Monday, January 4, 2010


I had an amazing, very memorable, past few weeks in South Africa. I got through finals fine and then I think it was on everyone’s mind to spend as much time as possible together and have lots of fun before we said goodbye. We sure did. First, we celebrated an American Thanksgiving as American as we could. Of course, the holiday was for everyone, not just Americans; we wanted to spread the joy. We had to make a few adjustments to tradition and improvise a bit, but after the mishaps (electricity going out in the middle of cooking, etc.) and running around for a couple days, it was a success. I missed dinner at home, but I may never have another Thanksgiving dinner outside in the sun again.

One of the most memorable nights I had, right before everyone started leaving, we had a huge party at a friend’s place on the beach. Pretty much everyone I knew was there. It was a perfect way to get to say goodbye to so many people; but of course that was also the worst part of the night. Later, we made a fire on the beach and a few of us stayed out there all night and watched the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. Around 6 a.m. we left the beach, stopped to get fast food breakfast, and laughed the whole way home. I can’t think of a better way to have spent one of my final days with everyone in PE. We only slept a couple hours that morning because we had to get up to say goodbye to several people leaving that day. I’ve never had to say so many goodbyes! They’re terrible. Five months is just long enough to figure out who you really like and want to be closer with and to start getting closer with them, but then…time’s up. Schwupp-di-wupps—that’s German for time flies.

I left Port Elizabeth on December 1st. I took a horrific eight hour bus ride up the coast to Mthatha. From there, a shuttle picked me and a group of other people up and brought us to the Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay. I don’t know the distance between Mthatha and Coffee Bay but it took about an hour and a half because of the potholes in the road. I later learned that this road was nothin’ compared to ones we would come across later. I intended to stay in Coffee Bay the entire three weeks I had until I left for the States, but some friends came up the following day to stay a couple nights before moving on farther up the coast and then back down again. I don’t know why I didn’t go with them in the first place, but once they were there I couldn’t say goodbye and stay in Coffee Bay by myself for three weeks. It had also been raining since I left PE, which didn’t help the idea of being by myself for so long sound any better. So I left with them!

I don’t regret that choice for a second. I got to see more of South Africa and had a great time with them. We stayed at the Coffee Shack for two more nights then attempted to drive to Durban. But thanks to Eurocar and their stupid cars and the neglected roads of SA, it was an attempt failed. When we finally got off the long, dirt, potholed road that leads in and out of Coffee Bay, we stopped at a gas station in Mthatha. We had two cars with us--both rentals; one pretty new KIA rented from Eurocar and one VW Citi Golf that we had to get out of so it could make it up hills (about every other car in South Africa is an old, white Citi Golf). At the gas station, we turned off the car, got out, tossed the keys on the seat, and closed the door while we filled up the tank. The KIA automatically locked the doors with the keys inside. So we had to get a guy who could break in. Finding him and getting back in the car of course took some time. But eventually we were back on the road. Some idiot gave us the advice to take a different route than the main highway we planned on taking. And we thought the road to Coffee Bay was bad. First, we popped a tire in a pothole in the KIA. The boys changed it with the spare (which was under all our luggage and a surfboard that was strategically placed down the center of the car) pretty quickly and with no problems. About fifty kilometers down the road, hit another pothole, this time popping two tires. It’s not that our driver was aiming for them (so he says!) but by this time it was dark and foggy and raining and the potholes were filled with water so they just looked like puddles. And this was the mother of all potholes. So we had to call someone for three new tires, but Eurocar ended up sending us a whole new car. Have I explained African time? It means they’ll do it whenever they want and they’ll take their time doing it. If they say one hour, it'll be three to six. We sat in cold cars in the middle of who-knows-where for four hours. We were supposed to get to Durban by dinner time and if we had continued, wouldn’t have made it until the middle of the night so we stayed at a backpackers in Port Edward. We had told the man over the phone our story and asked if we could get something to eat. We didn’t get there until past midnight, but when we walked in he had an amazing meal ready for us. The next morning we found out it was also one of the most expensive meals we had had in SA, but it was so good and so needed at the time we didn’t care. We also didn’t care about the chicken on the chair back at our eating table or the geckos on the walls and ceilings. It had been a long day.

We woke up early the next day to get one of our friends to the Durban airport. We spent a few days in Durban, where the second to largest population of Indians live, after India. The majority of the population is Zulu, but many Indians as well, and few Xhosa and Whites. We had one day of sun until the rain moved us off the beach—it was still raining; not hard but at least a constant fog and mist, if not more, until this morning. Before leaving Durban we said goodbye to two more friends and the group was down to five in one car. The diversity and Indian food was great in Durban, but it was time to move on back down south.

We started a long day in the car to Bulungula, a backpackers far far away from anything besides Xhosa villages. The drive was long, but then we finally reached Mthatha where we turned off the main paved road. The potholes were no longer the primary problem. It was a dirt, or should I say mud, road. We slipped and slid down the road until we got stuck. A few of us stood barefoot in the mud outside so there was less weight in the car. When we were trying to get out of the mud, the shuttle that picks people up in Mthatha to bring them to Bulungula came by. (We would have done this but there is no where safe to leave the car there). A couple people pushed the car and ended up getting the car out. Three of us got in the shuttle—a big four wheel drive with a back that sat ten people—while the other two drove the car to where we could park it and take the shuttle the rest of the way. The little Citi Golf continued to slide the rest of the way. At one point the shuttle driver tied the Citi Golf to the truck by rope and pulled it through a bad part. And this portion of the trip is the part that the backpacker tells people they can travel on their own if they have four wheel drive. I wouldn’t recommend it. But compared to what was coming up…! These can’t even be regarded as roads. The last leg of the trip took two hours. In the back of the truck we had to be buckled in just to keep from being thrown around in the back and we still held on to our seats and each other. Had it been day time, like it was when we left Bulungula, some of us would have had our eyes closed shut as to not want to see what was coming up. If we were going to tip over I wanted it to be a surprise. After eleven hours of driving that day, we made it. We had a much needed drink, dinner, and went to bed. The next day we saw how beautiful the place was. The ocean was right out the front and behind was rolling hills dotted with huts and cows. Cows, goats, chickens, donkeys, and horses roamed around the backpackers. We had another short day of sun and lied on the beach near a dozen bulls also relaxing in the sand. This place was eco-friendly with compost toilets, rocket showers (a multi-step process to light paraffin to get a hot shower for seven minutes), and the water that comes out of the faucets and showers (for everything besides cooking and drinking) was runoff water—brown water. We had a few good days there before making the same trip down those “roads.” It was equally as terrifying the second time—actually, even more so because it was light out so we could see what was going on. I shut my eyes and held on tight. From there we went back to Coffee Bay for a couple days.

On the first night I realized that I had the option of staying there for the remainder of the time. I had already paid a deposit so I had some of that left and I already had the bus ticket from there to PE on the 20th. If I continued on with everyone, I would have had to spend a week in PE. I don’t know what I would have done there for a week. And staying meant saying bye to some people just a couple days earlier than if I went with them. So I decided to stay. It was a hard decision to make just because saying bye to them any earlier than necessary didn’t feel right. It was a tearful goodbye and I missed them and wish they could have stayed as well. I have made myself feel better about all of those goodbyes by telling myself that it’s not for good. I definitely want to take a trip with stops in Norway and Germany. I’m sure it won’t be for a couple of years, but it’ll happen. And I know some friends plan to come to the States as well and of course us Americans can visit each other. I just have to keep looking forward to these reunions.

What’s both good and bad about staying in backpackers, especially by yourself, is that you meet people and make friends, but being the one staying longer than most others, they come and go while you stay put. Meeting people and then saying goodbye is much more difficult than keeping to yourself and not having to bother with all that, however, it’s also much less fun. I met a few great people at the Coffee Shack; ones I wish were there the entire time I was. At least I was used to goodbyes.

I’ve been home for a couple weeks now. It’s been wonderful seeing everyone again and just being at home. I missed everyone so much! Now I’m just relaxing a lot and spending time with my much missed and loved ones. I’m also looking for a part-time job and hope to be working soon. Other than that, I have nothing to do until school starts the 19th—my last semester of college…For now anyways.

What has been hardest to adjust to is the general, everyday, way of life. For the five and a half months I was there and especially the last three weeks of it, I lived like you would expect someone to live on the beach in rural Africa. I stopped using hair conditioner or doing much of anything else with my hair besides washing it. I wore a bathing suit in replace of underwear and a bra. I hardly ever wore shoes. Why? It just felt right. (Just like it feels right to not do those things here.) We hiked barefoot, we danced in the rain to African drums; it was magical.

I learned so much in Africa. I probably learned the most just by meeting all the people I did. Also, seeing how others live, whether it’s in a comparably similar way as yourself, or dramatically different, such as the lives of those living in townships or rural villages, it opens your eyes. Also eye-opening was the epiphany I had after starting at the day care. That country’s problems are much bigger than me and I have to leave them in the hands of a much bigger power. I went there thinking that if I could help just one person, then I’ve done something worthwhile. I believed that to be the case anytime, anywhere. And I still believe that, but now the difference is that I’ve realized that is sometimes the only way to make a difference; in very small ways. I will continue volunteering for those less fortunate, but I will focus my efforts in America where I have the time to do more.

I will never forget my time in Africa or the lessons I learned or the friends I made. And I want to thank everyone who made it possible; who gave me money, wrote letters, supported me, missed me, and love me. Love you too.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just an update

Since getting back from the spring break trip, I’ve been busy with school work; overlapping studying for tests and writing papers. I finished classes last week, though. Now just have to study for three final exams. I’ll be all done on November 21st. I’ll stay the following week in PE and then I plan to leave for Coffee bay on the 1st! Just three short weeks away.

A few friends and I have finally started surfing. Roxy, a company that sells surfboards among other things, brings a trailer of boards and wetsuits down to the beach on Saturday mornings and we use them for free for a couple hours. The first try was disappointing. For some reason, when I pictured myself surfing, I actually pictured myself surfing, so I was surprised when I couldn’t ride the waves like a pro. I guess I was cocky remembering when I stood up and rode in on a broken wave the first time I ever tried surfing when I was about four feet tall on Dad’s ten foot board. But it’s gotten progressively better every time, and therefore more fun. I’ll have three weeks in Coffee Bay to really improve!

As a gift from a few friends for my birthday, they treated me to a mini vacation in Jeffreys Bay, an awesome surfing spot an hour down the coast. Not that we were there for the surf; we’re still perfecting riding already-broken waves. The highlight of the weekend was sandboarding!—like snowboarding down sand dunes. I haven’t snowboarded much, but judging from my little experience, sandboarding was a lot more fun…and easier, which is probably why it was more fun. It was the perfect time for a getaway because I getting no where trying to study before that, but when we got back I could concentrate. Been in the books since. Eleven more days of this! (And then one semester of college left! And it’s a doozie; six classes and commuting. Wish me luck.)

Besides final exams and Coffee Bay, I don't have much coming up. Saturday I'm going to the South Africa vs. Japan soccer game at the new stadium in PE. Monday I'm watching a Patriots game! I met a Zimbabwean that not only likes American football, but likes the Pats. He told me they play one game every Monday at a bar in town. This Monday they're showing Sunday's Pats vs. Colts game so I will be there. Unfortunately, they don't have Bud heavy here.

Six weeks ‘til I’m home! The first things I’m eating are bagels, lasagna, and homemade cookies. Then I’m snuggling with my dogs on the couch and watching TV, flicking through all the channels we got while washing my clothes in a washing machine and dryer! And then I’ll drive anywhere I want! But I’ll have no idea what side of the road to drive on so this will be dangerous so I will walk anywhere I want, by myself, at anytime of day or night, and not get killed. I miss America. Although, it's 81 degrees out right now. I'm not looking forward to New England temps and waking up in the dark. Other than that though..

This is short but I really have to study. Ugh.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Road Trip to Cape Town

Finally, a peek at South Africa outside of the Eastern Cape. Twenty-one of us in total; including two tour guides, two daughters of one of the tour guides, and a girl from the International Office; took a road trip with Cape Town as the destination and turning around point. The group was mostly American girls, with the exception of two Norwegians and two guys.

We left Port Elizabeth early Sunday morning. After five hours of driving, our first stop was Cango Caves and an ostrich farm in Outshoorn. I could have gone without the tour of the caves and would have enjoyed just looking around more without someone telling me the names of the chunks of rock. The information provided at the ostrich farm was more interesting, though. Have you ever thought about an ostrich being a chick or any age besides full grown? I hadn't, but I saw ostriches working their way out of their shells, as well as chicks just hours old. They are almost as hideous and terrifying as they are when they're older.

We stayed overnight in Outshoorn at Backpacker's Paradise. All of our accomodations for the week was in backpackers. I highly recommend traveling this way. First of all, they're so cheap, especially in the dorm style we were sleeping in, which is about 3-6 bunkbeds in a big room. You could stay at a backpackers in a dorm style room for a couple weeks at the price you could stay one night at a decent hotel. If you're traveling to learn about the place you're in and interested in talking to other people about the place or other places, backpackers are the way to go. The type of people that stay in them are just like that, interested in talking about where they're from and their travels and asking you the same. They also have single, double, triple, etc. rooms and suites to sleep in. Also, backpackers have some kind of common room and a kitchen for self-catering, as well as a kitchen (or the same kitchen) for the hired help that can cook you meals for a price. Some backpackers have yards, pools, and bars.

For breakfast we had scrambled ostrich eggs in addition to the usual spread of toast, jams, cereals, muesli, and yogurt. We left after this for Montagu, a quiet town in the mountains. Actually, we were in the mountains for much of the trip. Great scenery for a road trip. Monday's main event was brandy tasting at Klipdrift in Robertson. I did not enjoy it! We stayed overnight at Mystic Tin Backpackers and Tuesday morning moved on to the wine country. Of what I've seen of South Africa, this might be the area I could live in. Rolling hills of vineyards with mountains as the backdrop. We did wine tasting at Plaisir Demerle winery. This I enjoyed. We stopped at a market in Stellenbosch and then we were off to Cape Town. (At some point this day I had my first Red Sox apparel sighting! Unfortunatly, we were just driving by so I couldn't talk to or kiss him.)

First stop was the backpackers, the Sunflower Stop. We walked around the area a little and later all went to V&A Waterfront. It's new and modern and pretty European or American. All of Cape Town was. It's like a mini, South African version of New York City. Key words, though, are mini and South African version. The Waterfront, especially. We were dressed comfortably and felt out of place. There were many fine restaurants and people eating at them in suits. There was a great mall with Gucci, Mac, Jimmy Choo, Ed Hardy, etc on the top floor. We had dinner here, found Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and listened to the street performers play marimba music.

We saw more of Cape Town on Wednesday. We went to the gardens (I saw two squirrels! -- The only squirrels I've seen in SA), the Holocaust museum, and took a tour of a castle. Later, we took a long drive around the peninsula and stopped at Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Cape Point is where the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean meet. On the way back to Cape Town we stopped in a few port towns (another place I could see myself living). Oh, and we saw penguins! This night was the closest us Americans were getting to Cuba. Cape to Cuba is a Cuban restaurant and bar fully decorated in imports from Cuba. The atmosphere was unique, the food was delicious, and they had two-for-one mojitos. As a matter of fact, the first mojito served in South Africa was at this 2000!

On Thursday, I wandered around another part of the Waterfront and harbor and watched seals float around lazily. And then I ate Subway! (You can miss anything when you're away from home for this long--like Subway sandwiches, Red Sox hoodies, and even squirrels.) Later, five of us climbed Table Mountain. It's not an exceptionally tall mountain, but I felt like I was climbing Everest. The trails have been modified to accomodate the number of visitors and their safety. It has been "cut up" so it's like climbing steps the whole way. When we started complaining and saying we didn't think we could make it to the top, the watch claimed we had been walking for five minutes. These were not little steps, OK? And it got steeper as we got higher. The wind didn't help any, either. As we climbed, it got colder and wetter. I was hot from climbing, but you needed to bundle up because the outside felt like a New England winter. You could see all the mist spinning in the gorge at the top, so heavy it was coming down in rain drops. The top was worth it, though...well, worth the climb, maybe not the three days of limping around afterwards. That night we went out on the town.

Friday was our lazy day. The week was catching up to us. We left Cape Town and drove to Mossel Bay where we would stay our final night. Some people napped, some hung out at the backpackers, I walked around town a bit. We didn't even feel like going out for dinner and ordered in pizza instead. By dinnertime, it had turned into maybe my favorite night of the trip. We sat around the fire and played the African drums. It felt more authentic-Africa, which is what I'm looking for here, and was a ton of fun learning how to drum. We were anxious to get home the next day and just made a couple stops in Wildernis and Knysna before getting back to Annie's Cove.

Spring Break '09 II was a success. I've been home a week and have been busy with school work. The second term has turned out to be a lot more demanding than the first. I have tests and assignments overlapping until November 21st, the day of my last final. Six more weeks of school! I've altered my plans a bit for the month before I come home. I think I'll go to Coffee Bay, about seven hours up the coast, instead of Mozambique. It will just be cheaper and easier and I've been told Coffee Bay is just as good as Tofo and without the thirty hour bus ride and visa requirement. I would like to make at least one other stop on the way there though. Well that's the plan as of now!

And now back to work.

Much love from Africa. XOXO

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Save a Life

9 weeks down, 15 to go!

I finished getting all the weights of the kids at the day cares in the township and put them in Excel. Then I spent a few weeks volunteering at the day care center, basically just playing with the kids. The kids were great, but I was just thinking the whole time about how unproductive I was being. Even if they had a good time, they were going home at the end of the day the same as they came that morning. I had a really hard time that first week at the center while I was coming to my epiphany of how useless I am. The kids are playing with Legos, sucking on them, passing them around, and no one’s telling them not to do this. Like I said before, we don’t even speak the same language, but even if we did what is one person telling them one time that you shouldn’t do that going to do? Nothing. And they’re always making guns out of paper or Legos and sticking them in the waistband of their pants or pretending to shoot someone. I even saw one shoot a baby doll in the head that a little girl was carrying on her back. Kids in America do this too (maybe not this young or frequently though), but because they saw it on TV; these kids do it because they see it in real life. Can I change that? No. So I’ve come to realize there’s not much I can do to change these kids’ lives. I must have known this before but I never wanted to come to this realization. There are a lot more people in better positions than I am in that can help, like the government for example. I guess I need to leave it to them.

There are things I can do though…Things we can all do. I keep reminding myself that if I just help one person, make one person happy, they could in turn help someone else. What if I was kind to a black man one day and it made him realize that the segregation and racism in this country is disgusting so he changes himself and starts being kind to others. What if I hadn’t met him, he later killed a white man for his cell phone (a daily event here). So I saved a life! Who knows, I could start something huge without even knowing it. That man I changed could become the next president; the one who changes everything for the good. It’s idyllic, unlikely, maybe even silly, but it’s possible…at least something less extreme but along the same lines. Remember those State Farm commercials where a stranger did something nice for someone and someone else saw it so they did something nice for a stranger? I think it really works like that and if everyone in the world acted that way, we'd have a pretty spectacular place. It would change lives, even save some.

But I wanted to do more, something tangible with actual visible results. The organization I volunteer for has more components than the day care and I’ve been working on anything I can do from home. My second term started last week and I have new classes at times that have made it too hard to go to the center. Originally, I wanted to be hands-on with the kids and nothing else, but I really feel that I wasn’t benefiting anyone. My new projects, however, could do great things if they’re executed how they should be. But that part’s not in my hands so I just have to hope. So I developed a basic cooking and baking class for women in the township. It mainly focuses on health and safety: keeping your hands and kitchen clean, food-borne illnesses and how raw meat can’t touch other things, etc. Also, just basic cooking lessons like how to cook meats, vegetables, pasta. I also worked on the quarterly newsletter and now I’m researching a musician that grew up in this township but later made it big in jazz in Europe. They have a little museum to show positive things about the township and that’s what the jazz musician is for. I have to come up with some kind of exhibit on him. And the women in the cooking class will work in the coffee shop they’re going to build for the museum. If the organization actually goes through with these things, I would have been a help to the community, and that’s all I wanted to do coming here.

My two new classes (added on to another term of Afrikaans) would actually meet UMass/American standards! I even had to buy a book for one. Now I have Women in Africa and Resistance and Transformation in Contemporary South Africa (politics in SA from 1994-present). I have good professors and will have to work hard on assignments and studying for tests. One and a half semesters left of college…Weird!

Last weekend, me and 3 other international students went to a farm in the mountains. It was a trip set up by the international office that I was automatically signed up and paid for through my study abroad program. I tried getting out of it and getting the money for it but they wouldn’t let me. I wasn’t looking forward to it but it turned out to be great and it was so nice to get out of Port Elizabeth. It was beautiful out there; in the middle of nowhere. The stars were so clear I could see the Milky Way! What a life they live out there. I was woken up with the sight from my bed of the sun rising over the mountains…and an eland (the size of a horse) laying in the yard. It was great! The downfall of living like that is that it takes them an hour to get to town. I might need to drive that far to get to some things from my home too, but I still have a grocery store, post office, library, everything I need right down the street. Their main product is goats for angora but they also have sheep, cows, chickens, ducks, turkeys, fellow deer, horses, as well as other animals around kind of kept as pets, including kudu, daikers, and the eland. We saw sheep being sheared and cows being milked. I milked one. It was terrible. And I’m really embarrassed to say I milked it into my mouth. I refused but then everyone else did it! I had to! We rode in the back of a pick up around the mountains and went to the top of one. We also took a night game drive and saw kudu, a jackel, rabbits, and daikers. Maybe my favorite part of the trip was just being in a home… with furniture! And a TV! And having nice meals cooked for us. We watched a lot of rugby and some tennis. I was very comfortable snuggled on the couch under a blanket and a dog in front of the TV in good company.

So classes end around the end of November and I planned my flight to leave December 21st so I could go someplace else or travel around. But for the last couple weeks I was thinking I didn’t know what I was going to do with all that time. I don’t have the money to really do anything I wanted, like travel, and I didn’t want to just sit around here, so I was going to come home after finals. But for some idiotic reason, I didn’t realize I couldn’t change my flight after the first departure date so I’m here until December 21st! I got excited to come home but I also wanted to stay here. I feel like I’m not getting as much as I can out of this trip. I don’t want to come home with regrets or think I wasted this in any way. I would love to spend those last few weeks in Tofo, Mozambique. It’s a small beach town with backpackers (where I would stay) right on the beach. I could snorkel and surf and lie on hammocks and read and maybe even do something productive. I’m nervous I may go through some seasonal depression leaving hot, humid, beautiful beaches of Mozambique and flying into New England winter! But I’m really excited for it…if it works out.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Now I’m going to go back to daydreaming of those hot, humid, beautiful beaches.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Making George Bush Look Good

I have finally started volunteering! But not doing what I am supposed to be doing yet. I will not be working at all at the youth center that is far away. It was just too difficult; not only to get there but also finding time to go because my friend that I was going to do it with is playing soccer so with practices and games and never really knowing what time we would get back, it would have been cutting it close, and it’s not safe to go by myself. So I am volunteering with the other people I mentioned before, who my “tour guide” set me up with. The place is called The Human Dignity Center, a Christian organization. The center is right outside a nearby township. It’s a free daycare for the kids of the township. Because it’s free to attend, there has to be a selection process to choose who can go. So basically, the poorest of the poor are allowed. Employees or volunteers of HDC do home visits in order to see how poor the families of the kids are. This is something I will be doing. I know it will be extremely difficult to deal with. The other things I know I will be doing is just playing with the kids and help with homework. I’m not sure about what else. The reason I haven’t started at the center yet is because there has been a lot of burglary so they closed the center to try to get the community to do something about it. They want fathers of the kids to volunteer to keep watch of the place. I’m not sure how this will work out. The fathers should be willing to seeing as most of them don’t do anything anyway. Around here there are a lot of black men just standing/sitting/laying around the streets waiting/hoping for someone to pick them up and give them some work. But if they’re not given work, they’re just standing/sitting/laying around all day.

Also, keep in mind these are not your picture-perfect families seen on American TV. There isn’t a mommy and a daddy and a couple kids in one home. Most of these people don’t get married because the man has to pay lobola (a certain amount of cows or sheep, for example) to the woman’s family if he wants to marry her and the people can’t afford that. And women usually have many children from many different men because men who do have jobs really get around. If he has a job the women want to sleep with him because he will probably make sure she has food to eat if he’s sleeping with her. There definitely isn’t any form of birth contraceptives involved either. So this small percentage of men in the township with a job, approximately five percent, are sleeping with many women, making babies all over the place, and surely passing HIV to some of these women, who in turn pass it to others, possibly including their unborn children.

Anyway, they hope to reopen the center next week, but we’ll see. In the meantime, I have been sent into the township to other daycares that HDC looks after in addition to their own center. The children are supposed to be registered with names, birth date, and annual height and weight, but the height and weight has not been done in years so that was my job. It wasn’t easy with the language barrier. Just about everyone speaks Xhosa and only some of the teachers knew some English. Even with those teachers, I had to get all the children’s names down, which are Xhosa and completely foreign to me. On top of that, everything is so disorganized. The teacher would tell me the kid’s name, I would write it down (either with her writing it or spelling it out to me because I could not even guess at how to spell these names) and then I would weigh him or her and later she would give me the same name again for a different kid. So who knows how inaccurate my list of weights is. Other than getting the weights, I just hung out and played with the kids. They were all over me and the other volunteers. They loved us taking pictures of them and they wanted to see them after and they constantly wanted to be hugging us or holding our hands or just touched. I loved every second of it.

Just to give you an image of these daycares and schools… The kids are well behaved and listen very well. Now, only if they could be taught some valuable lessons that seem to be missing from their lives. Knowledge about health can really predict one’s future: happiness or not, life or death. And very simple things can keep you relatively healthy. So all of the kids finished their lunches and went outside to play. Before they came back in again, the teacher yelled something in Xhosa and all the boys went to one side of the yard and peed and all the girls went to the other side and took turns peeing in some buckets. Earlier, I had seen these buckets with at the time, unknown liquid inside, get knocked over and trampled in while the kids played. And the kids didn’t wash their hands after any of this! And there was this thing that looked like a fake plastic grape the kids were playing with; passing around to each other, dropping it on the ground, putting it in their mouths, etc. With pee-hands. And what am I supposed to do? First of all, they couldn’t understand me if I did say something, but they aren’t going to learn anything if one person one time tells them not to do that. Something as simple as the importance of washing one’s hands is not taught to these kids so just imagine what they don’t learn when they’re older when lessons about sex and the consequences should be taught. That’s why those women sleep around; they don’t know any better. They believe that if girls haven’t had sex by age sixteen, something’s wrong with her. And having sex is equivalent to having babies because protection isn’t used. So who’s going to teach them otherwise? Their own presidents tell them extreme falsities that ultimately destroy lives. The former president, Mbeki, would not admit AIDS was even an issue, and their current president, Zuma, tells the people having sex with a virgin gets rid of AIDS. Outrageous.

I’m already upset that I have to leave these people in four months. It’s terrible…A bunch of strangers come together, forced to meet each other, get close, basically be your best friends for six months, and then poof, they’re gone, probably never see them again. The South Africans who live at Annie’s Cove (which is for international students for the most part) and other people that hang around international students for whatever reason always talk about so-and-so from last semester. We will be those stories next semester. “Oh remember Emily from last semester? Remember that time?” That’s all we’ll be. And even that will probably only last a semester! And then what?! Facebook friends…Great. I guess there’s nothing to do about it though besides keep in touch and hope they visit…

Random things:
South Africans do not say “zee” for the letter z; they say “zet.” X-y-z = “ex-why-zet” and Z-o-n-a = “zet-oh-en-ay.” They don’t really have delicious cookies like we have at home. You know, Mom’s homemade cookies. They do, however, have a large variety of cookies or “biscuits” that are good with coffee or tea. It’s just not the same. Traffic lights are called “robots.” Senior year of high school is called “matric.” Pick-up trucks are called “bakkies” and riding in the back of them is legal. Apparently letting babies and kids ride on your lap in cars is okay too. Another reason Britney Spears would like it here is that you don’t have to wear shoes in public buildings like at the university or in stores.

This is the public link for my first photo album (7/10/09-8/15/09). It’s a big mix of things: Beach, animals, parties, PE, townships, etc. Hopefully it works.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everyone Loves Fat Cakes

It’s going well over here in SA. I guess I haven’t done anything very exciting since the last post, besides what I’m about to tell you about. I’ve actually had a lot of free time on my hands because of the lack of hours I have in class and doing school work. I’ve gotten pretty bored some days and I hate it. I’m in Africa! But as soon as I start volunteering, that shouldn’t be a problem any more.

I spent all day Saturday with the wild animals. Myself, six other students, and our tour guide (I don’t know what else to call him, but he brings us on trips, like the bush camp the first weekend and he’ll come to Cape Town on our Spring break, etc.) went to Addo Elephant National Game Park. All the wild animals in South Africa and other countries as well are in reserves like Addo. It’s not like a zoo at all; they’re pretty close to the wild, there just has to be fencing somewhere to keep the animals out of towns and in Addo’s case, protected from hunters. In some reserves, however, hunters are welcome. Hunters, mostly American, pay huge amounts in order to hunt big game in Africa. And in some of these places, the animals are either tracked or the wardens have an idea of where the animals are and can tell the hunters. As you all know, I’m not an advocate of hunting whatsoever, but I especially don’t see the thrill in hunting in a reserve. It’s true that these places are huge and it feels like the wild inside, but knowing it’s not the real wild would taint it for me. And the things I could do with the money someone spends to kill an elephant!

We first drove around the park in our own vehicle and saw kudu (a kind of antelope), elephants, Cape buffalo, ostriches, wart hogs, tortoises, and birds. We also took a night drive that was cold and not worth it. The idea is to see animals more likely to see at night rather than day, so I was hoping for lions and everything else we didn’t see earlier like hyenas and zebras. But no, we saw bunnies. Actually we saw shrub hares (like a regular ol’ bunny), Spring hares (looks like a cross between a rabbit and cat and moves like a kangaroo), one elephant, one Cape buffalo, ostriches, kudu, porcupines, and bat-eared fox. I think that's everything. I have amazing pictures from this I’ll put on Facebook. Luckily, my friend had a great camera so I didn’t take many with mine and I haven’t gotten the ones from her camera yet. When I get them and put them up, I’ll put the Facebook link up on here that even people that aren’t on Facebook can go to.

Did you know a male ostrich is black because it sits on the eggs at night and the females are tan/gray because they sit on the eggs during the day? And animals with eyes that reflect light well (like when a cat's eyes glow bright when your headlights hit them at night) have good night vision. Eyes that do not glow like that do not have good night vision. Porcupines do not shoot their quills. Tortoises try to flip their opponent on their backs when fighting because once flipped, they’ll never be able to flip back over and will eventually die. Elephant graveyards are just a myth, however, two facts are true. Elephants have six sets of teeth. When they’re on their last set, they do what they can to save them and move to places with softer plants. Once they do lose these teeth, they starve to death. These places with soft plants for elephants to eat are considered the elephant graveyards because so many elephants die there. The other fact is quite moving. It is true that elephants have a great memory. They remember an elephant by its smell and will even know another elephant’s smell when it’s dead and only bones remain. If an elephant comes across the bones of a familiar elephant, it will stop and take a silent pause for several minutes. It may caress the bones with its trunk, and if all the bones aren’t together, it will put them together.

On the way to Addo, we stopped at a lion and crocodile ranch. At first I really wasn’t excited about this. We were on our way to see animals in the wild practically and here we were seeing animals behind fencing. It was more natural than any zoo I’ve been too, but still. There were a lot of crocodiles, but they don’t do anything for me. They’re extremely lazy and just lay there all day. Their heart beats once every ten minutes and in an entire year they only eat half their body weight. But then there were the lions! I’m not sure if this place was like the cheetah farm we went to before and breed the animals for the sake of the species or if this was just a business for them, but they do breed and then sell them to reserves (not ones that allow hunting though). They had a ton of lions, and unlike zoos at home where there’s some extreme fencing all around, five feet of space, and then more extreme fencing between animals and visitors, this place just had some chain-link fencing that you could fit your hand through and touch them. Not that we did that, it was just possible. They also had many lion cubs. Some were one month old—the cutest things I have ever seen. The others that visitors could play with for a fee were five months old. None of us paid extra to play with the cubs, but I was telling the tour guide how I loved my scar from when I played with cubs before, but was so disappointed it wasn’t big enough to last forever. (He had great scars!) He was surprised I wanted scars and made some comment about Americans, but then let me in the cub area to get some! Unfortunately, none are good enough to last a lifetime, again, but however long I was in there, maybe fifteen minutes, plus the time I played with cubs before, say another fifteen minutes, were some of the greatest thirty minutes of my life. I have fallen in love with lion cubs. Addo was great, but all day I was thinking of those cubs.

One of the biggest differences I have found between South Africa and home and also the thing I hate most about South Africa is how segregated it is. There is a bar/club I have been to a few times that only whites go to. It’s not that there’s a sign on the door or anything (although that's only been illegal here for twelve years), but the only black people I’ve seen there were the ones that were with us. Across the street, there is another place that we (myself and a couple other white people) were told not to go to. I don’t know if there was a reason besides the fact that it’s all black people that go there, but that could be reason enough to a white South African. Well Saturday night we went there. On the way in, a few friends who had gotten there right before us were on their way out. I asked why they were leaving and they said “Did you see who’s here?” “No, who?” “It’s all black people.” Well that was even more reason for me to go! Just to prove a point I guess. Besides playing with the lion cubs, it was the most fun I’ve had here. There was great music and I was with good people, but I just had a smile on my face the whole time solely because I loved that everyone could come together and have a good time. It sounds stupid because I know a group of mixed races can have a good time, that should be a given, but to experience it in a place like this, where it seems that not everyone knows that, made me happy. We were, in fact, the only white people there. There may have been some people staring, but there were plenty that were having a great time as well.

More on the segregation here. If someone just broke the trend, I think it could really change things. People’s opinions and beliefs have to change too, but the trend breaking is a good start. There’s this little tin shack on the way to school that always smells like delicious fried dough so naturally, I’ve always wanted to stop. I have never seen a white person in line there. A friend and I stopped one day and they had these fried dough balls called fat cakes the size of my fist for one rand (about thirteen cents)! Who wouldn’t want to eat those?! So why are there only black people in line there? Well I’m not racist at all and standing there being the only white, there is that quick thought that runs through your mind “Am I not supposed to be here or something??” So maybe the minority feels uncomfortable sometimes. But I’m not making excuses for anyone, I’m just trying to understand. There isn’t an excuse. Those fried dough balls were amazing and there should be a line down the street the color of the rainbow.

An update on volunteering. Today a friend and I met with the director of a youth program of a township. They don’t have other volunteers, just a staff of five, so we met to discuss what we would do. The organization conducts support groups, one-on-one counseling, a healthy meal when they’re there, helps with homework, and trips or activities once in a while. Everything they do is amazing, but honestly, I don’t want to conduct a workshop on personal timetables (I don’t even know exactly what that is, but that’s what they were doing later today). I would love to just talk and play with the kids. I’m willing to do anything, but I want to be hands-on with the them, not cooking or gardening. I’d rather just hang out and run around and play soccer. It may not be teaching them any strong life lessons, but they would have fun and those kids need as much happiness as possible. The only real issue is that it takes at least two taxis to get there, which costs money and takes a long time. It’s hard to even plan a time to be there because when you get on the second taxi to get to the township you could be waiting an hour because they’re not leaving until it’s full. (The "taxis" are vans that properly fit ten people, including the driver, but they squeeze as many as possible in there. They drive around screaming "Town! Town!" and blare the music and drive recklessly, but it costs about six rand--less than a dollar--to get most places so how can you pass that up?!) We won’t be able to volunteer here often because of the transportation issues (not the safest option), but the staff we met today were so nice and trying to get to know us and I just couldn’t say that I couldn’t do it after all of that. However, because I will not be doing that often, a maximum of once a week, I am going to call our tour guide who has a friend at another township. I will also work with kids there. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be doing yet though. I can go to this township everyday if I want and they will pick me up and drop me off. I can’t wait to make my time here more worth-while.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hakuna ma tata?

I’m not sure what was worse: driving through the township in the biggest, most colorful, and basically most expensive looking bus, or taking pictures of the people and their homes as if they were a tourist attraction or an exhibition on display for outsiders. Some exchange students took a tour of Port Elizabeth last week and one of the stops we made was the Red Location Museum, which is a very nice building located right on the edge of a township. As we drove through the township to get to the historical museum, most people smiled and waved at us in our insanely noticeable bus—a double-decker painted with all the colors of the rainbow. Kids chased the bus, yelling and waving. They wanted us to take their picture and they wanted to take pictures of us as well with their cell phones, which surely they did not buy. They would try to talk to us (I didn’t talk to any that spoke English) and dance for us. I saw some very good dancers! I wish Disney or something like it had agents that would travel to places like these and find kids whose talents would let them escape their doomed future. I hate to be pessimistic, but realistically, most of these kids will never leave their township, never get a good education, take up drinking as their only skill, and continue the vicious cycle of poverty. The kids were great trying to entertain us. We hung around with them when we first got off the bus and I couldn’t wait to leave the museum to see them again. When we were watching the kids, two middle-aged women approached a friend and me. I was glad and a little surprised that they wanted to talk to us. Although the conversation was a little difficult with the language barrier, after a little while I understood that they were drunk and were asking us for money. The smell of liquor on their breath was heart-breaking when I thought about it. I’m making assumptions here but I bet these women have children, probably many, possibly HIV-positive (about 50% of the sexually active population in SA does) and they may not even know it, unemployed, obviously poor, and spending their money and time drinking. I don’t even care that much that they’re doing this to themselves, but their children…the innocent…the na├»ve… This is all these kids know. If they only know a poor, unhealthy family and community, how are they supposed to strive for anything else? They don’t know that there is anything else. Angelina and Madonna can only adopt so many. Oprah can only put so many through school. What about the rest of them?

On a much lighter note, I’ve started classes. This term I have Health and Healing in Cross-Cultural Perspectives and the first of two terms of Afrikaans. Health and Healing seemed like it would be pretty easy with not a lot of work to do and I’m very excited about Afrikaans. I switched to Afrikaans from Xhosa because it seemed like Afrikaans would be much more practical because I have already met so many South Africans that speak it (along with English). I originally wanted to learn Xhosa because it was more traditional, a real African language, spoken by blacks, and I saw Afrikaans as the white language the Europeans made using their own original languages, such as German and Dutch. Although it is that, I can’t hold it against them that long ago white Europeans invaded Africa and saw blacks as worthless. It was a long time ago and no matter how it happened, it is their language now and I’m sure the Afrikaans people don’t think about its roots when they speak it. Plus, it’s easier. I don’t think I could learn the clicks in Xhosa. Especially at 7:45 in the morning! I can’t click that early. And because it is so difficult, I don’t think I would have learned a lot in the semester I’ll be here. In Afrikaans, however, we have already learned a lot in our first class. I’m really looking forward to learning more and hopefully speaking it with my new South African friends.

Other random things I’ve learned/observed: Pickles are just called cucumbers. Capers are called green peppercorns. Hake is their most common and cheap fish, like our haddock. Butter and margarine are called fat. Recognizable chains here are McDonalds and KFC. South Africans take their time. They show up late or may not come at all, they may or may not do something you ask them to do, the city bus may never come, and everything they do is not rushed like it is in the States. *I still do not have internet after three weeks of begging for it!* Electricity and internet must be prepaid for. They drive on the left side of the road and use the metric system and Celsius for temperature, which is very annoying for us Americans. We don’t even know what everyone’s talking about when they’re saying simple things about weight, distance, or temperature. It’s very windy here in PE. Rugby and cricket are very popular sports and people make fun of the US for making up its own sports like football, basketball, and baseball. A futon is called a sleeper couch. Absinthe is legal. They don’t have limes. And this is just about South Africa and its people. I’ve learned a lot about other countries too! I really believe everyone should have an experience like this, however you choose to do it, to learn about the world. People, governments, beliefs…they can be so similar or so different. It has been fascinating to learn about these similarities and differences. Every person contributes, even those from other parts of the United States. Of course you’re expected to learn in your classes, but I will be very happy even if I take nothing from them because I have already gained more knowledge just from getting to know different people than I may be able to listening to a lecture.