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!


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