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.

Friday, May 8, 2009

So now I finally have an official date: June 8th.

It's so hard to believe that I only have a month left here. I feel like this whole trip has been a blur, that is has been speeding by without me even noticing it. When I look back to January when I nervously waited with Will in the airport, I couldn't even imagine myself in this position. I thin thought that I would be so transformed by then that it wouldn't even matter.

This seems to make sense, though. Instead of having to rush around for a day or so before heading back up to Bowdoin, I'll be able to spend a couple weeks at home with my family and friends. And I'll have time to get over the jet lag. I don't really have enough mula to go on another long trip, and I'm not that upset about it because Botswana was incredible.

Although I have loved it here and learned so much about this country and its people, I can't deny that I'm looking forward to getting home. There are so many things I'm going to look at with new found gratitude, like phone conversations that don't skip, wheat thins, pizza, classes and teachers that I love.

But I know I'm going to miss this bustling city with its diversity and minibuses and mountains and coastlines and amazing food and wine and everything. And the Rand. The RAND. I'm honestly afraid of seeing a dollar again.

But still, I can't deny that on June 8th, I'll be ready for my journey back home.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Boulders, Drag Comedians, and Cheese

A pretty strange, great weekend. Friday I woke up late and Will and I hopped in my friend Nox's car to drive down the coast to the beach. The weather was bizarre.. in Mowbray it was perfectly sunny, but as soon as we reached the valley where the beaches are, we noticed that everything from the sand out to sea was blanketed in thick fog. Our destination was llandudno, a quieter beach with famously enormous boulders.

Llandudno is probably the most beautiful beach I've been to in Cape Town, and the misty fog really didn't make a difference. In fact, it reminded me of those cool, moist days along the Maine coast. It sports a mini-Lion's Head and Table Mountain and has these incredible boulder formations. They reminded me of how I have envisioned the Badlands, and I loved exploring their little caves and crevices.

On the way back we were talking about the elections, which is unavoidable, obviously. Nox made an interesting point, that while criticizing Jacob Zuma for greed and corruption is understandable, chastizing him for his lack of formal education is unfair. His generation grew up during incredible oppression and formal education, even when available, was minimal and generally ineffective. At the same time, many think that it will take a new generation of educated, inspired young people to really bring change to the government and the country. That may be so.

On Sunday Will, Jack, Aaron, James and I rented a car and started out on a journey up the mostly unexplored (by tourist standards at least) West Coast. Despite positive weather reports the drive started out foggy and cold, visibility impossible. This was beginning to seem like another Hermanus trip when the sky finally began to clear and we were able to enjoy the rolling, endless pastures of the landscape. On a whim we stopped in Darling for lunch and snuck our way into a stand up comedy performance by Evita Bezuidenhout, one of the most famous whites in South Africa. The entire town celebrated her (she was born there) which was bizarre considering the fact that she does all of her/his performances in drag. Evita is famous for her use of satire and comedy to criticize the apartheid regime, and the performance was truly amazing.

The only seats available were five bar stools directly across from the stage, and this, along with the fact that we were the only Americans there, made us stand out in the crowd. Even though much of the humor was in Afrikaans, it was hilarious to hear Evita mock the current political situation and reminisce about the past.

After Darling we drove further up the coast and entered West Coast National Park where we saw a ton of ostriches darting around the bushes. Our destination was the Langabaan Lagoon, which was a memorizing tint of crystal blue-green. After relaxing there for an hour or so we drove to another beach (a good place for whale spotting, though I had no luck) which was beautiful as the mist began to creep back over the water.

After a stop in Paternoster for dinner and some delicious sea food, we drove for another two hours through pitch black nothingness to Lambert's Bay. We stayed at a friend of Aaron's (whom he had met two days before) house, which had been owned by his grandparents and eerily reminded me of American suburbia.

After an early wake up we drove another 3 hours through the mountainous farmlands of central Western Cape, reaching our destination, the wine town of Franschoek, at about noon. We had tickets to the annual Cheese Festival, which was just as ridiculous as it sounds.

There was streams and streams of people and hundreds of booths where you could sample all sorts of local cheeses, wines, and jams, all with the beautiful backdrop of the wine district's jagged mountains. The sampling was unlimited, and I really took advantage of it, devouring every single block I could stick my toothpick into. I bought some Shiraz jam and garlic and herb cheese, both delicious, and we headed back around midafternoon.

A bizarre but amazing weekend. Everything always seemed like it wasn't going to work out, but did.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Elections, 2010

It really is an incredible time to be in South Africa...elections, an entire nation prepping for the international stage that will be the 2010 World Cup. I went on a tour of the Green Point stadium, still under construction, and was struck by South Africa's passion for soccer. It's exciting, a defining moment in the new democracy's short history, and you can see and feel the anticipation all around you.

The ballots are still being counted from yesterday's election, the fourth since apartheid ended in 1994, and clearly one of the most important. This country faces such a vast array of problems despite it's relatively stable economy, flourishing tourism industry, and progressive constitution. Poverty, inequality, appalling crime rates, and mass emigration are all hindering successful development, and though there have been some improvements since the 90s, many of the issues faced during the oppressive apartheid regime still remain.

The ANC is currently at 65 %, and it is likely that it will retain it's 2/3 majority, granting it an immense and startling amount of power. And with a leader like Jacob Zuma as South Africa's next president, a man with little formal educational backgrund, accused of rape and corruption, that advantage becomes all the more serious.

There have been some signs that South Africa may develop into a multiparty system (the Democratic Alliance won 55% in the Western Cape, Cope, an offshoot of the ANC, is hovering around 10%), but the fact remains that the party of Mandela, the enduring symbol of the liberation struggle, is likely to remain in power for some time to come.

It's easy to get cynical about the ANC, especially with it's recent string of incompetence, but one can understand why so many South Africans are attached to the party. It represents an incredible triumph over oppression and hatred, and it still claims to be the party of the people. One can even understand Zuma's appeal, who speaks and acts like a common citizen.

It's a great story...the liberation party overcomes significant competition, marking another sweeping victory in time for South Africa to celebrate its many successes during the World Cup in 2010. But there are so many questions, and South Africans can only hope that the ANC will continue to face the country's challenges instead of giving way to greed and corruption.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Break....Botswana and Victoria Falls

Such an incredible experience…one of the best of my life. I don't expect anyone to read all of this, but who knows, it might be worth it.

Day 1:
We woke up at 4:00 a.m to hop on the bus to Cape Town International, all incredibly exhausted but still really excited. Here we met our trip leaders (Dave, Jess, Leanne) who I had actually met before. They are all South African UCT students, all strict Christians, and truly amazing people. Once we got to Joburg we hopped on our overland trucks, what would become our home for the next 10 days or so.

The trucks were surprisingly nice…Ours (the “Elephant” Truck) had a ton of soft seats with wooden tables for eating and playing cards. We also met our last leader, Andrew, a student at Stellenbosch, as well as our cook and driver, Ramson and Isaiah, both from Zimbabwe. So we set off, driving through northern South Africa, through Pretoria, the capital, and by the time we reached the Botswana border it was dark. At our first campsite in Itumela dinner was waiting so we ate, had a couple drinks, and passes out in our sleeping bags clumped together on the floor. Side note: The Pula, Botswana’s currency is surprisingly strong, a lot stronger than the Rand. This is because Botswana is one of Africa’s success stories, with reasonable poverty levels but booming tourism and mining industries.

Day 2:
Lots and lots of driving after another ridiculously early wake up. Botswana is a beautiful country with no more than 2 million people, so we drove through empty landscapes with low-growing foliage, rolling green hills, and an occasional village dotting the landscape here and there. We stopped occasionally on the side of the road among cows and donkeys to eat lunch out of our truck. The sunset on these endless roads was absolutely stunning. The sky is just so grand out there because there is nothing at all to block your view. On this day when we arrived in Maun (the first civilization we had seen in hours) we stocked up on water for the delta and when we got to our campsite we had time to go swimming and relax a bit. We got a briefing about our time in the Okavango Delta, and a couple things stick out. This is one of the last untouched regions of Africa, and the animals here are about as wild as they come on the continent. I think everyone was more excited once we understood why this was such a huge part of the tip.

Day 3:
Another early wake up (I think we saw the sun rise and set every single day). As we drove to the entrance of the delta, I couldn’t believe how amazing welcoming the people were as we drove along on our obnoxious open safari truck. Every single person we passed waved eagerly, smiling warmly; kids ran out of their homes, women stopped while carrying huge boxes and bags on their heads, men gave us the thumbs up while sitting on chairs in the shade. I felt like I was getting sucked in immediately to this beautiful place. And while the village we passed were minimal, you somehow got the sense that this was all these people needed to be happy.

When we got to the entrance of the Okavango Delta, crowds of Botswanan people were waiting for us, mokoro boats all lined up in the water, children sitting with their mothers in the heat. We unloaded our supplies from the truck, and Will and I were approached by a middle-aged man who directed us toward one of the boats. Our guide. His name was Wileson (no idea how to actually spell it) and though he spoke little English, he was incredibly funny and friendly.

The traditional way to travel through the crevices of the Delta is to use the mokoro canoes, named after the tree they are made from. The boats are close to the water and you drive them by standing in the back, driving a long pole into the water and pushing along the riverbed. Wileson set up our mokoro for us, which meant that Will and I were able to lay back in the boat and relax, enjoying the African sun, dipping our hands in the cool water (though our guide was careful to warn us about snakes and crocodiles). We rode for about and hour and a half through the streams, pausing once to view a group of red lichi (spelling?) in the distance, a type of antelope, our first real animal viewing. We eventually set up camp, choosing a spot in the shade to set up our tent. One of the first things we noticed was an enormous hippo footprint located immediately next to the hole in the ground that was to be our toilet.

After relaxing for a couple hours, we were separated and led by Bostwanan guides on sunset game walks. Our guide, T-man, and his guide in training, OT, were absolutely incredible, calm, content-looking people from a nearby village. The first game walk was an experience in itself because I had no idea what to expect. We walked single file out into the brush, keeping quiet, secretly hoping that there would be animals everywhere we looked. But we were to be disappointed on this first walk; we did see a small leopard frog, a buzzing beehive, a ton of elephant, giraffe, and hippo tracks and droppings, and some hippos very, very far in the distance. The sunset, though, was stunning as it crept beyond the African horizon. I think it was a wake up call that we didn’t see much of anything on this first walk. As I said earlier, this really was the wild. Animals are always on the move, and tracking them down takes an enormous amount of skill and luck. Falling asleep to the chorus of sounds that constitute the Delta night is something that I will miss for the rest of my life.

Day 4:
Another ridiculously early wake up, though by this point I was starting to enjoy waking up with the sun, feeling refreshed and eager. We set out again with T-man for a much longer walk, and again saw absolutely nothing for at least an hour. Compounding our irritation was the fact that we had to take off our shoes and trudge across a cold, muddy stream. Just when were starting to accept that we might not see anything in the Delta at all, our guides spotted a wildebeest in the distance. We were incredibly excited to see SOMETHING, even though it was very far away and trotted off as soon as it realized it was being watched. We continued on with our hopes renewed, stumbling upon a bunch of elephant and buffalo bones. Just when we were again doubting our chances, our guides pointed in the distance, above a few trees. There was a giraffe! We couldn’t believe it. I will never forget how much my heart pounded at this point. We crept toward it, and as it noticed us stalking it, it began to move away. So we cut it off, and as we snuck around a grove of trees, we stumbled upon an unbelievable scene. An entire herd of giraffes was gathered together, females and males and babies, about 9 of them, and behind them were about 75 zebras! Our excitement was infectious, and we saw our guides smiling and laughing with us, happy that we were happy. I will never forget the image of giraffes running right in front of me, the herd of zebras right behind them.

So we started to head back, spotting a few more zebras, some warthogs, and another wildebeest. At this point I was satisfied with the walk, definitely not expecting anything more. However, all sudden I noticed OT pointing, hearing “elephant.” I couldn’t believe it. As we crept closer to a huge grove of trees, we saw a spot of gray moving slowly through the trees. It was a lone male elephant!! We wanted to get a little closer but our guides informed us that these creatures were incredibly dangerous, could smell us from a mile away, so we moved away feeling so lucky and so alive. On the way back a giraffe followed us, peeking curiously over the trees. We were out for about four and a half hours, and though we were exhausted, there was just something unspeakably special about tracking animals down in the wild, where things are untouched and preserved.

We had an incredibly relaxing day after that, relaxing in the sun, taking dips in the cool Delta water, watching our guides weave bracelets and baskets out of reeds. I even tried out driving the mokoro boats, which was SO difficult. That evening we went on a sunset mokoro cruise. Our guides were starting to show their wilder sides, which was hilarious. Wileson was showing us some of his tricks…one of them was really amazing. He would push the pole strongly and quickly against the bottom and then stand on one foot with his other leg wrapped around the pole. He was truly a mokoro master. This sunset, like the 100 others we saw, was just as breathtaking as the rest.

When we got back I traded one of my old shirts for a little mokoro boats that T-man carved, something to remind me of him and my time there. That night we sat around the fire and our guides entertained us, singing and dancing, forcing us to join in. Wileson surprised us when he emerged from the dark during one of the songs, moving and shaking in ways I have never seen before, mimicking a spear hunt. After they were done we were expected to respond, so while the made fun of us, pretending to take pictures with water bottles, we sang ‘Where the Watermelons Grow’ and did some terrible pop renditions. It was an amazing day, and I really loved having the chance to talk to T-man a little bit; despite the language barrier, I could tell that he was such a wise, wonderful person. I again went to bed to the sounds of frogs, crickets, and hyenas howling, feeling absolutely content.

Day 5:
Another early wake up and another short game walk. We saw some more hippos in the distance and another sunrise, which by this time we were coming to expect. We then packed up camp and had another relaxing mokoro ride back to the entrance of the Delta, saying goodbye to out guides. We drove a lot this day, and the time was broken up by random elephant sightings on the side of road. The other truck got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, and were advised to stay inside the truck because the sun was setting and that meant lions would be on the prowl. We got to our campsite late at night and were informed that elephants and lions had been walking through the site the night before. Falling asleep was a bit more difficult that night.

Day 6:
More driving through nothingness, more random elephants on the side of the road. We stocked up on wine in Maun again before driving to Chobe National Park, where we would be going on a sunset cruise down the river. The cruise was just amazing…speeding down the enormous Chobe River, we spotted a ton of impalas, a whole herd of elephants, babies and all, drinking and playing along the riverside, hippos poking their heads out along the shore, a baby crocodile, fish eagles, and more. It was so surreal.

I couldn’t really comprehend what I was seeing…partly because the wine was starting to get to be and partly because I never in my life expected to see an entire herd of elephants right in front of me. The park does have the highest concentration of elephants in the world, but I guess I never expected our luck to be so good.

Day 7:
Another early wake up and a morning game drive through Chobe National Park, where we saw warthogs, lion tracks (sadly this is all we saw of them), more impalas. It was really entertaining to see the European tourists driving by with their matching outfits, ridiculous and unnecessary safari hats, big boots. I don’t understand why people visiting Africa feel like they need to sport full on camouflage, as if the entire continent is full of animals on the prowl, with no civilization.

We again packed up camp and drove to the Zambia border, where we had to cross the Zambezi River by ferry. I bought a 100 trillion dollar note from Zimbabwe while we were waiting, sad and ironic but a good souvenir none the less.

After more waiting and driving we finally arrived at our last campsite, and hurried onto the bus to see Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

I cannot possible express the majesty and beauty of these falls. They are truly a work of God. Pictures just cannot do them justice. You can hear the mighty road of them from hundreds of yards away, can see the mist spraying up from miles away. I was utterly awestruck when I first laid eyes upon them, simultaneously soaking them in and not comprehending what was before me.

The water just flows off the cliffs, roaring and crashing and spraying into the river below, which has carved a magnificent canyon into the landscape. We got absolutely soaked; there was one bridge that crosses right in front of it that is continuously being sprayed by the falls, so you feel like it is downpoaring every 5 minutes or so. The sunset over the falls, which are at this time in full flood, is something that will stay with me forever.

Day 8:
At Vic Falls you have the option of doing a number of random activities, all insanely overpriced. There is rafting (not available at this time of year) cruises, bungee jumping, lion encounters, helicopter rides, and more. It’s a tourist’s paradise. I settled on bungee jumping, something I never had the urge to do before I came to Africa, but yet something that I felt I HAD to do once I saw the Falls and the bridge over the gorge where you leap from. While a lot of people were abseiling, a few of us relaxed by the pool alongside the Zambezi, sipping on Zambian beer, watching monkeys play in the trees. The Zambian currency is difficult to deal with. With a less stable economy, more typical of Africa, I was required to pay 10,000 Kwacha for a beer.

We were to bungee in the afternoon, and as it got closer I got more and more nervous. We took a taxi to the Zambia border, walking by baboons in the street. The bungee is actually in noman’s land, on the bridge that connects Zambia to Zimbabwe. It is the third highest in the world, the highest over water. When we arrived at the registration building, there was another group waiting there to jump. Watching the videos of people jumping (and one guy chickening out) did nothing to ease my nerves. The rest of this was really a blur. I remember walking out along the bridge, looking down at the roaring waters below feeling the mist of the falls stinging my face. There was a crowd lined up along the railings to watch this insane activity. Suddenly I found myself sitting on the side of the bridge, getting strapped in, being heckled by the bungee workers.

How are you? they ask.
Good, and you? I respond.
Great, because I’m not the one about to jump off a bridge, they laugh.
After they filmed me sending a ‘message’ to my family, I stepped up to the edge.

My body was fighting me at every step. You aren’t going to do this, you can do this, you are going to die, this is so high those waters are so rough and they will feel like cement when you slam into them. Then they count down from five and I leap with my arms outstretched. I feel myself, my stomach flying around inside of me, the wind and the mist and the incredible acceleration of my body and the water below and suddenly there is a scream coming from deep within my soul and I am twisting and accelerating and then somehow I an being flung back up toward the bridge and there is a rainbow in the mist and my heart and head are pounding because the blood is rushing to my head and my arms are flinging uncontrollably and then I am speeding back down toward the gushing river and there are tears in my eyes and I bounce and spin and my mind is a whirlwind and I can only feel the wind and the mist and I think I am shaking because this is the most incredible exhilarating things I have ever done in my life. Suddenly I am upside down and a man is swinging about me, bobbing up and down, and he catches me and his name if Frank from Zim and he holds me and we ride back up to the bridge. When my feet touch the metal of the bridge I am shaking and breathing so heavy, and I can’t believe I just did that.

When I got back to the top, it was impossible to explain what just happened, except saying it was ‘awesome.’ There is no other way to describe it. Andrew and I, pumped up from the adrenaline, waited around again and did a bridge swing, which consists of an absolute freefall down down down into the canyon until you reach the bottom and swing, hanging and spinning there with the gorge and river and mist all around you.

It was unexplainably, exhilaratingly incredible. That night we hung out at the bar, everyone sharing stories about bungeeing, gorge swings, helicopter rides, lion walks. Sleep did not come easy.

Day 9:
A bunch of us took a taxi to the Zimbabwe border, where we were to walk to an enormous market. When we arrived, I noticed the baboons around me, eyeing us suspiciously. I had heard stories about baboons, how vicious and aggressive and nasty they are, but never really thought much of it. We were walking, about seven of us, and suddenly an enormous hairy baboon is in the middle of us, clawing at Tracey and grabbing Laura’s bag, and then he sees the delicious apple I am eating and leaps on my, clawing at me, pushing me, reaching for the apple. I panick, because this thing is gargantuan and so creepily human, and I push him back, freak out, and kick my apple far far away. He stalks after it, and a huge crowd of people laugh and laugh.

This is one moment that makes me think: Where the HELL am I??

Moving beyond the baboon encounter, we bought a visa to enter Zimbabwe, one of the poorest countries in Africa and thus the world. The walk to the market was hot and uneventful. It didn’t feel like the Zimbabwe I was expecting. When we finally arrived at the market, we were overwhelmed at how huge it was. It was really unsettling and uncomfortable because people are aggressive and eager and will not leave you alone until you look at their shop. I was unprepared for it all. The only thing that made me realize where we were was when I asked one guy why he was working on Easter and he laughed and said, “We have no money, man.”

I tried to take my time, and was able to barter a couple old shirts and socks, beers, apples, little bags of chips, some pain medication, my chapstick, pens, a little bit of cash (Rand, mostly), ripped boxer shorts, for an assortment of souvenirs. It’s amazing how valuable some items were that we take for granted. These people don’t have access to a lot of things, so apples and socks were almost more valuable than money. I got some presents for my family, and I got a little baboon to commemorate the ‘attack.’ This was another whirlwind, and after losing the whole group I came with, I found one kid Owen and walked back to find a cab.

That night we relaxed and watched the sunset over the river, had a dance party, celebrated an amazing trip, though expensive, changed my life.

Day 10:
Early wake up, (as a side note, I will miss Andrew’s hilarious wake ups, dotted with fake enthusiasm and hilarious comments like ‘I just saw a leopard riding on a buffalo! Get up!) a long long day of traveling, a welcome return to Mowbray. There are little moments hear and there that will stay inside of me all my life. It was an expensive trip, but it was so worth it. It was all worth it, and though I was a tourist, I feel so lucky to have seen and experienced things that most will never have the chance to.

I will miss those African sunsets more than anything else.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I guess it was about time for me to have one of those days where you just feel weird and off..

Maybe it's the fact that I am finally getting better and forgot what that was like. Or that suddenly I feel swarmed by class selection, law school, honors projects, tons of work looming in the future, and general confusion about where I really want to be in five years.

Or maybe it's the fact that I miss my family and everyone back home. I was talking to my friend Nox today about how hard it is sometimes to be away from the people you love. I mean it helps you grow. It really does. When you are sick or lost or confused you are forced to deal with it on your own, and there is no doubt that I have leanred to do that since I've been here. But sometimes you just need to be reminded of home, and I guess that's what I needed today.

Being in Cape Town has reaffirmed for me the fact that I need to do something with my life that helps people. It's as simple and cliche as that. There is just too much poverty and misery, too much ignorance in this world to forget about it and live and work only for myself. I came here hoping that some sort of door would open up, but I think I have just realized that that same door has been open all along. And I can't ignore it or push it aside anymore. I have seen the effects of what happens when people hate and fear each other, when people are concerned only with self-interest. And I won't be a part of it.

Just one more test until Botswana, which will be a welcome break from everything. I think it will be good to be cut off for a while, because when I get back the whirlwind of stress is likely to take over. And it's about time I looked at things a little more seriously, as if they are actually approaching (which they are).

I have been feeling something lately, something that has been pulling and tugging me. Something that won't stop bothering me. Maybe it's the realization that I am actually an adult now, that nobody is going to tell me what to do and where to go from here. Maybe it's the realization that I'm going to need to let go of some things go in order to really discover what I want to do with my life (like my ceaseless preoccupation with taking advantage of everything in front of me, which, as stupid as it sounds, really compounds my feelings of stress). I don't know.

As for now, one more test. One day at a time. Then break :).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Politics and a dash of culture

It's easy, with all of the amazing things Cape Town has to offer, to forget that this is an election year in South Africa, one of the most important in recent history. It's easy to ignore the thousands of signs posted on poles and lampposts when you are focused on school work and other things. But the fact remains that the county, after April 22nd, is likely to experience significant change.

South Africa has around 14 different political parties, with only 4 actually in contention. Since 1994 elections have been dominated by the African National Congress, the party of Mandela. However, in recent years, the ANC has been plagued by corruption, cronyism, and poor policies. It still holds the majority and it is likely to stay that way, but serious opposition is starting to emerge.

On Thursday I went to a debate hosted by UCT during which four of the major parties were represented (the ANC, the Democratic Alliance, COPE [an offshoot of the ANC], and the Independent Democrats). It was incredible to see how enthusiastic the students were; the place was absolutely packed, and people cheered, booed, and were jumping in their seats to ask questions.

The actual debate was very interesting...a lot of ganging up on the ANC, accusing it of corruption, incompetence, etc. The parties all seemed to agree (despite some minor bickering here and there) about issues like poverty, HIV/AIDS, and crime. Some of the most intriguing debate was around the xenophobic violence that has erupted against immigrants from Zimbabwe and neighboring countries. Also, there has been a lot of controversy around the ruling party's recent refusal to permit entrance into South Africa for the Dalai Lama for a peace conference. There has been a ton of criticism of the ANC, and the way the ANC justified it was absolutely ridiculous. The reality of the situation is that South Africa is a staunch ally of China, nothing more, and didn't want to upset Beijing.

The debate was really, really exciting. The ANC's presidential candidate is a man named Jacob Zuma, who, according to common perception, is incompetent, inexperienced, and corrupt. He has also been accused of rape. In a parliamentary system like South Africa's, though, the way places are set on the ballot is determined by who's been around longest, not who's most qualified. In other words, since the ANC is still the dominant party, South Africa's likely next president will be a man that most people don't trust or believe in. It really is absurd when you think about it.

Yesterday me and a couple people went to a see a play at the Baxter Theater that was part of a month long theater festival. The festival apparently won an award for cultural development, so I was eager to see part of it. The play we saw was pretty bizarre.... half of it was spoken in Xhosa, and it told the story of a white man coming to a village to set up a shop. The story was a little confusing, but the singing and dancing were amazing. It's amazing to see how important singing and dancing are to cultural expression, especially among the Xhosa people.

Luckily, I'm close to feeling better, FINALLY. Only an essay and test left before Botswana and Victoria Falls!

Thursday, March 26, 2009


From the front page of the UCT website. Most staged picture of all time!

Hundreds of Cape Town high-school learners are set to become 'legal wise' as UCT students take a legal-education programme to disadvantaged communities.

Launched last year, the Legal Welfare Community Organisation (LAWCO) is furthering initiatives to educate the youth about human rights and the law.

Workshops have been hosted at Aloe Secondary School in Mitchell's Plain, at Lavender Hill High School in Steenberg, and at the Student Health and Welfare Centre Organisation (SHAWCO) Saturday school at UCT. This has given Grade 10 and 11 students from Athlone, Crossroads, Heideveld, Kensington, Khayelitsha, Manenberg, Mitchell’s Plain and Nyanga basic legal education.

Workshops have also been scheduled for schools in the SHAWCO Student Mentored All Round Tuition (SMART) education project. These will examine civil and political rights, labour law, and family law.

The LAWCO project is funded by LexisNexis and is one of SHAWCO's 12 flagship projects.

LAWCO project leader Rebecca Metz said the organisation aims to create a culture of meaningful student involvement in the community and targets all law students. They not only contribute to community development but gain practical experience while applying their knowledge.

"The LAWCO project adds to the options available to UCT law students when fulfilling their community service hours," said Metz.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Not too much to write on this week. LAWCO went really well again. It was funny because as we were leaving the school to load equipment onto the bus, a group of young kids swarmed us, giving us high fives and laughing with us. And one of them even said they liked my pointy nose!

I have loved getting to know the UCT students in the group. Everyone is really motivated and intelligent. It has also been awesome hanging out with some different people. On Monday I went to a random surprise birthday party that a girl from my glass invited me too where I was the only American for once. It was refreshing, and I met some of my leaders for the Botswana trip, which is going to be just incredible.

On Friday I went with Will and Cami to Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek, two towns along the cape which were both beautiful, except for the fact that I randomly started feeling really sick. I had a pretty bad fever and headache all weekend, which was sooooo annoying.

Today I just started feeling better. I saw advertisements hanging on poles for a Cape Town Festival in the Company's Gardens celebrating Cape Town's 'cultural diversity.' Aaron and I minibused downtown to go, and had a very bizarre day. The 'festival,'; for example, was nothing more than a few shabby food stands and a very awkward concert with people sitting on the grass in the heat. We then passed on the way out what looked like a demon man. He was really short and pale with a huge nose and enormous head. Then, on Kloof Street (which is a pretty upscale trendy street) we were sitting outside drinking smoothies when a little beggar child accosted us. He started begging for money, and when we ignored him he threatened to steal Aaron's phone. When he put it away, the kid sat down and started kicking and shaking the chairs. So we went inside as he swore at us. Later on as we were walking down the street, a teenage-ish girl asked us for money for a cab, and when we ignored her she followed us for a block swearing and threatening us. It was a little unnerving because a couple people on our program have gotten mugged recently in broad daylight.

But this is Cape Town. Always a little bizarre.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Busy Saturday

Saturday we took a group trip the the District Six Museum, a collection or artifacts commemorating District Six, an enormous area that was designated to be for whites only by the South African government. The neighborhood, which at time was a bustling community with an incredible black culture, was virtually leveled. The museum has a collection of street signs, maps, newspaper articles, pictures, and first-hand accounts. It was a powerful place and reminds you that these just weren't collections of houses that were destroyed....they were societies. We only spend twenty or so minutes inside, which as a little disappointing. I would love to go back.

We then traveled to Langa, the first black township in South Africa. It was similar to Tambo Village, just bigger. We did, however, tour one of the hostels, where families would pile into tiny rooms (sometimes 5 families to one room). I can't imagine two families living in one of them, never mind five. Our tour guide compared the place to a prison.

We also got to go inside some of the informal shacks that migrants and really poor families still live in. It was pretty tiny, of course, but we did get to taste a traditional South African beer (which tasted putrid, haha). It felt kind of weird t o be touring a township like it was a zoo or a museum. This is how people live. But at least we were led around by someone who lives there. You could really hear the pride in his voice, even though he was sometimes speaking about how terrible the living conditions are.

After Langa we took a ferry to Robben Island, where political prisoners were kept by the apartheid government. Despite an incredible view of Cape Town, the island is considered the 'hell of South Africa.' And for good reason. The place is absolutely barren, the stone buildings ash gray. The vegetation is brown and parched, and the sun beats down ceaselessly on the sand and limestone. We saw some of places where prisoners were kept, learning about the history of political struggle in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here for twenty years (his cell was 6 feet by 6 feet).

Robben Island is certainly a forlorn place and represents the horrors of political oppression. But it also symbolizes the struggle and eventual achievement of freedom. That struggle's success is the only reason we were on the island to begin with.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Considering that this was the first workshop LAWCO has ever done, it went surprisingly well. We traveled to a school in Mitchel's Plain, a township about twenty minutes from Cape Town. There were a few glitches here and there, but the students seemed really interested. The tried to answer questions, laughed at all the skits, and were really enthusiastic about the auction at the end (we put on a fake auction to discuss the importance of various human rights in South African society). My role was pretty small...I only have a couple lines in one skit. I am also responsible for leading discussion in groups when different rights are being auctioned off. Again, it was amazing to see how much students were engaged, and I really do think that they learned something. Will it change their lives? Probably not. But it's a start, of course.

I haven't been doing too much this week because I have been pretty sick (with what, I'm not sure). But I have been noticing somethings when talking to foreign students and observing things around campus. It is just amazing to see the influence that American culture and politics has here. Everywhere there are posters advertising lectures on Obama and American foreign policy. American music is played, people watch American movies and TV shows, dress in American clothes. Our culture has also invaded; despite the fact that you gain nothing legally, 21st birthdays are consist of huge themed celebrations that usually take over an entire weekend. One girl was talking about Halloween, and how she had no idea why South Africans celebrated it. She told me about a time when she was a kid she tried to go trick-or-treating at an old white man's house, and he came to the door with a shotgun thinking he was being robbed! This is all new to me. You don't realize until you travel outside the States just how much our society influences others.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Orphanage, Lion's Head

I have been adjusting more every day to life at UCT... people are generally very friendly, and I have met a lot of people from South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and more. I have found that some groups tend to take cliquey to the extreme. I was talking to a girl from Zambia the other day, and she was telling me how intimidated she was by the Afrikaner girls, who all hang out together and look EXACTLY the same. She told me that she usually only hangs out with people from Zambia, and that most people tend to stick with those that are similar to. I mean it makes sense, and it's not like it's that different in the U.S. But here I feel like the divide is a little more serious.

Yesterday I visited an orphanage about 15 minutes away with a pretty big group. One of the girl's on our program has been going every Saturday, so she let a bunch of us tag along. It is impossible to overemphasize how close these townships are to Cape Town, but yet, how easy it would be to never leave the city and assume that 3/4 of the population was middle class and white.

The building was painted green and was pretty shabby. We were led inside by a South African guy Mike who lives on our street and has been volunteering there for a couple years. There was an outdoor play area with a concrete floor, a couple buildings for sleeping, and a kitchen. We met the Mama in charge of the orphanage, one of the sweetest most genuine women you could imagine (easy to see, despite the language barrier). We learned that she started the orphanage from scratch in 1994, and that it has been taking in more and more kids from the area throughout the years. Some have no parents, some were abandoned. There was one child, for instance, who was named, simply, "Gift." It was just incredible to think how much dedication and love it must have taken to initiate such a difficult project, how much motivation and selflessness is must have required to keep it running so smoothly all these years.

The kids, like all kids, didn't waste any time taking advantage of their new group of visitors. We played with children from ages 1-12 for literally three hours, learning their songs and dances, playing games with them, carrying them around, coaching them in a giant one-legged race, hugging them. The kids were fascinated by such simple things, like American girls' hair, or my leg hair, to my friend's beard. None of us seemed to care how dirty and sweaty we were getting. The most amazing part about all of this was that they spoke barely a word of English. That's the thing...with kids, it really just doesn't matter. Kids are kids no matter where they are, no matter where and how they are growing up. Playing, hugging, dancing, are common, human desires, and it doesn't matter if you speak Xhosa or Spanish, if you live in a poor orphanage or a mansion. That, I think, is the most important function of this orphanage. It gives kids a chance to be kids, which we all need.

We spent some times talking to the older kids, who were pretty shy. They spoke a little bit of English, which was impressive, and despite their general quietness, seemed to have so many talents and passions. I had an amazing time there this weekend, and I definitely plan on going back in a couple weeks. I am not going to sit here and pretend that visiting an orphanage is some incredible service to humanity. But seeing their excitement, their joy at having new playmates (even for three hours) makes it worth it for me.

The incredible irony of my Saturday is that when I returned to my flat, I took a minibus down to Camp's Bay, one of the most beautiful areas of South Africa, to meet some people. It also happens to be the wealthiest, and thus, whitest. The contrast was really difficult to reconcile. For a while I felt guilty.... that I can go take a trip into a township and visit an orphanage in my free time, and then just like that leave and forget about it while the kids and people there still struggle to survive. That seems to be the curse of this country. That it is so easy, which it's beaches and restaurants and mountains, to forget what is really going on.

Anyways, the beach was beautiful, and we rushed through dinner in order to get to the Lion's Head trail in time to make it up for sunset. The hike wasn't too strenuous, and Aaron and I broke off toward the top to take a short cut that required you to climb up slippery rocks vertically, using chains and ladders. That is when it got a little more difficult. But it was worth it, because we made it to the top just in time to see the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. From the top, you can see Cape Town, Table Mountain, Camps Bay and the jagged peaks of the Twelve Apostles, Robben Island, Sea Point. You can see it all. As the sun sank below ocean, the whole area was a beautiful orange/purple, including the clouds that slid like waterfalls down Table Mountain. As the lights of Cape Town began to blink on, everything was covered in a deep shade of purple. It's obviously impossible to describe in words.

We hiked down in the dark with a South African church group, and somehow made it down without any incidents. My Saturday, like much of this country, was really one giant contrast. Like the top of Lion's Head, it is part of what makes this country so beautiful. But it's also what makes this country so, at times, so frustratingly perplexing.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tambo Village

This will be a pretty long update. I just got back from a home stay this weekend in Tambo Village, a township 15 minutes outside of Cape Town. That’s right. 15 minutes. The contrasts and contradictions of this country, as I have said before, are just shocking. It’s probably necessary to give a little background on why these townships exist. It’s pretty simple; part of the apartheid laws enacted by the South African government during the second half of the 20th Century relocated non-whites (separating out coloreds from blacks as well) into these gated off communities outside of the white urban areas. So when SA had its first democratic elections in 1994, these communities of course still stood. By that time, the people growing up there were stuck in a virtually inescapable cycle of poverty. The laws may have perished, but the social and economic results of them are still very real.

I went with seven other people (I was the only guy,), and we took a taxi on Saturday afternoon to Tambo, where we were staying. It was amazing to me how quickly the township just kind of appeared. Before I knew it, we were driving along a dusty, trash-filled road with rows of colorful cement houses and children carelessly running around the streets. There were people EVERYWHERE. There were also stray dogs wondering aimlessly. I could tell right away, though, that this was a town that emphasized community. And that was just the beginning of it. Just that itself was a slap in the face; it took less than 15 minutes to enter what was a completely different world. I looked back to the night before, when I was at a completely white club in District 6, or driving around listening to blaring music on the way to a 24 hour food stop. I felt really bad about myself for some reason, which I don’t completely understand.

We stuck out right away, of course, and got a lot of curious stares from the black residents of the village. Mama Knox (the mother in charge of home stays) greeted us and showed us around her house, which was lovely. We then walked outside and were virtually attacked my a group of little boys (the girls must have been helping with dinner, because they joined later). We spent an hour giving them piggy-back rides and learning their names and where they lived. It was exhausting! They kids loved playing around with our cameras, taking pictures of each other and of us. It was amazing… they were so far from shy. They would just jump on you, demanding a ride or a hug or a high five. Kids were playing games with rocks and chalk in the street. Some of them were pulling sand-filled soda bottles with strings attached to them. When I asked one of them what they were, he said, “Dogs.”

We split up into different groups to meet our host families. Me and the girl I stayed with were led to another house down the street that was just as lovely as the first. The inside was very comfortable; they had a TV and a nice kitchen and couches. Not all houses looked like this, of course, which again made me feel a little strange. Our host mother, Mama Pikey (not sure of the spelling) was a rather large, gregarious woman who embraced us right away. She didn’t speak much English, which I was fine. It really enjoyed listening to the people speak Xhosa, the first language of most of the blacks from the Western Cape. It’s a beautiful language, full of clicks and clacks, and it kind of just flows softly off the tongue.

After meeting our host family we walked to Khanyisa Community Church, which is a nondenominational place of worship and community center. We were met by a group of young twenty-somethings who were incredibly friendly and welcoming. We all sat in a circle and chatted for a while, learning their names (which are very difficult to pronounce and remember) and about the incredible role the church has in Tambo Village. We then played charades (girls vs. guys), which was hilarious because everybody WAY too into it. Then we sat in a circle and talked about our perceptions of our lives and where we thought we were heading. Everyone seemed so interested in each other, and people were just so sure of themselves, so comfortable and happy and motivated. I met a girl from England that has been living there for months who is making a documentary about the village, trying to show people how vivid and flourishing the culture and community can be in these townships.

We then walked back for dinner, which was fluffy bread with chicken and potatoes and some kind of salty gravy. Family life seems pretty hierarchical; the daughters help the mother cook, and the father sits there with the kids drinking beer and watching soccer. The food was delicious after walking around so much in the heat, and we tried to engage our host father in sports conversation—difficult because his English was limited. I watched Wicker Park on TV with Mama and her daughter. Conversation was pretty limited because of the language barrier, but I still felt welcome, and it was kind of nice to relax with them. I didn’t see my Mama again after that because she had to wake up to go to a funeral in a neighboring township. We went to bed pretty early. Or tried to. We were supposed to sleep in our Mama’s room, which looked like a normal bedroom except for the fact that is was stuffy as hell. And, and the bed board was a virtual colony of fleas, cockroaches, and ants. I probably got about three hours of sleep and woke up with some wonderful red bug bites the next day.

Our host daughter made us breakfast (some sort of bran/wheat bars with warm milk and sugar), and we went outside to hang out with one of the sons and his friends and cousins out back. The back of the house had a couple shacks with beds in them, and they were filled with 18 and 19 year olds drinking Heinekens at 8:30 in the morning. I wasn’t exactly feeling like a beer that early, but I took one anyway and chatted with them. They were all really friendly, and a lot of them were going to the funeral (the boys, according to custom, were to forced to wear long-sleeve suit coats, despite the heat).

We then walked to church. It was such an incredible experience People were streaming in from the streets, sitting in rows of orange chairs in front of a set of bongos, drums, and guitars. It was great to see such diversity in the crowd (there were whites and blacks all mixed together). The visitors were all welcomed and we all stood up and introduced ourselves to applause to the crowd. The mass was completely reliant on music, which was incredibly uplifting. The two women singing had beautiful voices, and the twenty-somethings from the night before made up the band. Everything was spoken in English and translated into Xhosa, even the lyrics, which were displayed on a big projector screen. The minister, back from a three month leave, spoke about how happy he was to be back in the community. I remember standing there while the crowd sang “Amazing Grace”, feeling like I was part of this wonderful community of people who, despite all of their problems, cared so deeply for their families and for each other. I felt like I belonged, and I just took it all in. An enormous group of children performed some songs for the mass, and I noticed that there were way too many kids there compared to parents in t he crowd. This must mean that the church is getting into the communities to make a difference in these kids’ lives, despite the parents’ apathy. It is certainly a sign of hope. After the mass I met a ton of people from the village, the States, and Europe. It was such a community event, and I could really feel the fabric that holds these people together. It was there in the air, in the songs, in the tears of the parents and the shouting of praise.

We then went to Mzolli’s, which is in a larger town called Gugaletu (my internet isn’t working well so I can’t check the spelling on both of those). This is a pretty famous restaurant where you choose your own meat for them to braii (barbeque). The place was PACKED, and we had a few drinks and snacked on warm sugar rolls while we waited for our food. It came on enormous plates, which held piles of sausages, lamb chops, and chicken wings smothered in this delicious barbeque sauce. We literally just dug in (without napkins) and stuffed ourselves. It was DELICIOUS, and I the chance to get to know more of the local residents.

The whole experience went by in a flash, and in reality it was. It is impossible to fully understand one of these communities in one weekend. They are complex, and the bonds of community run deeper than we can comprehend. I had heard that a lot of people can afford to leave Tambo Village, but choose not to. Why? It’s the community. That sense of belonging, of family, of warmth.... of life. I was there for two days and I felt it. Whatever IT is, I felt it.

I am happy I got to experience a little of the township culture before I start LAWCO. I feel better equipped to understand the life and culture kids are coming from.

Definitely one of the most memorable weekends of my life.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This weekend I went to the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town on the Waterfront. It was pretty great... turtles, sharks, giant crabs, penguins, and some of the weirdest fish I have ever seen. Lots of whale shout outs too. This weekend I'm hoping to either shark dive or do a homestay/ lunch thing in a township.

LAWCO is going to be interesting. As I said before, it's a pilot program so nobody really knows what to expect. We are going to be presenting workshops to high school kids about the South African legal system, including human rights, family law, etc. I'm skipping a lecture every week to do it, but I know it will be worth it. We start learning the curriculum on Monday.

On that topic, I went to an intro meeting for this group called the Social Justice Coalition. Everyone there was South African, and people seemed really inspired. I felt a little out of place because I don't have the knowledge or passion necessary to contribute to this group, but I did learn a lot. They talked a lot about the corruption that darkens all of South African politics, and how this election (in April) is one of the most important in SA's history. It's pretty exciting. They spoke about many of the injustices that persist in this country, the enormous social divide, the racism, the massive inequalities in education between townships and urban areas, the fact that a 'spirit of volunteerism' has been lost. It was certainly motivating, but the fact that I am here for such a short time left me feeling pretty powerless when it comes to these issues. It's nice to know, though, that there are people who care, who are demanding accountability and responsibility in government.

I am joining a social squash league that plays every Thursday. We play in teams (mine, Team America, has three Americans and a couple South Africans) and dress up in crazy outfits and drink/ play squash. It seems incredible.

I also signed up for a camping trip mid April to Botswana (where we will see a massive quantity of elephants) and to Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It's going to be amazing.

Classes are very, very different here, and I'm trying to adjust. This university is just so BIG. It really makes you appreciate Bowdoin, where you can email and meet with your teachers whenever you want, where you know everybody you walk by. It's nice though to do something different, to be anonymous for once.

Anyways, I'm off to class.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So it’s been a little while. I’ve been busy getting classes and groups settled, and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with it all. This weekend was incredibly fun. On Saturday I went to an organic market in the morning that had the most AMAZING food like organic pizza and honey an pastries and fruit and everything good in the world. The only thing I bought though was a six pack of Whale Tale Ale, which was great. I didn’t really care much about the taste, it was the whales that sold me. Later on I went to Kirstenbosch and we found a nice spot on the grass and passed out for a couple hours. That place is just gorgeous. That night Will snuck into a party and someone ran into Michael K Williams who plays Omar on the Wire. What the hell was he doing in Cape Town?

This week I have been running around for classes and interviews and whatnot. My time here is beginning to take shape. I’m taking a class called Conflict in World Politics (the teacher is really scary…she told us if we came to our office on Fridays she would throw us out the window), an African literature class (which has started out really well), a Sociology class on poverty, development and globalization, and a once a week music class that teaches us to play African instruments. There are a lot of lectures and you have to go to weekly discussion groups called tutorials, so there is actually a lot more class time than I’m used to. Classes are ENORMOUS (usually around 300 students). It is so incredibly different, which is hard to adjust to. There isn’t much discussion during lectures and it’s pretty easy to zone out.

There are a lot of service-oriented groups on campus that target the townships (which, of course, are very close by). I interviewed with a mentoring group that helps high school students figure out their options post-graduation. The girl who interviewed me was really enthusiastic about the program and really seemed eager and motivated to make a difference. I also interviewed with LAWCO (which I’m leaning toward doing), a new program that is trying to spread legal awareness and knowledge to township teens. The program seems pretty similar to the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and I’m excited to see how the two compare. I’m going to have to skip a lecture every couple of weeks, but I really don’t mind. Classes are definitely important but when I think about why I came to South Africa, it wasn’t just for classes.

All of my classes have some relation to South Africa, so I am looking forward (along with my service group) to really getting to know the area and region and learning about the people and the problems that this area faces.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

So when we first got our cars, Will and Aaron spent two hours learning how to drive stick in the parking lot of the travel agency. One of the workers was nice enough to give them some advice (and let them practice with her car while we were waiting). I honestly did not think we were going at first… standard just seems SO much harder than automatic and this is a foreign country with different traffic laws. AND they drive on the left, of course. Luckily, as soon as we left the parking lot they seemed to be getting the hang of it. And except for a few badly timed stalls in the middle of the road, they did a really good job with it.

As soon as we got on the highway the townships appeared. It really is hard to understand the amount of inequality in this country; literally five minutes outside the beautiful city of Cape Town are these sprawling, dirt poor towns. What is strange is that the areas don’t become poorer gradually. They literally just appear, right next to strip malls or on the side of the highway. They are typically fenced in and there are rows and rows of colorful but dirty and beaten down shacks. Dirt roads wind through them, and usually kids are playing in the streets. I found myself wondering what it was like to live in one of these towns. I feel like we are so closed off from that side of South Africa, and I don’t know how I feel about that yet.

Our destination for Tuesday was Hermanus, a town that has incredible land-based whale watching. We took a route called the “Whale Route” which travels through the mountains along the coast from Gordan’s Bay to Hermanus. This was easily the most stunning drive of my life. The road winds through these beautiful mountains and rock formations and it is literally right on the cliff. The sea is absolutely gorgeous…deep blue green. It is impossible to describe this drive and do it justice. Even pictures can’t really do it. You just have to see it.

When we got closer to Hermanus we drove more inland through a pretty desolate looking area. It reminded me of the badlands and except for an occasional house in the hills, it was pretty deserted. When we got into Hermanus we checked into Hermanus Backpackers, which was a really cool place. It was my first hostel so I don’t have much to compare it to, but I was impressed. The guys who worked there had dreds and were really awesome. There were some people from Norway and Australia staying there and it was fun hanging out with them that night. The place was colorfully painted and had shark and whale posters all over the walls. The hostel had a small pool, a bar, and a pool table. The town itself was nice but since whale season hasn’t started yet, there wasn’t too much going on. From June to October, the Southern Right Whale comes to Walker’s Bay (where Hermanus) to breed, so during that time the bay is literally filled with whales and you can see them right from the shore. They have this guy called the ‘whale crier’ (my dream job) who runs around and blows a horn to tell people where the best whale watching is. It was disappointing not to see any, but I did get to sit on a bench shaped like a whale’s tale.

Today when w e woke up we just kind of walked around the town. We left around noon to go to Crystal Pools (the point of the whole trip). The pools are supposed to be incredible…it’s a short 45 minute hike into the mountains and then I guess there are these natural pools with waterfalls that you can swim in. Sadly though it was really really windy despite the sun, and the lady suggested that it might be too dangerous to make the hike. Since we had time we decided to stop at a beautiful secluded beach with really white sand, but the wind was violently blowing the sand around and it hurt like hell, so we left. We drove to Stellenbosch (a huge wine town) and walked around the town a bit before getting dinner. The town is really pretty and is pretty much build around the vineyards. The architecture is Dutch and there are a lot of cool shops and restaurants.

On the way back we saw the sun setting for the fist time. It was the strangest sunset I have ever seen; the sun was blood red and looked absolutely enormous as it slid behind the mountains. There was also a huge fire so a lot of Stellenbosch was covered in thick smoke. We saw springboks, ostriches, and zebras on the way back running in a big fenced in field, which almost made the whole trip worth it. Overall it was fun, although going to Crystal Pools would have made it a lot better. Now it’s time to get ready for school to start.