Weekend to Weekend

October 17, 2008

Cricket, soccer and rugby are South Africa’s three biggest sports.  The national soccer team is just mediocre, but there is a bit of soccer craze and excitement because South Africa will be holding the Soccer World Cup in 2010.  Whether this will be good for the country won’t really be understood until after the games and there are too many unknowns to really guess… if all goes well, the games will provide an opportunity for people all over the world to see South Africa as a sunny, lovely tourist destination with world class infrastructure, grand stadiums, friendly locals and top-notch facilities.  The fear is that one major crime, accident or security mishap could take all of that and turn it back into “Africa”, the one that everyone stereotypes and expects.

In the meantime, the best national sport is rugby.  We went to watch a Western Province game in Cape Town.  I don’t totally understand the game, but what I deduced and learned from the locals sitting behind us, it’s a combination of American football and soccer… the soccer part for the lack of pads and kicking and the football for the brutality and the passing.

The food was interesting. They had the standard pop and french fries, but they also sold biltong (SA specialty, meat jerky) and donuts in the stands…. most excitingly hot chocolate.  The drink is not the exciting part, it’s how it is sold.  Out of a backpack!  Super neat, we were fascinated.

Western Province won the game 30 – 18.

Later that week, Desmond Tutu came to Stellenbosch as part of a lecture series on campus.  It was pretty neat to see him in real life.  He’s actually pretty small and very frail looking, and a few times during his speech he got a bit off track or seemed to lose his words, but he was still pretty clever and occasionally funny.  The following Friday, we went to Cape Town for an early morning mass.

Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.  He was the first black Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and served from 1986-1996.  He gained international attention as an outspoken opponent of apartheid, and chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  We watched quite a bit of footage from the TRC in one of my classes, and you can tell that he is sincerely and deeply affected by each of the testimonies, and openly wept on more than one occasion.  He’s retired, but he’s still very active publicly and speaks out against current government corruption and issues such as black poverty and the failure of the post-apartheid government to make any real strides in alleviating the problem.  Nelson Mandela adequately described him as “sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humor, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless”.  It really was an amazing opportunity to meet one of those major world figures, a world leader and inspiration to many individuals, communities and philosophies.

On Saturday, we ventured with AIFS to the Hermanus Whale Festival.  Hermanus is touted as the “Best Whale Watching Spot in the World”, and the festival is held on a weekend when the most whales are in the harbor for mating season.  On Saturday, there were a reported 8 couples in the relatively small harbor.  I didn’t get great pictures… whales jump and roll really quickly… but I saw tons of activity.  The pictures won’t be very exciting, it’s just a black spot in the water- I’m not quick enough.  The festival food was also pretty interesting, and there were tents and tents full of crafts and vendors.  I bought a sweater made out of bamboo and found some fun, noisy toys for the kids. (Love you, Casey… ha!)

After checking out all of the stands, we had a really amazing lunch at a restaurant that gets most of their ingredients from local farms.  It was super delicious, maybe the best I’ve had in South Africa.  And they had a little gift shop, and I found some of the coolest gifts thus far.  On the drive home, my van took a little detour into another small town for a bathroom and a snack, and they had this huge bookstore.  I didn’t have nearly enough time to look through all of it, but the same driver might take us back!

Couch Surfing in Cape Town

September 3, 2008

First, in exciting news: broccoli is now in season!

Second, something I forgot to write about: International Food Night hosted by ISOS (International Student Organization at Stellenbosch) a few Thursdays ago.  Mentionable because there were so many countries represented, from Nigeria to Israel to Mexico.  One of my friends slaved away and made 200 pierogies.  I was looking forward to helping but all of my “You’re sick? That’s too bad… I feel great!” comments caught up with me and I didn’t want to contaminate the process.

Tickets were R7 and profits went to the Kayamandi after school program.  Quite a nice event.  I balked at the idea of participating, even though I immensely enjoying trying to cook new cuisines, because we only have a mini-stove with two uncontrollable burners and a few small pots and pans.  I have no idea how those who did participate pulled it off, but I was thoroughly impressed.

Last but not least: my weekend in Cape Town!  I found this guy, Derek, a few weeks ago.  I decided I needed to stay with him because he directs documentaries (quite a few and they’re nothing to scoff at) and I had to go in the off chance he would say, “I really need a camera operator for this next film” and I could help to get a friend a gig.  He only accepted one Couch Surfer at a time so I was going to stay alone.  That was an okay idea because there were a couple of other CSers I was in contact with who would have showed me around.  But at the last minute, he told me I should bring a friend (his new girlfriend was coming to town for the weekend).  Sam, another AIFS student, fearlessly joined me.  People always think I’m insane when I explain Couch Surfing, or rather, they think it’s a great idea and think it is interesting, but wouldn’t do it themselves.  Sam is firmly converted.

For those who are not familiar, Couch Surfing (www.couchsurfing.com) is a website with profiles of people all over the world (all over- including Antarctica) who offer their couches, guest bedrooms or floors to travelers.  Those who cannot offer accommodation sometimes offer their services as a tour guide or dinner date.  You request to stay with someone, and if they are available and it works for both parties, you meet up and stay for free.  Usually the guest either buys or cooks a dinner, or pays for some gas, but the idea is for it to be as cheap as possible.  Those who host are usually also hosted, so it is fairly even in the end, and the philosophies of those on the site allow for the exchange without a huge concern for money or gaining anything material.  Learning about other people, places and ideas is enough of a payment, a mini-cultural exchange, if you will.

Alexis and I used the site last summer for the first time in Budapest and Vienna and had two amazing experiences and one very interesting stay, both completely worth it.  Staying with someone who knows and loves the city adds an entirely different dimension.  The visit feels less like tourism and more like visiting a friend and exploring a new city.  Unfortunately, not many people travel to Columbus, so we only hosted two people last year, an annoying German girl and a fascinating Frenchman.  =)

So!  Sam and I took the train on Friday.  South Africans are pretty curious to see young white kids riding the train (South African students have cars…) but it’s only R24 for a round trip (less than $4), takes little over an hour, and drops you off right in the middle of Cape Town.  We were warned about safety, but frankly, it is absolutely no more dangerous than riding any metro system in Europe, so long as you are alert and have at least a bit of common sense.  In fact, I would guess that there is less crime on the train people ride to work than the one tourists frequent in Paris.  What kind of thief chooses to ride a train full of equally disadvantaged people when Stellenbosch, full of loaded white tourists, is less than five minutes away?  And like I said… $3.  They could pick-pocket all of my cash and I’d still save money over renting a car!

It rained all weekend.  Really rained.  I believe Saturday night was the worst storm Cape Town has seen in a few years, or so says the news.  On Friday we went with Derek to the Three Continents Film Festival, where we were guests at a super fancy reception.  Afterward, Sam and I met with another Couch Surfer met to listen to some live bands at a place called The Assembly.  It had AMAZING bathrooms.  By far the best I’ve seen in a bar, and really cool sinks…

The music was amazing, somewhat surprisingly (the radio here is REALLY bad, South African pop is just awful so my expectations were low).  And Corver, the CSer, and his girlfriend Jana, were really super people.  They were both incredibly friendly and relaxed.  We talked about politics and racism and South African society v. American society.  Those topics usually result in a somewhat strained, nervous environment, but with them it was just informative and interesting, I felt like we learned quite a bit about each other.  His view of Americans was actually very positive, he admires the way all of the Americans who visit are informed and passionate about both domestic and international affairs.  He thinks many young South Africans essentially bury their heads in the sand because of history and tension, so there is a general hush of debate.  I can definitely see that being true.

On Saturday Sam and I went to the South African National Museum and the Slave Lodge Museum.

It was pretty nasty out so we went to see a movie (Jewish Film Fest was showing Me Without You.  I’d never seen it but I guess it’s a few years old) then to dinner (Chinese!) and then back and to bed early.  The plan was to get up on Sunday and go to the market, but it stormed all night so the markets were canceled.  We went to breakfast and then we caught the early train back to Stellenbosch.  A successful weekend overall!

Next week is the Garden Route Tour.  We leave at 5:30 AM on Saturday morning… ah!  But I can’t wait, I think it’s going to be tons of fun.

Cape Town

July 20, 2008

Thanks for the comments, family!

Aunt Kathy,
Some pictures are to follow.  We traveled to Cape Town yesterday and I saw the most amazingly beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes!  Pictures don’t do justice, as usual, but they get the idea across!

Aunt MA,
To tell you the truth, I can’t really tell much difference between the South African and British accents.  They are very similar and like with the British, some people are easier to understand than others!  Almost everyone in Stellenbosch speaks English and Afrikaans (probably everyone, actually, because mainstream classes are taught in Afrikaans but anyone attending university is sure to speak English as well).  I’d also bet that many people speak another language or two- likely another South African language like Zulu or Xhosa (maybe as a home or regional language- SA has 11 official languages in total) and probably a European language.  Also- there are tons of other international students here and they all speak almost perfect English.  They’re very humble about their English skills but they speak very, very well and are eager to learn.

So far as the aggressive people, I plan on getting some mace this week.  The gym starts classes in the next few days and one of my friends said they offer a self-defense class in a week or two and we are planning on attending.  To this point, the aggression has injured my body much less than my psyche.  I want both to be safe but I expect the latter to be the most difficult to protect.

They have EVERYTHING here!   They have a wide variety of toiletries and makeup and home furnishings and I want for nothing.  The food so far has been amazing.  The “fast-food” is pretty crappy (they have a McDonald’s but that’s it for American chains, they have a lot of street side shops and the student center has probably 10 places that serve mediocre “South African” fare.) but the real restaurants are delicious!  Yesterday in Cape Town I had an amazing vegetable bruchetta at an open-air cafe on the harbor for $9.  Ocean side dining for less than $10!!!

I have no idea what is up with the kitties!  I haven’t found anyone to ask.  They’re actually about 50/50 with and without tails, but they are definitely strays so I don’t know that anyone would have had a chance to catch them and remove the tail on purpose.  I’ll ask my South African History professor, I’m sure he’ll be amused. =)

Cape Town has the hugest squirrels ever, just look at that little chubber bunny!  Leave it to the Americans to ignore the beauty of the Company Gardens in favor of the squirrels. (The Company Gardens were first used to grow the fruits and veggies needed to replenish the ships stopping at Cape Town on their way to the Far East.)

Mom, a Bird of Paradise flower in real life.  Towards the end of the season and full of bugs, but still!

Table Mountain from the Company Gardens (When there are clouds they call them Table Mountain’s table cloth, ha.)

Cape Town from Signal Hill

Table Mountain

Veeery cold Atlantic Ocean!

Thanks for your support!  More news and pictures soon!