Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The End's Not Near, It's Here

I guess it’s time for the final post.  As I sit here on the plane from Joberg to Frankfurt, I struggle to find the words to explain the impact that this trip has had on me, my beliefs, my priorities, and my knowledge of the world around me. So here goes nothing.

This last week has been amazing.  Trying to squeeze in all of our goodbyes and last minute bucket list items kept us busy, but our adventures were well worth it.  We spent the majority of our time appreciating the local natural beauty of Cape Town, taking advantage of the good weather on some days, and braving the poorer weather on others.  During “Katie and Alena’s Adventures” we managed to do a sunrise hike on Lion’s Head, a hike in Kalk Bay that took us up the mountain above the clouds, a beautiful bike ride to the beach, and a hike to town from our house via the Table Mountain trails.  Our group had a few awesome days in the townships where we watched the Amy Biehl students perform the traditional dances, songs, and instruments of the area, and on another day we learned some smooth dance moves and songs at a braai in Khayelitsha. 

Traditional Dance at Amy Biehl

Lion's Head Sunrise

Kalk Bay Clouds

I’ve learned so much in these past five months, the list seems absolutely endless.  I’m sure Fairfield and Marquette would love to hear that I learned the most from my education with my classes at UWC, but that would be a lie.  I have learned much more from the 19 other individuals who I shared a house with, the kids in each class that I taught at Zimasa, and the many random people I have met on our adventures along the way.

I’ve learned that the word forgiveness has so many more implications than I ever thought possible, and that the power of forgiveness can lead people to do amazing things.  I’ve recognized the strength that it must have taken for the Biehl family to forgive the men who murdered their young daughter and then to turn around and work with these men to establish a non-profit to help “weave a barrier against violence”--teaching children the importance of humanity over race, gender or religion.  After meeting Amy Biehl’s murderers, I’ve also recognized how hard it must have been for Amy’s murderers, Easy and Ntobeko, to trust the Biehl’s, who are white, after growing up under the oppressive white apartheid regime. 

I’ve seen the practice of ubuntu first hand: the random stranger who stopped to help the group of random white girls find their way to their destination in the townships, the local who followed us literally 100 yards down the road to make sure we were safe while getting a soda, the man in the combi who told me that what I was doing at Zimasa made an impact on the kids and that the whole country thanked me, and the man who invited three Americans into his one bedroom shack and shared his bed with all of us.  This is the stuff you don’t hear nearly enough about.  Sure, South Africa is known for it’s beauty and prosperity, but you often hear about the high AIDS rates, rape statistics, and domestic violence situations because this is the stuff that makes the news.  It seems like we thrive on it, and therefore it fills the headlines, preaching all the dramatic bad news first, blurring out the stories of the local heroes who do so much to help others.  The people that we’ve met: Desmond Tutu, Mary Burton, Judy Mayotte, Easy, Ntobeko and so many others have dedicated their lives to changing South Africa into a place where we can all feel comfortable, where words like white, coloured, and black mean nothing at all, where we live according to our own standards, treating others as human beings no matter how different they are from us—it is this work that needs more recognition.  The things that these people have done are mind-blowing, yet we still focus on the negatives.  How do we change this?  Why are we always struggling to see the good in a person or place, but we have no troubles seeing the negative aspects?

I’ve also learned about the power of love while in South Africa.  I felt the absence of love, arriving in a country without a single person who knew anything about me- where I come from, my experience, my struggles, my LIFE.  But I’ve also felt a huge abundance of love from those same people that I considered strangers just weeks earlier.  We had some of the craziest experiences together, whether we were cheering each other on as we jumped off the world’s highest bungee or holding each other as we cried about situations that we had no control over.  To the nineteen people who have shared the past 5 months with me in the Kimberley House, I love you all more than you can imagine.  Catherine Bruning, Molly Arendberg, Janelle Smith, Charlie Wagner, Tyler Atkinson, Vicky Mei, Sarah Bowen, Caitlin O’Brien, Lydia Gajdel, Brian Mahoney, Dan Beck, Laura Malandra, Kristen Loeser, Alena Owen, Hanna Joyce, Madeline Wadley, Melissa May, Laura Bicknell, and Bailee Lauer, you are all awesome.  This trip would not have been the same if it were not for each and every one of you.  Our theology professor Chris Ahrends showed me that I don’t need to have a concrete definition of God in my life, nor do I need to associated with a specific religion, or set of ideals to be religious.  Our body map projects, where we told our own stories through symbols and pictures allowed me to put my past, present, and future in to perspective.  Our grassroots class with Sharon Penderis taught me so many different methods of development, used to involve the community in a project to ensure sustainability in the area.  The class also paired with my service site, where my learners taught me about living simply and being happy while living in circumstances that the majority of us would consider unbearable.  It helped to put my troubles into perspective.  Today, when I found out my first flight was delayed and hour and a half, I became frustrated, but then I realized that it really doesn’t matter.  I have had the privilege of flying across the world, living in a beautiful house, and getting a world-class education while working with kids who have never had a hot shower.  And here I am getting upset about a delayed flight.  Old habits die hard I guess. 

As I leave the mountains, ocean, and colourful people of Cape Town behind, I do not regret one moment of my time here.  Every experience has been one that I have learned from and grown from and for that I am so thankful.  My time in South Africa was filled with love, laughter, and learning and as hard as it will be to readjust to my hectic American life, I will always carry Cape Town in my heart.

You and I will meet again, When we're least expecting it, One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face, I won't say goodbye my friend, for you and I will meet again” - Tom Petty

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ubuntu speaks of the very essence of being human. My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. We say, "A person is a person through other persons." – Archbishop Tutu

I LOVE long walks on the beach.  As much of a cliché as it is, walking on the beach for hours is one of my favorite things to do. Ever.  Walking while looking at the beautiful skyline of Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, and Devil’s Peak, and the rest of the city of Cape Town doesn’t hurt the situation either.  Yesterday, a few of my housemates and I went on an adventure to Bloubergstrand, the beach where they take the “postcard” pictures of Table Mountain and Cape Town. 

Alena and I

We took the MyCiti Bus to our destination, which was an adventure in itself because we had never been on the bus before, and it is a fairly new transportation system in the city.  The bus has it’s own roads and routes that no other vehicles can drive on, and it runs through the city and to some of the surrounding suburbs.  It was really clean and safe, and also allowed us to see some of the areas of the city that we hadn’t been able to see yet.  We rode on the bus for about 30 minutes before realizing we were on the wrong route, at which point we improvised and got off the bus when we were close to a beach, not knowing if it was anywhere near where we wanted to go.  As we walked over the dunes we were greeted by a stunning view of the mountains and miles and miles of beautiful sandy beach.  We walked along the beach taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and enjoying the beautiful sunny weather, a rare occasion in the rainy season. 

We walked for about an hour and a half until we decided it was getting late and we better start trying to find our way back home.  We decided to go up a random path over the dunes and ended up right smack in the middle of what I like to call Pleasantville, South Africa.  Walking through the rows and rows of perfectly manicured lawns and three car garages, I completely forgot I was even in Africa.  The absence of razor wire and bars on the windows was so foreign to me, and the wealth we were surrounded by was so strange and made me feel uncomfortable.  How could these people be living in these giant houses with multiple cars when a few miles away there were starving kids, struggling to survive in an overcrowded shack the size of one of the bathrooms in these houses?  The inequality present in this country is like nothing I have ever seen before, and I am still struggling to comprehend it after months of living here.  I’m sure that this is not something that I would get used to even after years of living here. 

It’s often really hard for me to digest the raging inequality and injustices present in this place.  I have trouble walking through these neighborhoods one day, and then comparing them when I am in the townships the next day.  It makes me so frustrated, upset, and angry, but then I remember that the people in the townships are often happy with what they have.  They don’t need multi-million dollar beachfront houses, four plasma screen televisions and a laptop for each member of their family to be happy.  They are happy with their tin roof shacks, extended family ties, and close-knit communities.  They value their relationships with people and God instead of cars and electronics.  There are just so many lessons that I have learned from the people that I have met here.  My housemates, my students, and the various random people I have met have helped me to realize that South Africa has come a long way from its apartheid past, but still has an equally long way to go. 

This story, given to my housemate Laura, by a man at her service site, exemplifies the good natured will of South Africa, and really encompasses the spirit of “ubuntu.”

My South Africa by Jonathan Jansen

My South Africa is the working-class man who called from the airport to return my wallet without a cent missing. It is the white woman who put all three of her domestic worker’s children through the same school that her own child attended. It is the politician in one of our rural provinces, Mpumalanga, who returned his salary to the government as a statement that standing with the poor had to be more than just a few words. It is the teacher who worked after school hours every day during the public sector strike to ensure her children did not miss out on learning.

My South Africa is the first-year university student in Bloemfontein who tool all the gifts she received for her birthday and donated them- with the permission of the givers- to a home for children in an Aids village. It is the people hurt by racist acts who find it in their hearts to a publicly forgive the perpetrators. It is the group of farmers in Paarl who started a top school for the children of farm workers to ensure they got the best education possible while their parents toiled in the vineyards. It is the farmer’s wife in Viljoenskroon who created an education and training centre for the wives of farm labourers so that they could gain the advanced skills required to operate accredited early-learning centres for their own and other children.

My South Africa is that little white boy at a decent school in the Eastern Cape who decided to teach the black boys in the community to play cricket, and to fit them all out with the togs required to play the gentleman’s game. It is the two black street children in Durban, caught on camera, who put their spare change in the condensed milk tin of a white beggar. It is the Johannesburg pastor who opened up his church as a place of shelter for illegal immigrants. It is the Afrikaner woman from Boksburg who nailed the white guy who shot and killed one of South Africa’s greatest freedom fighters outside his home.

My South Africa is the man who went to prison for 27 years and came out embracing his captors, thereby releasing them from their impending misery, it is the activist priest who dived into a crowd of angry people to rescue a woman from a sure necklacing. It is the former police chief who fell to his knees to wash the feet of Mamelodi women whose sons disappeared on his watch; it is the woman who forgave him in his act of contrition.  It is the Cape Town university psychologist who interviewed the “Prime Evil” in Pretoria Centre and came away with emotional attachment, even empathy, for the human being who did such terrible things under apartheid.

My South Africa is the quiet, dignified, determined township mother from Langa who straightened her back during the years of oppression and decided that her struggle was to raise decent children, insist that they learn, and ensure that they not succumb to bitterness or defeat in the face of overwhelming odds. It is the two young girls who walked 20kms to school everyday, even through their matric years, and passed well enough to be accepted into university studies. It is the student who takes on three jobs, during the evenings and weekends, to find ways of paying for his university studies.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mountains are created to be conquered; adversities are designed to be defeated; problems are sent to be solved. It is better to master one mountain than a thousand foothills. –William Arthur Ward

More Devil's Peak Photos 

I now have one final and two projects to complete before I am officially finished with my junior year of college.  Where did the time go?  This semester has literally flown by, I’ve done a lot more flying this semester than I have ever done in my life: I flew 8 hours to Frankfurt and 11.5 hours to Cape Town, and then I flew through the air as I jumped off cliffs into waterfalls, jumped off the world’s highest bungee bridge, jumped off more cliffs into the Indian Ocean, and soared through the air when I ran off Lion’s Head paragliding.  This semester has been insane, and though I’m only here for three more weeks, I’m trying not to give it a premature ending.  I hope to keep doing crazy things until the day I get back on the plane to fly back to New York.

Last weekend was a fairly calm weekend, we just stayed in the neighborhood and didn’t do any activities that were too crazy.  On Friday, a group of us hiked Devil’s Peak, a mountain that is part of the Table Mountain range, and the closest mountain to Obz.  Devil’s Peak is the mountain whose tip I can see from my bedroom window, but up until last weekend, we had yet to climb.  After hearing that our Friday Marquette classes were cancelled, we geared up and walked from our house to the Rhode’s Memorial, the starting point of the hike.  The memorial was created for Cecil Rhodes, an important South African politician.

Rhodes Memorial

Panorama From The Rhodes Memorial

After checking out the awesome view from the memorial, we headed uphill.  We didn’t really know the way, nor did we have a map, so we made a few wrong turns and found our fair share of dead ends before we finally got on the right path.  It was definitely one of the toughest hikes I have ever been on, but the views were spectacular.  The higher we got, the more of the city we could see, while keeping our house in view the whole time.  The view was much different than the one from Table Mountain and Lion’s Head because it allowed us to see the suburbs and other areas that were on the other side of Devil’s Peak, usually blocked by it when atop the other mountains.  As we got higher, we could see both sides of the Cape Peninsula, and we had views of both False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.   

Checking Out The View

Just when we thought we were reaching the top, we realized that we were actually seeing a false face, the real top of the mountain was much higher, and behind the place we had reached.  We continued upward, finally reaching the top after about 3 hours of uphill hiking, but the views were incredible.  It was a beautifully clear day and we had perfect views of the entire city.  After a quick rest, we began the hike down, we were exhausted but it was a much easier trip down, and though we took a different way back, we made it home safely with no wrong turns.  The day turned out to be much more exciting than a regular day of Friday classes!

View From The Top 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sharks and Townships (and everything in between)

Link to Facebook Pictures:

Shark Cage Diving

Caves and Nyanga Weekend

Classes are over!  I still haven't really wrapped my head around the idea that this means that my time here is also beginning to wind down.  The last few weeks of classes here are exactly the same as they are at home: hectic days packed with tests, papers, and classes.  But here you have to add the service factor too- more on that later.

Since I am now officially three weeks behind in my blog, I'm going to spare you all and give you the abridged version of everything that has been going on around here.

Weekend of 4/29
On Saturday we took the train to Kalk Bay and went on a hike to explore the Silvermine caves.  However, we did not have a map, or many flashlights (torches as they call them here) between the group of us so finding the caves was a tough task, and exploring them was even more difficult.  We did, however, manage to find two really cool caves and spent some time hiking around the mountains trying to find more.  At one point, we were so high up that we could see both sides of the Cape peninsula, which was pretty awesome.  

Group of us in the Caves

After returning from our hike, a few of us went to Simons Town to spend the night at a backpacker, which ending up being a mellow evening away from home.  Turns out Simon's Town isn't much of a party place, just more of a day time tourist destination.  The next day we rode bikes along the coast for a few hours, exploring the area.  We saw a HUGE pod of dolphins chasing a school of fish, which was a really cool sight.  We returned to Obs exhausted after hours of biking up and down the beautiful coast.

Morning View from the Backpacker

The next day, we hopped on a bus that brought us to Gansbaai, home of Dyer Island, known for the thousands of seals that inhabit it, and more well-known for the great white sharks that come to feed on them.  We were handed our wetsuits and told that we could start getting in the cage as soon as the sharks started smelling the sardine chum, and began to come near.  I was one of the first of the group of 25 people on the boat to get my wetsuit on, so into the cage we went.  We were only in the cage for a few minutes when the guide told us to go under, to see the first shark.  I plunged my head into the cold water and saw a glimpse of the shark as it swam away.  This shark was the first of many that we were to see that day, and at the end we saw seven in total, varying in size from 2 to 3.5 meters.  We all took turns in the cage, and when we weren't in the cage, we could watch the sharks surface from the boat.  It was so amazing to watch these powerful creatures swimming toward the bait, and sometimes swimming away with a little snack.  One of the times that I was in the cage, the shark went for the bait and missed, turning toward the cage, almost grazing it with his razor sharp teeth, and causing me to pull my hands back, even though I knew they were safe in the cage.  After about 4 hours of non-stop shark viewing, it was time to head in because we were officially out of bait.  The boats are regulated as to how much they can bring out, and our guide was telling us beforehand that if we ran out of bait, it was a good day.  And we did just that.  It was definitely an adventure to say the least! 

Me, Charlie and Alena in the Cage

Great White!


(Rugby) Weekend of 5/6

On Friday night we went to UWC to watch our housemates perform.  We first went to the rugby game to cheer on Tyler, who plays for UWC.  After his game was over, we headed to the performing arts center to listen to the UWC choir, which Madeline, Brian, and Janelle all sing in.  It was really cool to see them all doing something they felt passionate about.  After the concert a few of us went back to the stadium to watch the rest of the varsity rugby game.  

On Saturday we had another rugby filled day, first we went to UCT to support our housemate Charlie who plays for the team there.  The crowd was almost entirely white, a stark comparison to the composition of the game the previous evening.  After Charlie's game, we all headed to Newlands stadium to watch the Cape Town Stormers play the Crusaders (a New Zealand team).  It was a super exciting game, but in the end, the Crusaders won, tough loss.  After that, our friend Simo picked us up and we went to Nyanga with him to spend the night in the township.  It was really different to be in the townships at night, because we are usually only there in the daytime for service.  Simo brought us to his aunt’s house and we were exposed to Southern (Africa) hospitality at its finest.  As we hung around the house with his extended family, his aunt made us delicious food and treated us like family.  The kids just wanted to play with our hair and take pictures, and it was nice to feel so comfortable with a huge family that we had just met.  Later, Simo took us out to a club, and it was definitely a different experience than we have had so far in Cape Town.  After hours of dancing we returned to his house and got some sleep. 

Stormers Game

The next day we woke up and walked over to his aunt’s house.  I was amazed at how different Nyanga looks when walking through it, rather than driving.  I saw and heard so much more than I previously had.  We later got into the car and drove to Gugulethu to go to a big open air meat market.  Simo ordered us some food and when it came he told us that it was cow heart. YUM. It was definitely an experience to say the least.  I was struggling to swallow it, but it’s really rude to refuse food here, so Melissa, Brian and I did our best to eat some and look convincing that we liked it.  While we were eating, an ANC rally was going by because today is actually voting day for municipal elections in Cape Town.  Melissa asked Simo if he could get us some of the free shirts that they were giving out and he asked and the woman gave him three shirts.  We donned our ANC shirts and proceeded to take about 50 pictures with random people who wanted pictures with the white Americans in ANC shirts.  We became instant celebrities, it was pretty hilarious actually. 

Brian and me with Simo's Family

ANC Rally

In other news, my service site has been pretty crazy lately.  Mrs. Ludidi has not shown up for three weeks now, and the school does not have a substitute teacher system.  So basically, on the days that I’m not there the kids just sit in the room by themselves for 2 or 3 periods a day.  Yesterday, they were so excited to have someone to teach them that they wanted me to continue teaching through their lunch period, while they were eating.  This whole process is definitely a struggle for me because I can’t help but compare it to the way things are in America, and this would never happen there.  It is so frustrating to know that these kids are just sitting there when I’m not around.  There is also a lack of preparation required for these teachers, so I was left with 4 grade 6 classes and no lesson plans.  I decided to do a section on poetry and that seems to be going really well.  We are practicing rhyme schemes and writing our own “I am” poems, which is allowing me to learn more about these awesome kids and where they come from.  Our research paper on our service site is actually due tomorrow, so the poems are definitely helping with that. 

That’s all for now!  I should probably get going on this paper.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

“The Most Important Things in Life Aren’t Things”

Link to Photos on Facebook

I just had what may be the most unconventional Easter break I will ever have in my life.  Last Thursday at 5 am, a group of my housemates and I were climbing on to a huge bus with 20 (ish) other American students from Stanford and Northwestern Universities to drive north to the Orange River.  The river is the border between South Africa and Namibia and we spent the majority of our 5-day trip on the river- in two countries at once, or not in any country, if you think about it. 

We spent the whole first day driving through northern South Africa, which is pretty barren except for a few tiny towns scattered around, and finally crossed the border into Namibia later than afternoon.  
Border Crossing

We reached our base camp, Amanzi (meaning water) River Camp about 45 minutes later and set up camp for our first night sleeping outside, under the stars, with nothing but a sleeping bag, thin mat and a teeny fleece blanket.  I spent the night shivering because I definitely did not dress correctly for the night-time temperatures, but the night of poor sleep was overshadowed by the beautiful colors in the sky as I woke up with the sun the following morning.  

View from Base Camp

We then packed our lives for the next few days into dry bags, checked to make sure our rafts were inflated properly, had a tutorial on the rules of the river from our landlord/ river guide, David, and we were off.  After about 30 minutes on the river, David told us it was mandatory swim time and we all jumped out of our boats and floated down the river next to them at a pretty speedy pace, it was incredible.  
Alena and I in our "Croc" named Bertha

Floating Down the Orange River

We spent the day in and out of our boats, alternating between swimming and rafting and eventually made landfall at our temporary home for the night: a big stretch of sandy beach on the South Africa side of the river.  We had a huge dinner cooked over the fire and then laid down to look for shooting stars in the crystal clear sky, unaffected by light pollution. 

1st Campsite on the River

The next day was much of the same, rafting and swimming with spectacular views all around us.  We stopped on the Namibia side for a desert hike to an old fluorspar mine, which has since been decommissioned.  David told us to collect some of the crystals, and later that night, when the fire had died down he put some on the hot embers and they began to pop and spark with brilliant green and blue colors.  We spent another night under the stars, and at one point I woke up in the middle of the night and thought someone was looking at me with a headlamp because the moon was so bright.   

Fluorite Crystals

 On Sunday we woke up for our last full day on the river.  After an hour or so of being awake I realized that it was Easter and I was shocked that I had not realized it earlier, but that was probably because there were no Easter baskets or decorations hanging around our camp that morning.  We packed up our stuff and paddled for an hour or so before pulling over for a hike on the South Africa side.  David had told us that it was going to be strenuous, and he wasn’t lying.  We hiked/climbed up this mountain with loose gravel and slippery smooth rocks underfoot for the better part of two hours.  When we reached the top, we saw the halfmens plants that we had come for.  These plants are very slow growing desert plants, only growing at 1 cm every 100 years, which were now taller than me, showing that these guys had been around for quite some time.  We headed down, which required much more concentration than going up because both gravity and momentum wanted to send us flying down the steep rocky slopes, but we all made it down and got into our boats for our final paddle of the trip.  We got to our haul-out site and unloaded the boats, then got into a big bus than brought us back to base camp where we had our Easter dinner.  We each got our own steak and potatoes, grilled over the fire by our wonderful guides and we all sat together as one of our housemates said Grace, bringing some amount of Easter ritual back into the day.  Instead of sitting with my Montauk family around the dining room table looking over Fort Pond, I was sitting with my Kimberley House family around a picnic table, looking over the Orange River and I was perfectly okay with that. 

Sandy Sleeping Situations

Our K-house Family with an Old Tree

I learned so much on this short extended weekend trip.  The main thing was that I am perfectly happy with a small dry bag carrying everything I need, and that none of the things I need in life require electricity.  The guides were telling us that they often called the fire the “bushman’s television” because it is a major source of entertainment for people in the bush, but during the weekend I began to think of the sky and the stars as the television.  Every night after eating dinner we would all go lay down and look at the sky and I was just mesmerized by the clarity of the sky and the thousands of stars we could see.  Waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the progress of the Southern Cross as it moved across the sky reminded me how far away I was from home, yet for some reason I felt as comfortable as if I were camping in my own backyard.  In a way I guess I just feel at home in nature, traveling through new areas surrounded by beautiful sights and even more beautiful people.  To quote from the book Into The Wild: The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” 

After this trip, I couldn’t agree more

Monday, April 18, 2011

Compassion can be put into practice if one recognizes the fact that every human being is a member of humanity and the human family regardless of differences in religion, culture, color and creed. Deep down there is no difference. -Dalai Lama

This weekend was all about discovering the little parts and communities of Cape Town that we haven’t had time to visit because of all our crazy adventures and trips.  It was a weekend of discovering the cultures that we haven't experienced and learning more about them.  This weekend was also a nice temporary break for the piggy bank to recover.  After our two classes on Friday, we went into Cape Town to check out the Book Lounge- a fancy, 2-story bookstore that had tons of books on the history and culture of South Africa and Cape Town.  I resisted buying quite a few because I know for a fact that I am already out of room in my suitcases.  After that we went to Camp’s Bay for a sundowner and returned home later to get ready for a night out in Claremont with our housemates.

On Saturday we walked to the Old Biscuit Mill Farmer’s Market and got a delicious brunch meal that would fuel our walk into Cape Town.  The walk took about an hour and we made stops at all the quirky shops that we had been wanting to stop into but have never had the chance.  Once we got into the city we visited the Castle of Good Hope-a huge castle right in downtown Cape Town that was built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company.  We hopped on a tour and walked to a few of the dungeons, one of them being a torture chamber that was used to punish slaves and workers who misbehaved or were caught stealing.  After our tour we were allowed to walk around the castle and we walked up to the roof, getting a cool view of the building and the rest of the city.  We visited the castle’s three museums, one of which has a table built to seat 100.  It was HUGE and we decided we just need to find 80 other people and we can rent out the room and have a fancy dinner party (or a huge game of 50 on 50 flip cup!)

Me, Dan and Alena at the Castle of Good Hope

Inside the castle with Table Mountain in the background

View of the courtyard from the roof

After the castle we visited Bo-Kaap, the area of Cape Town known for its vibrant, colourful houses and cobblestone streets.  It was a predominantly Muslim area during apartheid, but has gained popularity in recent years because its beauty attracts people from various races and backgrounds.  We visited the Bo-Kaap museum, which was so small and unimposing that we were standing across the street from it and still couldn’t find it, but eventually realized it was right in front of us.  As we were leaving the museum we heard the Islamic call to prayer ringing throughout the neighbourhood, and for a moment I was seriously confused where I was.  I felt like I had been pulled out of Cape Town and transported to a completely different continent, it was incredible.  The many cultures and colors of the people who make up Cape Town are truly remarkable.

House in Bo-Kaap

Cobblestone Roads in Bo-Kaap

I was again reminded of the diversity of Cape Town on Sunday when the majority of our house piled into kombi minibuses to go into the townships to go to the critically acclaimed Mzoli’s Meat.  We had all been told that we MUST visit Mzoli’s while we were in Cape Town and finally got around to going.  We drove through Gugulethu, past the tin shacks and run-down storefronts to a bustling area of the township with tons of white people milling around.  Seeing groups of white people in a township is a strange experience in and of itself because I have been in the townships twice a week for the past few months and I can count on my two hands the white people I’ve seen during my time there.  We knew Mzoli’s was a popular spot and didn’t know if it was going to be worth the hype but we figured we had to find out.  We piled into the butchery and each picked out our raw meat (kind of gross) and paid for it.  Then we brought it into the “kitchen” in the back.  The kitchen is a huge room with 8 wood burning grills that is smoky and smells like you have just stepped into a bonfire.  We dropped off the meat and they told us to come back for it in about 45 minutes, so we left and got a table and spent some time socializing and browsing the products that the local vendors had come to sell to the tourists who flooded the area every Sunday.  When it was finally time to get our food we picked it up and set about eating it with no forks, knives, or napkins and it was delicious.  Probably some of the best lamb and chicken I’ve ever had in my life- it was totally worth the wait.  After we ate we hung around for a bit and then went to another bar in a different township with some friends of our housemates before taking a kombi back to the house.  I had a ton of really great talks with people my age, little kids around six, and their grandparents and learned a lot about their lives and stories.  It was awesome to get out and interact with people off all ages and backgrounds in the townships while also enjoying some amazing food.  Needless to say, Mzoli’s exceeded all of the high expectations I had- it was another amazing experience of Cape Town culture at its best.

Part of our Mzoli's Group

Big Container of Raw Meat... (thanks Kristen for the picture)

Heading to Namibia on Thursday morning for a 5-day rafting trip down the Orange River during break.  More adventures to follow! Happy Easter!

Monday, April 11, 2011

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water”

So I guess that this is the point where I begin to fall behind on my blog… It was bound to happen at some point.  These past two weeks have been pretty busy and eventful.  My mom and Steve came to visit for a week and we did a ton of stuff in a short period of time- I think they saw the majority of the city and the main sights though.  We went up Table Mountain in the cable car one day, and the next day it was raining (one of the only times it has rained since we’ve been here) so we went to the aquarium and walked around there.  When we left the aquarium we saw a bunch of wild seals just sunning themselves on the dock outside, which was definitely cool.

Seals on the dock outside the aquarium

Then we went on a wine tour to Stellenbosch (my 3rd wine tour- I’m getting pretty good at drinking wine).  The next day we toured the Cape Peninsula, stopping at Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town- to see the penguins.  Then we went to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope (the south-western point in Africa).  We stopped at Hout Bay for dinner on the way home, and then stopped in Camps Bay to watch the sunset over the water.  On Sunday we went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for the last concert of the summer concert series.  The performer was aKing, a rock band that was not really our kind of music so we left after a few songs and came back to the house and had family dinner with everyone in the house.  My mom and Steve had made meatballs and sauce earlier that day and it was so delicious- I missed my mom’s cooking so much!  After dinner they left to go back to their hotel and get ready for their 3-day safari in Kruger.  It was so good to see them and also really great to go out to delicious dinners every night instead of cooking!

On the Beach at Muizenberg

At the Cape of Good Hope

This past weekend was also incredible.  On Friday we had a guest speaker in our Theology class named Mary Burton.  Mary was a commissioner for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee, founded by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to address the atrocities committed during apartheid.  The mission of the TRC was to provide a venue for both perpetrators and victims of crimes to come forward and admit their wrongdoings in an attempt to establish peace.  Mary told us all about her life: she had grown up in Argentina, married a South African man and moved here with him.  She explained that she began doing charity work and then heard about a group called the Black Sash, a group of middle class white women who were fighting for the abolition of apartheid.  Her involvement with the group led to her arrest and made her the subject of police brutality, but she continued her advocacy, hoping to bring about change.  She told us that despite the fact that her husband’s business lost many contacts and clients because of her involvement with the group, he still supported her one hundred percent. 

At the end of apartheid, South Africa was fighting to patch together its citizens and address the issues that faced the country.  Archbishop Tutu recommended the foundation of the TRC, and Mary Burton was nominated by the Black Sash as a commissioner.  She was chosen to be a part of the 17-member committee over 300 other applicants.  She told us about some of the stories she had heard from both victims and perpetrators alike, and listening to her retell these stories and how they affected her was so amazing.

On Saturday the majority of my house piled into the van for the two and a half hour journey to the END.  This was not a trip to the end of Long Island, however.  This end was the end of the continent of Africa!  We drove to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa and the meeting place of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.  It was pretty cool to be standing in two oceans at once.  After taking some pictures we got some lunch and headed to the beach.  While we were walking down the beach we saw a HUGE jellyfish that had washed up on the beach- it must have been almost two feet in diameter and eight or so inches high.  As we continued walking we saw many more huge jellyfish all over the place, and we even saw a few while we were swimming in the Indian Ocean, but no one got stung thank god!  It was funny to me that Cape Town is only a few hours away and there is completely different marine life in the two oceans…magic- hence the quote today- I wrote it down when I saw it at the aquarium with my mom and Steve.

The Southernmost Point in Africa!

Sunday morning we woke up and called the paragliding guy to see if the conditions were okay to fly.  We had already had a reservation to go a few weeks ago and it was cancelled because of the wind, so I was really nervous to call the guy but when I called him he told me it was a perfect day to fly and my friend Alena and I met him at the bottom of Lion’s Head at 12:30 for the hike up the mountain.  We hiked up the mountain in the 85 degree weather and when we finally reached the launching point I was ready for a nap, but we had run off the mountain instead.  Alena went first and I followed, strapped to my instructor, who was in charge of flying.  It was a really amazing experience, we just kind of ran down the side of the mountain and then I realized that there wasn’t any ground underneath me and we were flying!  We flew for about 15 minutes before doing some corkscrew tricks in the air and landing on a big field right next to the ocean.  It was so cool.  After we were done, they drove us to the beach and we spent the rest of the day at the beach with our housemates- yet another fantastic weekend in the life of Katie B.

Ready for Take Off!

Flying Over Camps Bay