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.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A few pictures

This is just to give you a taste! It takes a few minutes to upload each one so that's why there's only this many. I'll put all the many pictures on Facebook.

Did I mention there were also meerkats and a zebra at this place?

This is someone's home.

Many homes of the township.

Absolutely BEAUTIFUL beach.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lions, the Bush, and ABBA

Well, I’ll admit, it’s been rough. I’ve never been this homesick. I’ve always been perfectly fine going off to school and on trips, but I’ve definitely never been this far from home, in such a different place, and for this long. I’m not sure if other students are having the same problem…it doesn’t seem it…but I don’t know if anyone else loves their home…town, house, parents and family, pets, and friends…as much as I do. One American girl was saying that she won’t need her phone much because she just needs to call her parents every few weeks to let them know she’s alive. I want to talk to my parents! And this girl must not have amazing friends like the ones I have.

It’s getting a little easier as I get closer to other students and now that I’ve rearranged my room and put pictures on my walls. And when I get the internet (I’m writing this in Word and will post it when I have internet) it will be much much much easier. I’m not embarrassed to say that I love Facebook! Being able to talk to family and friends through e-mail, Skype, and Facebook whenever I want will really make all the difference I think. I thought I was an independent person, but I guess I really need the constant feeling of love and support in order to be happy, which makes me pretty dependent on family and friends. Well, as dependent as I am in this way, I still like my alone time and doing things by myself, which apparently can’t happen here. We’ve been advised numerous times not to go anywhere by ourselves, even during the day and even in our nice neighborhood. This will be tough.

South Africa. Not quite the Africa I was hoping for. I haven’t heard traditional African drumming; I’ve heard a lot of ABBA. I’ve met a lot whites speaking Afrikaans (sounds like German and Dutch), no blacks speaking Xhosa (has clicks). But I’m not too worried about it; this country is so diverse, I know I’ll experience more than I have in just this first week.

So starting from the beginning, my suitcase was eight pounds too heavy when I got to Logan. Luckily, Mom was still there so I could empty some stuff into the car, but I ended up taking out fourteen pounds and I really wish I had that six pounds that didn’t need to be taken out. Then the flight was horrendous. I hate flying and that was about 37 hours of traveling. Well, I guess there was nothing wrong with the flight per se, but I would have hated it whether it was a “good” flight or not. I got to bed here Thursday night around 1 am. At 9:20 am the following morning while I was sleeping, Monalisa, the woman in the International Office that works with the Study Abroad students, called to tell me that I was going camping and the vans were arriving at 10. Because I didn’t get much more information than this, I packed very badly and was extremely unprepared for this camping trip. Turns out we were sleeping in tents in the bush for three days. I’ve never camped before and they thought it would be okay to throw me into the African bush for days with nothing! Okay, well the place was very nice with a kitchen and a cook, toilets and showers, and mattresses in our tents so I can’t complain that much, besides the fact that I had about thirty minutes to prepare. I’m still not a fan of camping, but it was the best way to meet people (and I saw lots of monkeys!). There was twenty of us, all international students just getting to South Africa for the first time. There were about five Norwegians (one turned out to be my roommate), five Germans, a few Swedes, three other Americans, a French guy, and a Finnish girl. Quite the mix! These people are my first friends in South Africa. Because I live in the international student section and because of the camping trip, I know a lot less South Africans than I do people from the rest of the world, but that should change when I start classes as there’s a lot more South Africans here than international students, I just haven’t been around them yet. Of course I picked Africa for a reason, but I’m just as happy to be meeting all of these other people and learning about their cultures as I am meeting Africans and learning about this culture.

Although meeting those people was great, the best part so far was going to a cheetah breeding farm on the way to the camp. The purpose of the farm is to breed cheetahs (and lions as well) and then release them into the wild at a certain age in order to increase their population. At the farm they have a full-grown, tame cheetah (the only wild cat you can tame and trust) for people to see. I guess if people can actually visit the farm and pet the cheetah, they are more inclined to feel for and donate to the organization, but I feel bad this cheetah isn’t in the wild. She was very sweet and we each got to pet her while she lied there and purred. Then we played with two four-five month old lion cubs! These were also bred here to soon be released into the wild. Unlike the cheetah, these babies were very rough and had very sharp claws. I have scratches all over my hands and legs from them playing with me.

Since I’ve been back from the camping trip, we’ve had orientation and took a tour of the campus and registered for classes. As of now I’m taking Health and Healing in Cross-Cultural Perspectives, Xhosa for Beginners, Resistance and Transformation and Contemporary South Africa, and Women in Africa. This is separated into two terms though so I’m only taking two or three classes at a time and that’s only one class a day (except for one day next term)! So even if the classes are hard, I should have plenty of time to work at them. And I will need plenty of time to work on Xhosa. It has clicks! So far, impossible.

So my apartment, or flat as they call it. Each little house has two sides that are symmetrical. Each side has two huge bedrooms with a little kitchen and a bathroom between them that my roommate, Anja (like Anya), and I share. The two kitchens are connected by a door in the middle of the house, but the people that live on the other side haven’t come back from vacation yet (they were here last semester). This little house is in a fenced-in area with 28 other little houses just like it. Everything is fenced around here. I live in an upper-class, white neighborhood and the houses are beautiful. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel safe or not with a high cement fence around the place, with electric wire on top of that, and the back wall also has broken glass on top of the fence and an invisible beam that sounds an alarm in the office if crossed. Barbed wire on top of fencing is also a popular option here. Beyond places that look like the houses around here, are the townships. When we were going to the camp, we drove past miles and miles of the worst “houses” you could imagine. They are probably smaller than this bedroom, on top of each other, every one of them falling apart, with roofs made of scrap tin. The ground that was not being occupied by a house was just dirt, littered with trash and glistening with broken glass. This is the diversity of South Africa I can’t wait to experience more of. It's sad, but I should see it.

Well that's week one. More to come. Thanks for reading!


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Calm Before the Storm

Okay, maybe calm isn't an entirely appropriate word for right now, however, the phrase is fitting for these last few days before I embark on this complete and utterly overwhelming experience.

It's Thursday night; I have a full five days at home until I have to wake up (or rather, get up from bed because sleeping that night will surely be a failed attempt), scramble around the house in a blur of disbelief, shoving last minute things into my suitcase that I thought I was strong enough to leave at home, say goodbye to my dad and dogs (God, I hope they don't think I've left them forever), call for the cats outside, in tears I'm sure, because I'll feel horrible leaving without saying goodbye, but let's face it, they won't be waiting at the door to bid me farewell (and of course because I'll already be in an emotional state; the kind that would make your eyes sting in the unfortunate event that your taco shell breaks). I'll make sure I have enough supplies to get me through the horrid flight: snacks; two books; a notebook; laptop with the downloaded partial draft of Stephenie Meyer's Midnight Sun that I have been saving to read for this occasion, Friends, and season three of the OC on DVD because you know you can never turn it off after an episode so that should burn through a good chunk of the twenty-five hours of hell. Oh, and Ambien. Lots of Ambien. I'll say goodbye to my mom (needless to say, crying at least since she woke up) at the gate (okay, between baggage check and security, but at the gate sounded classic and a bit more dramatic). Of course I'll be there way too early, so I'll have plenty of time to sit and think "holy shit."

Other than the people who work for CEA (the company I'm going through) and the three girls who I'm Facebook friends with doing the same thing I am (from the States, going to NMMU, through CEA), and the US Embassy if that counts, I have no friends or allies in South Africa. All I know about my roommates is that I have three of them; one from (or students from anyway) North Carolina, one from Zimbabwe, and one from France. I think this complete independence will only add to the thrill and liberation of this trip.

I'm somewhat looking forward to my classes, especially beginner's Xhosa--one of the eleven official languages of SA. I don't have my final schedule until I get there, but the courses I'm taking are mostly about the past or present and/or culture of South Africa or Africa. I'm sure they will all beat the Intro to African Studies course I took at UMass, which for the entire semester only focused on white's false views of black's and how the whites made the Africans slaves. While I'll be grateful if the courses go beyond the lesson that should only fill the time of the first day of class, what I'm really looking forward to is learning my lessons first-hand; experience-based; hands-on; meet, learn from, teach, and help the people; learn from their land and communities, government and politics, religions and beliefs, and general way of living. If I accomplish this, I will come home not only thinking of Africa and their people differently, but how could I not think of myself differently as well? I will not just have the knowledge about one village, I will have the ability to adapt to an entirely new place, no matter what or where that place is, and I will have the ability to listen and learn with an open mind and heart. I think these two things could really change a life. This isn't just about taking classes or traveling just to say "I've been there" or just about the beach, the surfing, and all the fun (although I can't wait for that either); it's about all of that and more. All in all, I plan to make every minute of this trip worth-while, which does include the beach, the surfing, and the fun!

Love love love.