We were able to see elephants, warthogs, ostriches, turtles, cranes, zebras, baboons, and vervet monkeys. We were so close to all of the animals and arguably saw more wildlife than we would have on an expensive safari. Here are some of my favorite pictures of the day, but I will soon be uploading them all:
mama and baby warthogs
doesn't it suck when zebras cut you off in the road?
The next day we started heading back west and made a stop at the world’s highest bungee jump (over 700 feet). I needed no convincing at all to do the jump, and the operators sensed this and let me go first in our group. The freefall was exhilarating as I jumped into a valley between the mountains overlooking the ocean. I don’t have pictures of the actual jump, but here is the picture of the bridge:
After we all supported each other on the jumps, we left to eat dinner in beautiful Plettenberg Bay. There we met a crazy white woman who was smoking on top of her cute little dogs while reading the Bible. She was impressed with my friends from California but even more impressed with me, as she told me that Oprah told her that Arlington, Texas, is one of the top five cities in the US to find single men over 35, and elaborated on her plans to find an American husband. That night we returned back to the hostel in Knysna where we had stayed on our first night. We were supposed to do the entire route back on Wednesday, but there was a consensus among us that the trip would be incomplete without a day at the beach. The day was stunning and we stopped in Mossel Bay for a few hours on the way back to Cape Town.
When we returned, our program arranged for us to see a concert of a popular South Africa called Freshly Ground (I know they’re legitimate because we heard them on the radio while on the road). The venue was sweltering and the acoustics were terrible, so I was pretty disappointed. They sing a song about fat thighs and flabby arms and they are pretty good on CD if you ever get a chance to listen to them.
Today is my first official day of classes (they technically started on Friday, but nobody but the Americans-- including professors-- showed up), so I should get going. I have so much more to write, but this post is getting really long, and I want to save some stories for later (I even deleted some material, if you can believe that). So as I wrap up, I just wanted to thank those of you who are keeping me up-to-date with relevant news. I’m sorry I missed the All-Star Game, but at least I got to watch the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament for the past few weeks (Egypt won, FYI). Thanks for reading this opus! Much more to come...