Friday, January 29, 2010

table mountain, shopping, and fish hoek

We left early Tuesday evening to go to Table Mountain. We took a cable car up to the top of the mountain, which was a near-vertical trip. When we got to the top I found extensive walking trails reaching far along the mountaintop. And I had just been expecting a little look-off and gift shop! The view from the mountaintop was unbelievable. I won’t even attempt to put into words the beauty of the view.

Also on the mountaintop I saw an animal called a dassie. Dassies look like big, gross rodents, and apparently they are addicted to nicotine from eating cigarette butts left behind by tourists. I'm going to try to get a picture of one from someone to post on here in the near future.

One of my favorite parts about Table Mountain was that there weren’t any ropes or fences stopping you from walking right up to the edge of a huge dropoff. That was pretty exciting. We stayed on the mountain to watch the sunset, and by that time clouds had settled BELOW us.

On Wednesday morning I went for a run. I ran toward upper campus, toward Table Mountain. The entire first half of my run was uphill… It was pretty miserable. But when I turned around and ran around campus it was so exciting to see students bustling around for orientation. I ran by a freshman dorm while new students were moving in. I got a little bit better sense of where everything is on campus, and I even gave someone directions to the Steve Biko Building! I’m practically a local already. (Look up Steve Biko!

I went to Long Street later in the afternoon. Five friends and I tried waiting for the Jammie Shuttle (provided by UCT) to take us closer to our destination, but after waiting for over half an hour, we decided to go for a taxi (minibus) – my first experience with one. As we hopped into the first minibus we spotted, a woman on the street yelled at us not to get it. That was comforting. But, aside from being overcharged (still less than the equivalent of $2 per person), all went well. One guy working in the taxi kept hopping in and out, getting people in and out, exchanging money… it looked like a surprisingly active job. We were dropped off at a flea market area right near Long Street. Within about two minutes of getting out of the minibus, Christina, Elizabeth, and I all bought dresses... After that we calmed down a little and I just browsed the stands without actually buying anything. I plan to go back soon. A friendly shoes salesman (who has a sister that lives in Minnesota) recommended a little food shack around the corner for lunch, so of course we followed his advice. I experienced the Gatspy for the first time. A gatspy is a South African dish that is essentially a sandwich comprised of a long roll, French fries, some kind of meat, sauce, and lettuce and tomato. Yes, I ate meat again. We then walked over to Long Street and a few of the side streets that were cobblestone streets with more street vendor stands set up. Kind of a New York feel.

First experience in a minibus

A famous gatspy (this is a HALF gatpsy)

Yesterday, we went to a beach in a little town called Fish Hoek. We took the train from Rondebosche, which provided a nice scenic trip along the coastline. I love using public transportation, and the men walking through the train trying to sell candy and snacks were pretty entertaining. Fish Hoek was a little beachy town with some personality. I liked it, and I was impressed with the houses running up the mountainside. What an incredible location to live. Unfortunately, however, the beach was COLD. Like pretty much everywhere in Cape Town, the wind was deadly. I gave up on getting a tan pretty soon, and laid on the beach completely covered with my towel. I ate in a little restaurant in the town, and the man working there asked where we were from in America. When I told him Tennessee, he grinned and said “Ahh, Jack Daniels!” So, Tennesseeans, apparently that is what we are known for across the world.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

robben island, braai, and bronx

On Sunday we went to Robben Island. We went by boat, which ended up being a bumpy, windy, cold, but beautiful trip. Once we landed, we went on a bus tour around the island. Apparently Robben Island was used as a leper colony before it was turned into a prison. We saw the leper cemetery, and also the “Irish Town,” where a large population of Irish people settled in the aftermath of the potato famine. They built churches, and provided help for the lepers on the Island.

Most of the group with the "overseas" view of Cape Town in the background

The Irish Town on Robben Island

We then did a walking tour of the Robben Island Prison. The prison was used only for Black, Coloured, and Asian males – no White men, and no women. Those prisoners convicted of murder, rape, and the like were placed in medium security unites, while the political prisoners were contained in maximum security… this shows how much the reigning regime feared these political figures and activists. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years (he spent the next 9 years in another prison), and we were able to see his jail cell. We saw the cells used for punishment – the windows were even covered. Black prisoners were treated worse than their Coloured or Asian counterparts, and were even fed differently.

Nelson Mandela's cell

Visual of the food disparities by race

We also learned about Robert Sobukwe, who founded the Pan Africanist Congress in opposition to the apartheid government. To punish him, the government completely isolated him from human contact. They put him in a solitary building on Robben Island and disallowed the prison guards from communicating with him. They even rotated prison guards on a regular basis to prevent any formation of a relationship. He was kept from his family, and was set free and then rearrested two or three times. Maybe it sounds naïve, but I am astounded by the cruelty humans are capable of imparting on one another.

On the boat ride back, we saw whales and seals. Seals might be the happiest animals in the world… they looked so content just lounging in the sun.

Also on Sunday we went to a braai (South African barbeque) that was put on for CIEE students. On the way home, a few of us hopped on the Jammie Shuttle (provided by UCT), and the shuttle did a complete loop, went back to where it started, and then finally got us to our destination. South Africa is not big on efficiency… It’s pretty refreshing, really. Elizabeth and I just kind of relaxed and trusted we would get somewhere we wanted to be eventually, but a CIEE Arts & Sciences girl was sitting behind me on the shuttle, and she was so frustrated and stressed out that it was taking so long, and that we were going in circles. Americans must seem so high strung and annoying to South Africans.

Yesterday I went to a mall with some girls in my group. I was pretty disappointed that prices were about equivalent to shopping at home, but I think we’re going to go to a flea market in the area soon to try to get some deals, and some more authentic South African merchandise. It was our first experience with a taxi and cab, though, and all went well. I’m still unsure about the standard tipping procedures here. Later in the day we met our professors for the semester. Cina will be teaching the Social Research Methods class, Ingrid will teach Poverty and Development... and I can't remember the names of the women teaching Afrikaans and Xhosa. They all seem very kind.

Last night, I went to Bronx, a gay club, for karaoke night. The drag queens put on an especially great show! Overall, South Africa (like the rest of Africa), is highly intolerant of homosexuality… but Cape Town is known for its more progressive nature. From what I’ve heard, the gay community has been growing in recent years and is becoming more active and visible in the Cape Town community. I definitely plan on going back to Bronx… and we signed the boys in our group up for karaoke next week.

Today, we went back to Equal Education in a smaller group (only those interested). Now, I’m incredibly conflicted between Equal Education and St. Michael’s… Equal Education is just brimming with an active energy that gets me excited and ready to get up and DO something. It very much appeals to my legal and human rights inclinations. I will get to see St. Michael’s in person this week, and will hopefully get a better grasp on what place is the best fit for me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

townships, bo-kaap, and greenpoint stadium

We went to see the townships where we have the option of working at yesterday. First we visited Manenburg Primary School (grades one through seven). This school is located in the coloured township of Manenburg. Students who work there will assist with classes, love the children, and maybe even fill in for teachers from time to time. I think there are generally about 40 or 50 kids to a class, with one teacher. Until recently Manenburg was the gang capital of the world (I think another nearby township passed it up). Gangsterism is apparently present even in the youngest of school children, as they try to impress the older children who have become part of gangs.

Next, we visited a secondary school (grades eight through twelve) in Khayelitsha, a black township. Apparently the school is notorious for poor outcomes on standardized testing in twelfth grade. The students struggle with literacy and numeracy even at that level, and don’t have the adequate context or motivation to improve these skills. Khayelitsha was more shocking to me in terms of housing than Manenburg was. We only really saw the residential areas of the townships as we passed them on the road, but Manenburg’s “houses” appeared significantly more livable than those in Khayelitsha. In Khayelitsha, I saw houses that were smaller than my bathroom, that were made out of packing crates, or cardboard, or metal scraps. I found it odd seeing the children walk home from school in their school uniforms. Something struck me as odd as I watched them walking around in their relatively nice uniforms… and then going home to those tiny shacks. Like many aspects of Cape Town, and South Africa as a hole, I was struck by the seeming contradiction, the juxtaposition of progress and apartheid influence. A suggested option for working at the secondary school is to work with a group of the teenage boys at the school related to the subject of “manhood” and what it means to be a man. Many boys in the South African, and particularly township, culture have skewed perspectives on gender roles, based on what they see, hear, are modeled and told. Often teenage boys in Khayelitsha develop the perception that impregnating a woman is a sign of manhood, or being involved in a gang or violent behavior, or drug use and sexual activity. I think that kind of program would be incredible, and I’m going to strongly encourage one of the guys in our service-learning program to take that on. I don’t think I, as a woman, would have the same impact. Men and woman can only progress together, and I think this can be forgotten when focusing on the progress of women’s status and opportunities.

We then went to the Equal Education headquarters. Equal Education is a NGO that deals with humanitarian rights related to access to education. I was so impressed by the organization, and how effective their activism has proven already. It seemed like an incredible and dedication group of people. Check out their website:

Last, we went to a place that helps children that are HIV positive or have full on AIDS. The aim is to teach these kids how to properly care for themselves and take their medicine, but it also teaches basic hygiene habits and living skills, and helps these kids have the opportunity to just act like kids. Sometime they go on outings, or camping, or just play together in a safe and open environment. I don’t remember the name of the place, but I’m pretty sure it’s related to the Ubuntu Institute.

We were not able to visit St. Michael's, where I'm pretty certain I want to work. St. Michael's is a place for sexually abused girls ages 12-18. I have been talking to another service-learning about possible projects we could work on at St. Michaels, but I will post further on that later, when I get it figured out.

At night we went to eat at Marco’s African Restaurant and had a delicious meal. I even tried oxtail! (I have decided to eat meat when it means having a new experience… as in, I’ll skip the chicken nuggets, but try oxtail and a Capetonian chicken samosa). Then, we (the service-learning group) went to Long Street, the famous center of Cape Town nightlife, and checked out the atmosphere. It was pretty crazy, very fun. Long Street is aptly named…. It looks like endless, and is completely lined with bars and clubs on both sides of the street.

Today, we went to visit the community of Bo Kaap. Bo Kaap is the Muslim area of Cape Town. We were shown around by a very kind woman named Bilqees. Apparently the people are called Malays, and are descendants of various nations (Malaysia and Indonesia seemed to be common), but almost all share the religion of Islam. I believe 80-90% of the community is Muslim. I was able to go inside the Mosque, which was my first experience inside any Mosque and I had to cover myself with a robe and take of my shoes. It was beautiful, and has a very rich history, like everything else in Cape Town. Bo Kapp is easily distinguishable by its bright, colorful buildings. For lunch, we ate at the house of a Malay woman that lives in Bo Kaap. She prepared an incredible meal of chicken curry and vegetable curry, rice, some kind of salsa-ish dish, chicken samosas, potato pudding, and a sort of doughnut that was about ten times better than any doughnut I’ve ever had. Cape Town curry is different from Indian curry. It is less spicy, and has a bit of sweetness to it. So far, Cape Town cuisine has proven an incredible mix of different influences. I ate to maximum capacity, and more.

Ronel and Thandie speaking with a sweet Malay woman who told us some about living in Apartheid South Africa as a Muslim

Then, we went to Greenpoint Stadium, the stadium that was just constructed for the World Cup. The entire CIEE program (so, the 164 Arts & Sciences students went too) were given tickets to the soccer match that opened the stadium. The game was sold out, and it was a very excited, upbeat environment. I think South Africans just get more excited, in general, that Americans. Two smaller teams, Santos and Ajax, played and it wasn’t a very exciting game. But, I loved just being there. Apparently they are in the same league, and so are really allies and it was a "friendly game," in which the teams don't really go at 100% because the game doesn't really matter and they don't want anyone getting injured. There was not a moment during the game that you could not hear the constant racket of vuvuzelas (

The whole service-learning group with Angela and Thandie and our sign reading "Bafana Bafana World Cup 2010" (Bafana Bafana is the South African soccer team)


I also learned a new South African word today. Ayoba! From what I was told, it doesn’t really have a specific meaning, and you can use it for just about anything, as long as it’s something good. It has become kind of a catchphrase of the World Cup, so I’ll probably start seeing and hearing it everywhere. Ayoba!

Note: My camera battery died right when we got to Bo Kaap, so my pictures of Bo Kaap and the soccer game were taken by another service-learner, Erin... so I can't take credit for the pictures of Bo Kaap and the game!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

first day in the cottage

We moved into the houses yesterday! I live in the “cottage,” the smaller of the two houses. The main house and the cottage are right next to each other within a courtyard area, which is gated and has a security guard from 6PM to 6AM. I have a bedroom to myself that is about twice the size of my single at Vanderbilt freshman and sophomore year. I have two windows, a bed, desk, bookshelf, and closet/wardrobe kind of thing. Seven people live in my house, and we have three bathrooms, a kitchen, and living room. We have an RA, Thandi, that lives in the main house. Thandi is from Botswana and is a student at UCT’s law school. She’s wonderful, and I enjoyed hearing about customs and beliefs in Botswana over breakfast this morning. She talked about all the superstitions, and also gave the impression that the young generation now is breaking away more from some of the more traditional rituals and beliefs. A few examples of Botswana traditions/beliefs: An entire family is supposed to shave their heads when there is a death (this was one that the younger generation stopped participating in… they show their mourning instead by wearing a string around their necks for a year). Sleep talking is a sign of possession. If a baby won’t stop crying it is also a bad omen, and they mix up a secret herbal concoction and hold the baby (by his or her leg) over the herbs as they burn. They smoke knocks the baby out cold, thus stopping the crying. Thandi also explained more about virginity testing to me, which I remember hearing about from a South African guest speaking in one of my WGS classes. Teenage girls, usually in rural areas of South Africa, will be publicly tested to see if they are virgins (kind of like a public gynecologist appointment, without gloves). If they pass the test, they are more highly valued and worth more as a marriage prospect. If a girl is found to not be a virgin, she is basically considered a slut, and her parents will not expect as much compensation from a man to wed her.

We took a tour of UCT’s campus. It’s stunning. I can’t get over the beauty of Table Mountain, and it’s just right there when you’re walking around campus. There are three parts of campus, Upper Campus, Middle Campus, and Lower Campus… and they are aptly named, because the campus is inclined. Unfortunately we live on Lower Campus, so we have to huff and puff uphill to get to anything else on campus. I’m excited to see what campus is like when all the students are back and it really comes to life. There are 22,000 students, but only about 5,000 live on campus.

My group walking up the steps at UCT's Upper Campus.

On Wednesday evening we went to the beach. It was beautiful, but the water is FREEZING. It still blows my mind that I can be standing on the beach, look over and see gigantic mountains right next to me. We were supposed to go up to Table Mountain by cable car, but it was too windy for the cable cars to run, so we grabbed some food and went to Signal Hill instead to watch the sun set. We could see Robben Island from the hill, where Mandela was imprisoned for so many years. The view was breathtaking, and I got to witness my first African sunset.

A few things different in Cape Town from the US: I’ve seen two men walking around with huge AK47s. One was a guard standing by as a man transferred money from a bank into an armored car. I’m not sure what the other one was doing walking around with a gun. Also, a cab is different than a taxi. A cab is what we think of in the US. A taxi is more like a mini bus, and you don’t tell them where you want to go, you just get on if it’s going in the right direction. Cab’s are safer. And we have to lock and unlock our front door with a key even from the INSIDE. That's a pain.

Tomorrow, we are touring the townships where we have the options of working. I am looking forward to seeing that side of Cape Town.

first impression

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I made it to Cape Town! So far, I have had a great time getting to know the people leading our program, and the other students. The first seven students to arrive (myself included) were shown around in the Waterfront Area. It was beautiful, with all kinds of colorful boats and buildings, and Table Mountain in the background.

I am now sitting in a hotel somehow connected with the UCT Business School. We will stay here for two nights as a part of our orientation, then will move into our houses (our group is larger than usual so we will be split up into two houses right next to each other) to continue orientation for another two weeks or more. So far, I already love the city. We are going to have a seafood dinner tonight, and then calling it an early night because we are all exhausted from traveling.

The Johannesburg Airport was pretty empty at night... everyone was shocked I stayed there all night. Apparently that's not what you're supposed to do in that situation - who knew?

Note: I didn't have Internet until today, which is why I'm posting this now. I pay for Internet usage kind of like prepaid phone minutes, so I will probably write my blog posts in a Word doc and then post them... So my dates might actually be different than Blogspot says.

Monday, January 18, 2010

in the johannesburg airport

It is about 2:30 AM South African time, and I have been sitting in the Johannesburg Airport for the past eight hours... and I still have four more hours until my final flight to Cape Town. The airport is pretty empty now, which was scary to me at first, but now seems peaceful. A nice woman sat down next to me, so I don't feel so alone anymore... we watch each others' bags if either of us needs to go to the bathroom, and don't say much else to each other. Just the kind of friend I was looking for right now! I can't wait to be done traveling and get to Cape Town! Mostly, I can't wait to get a full night's sleep.

My flights from Washington D.C. to Senegal and from Senegal to Johannesburg were actually one long flight that just landed for an hour in Dakar, Senegal to drop off some passengers, and pick up some more. Those of us going all the way were not allowed to leave the plane. It was about 16 hours total. Luckily, I was provided with three pretty decent meals, and there were TV screens on the backs of all the seats. I sat in between an elderly, white South African couple and a middle-aged Chinese-American man. The couple was very nice, and had been visiting their children who live in Cincinnati and Toronto. The Chinese-American man went to the University of Florida and was a big Gators fan, so we talked football for a while.

Once I got off the flight here in Johannesburg, I was immediately overwhelmed. A porter helped me get my luggage to the lock-up area, which was actually really helpful and I tipped him. But as I was walking around, people kept approaching me offering to help me get to a taxi, or directions somewhere, or a hotel or hostel, or anything... I just wanted to walk around in peace, and I was afraid that anyone I talked to would expect a tip. Maybe it was just the American in me, but I wanted everyone to just leave me alone to my own business! I got kind of overwhelmed, but I finally found a place to sit down quietly without being disturbed and read. So, over the past 8 or so hours, I have read, taken a couple short naps, eaten, walked around, people-watched, and now paid for some Wi-Fi. Using the Internet is a nice breath of familiarity!

I've been reading more of Kaffir Boy, and have gotten well into the section about Mathabane's education in Alexandria. The government established an education system for the black Africans that taught them only in their tribal languages, and refused to teach them English. They claimed this was so they could learn to live well in their tribal communities and that the black African's brain was too small to learn English... I wonder if anyone ever actually believed that kind of stuff, or if they just said to it justify their actions? Either way, this form of education prevented the black Africans in the townships from any potential for a better life and decent job. It is pretty sad, too, that learning English, the tongue of their oppressors, was the only way these Africans had a shot at getting out of the tyranny of the townships.

I know I didn't say much interesting in this post, but it sure did help pass some time in the airport!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

anticipating departure

Eleven days from today, I will take flight from the Knoxville, TN airport. By route of Washington D.C., Dakar, Senegal, and Johannesburg, South Africa, I will finally arrive in Cape Town, South Africa on January 19, after almost two days of traveling. Then, the real adventure begins! I don't yet know what to expect with my study abroad experience... but I guess I will learn as I go. I know that I will take three classes: Social Research Methods (for use with my service work), A Local Context Course on Poverty and Development, and a language class (either Afrikaans or Xhosa). With the rest of my time, I will be working in one of the townships surrounding Cape Town, and will incorporate research into my work. The combination of classes, research, and work will then come together in a final capstone project. I do not yet know the nature or location of my work.

Aside from classes and working, I hope to also have time to explore the city of Cape Town, and maybe further into the country of South Africa and African continent. Today I registered for the Two Oceans Half Marathon, which takes place in Cape Town on April 3. Hopefully I won't be too terribly out of shape for it. I also plan on hiking, especially as I will be living right near Table Mountain National Park, which, from the pictures, looks like it might be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Table Mountain runs right up to the Western coast of South Africa, so I'll also be near the beach. I hope to see the African penguins that congregate on South African beaches! I also want to look into hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, but I don't know if that is something that will actually work out. It looks like it's a 5-7 day trip, you have to go with a guide, and it's expensive! But, it would be pretty incredible, so I'm not ruling it out yet. And, of course, the World Cup will be in South Africa this summer (or I guess, winter, since I will be in the Southern hemisphere). I still need to work on getting a ticket to a game... but even just being there for all the excitement is sure to be an amazing experience.

I've heard incredible things about the country of South Africa, and I am anxious to arrive and get settled in so I can explore and get to know the area. From the little I have learned so far, South Africa has a fascinating and unique history and identity. The three largest ethnic groups in South Africa are Black Africans, Coloureds, and Whites. In South Africa as a whole, the demographics break up as follows: approximately 80% Black, 9% White, 9% Coloured, and 2% Indian. In Cape Town specifically, however, Coloured people make up about 48% of residents, Black Africans account for 31%, Whites 19%, Asians 1.5%. These demographic compositions demonstrate that South Africa is made up of three very large ethnic population. Even minorities in this country are large and present in the country's population and politics.

As a clarifying point, in South Africa, "Coloured" is a term distinct from "Black," unlike the historical use of these labels in the United States. According to Wikipedia, "Coloured" "refers or referred to an ethnic group of mixed-race people who possess some sub-Saharan African ancestry, but not enough to be considered Black under the law of South Africa." I learned from a book I am currently reading that the Coloured population came into existence about nine months after the White colonists first arrived in South Africa in 1652. These White male colonists arrived without women... I think the rest is clear. As I understand, the Coloured and Black groups in South Africa were both treated atrociously by the white government in Apartheid South Africa. Black and Coloured, however are two very separate identities, and these two groups apparently hold animosity toward one another and face very distinct sets of issues in South Africa today. The townships, communities left over from Apartheid segregations, are generally either exclusively Black or exclusively Coloured. I do not yet know with which population I will be working more closely.

As an attempt to prepare myself for spending almost 6 months in South Africa, I have been Google-searching and reading up on the country. Mostly, however, I have just realized how little I know, and how little attention we Americans pay to the rest of the world. It amazes me how recent the atrocities of Apartheid occurred, and it baffles me that I knew nothing of it until recently. I read the novel Cry, The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton last week, and I recommend it to any reader. It tells an incredible story, but also incorporates insights about life in South Africa and Johannesburg, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I am currently reading Kaffir Boy, an autobiography by Mark Mathabane, a Black African man who grew up in Alexandra, a township near Johannesburg. From this book, I learned about the origin of the emergence of the Coloured population. Only about 75 pages into the book, I have already read stories of Mathabane's early childhood that deeply disturb me, and remind me of the evil and destruction human beings are capable of imparting on one another. This book has also highlighted the difficult tension between tribal tradition and pride, and progress and survival in a changing country. Mathabane's father was deeply loyal to his tribe and their traditions, and he harshly punished Mathabane when he did not adhere to the specific traditional behaviors. It seems like Mathabane was punished by the Whites BECAUSE of his tribal African ancestry, but was also punished by his tribe for trying to survive in the new South Africa. My dad is currently reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography, and has told me how the White government sought to uphold the tribal distinctions in South Africa, because it disallowed the Black South Africans from uniting against the oppression of the Whites. It seems like a clever, and of course malicious, tactic on the part of the Whites. Mandela grew up with a tribe, and then later ran away with his brother. He said that before leaving his tribe, he identified as a Xhosa (his tribe). When he came back to his family after running away and finding his own life among other South Africans, however, Mandela wrote that he identified instead as an African. This all may seem tangential and irrelevant, but I find the tribal identities and separations a fascinating and significant aspect of South African history and politics.

One last thing on South African politics. Apparently, the current South African president, President Jacob Zuma, just got married for the fifth time. He now has three wives (one wife committed suicide, and he divorced one). In addition, he has several children by women other than his wives, AND is engaged to another woman. He was acquitted of a rape charge in 2006 (this was before his election). Interestingly, however, he points out that many public figures have illegitimate children that they refuse to recognize and provide for. Zuma's honesty also means that he acknowledges and cares for every child that he fathers. He is quite an interesting figure, and this is only addressing his personal life. His political actions add another dimensions to the story, as well, but I haven't learned enough to comment on these aspects of President Zuma just yet.. I'll leave out my own reaction to all of this, and let you make your own.

Here's a link to the article about his latest marriage: