Sunday, February 27, 2011

“It is better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die” -Steve Biko

Brace yourselves people.  It has been a crazy week and a half.  Last weekend the whole house hiked Lion’s Head in Table Mountain National Park.  We ended up making it to the top of the mountain just as the sun was settling over the ocean, a view that made me think of Montauk.  It was such a different feeling, however, because I was watching it happen from the top of a mountain, and while it was going down, the full moon was rising over the city in the opposite sky.  It was spectacular.  Stunning views all around.  The unfortunate part of watching the sunset from the top of the mountain is going down.  In the dark.  With one flashlight between 4 people.  Everyone was taking their time going down though, and we ended up meeting some American students doing the Semester at Sea program.  One of them was from New Canaan and we had a friend in common… small world.

Saturday, we did our Old Biscuit Mill morning trip and then went to Camp’s Bay to spend the day at the beach.  Camps Bay is so similar to the Hamptons, and after being away from it for a little, it felt weird to be back among so much wealth, while knowing that there’s families living in poverty a 10 minute drive away.  The wealth disparity among South Africans is second in the world only to Brazil.  It is also, ironically, one of the happiest countries in the world.  Just another reminder that money can’t buy happiness, but living in one of the most amazingly beautiful places in the world can.  I was reminded of this beauty on Sunday when a group of us hiked the famous Table Mountain.  We woke up early and hit the trails and hiked up for what seemed like an eternity.  We then walked across the whole mountain, passing a few reservoirs and other hikers.  We also had lunch on a cliff, which was probably the best view I’ve ever had while eating a PB&J.  So cool.  We then decided to hike down through the gorge, which seemed like a good idea at the time…. It was exhausting.  Perhaps more exhausting than going up.  It was so steep, even with the switchbacks, but we all made it down safely, despite our sore legs over the next few days.

This eventful weekend was followed by a eventful week.  On Tuesday I had my first rugby practice with UWC.  The team was really nice, but they were kind of a mess.  They just started their season and have a lot of new girls who have never played, so it was a bit unorganized, but it felt awesome to play again.  I missed it so much.  In other news, my time at Zimasa is still a little crazy.  I still don’t really know what I’m  doing there, but the kids are getting to know me, and they’re really starting to open up which is awesome.  I walked into the classroom the other day and they started clapping.  I loved it.  They also have begun to teach me Xhosa when we have spare time, I now know a ton of useless words such as stomach, door, snake, and milk.  I told them to teach me whatever words they wanted, and that’s what I got.  Maybe they’ll be useful soon…

On Fridays we have our two Marquette classes that are just with the 20 of us.  We did presentations in our grassroots class, which were pretty great; mine was on the environmental features of UWC…obviously.  Chris cancelled our theology class this week and instead sent us to Kalk Bay to talk to people about their experiences with apartheid.  We all got in the van and headed out.  As we pulled up in town I knew I was going to like it.  It is a small fishing town, with big rusty boats sitting on the water and a bunch of boutiquesand restaurants in the area.  It reminded me so much of Montauk, until I turned away from the water and saw the huge mountains behind me.  We started our interviews at an old bar called the Brass Bell, which reminded me of The Dock.  We figured it would be a good place to ask an old salty fisherman about his experiences, but we ended up talking to a white waitress who didn’t seem to want to talk about apartheid much.  On our way to the fishing docks we passed a guy walking with a snoek wrapped in paper and talked to him about his experiences.  It was cool hearing stories from people who lived through it.  While at the docks we also got up close and personal with some wild Cape Fur seals that were playing in the water by the fish stands begging for food like little dogs.  The woman selling fish told us sometimes they jump up on the dock and steal their fish-like seagulls at Gosman’s I guess, but 300-400 pound seagulls. Yikes.  The reason Chris sent us to Kalk Bay was because it is also historically important.  It was one of the only areas in the country that did not have apartheid.  Everyone just continued to live without it, loving their neighbours.  Fascinating.  Another reason why it’s possibly one of my favourite places ever.  I’m moving there.  Especially because the town’s initials are KB.  It’s destiny. 


 Sunset from Lion's Head
Moonrise from Lion's Head

 Camps Bay
Cape Town

Reservoir on Table Mountain

Mountain Flowers

Best Lunch View Ever.

Eating Lunch Over Camps Bay


Alena and I at the end of the hike.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“Listen exquisitely and embrace the people of the world” –Judy Mayotte

Author. Nun. Emmy award recipient. Professor. Amputee. Presidential Adviser.
Quite a resume, however, Judy Mayotte had the biggest impact on my life when she moved to Cape Town to found the Marquette University South Africa Service Learning Program.

The past weekend, our group of 20 students had the opportunity to visit Judy’s house in Cape Town for lunch.  Needless to say, we all went in thinking we would get a free meal and we would meet the woman who founded our program, but we were all shocked at what we learned.  Judy is an amazingly accomplished woman, who has been everywhere and done everything in her life.  Her credentials range from television producer of the series “Portrait of America” to Clinton’s Special Adviser on refugee issues.  She is actually moving back to America next month to work on the Obama campaign.  So cool.  Google her.  She's amazing.  Despite all this, she is extremely down to earth, and during our time at her house on Sunday, I learned much about her life, but it seemed to me that she was more interested in how we were adjusting to Cape Town and our service sites. 

My time at my service site has been interesting to say the least.  After being left in the office by myself the whole first day, I didn’t have very high expectations going in to the second day.  Day 2 was completely different than the first day.  Upon entering Zimasa, a teacher came up to me and told me that I would be working with her teaching English and Biology to grade 6.  I followed her to the classroom, where she began teaching the students nouns, verbs, and prepositions.  She then gave them an in-class assignment to complete and then she left, telling me she would be right back.  She didn’t come back for an hour, so after the kids finished their work, I just let them chat among themselves.  The language barrier makes it tough, because although I know that they know some English, I’m not sure how much they understand.  When the teacher came back, she looked at their assignments and then left again, explaining that she had a doctor appointment to go to, and telling me that they had worked on nutrition lately. 

So here I am, a strange American in a classroom with 44 South African children who are just staring at me, probably just as confused about the situation as I am.  I started teaching them about the food pyramid (good thing I paid attention in health in high school), and then I let a few of them read aloud to the class out of their English textbook, which they were really good at.  Next, they all just stood up and starting singing and praying in isiXhosa.  When they were finished, they all just walked out of the classroom.  I followed them and asked a teacher outside what was going on.  He replied that it was snack time.  Guess I missed that memo.  When they returned, I had run out of ideas, and still had an hour before Pearnel came to pick me up,so I had each of them say their name, age, favorite sport, and favorite animal, which took up a healthy hour and a half.  When I told the teacher next door that I was leaving he told me that they could just stay in the classroom unsupervised, so I said goodbye to them and they began following me out of the classroom when I left.  I had a panic attack because I thought they were trying to leave- but no, they just wanted to hug me goodbye.  All 44 of them.  It was awesome.     

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

“Excuse me principal- why is there a white girl waiting here for you?”

Today was my first day of service at Zimasa Community School.  Needless to say it was an interesting experience.  I entered the school and the principal wasn’t there yet, so the secretary told me to wait for him outside his office until he got there.  When he arrived she asked him why there was a white girl waiting for him.  It was a strange conversation to listen to, but he eventually came out to talk to me and told me that I would be working with the deputy principal at the school, Fazile, and that I should sit there and wait for him.  Fazile came and introduced himself after another 20 minutes of sitting and awkward stares from children, and he told me I could either go with him to the “playhouse”, or wait until he was done there and then we could talk.  Naturally I wanted to go to the “playhouse” –I thought it sounded like fun.  So we walked outside, where the whole school of 1,300+ students and teachers were congregated, and they started the “prayers”… not “playhouse.”  Accents are tough.  I was confused.  I was also standing in front of the giant sea of students, the only white person, and all 2,600+ eyes seemed to be wondering what the heck the white girl was doing there.  I began wondering the same thing myself at times.  Anyway, once the prayers and singing were finished the students went to class and Fazile and I went to his office to talk about my time there.  We were chatting for a few minutes and he told me he was going to place me with a teacher who teaches English and Natural Sciences- perfect match.  He then explain that the students were all writing exams so today was a hectic day for everyone and then asked me if I wanted some tea, and went to get it for me… and didn’t come back. His secretary brought it in an hour later.  Then another hour passed and the teacher came in and introduced herself and we spoke about teaching etc.  Then she said she had to go administer a test.  He came back a half hour later and dismissed me, saying there wasn’t really anything for me to do because of the testing, but that he would see me on Thursday.  That was the end of my first service day and I sat in the office alone for the majority of my 4 hours there.  It can only get better.  My patience is improving exponentially, I just keep reminding myself: TIA, This Is Africa.

In other news, we had our first braai (barbeque) at the Kimberley House on Friday.  We each made a different “American” dish, and then one of our housemates grilled.  We had invited all our neighbors, in an attempted block party- but none of them showed up! Our landlords and program directors and their families came, and a few random friends that people had met came, and we all had a blast.  Good food, good teamwork, and good company.  A pro of living with 20 people is that you don’t really need anyone else to come over to make a party happen.

Three of my housemates and I also went to Stellenbosch this past weekend for a wine tour, and to explore the city.  We took the train there Saturday morning and checked into our hostel, appropriately named “The Stumble Inn.”  From there we jumped on the wine tour bus, where we traveled to four different vineyards around Stellenbosch.  The first was called Simonsig and it was the first vineyard in South Africa to make champagne.  We also got a tour of the wine cellar where we learned the logistics of wine making, then we tasted the champagne and various other wines.  Next, we got back in the van and went to Fairview, where we did a wine and cheese tasting, both of which were excellent.  We stopped for lunch in the little town of Franschoek, and then went to the most beautiful vineyard I’ve ever been to.  It’s called Dieu Donne- which literally means “A gift from God” and it certainly was.  Situated in the valley between the mountains, the views were spectacular 360 degrees around.  The final place was called Boschendal-  which was nice and had great wines, but the views were not nearly as nice as Dieu Donne. 

After the wine tour, we went back to the hostel and cleaned up and went out for dinner and drinks with our buddies from the wine tour.  They were an awesome group of people from Germany, Australia, and Switzerland who had just finished a 49-day overland tour from Kenya all the way down to Cape Town in a huge 4WD truck/van with a driver.  They were telling us stories all day about their crazy adventures, and needless to say it’s next on my bucket list of things to do.  On Sunday we visited the Stellenbosch botanical garden- which was so peaceful and serene- a much needed change of pace from the previous day’s antics.  Then we headed back to Obz on the train.  All in all, a good first adventure with lots of great wine.

Wine Cellars at Simonsig

Our Guide Opening a Champagne Bottle with a Sword

Aftermath of the Sword Trick

Baby Chameleon

Mountains from Dieu Donne

View from Dieu Donne


Holy Lotus in the Botanical Garden

Our Extended Wine Family

So Much Wine 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

To those who can dream, there is no such place as far away

This was the quote of the day at a little bakery in Observatory, the neighborhood I’ll be living in for the duration of my stay in Cape Town.  It was written simply on a chalkboard, with no author after it.  This quote struck me as particularly pertinent to my life, as I had just moved in to a house thousands of miles from where I call home.  It was one of those things that seemed like there was someone out there reminding me to cherish this opportunity and take it for what its worth, while also reminding me that home can be as near or as far away as I want it to be.

These past few days in the house have been absolutely amazing.  I have gotten so close to the 19 people I’m living with that it’s hard to believe that we all just moved in 9 days ago.  Rather than write a 70-page post about what I have done since moving into the house, I figured I would steal an idea from one of my housemates’ blogs and just list it all.  If anyone has any questions or wants an elaboration on anything, let me know.  In no particular order I have:

-Visited my service site- Zimasa Community School in the Langa township.  A school with 1340 students and 40 teachers that has 2 computer rooms but no library.  The school has students from grade R (kindergarten) to grade 9.  I will be volunteering here twice a week starting Tuesday, and although I still have no idea what I will be doing, I’m looking forward to starting service.

-Toured the sites of my housemates, as well as the townships they will be volunteering in

-Visited museums in downtown Cape Town: the Museum of Natural History, the Slave Lodge Museum, and the District 6 museum- District 6 was a diverse community with people of all backgrounds peacefully coexisting until it was declared a whites only area in 1966.  Everyone who was black or colored was forced from their homes, which were later bulldozed.  Our driver Pearnel gave us a tour of the museum, he and his family lived in the area until they were forced to leave when he was 7 years old.  When I asked him what race he and his family identified with, he said “the government says we’re colored.  I say ‘I’m not colored, I’m colorful.’’’  So true.

-Toured South African Parliament

-Seen Nelson Mandela’s cell in Robben Island, while being guided by an ex-prisoner who was jailed when was 19 for protesting educational reforms, and released 5 years later.   I also finally finished A Long Walk to Freedom. Read it if you get a chance.  Mandela is a genius, and his life story is truly spectacular.

-Watched UWC men’s rugby dominate in rugby- it was incredible to see a stadium PACKED with people there to watch a college rugby game!

-Experienced class registration via waiting in extremely long lines (made me miss StagWeb)

-Went to UWC international student orientation

-Walked to the Old Biscuit Mill- an AMAZING farmer’s market every Saturday

-Gone to the beach, and swam in some rather cold water.

-Experienced nightlife in a foreign country with a group of 19 Americans

-Taken part in an impromptu drum circle at a bar- where I played a didgeridoo for the first time in my life!

-Eaten South African traditional foods- springbok, ostrich, oxtail, kudu, and traditional beer

-Sat through my first class in South Africa- a class on African history taught by a man from where else but PHILADELPHIA!?   I just traveled over 7000 miles to learn from those with a different point of view than my own, and in my first class I have a teacher who grew up less than 300 miles away from me.  Ironic.  He seems like he knows a bunch about African history though.  He lived in Namibia for 12 years teaching before going to the University of Cape Town to get his Masters.  The class seems like it will be fun too- we will be studying different colonization patterns throughout the continent.

-Met phenomenal people who are warm, welcoming, and LOVE their country and who cannot wait to share it with everyone.  The pride that these people have for their country is mind-blowing, and after two weeks here I can already see why.

Courtyard at Zimasa

My Roommate Catherine and I on Signal Hill

Signs at District 6 Museum

Pearnel, Our Driver, Pointing to His Family Name on Display at District 6

Sitting At Parliament. No Big Deal.

On Robben Island with Table Mountain in the Background

Confines of Robben Island

Nelson Mandela's Cell

Entrance to Robben Island

That’s about it for week one in the Kimberley House.  Big plans for a Stellenbosch wine trip this coming weekend.  Stay tuned ladies and gents.