Wednesday, June 10, 2009


It's the weirdest thing I have ever experienced. You spend five months of your life in a wonderful place, say your goodbyes, hop on a 18 our plane through Senegal and Washington DC, where you almost lose your laptop at the airport (how ironic would that be?), try like a ten year old to figure out your cell phone, and enjoy your first bagel and good coffee in five months, and then hop on a plane to Boston. You are walking down the airport hallway and suddenly you here footsteps and your little brother is upon you and then your dad is there and suddenly everything, Cape Town, Africa, just feels like a dream. Like you just woke up from an incredible dream.

I am sitting in my bed right now at 4 in the morning because I went to be at 830, and despite my best attempts I am jetlagged. I am enjoying free internet, sitting in my room with all its familiar smells. The drive home from Boston was a blur. I got home, hugged my mother forever, tackled my crazy pooch, and took a shower. Letting the water fall over my face without holding up a crappy showerhead was unexplainable. It was the best shower of my life. My little brother, who suddenly has a girlfriend and a license, drove me to get iced coffee from Dunkin and then around Leominster, making me feel just bizarre. There are no mountains. Everything looks exactly the same. By this time I was already feeling exhausted. After getting delicious chicken parm from Athens (something I have missed beyond belief) and drinking the wine I brought home for my parents, I gave out presents and we looked at some pictures before everyone got tired. I passed out to my first Red Sox game of the season (sox, yanks).

I feel the weirdest I have ever felt. Everything is just so green. My house smells the same. Was it all a dream? It's all so familiar, yet so foreign. I feel at the same time so connected to home yet like an outsider looking in. I feel both incredibly sad and overcome with happiness. I need to relax a little bit, stop expecting what is impossible to expect, and accept that after everything, I am a different person. I have changed, though I have no idea how to articulate how. Maybe I have finally grown up? We'll see. The one thing I do know is that I am so happy to be home.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


This morning I woke up so early because I was excited and incredibly anxious. After a great last run up to campus, and a terrible last shower in my disgusting dog bath tub, I got coffee for the last time with my buddy Noz who I met through class. Then a group of us drove to Sea Point, got sandwiches, and ate them on the grass promenade right along the sea. We hung around there all day enjoying the beautiful weather and the incredible view of the Atlantic, and playing on the swings and sea saw, until the sunset (my last sunset in Cape Town). Then I came back and finished up packing, and walked over to my Zambian friend Keki's apartment to say bye. We had a great conversation, and she revealed to me that I was the only American friend she has ever had. Then Jack, Aaron, Nox, and I had a last dinner at Buena Vista Social Cafe. Amazingly delicious.

Goodbyes are rough, especially since Cape Town has been home for 5 months. I am so happy that this last day was memorable. I have loved this incredible city so much, and I know that when I look out over Table Mountain as I fly out tomorrow, I will feel a pang of regret that it couldn't have lasted just a little bit longer. It's bittersweet, but I think that I am very much ready to say goodbye. Cape Town has given me everything I could have asked for, and I will always be grateful for this. For everything.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

This is it.

Finals are over, and after three or four awesome days off, I have one more day in Cape Town. I still have a TON of packing, goodbyes, and last minute things to take care of, but I'm hoping to do something cool tomorrow on my last day (maybe Kirstenbosch gardens if it's nice).

There is so much to say about these five months that I don't even know where to begin. I really think that a lot of what I've learned here will only hit me once I get back home. Despite the fact that I have absolutely loved this country and its people, I am just so excited to get on that plane and know that I'll be heading back to my family, friends, and everything that is familiar.

At this point, I know things here didn't turn our exactly how I had expected. I didn't make service my primary focus, which I am pretty surprised about. Classes were pretty disappointing, and I didn't get as involved with UCT as I probably could have. But the things I did have the chance to do, the people (American, South African, and more) that I met, the experiences I have had here have all changed me. I feel it, even though it's difficult to comprehend at this point. And to me, that is the most exciting thing of all.

One more day, and I will do my best to enjoy every minute of it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Things I will miss terribly...

-Being able to hop on the train and ride anywhere along the coast. Going to Kalk Bay ( alseepy fishing town down the coast) reminded me of this. We had a delicious lunch at the Olympia Cafe, walked down to the harbor and talked to some fishermen, and got cocktails at an absurdly pretentious seafood restaurant where the spray from the sea splashes the windows. I really wish I had had more time to take advantage of more of these amazing little towns.

-The Old Biscuit Mill organic market. This place became routine on Saturdays, and the pizza, lamb/ostrich burgers, iced coffee, and chicken sandwiches were culinary perfection. This Saturday I stocked up on sweet chili sauce and cookies for home and had a great conversation with the lady who makes these incredibly cookies from scratch. She remembered that I was from Boston, which really surprised me. The place is very white-centric, which gets a little awkward, especially since it's in Woodstock, an incredibly dodgy area outside of Cape Town. But that doesn't change the fact that the food is absolutely unbeatable.

-Black Label (cheap and delicious)
-Woolworths Cereal Clusters
-African Sunsets
-The Rand (I am fearing my return to the Dollar)
-The friendliness of the people in this country
-Ridiculous conversations with taxi drivers
-Seeing Table Mountain and Devil's Peak from my street
-Being able to drive anywhere in a 3 mile radius and see the ocean
-Long Street and Kloof Street, especially during the day
-Hermanus, in spite of it all.
-Lion's Head
-Ostrich burgers
-Minibus taxis and the ride into Town
-People revering Obama from thousands of miles away
-Newspaper headlines taped to light poles
-Bar One, Cadbury, Jelly Babies
-Obs, and used book stores
-Movies for 4 bucks
-The Big Five
-Feeling like, culturally speaking, we are a year behind
-LAWCO and the people I met at UCT

And much more.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Will, Aaron, and I had planned on renting moped/scooters for a while but it eventually seemed like it would be impossible. First off, there was the fact that neither me or Will had driven anything remotely similar to a scooter before, that I had no experience driving in South Africa (where people drive like madmen and to top it off, on the left side of the road), and that we very clearly do not have scooter licenses.

But somehow, we went into Eurojet and they took our 15 dollars without asking any questions whatsoever. I guess most rules are bendable when it comes to traffic. And after all, we did have enormous helmets. Though it was absolutely beautiful out (70 and sunny), the day started out terribly. I couldn't figure out the kickstand so my scooter collapsed onto the sidewalk. We Aaron and I finally took off to practice on a side street in Town (yes, we were starting in the middle of busy Cape Town), we lost Will. Apparently he had tried to leave the shop but lost control and fell over in the middle of the road. Somehow they still let him take the scooter, which in retrospect is really unbelievable.

It was difficult at first but I think we all got the hang of handling the scooters pretty quicklly, though our first drive and parking job on Long Street was a nightmare. One we got out to Sea Point and started to feel the wind and sea breeze in our faces, I started to feel totally invigorated. We stopped at a sandwhich shop and ate out on the grass promenade by the sea, and again were on our way. We sped along the coast, driving through Clifton and Campus Bay, twisting and turning around the narrow, windy coastal roads. The views of the mountains and sea was even more unbelievable from my scooter. Most of the time I felt like I was dreaming. It was just so liberating.

We stopped at Llandudno (the beach with the really cool boulders) and continued on to Hout Bay. We then circled back through Constantia, a wealthy wine suburb, and into Wynberg. Speeding along Maine Road (the main route into Cape Town) was an incredible experience. It is amazing how quickly you can fall into the trap of Capetonian driving. All three of us were speeding along, passing people, cutting off minibuses. It was amazing. Once we arrived back in town I think we felt like we had been driving the things forever. To finish off the day, we drove up Signal Hill, another beautiful, windy drive. The top has one of the best views of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean.

When we returned our scooters by 5, I think they were shocked to see us. This was definitely one of the most memorable days I have had here. For the first time I think I felt totally free.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


The end of lectures means we have an unnecessarily large amount of free time. It's been great, especially because I am very much done with UCT.

On Thursday Aaron and I traversed into town (me in search of a whale skeleton, he I'm not so sure). After checking out an art museum in Company's Gardens (which, I might add, had no sign of any water-dwelling mammal), we went to the Natural History Museum. Here we stumbled into whale heaven, the WHALE WELL. There were Humpbacks, Orcas, Sperm Whales, and Right Whales hanging from the ceiling with whale songs blaring from the speakers. In the middle of the room were the jaw bones and spine of a blue whale. This wasn't even half whale and it took up the entire room. Sadly, this would be the closest I would get to seeing a whale in South Africa.

That night we had our final Interstudy gathering at Asoka with free food and an open bar. It was great to see everyone getting along, even though some inevitable divisions had grown throughout the semester. When I think about my choice to use Interstudy to come to Cape Town, it's hard to get past the incompetence. But the reality is this program gave me a chance to get close to a small group of people. It also gave us all the opportunity to explore Cape Town free of worry for two weeks. I wouldn't trade those days for anything. Sean, Phil, Will, and I also discovered an incredible spot on the roof of The Waiting Room. I wish we would have known about it sooner.

Friday Will, Jack, Moran, and I rented a car with the intention of going full circle. We had made a pointless trip to Hermanus earlier in the year and now we were to return, though this time we actually had a plan (shark diving). The drive along the coastal Whale Route was more stunning than last time because we caught part of the sunset. After arriving at Hermanus Backpackers, grabbing dinner nearby, and hanging out with the guys that worked there for a bit, we went to bed early (630 am wake up).

At 7 am we were on our way to Gansbaii, the sleepy coastal town that hosts the majority of Cape Town's shark diving companies. The one we were using was Great White Shark Ecoventures because we got a free night in the hostel along with the trip. The weather was better than I had expected; it was a little cloudy and chilly, but there was no fog as I had feared.

After eating a small breakfast and listening to a quick introduction from our guide, we drove down to the harbor and hopped onto the boat, which was reasonably small considering where we were going and what we were going to see. Twenty minutes off the coast of Gansbaii are Dyer Island and Seal Island, an area with around 40,000 seals on average and the highest concentration of great white sharks in the world. We anchored near the island and the crew began to throw fish blood and oil, along with a tuna head attached to a rope into the choppy green sea. While we were waiting, we learned a lot about the sharks. The ones that usually come up to the boats are juveniles, sharks that smell the fish blood and are curious enough to explore. They have incredible eyesight and senses of smell, and track the scene from kilometers away. They also hunt from deep below the surface in order to surprise their prey, so it is very uncommon to see the cliche shark fin darting across the water.

After two hours of sitting on top of the boat in a cold wetsuit staring at the fish head waiting for something to appear, I began to reevaluate my fear of great whites. We were sitting in the most highly concentrated shark area in the world, luring them with fish guts, and nothing happened. It shows you how rare shark attacks really are.

Just when we were beginning to accept that this was another pointless Hermanus trip (IT WAS SHARK SEASON AFTERALL COME ON)we heard our guide yelling and an enormous set of jaws emerged from the deep and snapped at the bait. Then it disappeared in the murky green. Everyone was so excited until we all realized that this shark wasn't coming back. One shark for 10 seconds? It was almost worse than seeing nothing at all. It was a shark tease.

After sitting for another hour in the cold, our guide told us they were going to make one last desperate move. They rode to where another boat was situated and reanchored, hoping to lure some of the sharks that the other groups had spotted earlier. Finally, an enormous shark appeared and chomped at the bait. This one was absolutely gargantuan (I later learned that they can grow to twice as big) with rows and rows of white daggers for teeth and black, black eyes.

Matt and I were the first ones to get into the cage just below the surface. It was really disorienting because the water was frigid and the visibility wasn't great. We would be sitting above the surface shivering and then the guide would scream LEFT. DOWN! and then we would hold our breaths and try to find the shark through the opening in the cage. Apparently the sharks have no idea that anything living is even in the cage, but it didn't matter. Being in this flimsy metal cage with this enormous beast was frightening no matter what.

I got a pretty good view of the shark as it swam by right in front of us, but most of my good shots were from the top of the boat as it circled us and snapped at the bait. The shark got a lot closer for Jack and Will and Matt when they were in the cage, and their reactions were hilarious to watch from above. After the shark (it turned out we saw 5 in all, so it could have been a different one) snagged the bait, it disappeared and that was it. We packed up and headed back to shore. I am so happy that our trip was worth it, because there is no way we would have been able to come back. I think I certainly learned to understand these creatures a lot more, but seeing them snapping and thrashing about did nothing to calm my fears. They really are killing machines. I don't care how you look at it.

After getting dressed we drove back to Hermanus and walked around a bit. The town was a lot more bustling than the last time we were here (whale season starts in a month or so). I bought some great whale souvenirs and we hung out on the rocks a bit, looking out at Walker Bay. I am a little upset that I will go these entire 5 months without having seen a whale, but visiting Hermanus was still worth it. You can see how much the community takes pride in the fact that the Southern Right migrates to its shores every year to calve. It is literally a town that is built around an appreciation and wonder for the whale, and even experiencing that for a little bit was worth it to me.

From a book I bought on the whales of Walker Bay: "Scientists tell us of our connected paths, and I feel this echo deep within my being."

The drive back along the whale route was the most stunning I have ever scene in my life. I cannot express in words how incredible this sunset was. So I will express it with pictures. It was just that mystifying.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I love the weekend

It really is amazing how different the weekends are than the week days. Weekends allow for freedom, travel. I feel like weekends are what have made this experience so meaningful. So I try my best to take advantage of every one.

Friday I woke up late and walked up to the Rhodes Memorial (ironically, commemorating the English imperialist) at the absolute top of campus. There is a great view of the city and the ocean and I sat at the cafe with an iced coffee (basically a coffee shake) and read. Then I relaxed on the grass. Much needed alone time.

Then I went to a LAWCO event at the campus pub... it was really interesting to hear how passionate some of the volunteers are about serving in South Africa and using the law to combat the despicable injustices of this country.

Saturday Andrew and I hiked Devil's Peak... it was a pretty strenuous hike, which some parts leading through a dark forest with tall trees and others straight up in the beating sun. It took about three hours to get to the top, and the view was easily the best I've seen in Cape Town.

Unlike at the top of Table Mountain, you can actually see 360 degrees around you, from Lion's Head to the sea and Robben Island to the entire City. Absolutely spectacular. We chatted with an interesting pair of Capetonians for a bit and then headed down, stopping only to watch a hideous looking mountain goat do his thing. We then had a celebratory beer at the cafe at Rhodes Memorial It's pretty awesome (something I didn't realize until later) that you can see the sea and an entire city from the top of a mountain. It's so Cape Town. It's alsi great that we walked out of our flats with the mountain in view and ended up at t he very top 3 hours later.

Saturday night a bunch of us went out for a friend Sean's birthday to Long Street. One of the best nights I've had in Cape Town. It was followed by one of the best days. Sunday we went to Mzoli's (the famous restaurant in Gugulethu). The meat was incredible as always (we devoured a bowl of lamb, chicken, and sausage) and then danced with everyone else. There were so many people there (people were literally spilling into the street) and everyone just had an incredible time. I ran into a guy I had met on my home stay and we also met some really cool guys from Zimbabwe. Going back there reminded me how amazing friendly the people who live in this suburb are.

It's an image that will stay with me when I think about studying abroad-- watching the African sun setting over Table Mountain, stuffed with meat, perfectly content.