On Friday we loaded up the bus, and our faithful driver Mark transported us to High Africa, an “Adventure Camp and Conference Center,” for our Expectations Weekend. We stayed in cabins, did a ropes course, climbing wall, and other fun camp-like activities, made s’mores, and also had several meetings discussing expectations and plans for the semester. On Friday night, I saw stars more clearly than ever before. I could see all the little stars that are usually too small to spot, and I could see the band of the Milky Way with clarity. We saw about five shooting stars, and spent a while trying to pick out constellations. They’re a bit different here than at home, but Orien’s Belt was still clear. It’s a little strange to be seeing the same stars here that I do at home, over 8,000 miles away. I guess I’m really not SO far away, relatively speaking.
One interesting cultural tidbit I picked up was about teeth extraction in the Coloured community in South Africa. Apparently, it is common for coloured people to have front teeth (I think usually the front four, maybe six) extracted. These people then get decorative dentures as a sort of fashion trend (i.e., grills). Angela explained to us the origin of this strange phenomenon. During Apartheid. Coloured communities and schools were provided with more than their Black counterparts. Dental care was provided for Coloured children, but the dental care essentially consisted of yanking out any teeth with the slightest problems. Angela told us how she avoided this fate for a very long time, but eventually went to a dentist and ended up leaving without six of her front teeth. This occurred a month before she was supposed to be in a wedding, so the dental fitting process had to be expedited, which meant it was incredibly painful. She said she was in tears every day for a month.
The drive to and from High Africa was jaw-dropping. I spent most of the ride staring out the window in awe…. I have never seen mountains like that. What an incredible landscape. The mountains here look nothing like my Appalachians.
Yesterday, I had my first class, Xhosa, which is one of the most widely spoken African languages in South Africa. In the Western Cape, Afrikaans is spoken by about 58% of residents, while Xhosa and English are each spoken by about 20%. Despite this breakdown, one can very easily get around and communicate with almost everyone around them speaking exclusively English. Nearly Capetonians can speak English, even if it is not their first or preferred language. In South Africa as a whole, Zulu is the most common language, with Xhosa in second place. These two languages are similar enough that you can understand Zulu if you know Xhosa. Xhosa has clicks in it, which we haven’t gotten to after only two classes. The great thing about it is that Xhosa is completely phonetic, so it’s relatively easy to read Xhosa and pronounce it correctly. So far we have only learned basic greetings. Molweni! (hello to multiple people) I think I am going to like this class. Our security guard, Nopi, who is around from 6 pm to 6 am most nights, is Xhosa and he agreed to help me out if I need a little extra practice!
I’m having a change of heart about my service work. I’m getting really interested in an organization called Young in Prison, which works with youth at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison here in Cape Town. Another girl in my group, Tina, and I are both interested in working with the girls (mostly ages 12 to 21) that are incarcerated. We will get to see the boys’ part of the prison tomorrow, but won’t gain access to the girls’ section for about a week. I’m not quite sure yet what the work would entail, but I’m getting some ideas. We’re also considering trying to work at St. Michael’s home for abused girls a couple times a week, too, and doing a sort of compare/contrast research project. St. Michael’s has counseling sessions in the evenings that we could aid. We’ll see.
More to come after my visits to Pollsmoor Prison and St. Michael's!