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.

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