Tuesday, June 29, 2010

sala kakuhle, south africa

It's hard to believe that my time here in Cape Town has come to an end, and it's amazing how quickly five and a half months can pass. I am so thankful for my experiences abroad.

I think about the Bonnytoun boys often, having to accept that I will never know the outcomes of their lives. I hope that they are doing okay for now at least. One of my favorite students, Moegamat, went home the last week of May. I'm sure many of the other boys won't fare so well. It hurts deeply to think about the likely possibility that some of them will end up in Pollsmoor Prison, a place that sounds like about the closest thing to hell that I could ever imagine. Something needs to be done for the youth in South Africa. And, they need a president that sets a better example of manhood for the young men and boys in South Africa. I am a strong believer that many of the problems that afflict women (largely rape, especially in South Africa) are a result of a skewed perception of manhood. As I worked at Bonnytoun all semester, I hoped that my presence as a female could act as a way to encourage the boys to view women respectfully, instead of mimicking the perceptions of the gangsters in their townships, or their American rapper idols, or their fathers or older brothers. I will never know if I had any effect in that area, but I know that even if I did, it is only the tiniest victory in a long and terrible battle that both women and men struggle with here and all over the world. Even if I changed the mindset of every boy in the class (which I know I didn't), it was a grain of salt in comparison with the enormity of the problem.

South Africa is a young country, a country with a democracy younger than me. It is a beautiful country, the rainbow country, with a plethora of cultures, traditions, and histories, as well as an incredible landscape of natural beauty. It also has racism, HIV/AIDS, rape, homicide, gangsterism, drugs, poverty, sexism, and crime... some topping the international charts. It has a president who excused rape allegations by claiming that he knew the woman wanted to have sex with him because she was wearing a short skirt... and later responded to questioning about HIV testing by saying that he knew he didn't have HIV - he took a shower after having sex with her! South Africa has a long way to go, and I believe that the people of South Africa must lead the struggle toward progress. Despite my involvement in it, I am skeptical of the foreign aid and help that is occurring throughout all of Africa. Certainly I believe that other countries should provide help and support, but I fear it prevents nations from learning to help themselves, and gives them a sense of dependency on others. There must be a balance. South Africans are strong, and I think they can accomplish more alone than they believe.

South Africa also needs time. Some day, South Africans will live in much greater circumstances, and in unity among the races and genders. But sadly, I don't think that day will come soon.

I have great hope for South Africa. I worked this semester with teenage boys facing criminal charges... those considered the "bad guys." And they had so much goodness in their hearts. If they are the bad guys, then I think this country will be okay. If these "bad guys" were only given a decent chance and treated right, they would all grow up to be wonderful men. If people could just get a decent chance here, then everything would change. But that's easier said than done.

I am thankful for my time here, and that I was able to see so many sides to South Africa, both good and bad, and from so many different angles. I am thankful for the people that I shared my semester with, from South Africa, the United States, Botswana, and Trinidad. I have learned from every one of them, and I feel more confident in who I am than ever before. It's been a wonderful five and a half months. And now, I look forward to going home, to my favorite people in the world - my family.

Farewell, South Africa! I will hold you in my heart. Sala kakuhle (Stay well).

Monday, June 28, 2010

hiking table mountain

Today, I completed the one last thing I felt that I just HAD to do before leaving Cape Town - hike Table Mountain. Two University of Maryland graduate students that are staying in the same lodge that I am kindly invited me to join them, so I had company for the hike. We hiked via Skeleton Gorge, which after experiencing it, I am convinced is named for the presence of hidden skeletons of hikers that passed out on their way to the top... It was a TOUGH hike, straight up for what felt like years. It was beautiful though, for the trail runs alongside a waterfall! After reaching the top of Skeleton Gorge, the hike became much more enjoyable, and I was better able to appreciate the scenery. We made our way over to Table Mountain, near the cable car, and then hiked down a more direct trail that was also very steep. My knees are a little achy from that, but I'm sure it's nothing compared to how my quads will be feeling tomorrow...

The highest point on Table Mountain!

Looking out over Cape Town from Table Mountain was a great way to say goodbye to the city I have lived in for nearly half a year. Tomorrow, I will be finishing up my packing and final errands, having lunch at my favorite sushi restaurant in the area, going to see a play at UCT's Baxter Theater with Thandie, and then either going out for one last night on Long Street with the Maryland group... or going to bed early. After that, I will fly out of Cape Town on Wednesday afternoon.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

old biscuit mill and the waterfront

Yesterday, I decided to spend the day doing typical touristy activities - I went to the Old Biscuit Mill, went to the V & A Waterfront, and spent money! I was a little heartbroken to take my last trip to the Old Biscuit Mill, but came out of it with some delicious hot sauce and a beautiful book/cookbook that has pictures, stories, and recipes from all over South Africa. After the Old Biscuit Mill, I headed over the the Waterfront, for the first time since January. I went to the aquarium, and then went shopping. I enjoyed the aquarium, but wasn't in a very educational mood, so mostly just looked at all the interesting fish and sea creatures, and skipping over reading the informational signs about them.

From the aquarium, I wandered around the Waterfront, doing a little shopping and taking in the sights. The big surprise of the day occurred when I wandered into the V&A Waterfront Craft Market, only to see none other than Bill Clinton shopping about 5 feet away from me!

I bought a couple more final souvenirs, and then headed back to my lodge. Just a few more days and then I'm homeward bound... Wednesday, June 30 at 3 PM!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

lions head

On Thursday, June 24, I decided to wake up and do what my stress fracture prevented me from doing sooner... go hiking in Cape Town. I hiked Lions Head, a pretty short (about 2 hours roundtrip) hike up to a peak that provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding city and coast. Part of the hike was very steep, and one part even required a chain to rock climb (this was on the "take at your own risk" route - there's another option that bypasses the climbing).

Friday, June 25, 2010

knysna and hermanus (june 21-22)

On the way from Plettenberg Bay to the last stop, Hermanus, we stopped at Knysna Elephant Park, where we went on a little tour of the elephant park, and I was able to feed the elephants. The tour was unimpressive, and I learned little about the elephants, but it was still fun to touch, feed, and watch the elephants from so close. I did learn that elephants live for about as long as humans, and the elephants at Knysna responded to their names! When I brought up the bucket of snacks (pineapple chunks, carrots, and spinach), I was bombarded by the elephants, especially the young ones. They poked at me with their trunks, and tried to sneak their trunks into the bucket while I wasn’t looking! Sometimes they wacked each others trunks away from the food with their own trunks. It was funny to see how distinct their personalities are.

We then traveled to Hermanus, about a five hour drive from Plettenberg Bay, and only one hour from Cape Town. Hermanus was probably my favorite of the towns we visited, and I wish that I had spent more time there than just one day! I was able to walk around the town, and enjoy the lovely scenery, as the town is right on the ocean. Hermanus is the land-based whale watching capital of the world... but unfortunately I did not have the privilege of seeing a whale. I embarked on a sea kayaking trip with hopes of spotting a whale, but unforseen circumstances (Jonah getting seasick) led us to turn back early. Regardless, I loved spending time in Hermanus... it is a charming little town

plettenberg bay (june 19-21)

Third stop on the Garden Route: Plettenberg Bay. Although the Garden Route continues on to Port Elizabeth, this was the furthest stop we made along the route. Plettenberg Bay is about another hour and a half from Oudtshoorn, bay on the coast. Plettenberg Bay is another nice town, bigger than Oudtshoorn and very touristy, with the beach town vibe. We went on a hike in the Robberg National Park, and then went to see Monkeyland, Birds of Eden, and lastly the Knysna Elephant Park before heading back toward Hermanus. Robberg National Park was beautiful, but time constraints led us to take the shorter hiking route, about two hours round trip instead of four. The hike took us around the park, which is right on the coast. You could look down at one point and see a group of seals splashing and barking in the water. We stopped along the part of the trail that led to a beach, and I was able to stick my feet in the ocean... it was MUCH warmer than the ocean water around Cape Town.

After hiking the Robberg Nature Trail, I went to Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, two animal sanctuaries that are right next to each other, just past Plettenberg Bay. We went on a one hour tour of Monkeyland, during with the guide told us about the different types of monkeys in the sanctuary, and where they came from. The monkeys in Monkeyland are monkeys that were formerly pets or zoos, and thus are most likely unable to survive in the wild. Monkeyland is surrounded by fences, but within those limits the monkeys roam as they please.

After Monkeyland, we walked through Birds of Eden. There were a lot of beautiful birds from all over the world, but there was no guided tour so I didn't learn much about the birds.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

oudtshoorn (june 17-19)

Second stop on the Garden Route: Oudtshoorn. Oudtshoorn was further inland, about an hour and a half drive from Mossel Bay. Oudtshoorn is a small town known for its many ostrich farms, and also for the famous Cango Caves nearby. I was able to visit both an ostrich show farm (Cango Ostrich Show Farm), and the Cango Caves. I bought an ostrich egg as a souvenir, and even had some ostrich meat for lunch… it was delicious, and I enjoyed eating meat that I knew came from just down the street. That’s about as local as you can get without slaughtering it yourself! The ostrich farm was one of my favorite activities. I just think ostriches are hilarious, and they really are unique in a lot of ways. They eat stones to help digest their food, they have a finger and thumb in each wing (they aren’t used for anything), their necks can turn around 360 degrees, and they could probably kill someone with a solid kick with their toe. When a female ostrich lays her first egg, it is infertile, and somehow she knows to stomp on it and eat it, to get calcium to lay another, fertile egg.

They put the little bag over the ostriches heads when trying to ride or sit on them... It doesn't do anything except calm them down. The ostrich was kind of struggling when the trainer grabbed him, but the second the mask was on, he was docile as a lamb.

In addition to the ostrich farm, we went on a tour of the Cango Caves. They caves are HUGE and beautiful, and they lead guided tours through them. Pathways, lights, and stairs make it accessible to people of all ages… and you don’t even get dirty.

The caves were beautiful, but the real cave fun came the next day when we went caving with our fearless guide Johan. Johan and Mike were two Afrikaaner men who own a company called TBI adventures in the Oudtshoorn area. We went quad biking (four wheeling, ATVing, whatever you want to call it) after the Cango Caves, with Mike. The following morning, we went caving with Johan before hitting the road for Plettenberg Bay. Quad biking was awesome, and the scenery was beautiful… there was even snow on the highest mountains! Caving, however, took the cake. Decked out in coveralls, helmets, headlamps, and gloves, Jonah, three other people from Cape Town, and I followed Johan up to a rocky hole in the ground. Johan instructed us to climb down it, about 4 meters. The cave was large enough to sit or stand at many places, but we also slithered, crawled, climbed, slid, and shimmied through tiny holes, rocky and sandy declines and tunnels. Unlike Cango Caves, we were covered in mud. The final chamber we entered was full of beautiful white stalagtites and stalagmites, thousands of years old. The trek took about two hours, and was one of the coolest things I have ever done.

Jonah, Johan, and me at the entrance to the cave

All along the Garden Route, we encountered Afrikaans more than I am accustomed to in Cape Town. I often had to tell people that I only speak English, after they tried to ask or tell me something in Afrikaans. This never happens to me in Cape Town. I was happy, however, to encounter so many nice and friendly white Afrikaaners during my travels... my limited experiences with white Afrikaaner South Africans this semester left me with a negative stereotype. My recent travels, however, have given me grounds to cast off this stereotype.