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!


Again, I’m very excited people are checking in regularly and are interested in reading!  Unfortunately, I don’t have anything exciting to report this week.  Last weekend was supposed to be shark cage diving, but the weather was poor and the waves were huge, so it was canceled.  I’ve rescheduled, but I was very disappointed.

On Sunday I had an 8 hour class to make up for the fact that my professor will be in Europe during the month of October.  I have three courses with him, so I have another this Saturday and a third to schedule sometime in the near future.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t so bad.  I enjoy the courses and feel like I’m going to come out of the trifecta with a very good understanding of post-conflict procedure and possibilities.  The courses are Negotiating Transition, Transitional Justice, and Truth Commissions.  I couldn’t remember which was which when I was scheduling =) but they’re differentiating themselves quickly and becoming quite fascinating. I’m also taking an Econ course, Economic and Development Problems in Africa… which, if you’ve heard me recite my goals for the future, sounds tailormade for my interests (but regardless of how adorable the professor is, thrilling lecturer he is not).  All of my classes are once held once a week for three hours, which to me is more enjoyable and makes more sense when the goal is to fascilitate discussion.

I have to write a research paper and an article for each course.  I will be posting the articles here when I’m finished, hopefully they’ll help make my interest easier to understand.  (Yes, I can hear you thinking “Eww, Economics?  Political Science?  Why am I sleepy all of a sudden?”) =)

Now!  Some things I’ve found particularly interesting in the past few days, followed by some pictures of Stellenbosch.

-There are six major human groups in the world.  All people, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, culture, political party, opinion or favorite color have evolved, migrated, combined, sailed and walked from one of these original groups, as catagorized by anthropolgists.  They are simply referred to as: blacks, whites, African Pygmies, Khoisan, Asian and Aboriginal Australians.  Of those six major human groups, Africa was home to five, all except Aboriginal Australians, by 1000 CE (Current Era.  In case you’ve been out of school for a few years, the use of BC and AD is being officially discontinued, as to the majority of the world “Before Christ” holds no significance.)
Thus, though the first thing that comes to mind when many people think of Africa is “BLACK!”, the continent is indeed extremely diverse and has been so for a long period of time.  In fact, technically, the whole of Northern Africa is white, not black.  This is anthropologically speaking, as in migration patterns, independent technological development, food production, ect., and does not speak to the validity of the concept of race.  I would gladly discuss that concept with anyone interested, though!  Is there such a thing as race?  Are there differences in genetics, brain capactiy, inhereted preferences/personality traits/concepts of humanity?  Or is the concept of race one designed simply to differentiate between “us” and “them” and therefore dehumanize “the other”?  Interesting to think about!

– African languages form the basis of the languages spoken by authors of the Bible, Torah and Qu’ran.  The Semitic languages (the family group of Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic (what Jesus would have spoken) form a subgroup of a larger language family that is mainly African, with two-thirds of surviving languages being spoken in Ethiopia.   The moral pillars of Western civilization have deep roots in a country we now use as the basis of poverty (“I bet kids in Ethiopia would like the rest of your dinner!”)

-The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the size of Western Europe, yet was brutally controlled and exploited by a single man, King Leopold II of Belgium, for half a century.  Stories of the atrocities being commited were so embarrassing for Belgium that Parliament annexed the Congo in 1908.  Belgium, a country the size of Maryland, continued to exploit and less vehemently brutalize the inhabitants of a country one-fourth the size of the United States for another 50 years.  Herein lies the power of guns.


July 17, 2008

I took the first picture from downtown and the second is from my balcony (the buildings in the picture are the same as the ones I am staying in.) 

The internet is now set up in my room- one of the last steps to being completely settled in!


I was really nervous about this whole endeavor in London. There were too many people and I really didn’t find a connection with any of them, and as stated,??, felt a total lack of connection with most. Many aren’t attempting to adapt to Stellenbosch with anymore ardor than they did in London. One girl is actually contemplating going home- hopefully she sticks it out long enough to get over the “culture shock” and sees how she feels.

However! Feelings of anxiety and near-regret have dissipated. Luckily, I got out of rooming with an American and have a Dutch roommate. I think the satisfaction I will gain from these months has increased exponentially due to just that fact. We’ve only spoken once because orientation is time consuming, but I see us becoming easy friends. We have a small apartment with a shared kitchen and individual bedrooms and bathrooms. The bed is supplied, as are linens, a desk and a wardrobe and it is about the same size as a US dorm room. The bathroom is entirely passable- the water is warm, pressure is fine, ect.

Today I overheard a group of girls talking about how this isn’t what they expected. I have absolutely no idea what they had in mind, but the district we are in is about as “first world” as you can imagine. We have a student center with a post office, banks, restaurants, stores, groceries, cell phones, ect. and a mall about a 10 minute walk from campus in a very nice shopping district. Outside of different brands and architecture, it is entirely European. The country is still developing in many ways and Stellenbosch as a town is neither problem free nor polished, but so far as our small corner of the continent goes, the University and your stereotypical image of “Africa” have nothing in common.

That being said, this is definitely a bubble, just like many universities in the US. It becomes fairly clear just on your ride from the airport. The scenery is undeniably beautiful, the mountains and the blue skies and the greenery, but in order to view this picturesque landscape, you have to look over “shanty towns” (it’s no longer politically correct to call them that), or communities started by apartheid but increased and intensified by the rapid urbanization occurring worldwide. (For example, Kayamandi, the settlement in Stellenbosch, had 6,000 residents under apartheid, but has a population of 30,000 today. I’ll get to volunteer there starting in a few weeks- my resident director also runs the program and is very enthusiastic which has made me very excited.) They look exactly like the very depressing pictures you see of foreign ghettos or “urban developments”- shed sized homes made of a variety of pieces of rusted aluminum and wood layered together, most drooping slightly to one side, seemingly held together by clothes lines. They are mostly without windows and are so close together they seem to be attached, all arranged in rows under an almost-mesmerizing web of electric lines and cell phone towers. We also encountered a couple of street kids yesterday and have been warned on many occasions that robberies are so common it is almost part of the culture, and, of course, walking alone at night isn’t advised. Overall it appears to be pretty safe here, though, and I don’t feel the need to exercise anymore caution here than I do at home. (Consider my paranoia at home before scolding me.) I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories to tell.


I haven’t registered for classes yet because we get to go to all of the classes we are interested in next week and then decide- which I think is extremely awesome. I’m no longer interested in doing the service-learning certificate because we were warned many times today that the program director is extremely strict and unaccommodating, and that it is very time intensive. Also, you have no say in which project you participate. Instead, I am going to take a full-course load and volunteer elsewhere and join other organizations. I’d rather be able to try many things and get more deeply involved in a few than be stuck doing something I didn’t care for. I’m still taking a language, though, since it counts for major credit. We had introductory Afrikaans (pronounced Afric-ahns as opposed to Africans) and Xhosa (pronounced with a click in the side of your mouth- a click like that guy in that one movie that winks and points at someone obnoxiously while making that clicking noise- so click+hosa) today and I have no idea which one I will choose. I’m going to attend both first meetings and see which one seems better. Afrikaans in more widely spoken in general, but Xhosa is more common in my province. Xhosa seems like it would be crazy fun to learn (c, x and q are clicks as well as some other combinations) and I’m thinking it was a home language and therefore largely an unwritten language until recently, meaning that all of the letters and sounds actually make sense (imagine that!) so pronunciation is based on logic and not arbitrary rules designed to subjugate the underclasses (Ehm, French). But logically I should take Afrikaans because it is more likely to be helpful in Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is actually a strictly Afrikaans university, outside of the classes for foreign students. It is one of the only and it is a fairly contentious issue because of the roots of the language. I was explaining it correctly-ish before I left, but now I understand more precisely. The Dutch established a stopping point for the East India Company in the 1600s and needed native labor for the farming and industry required to replenish passing ships. When native labor wasn’t enough, they sought further north for laborers and slaves. Seeing as there were a wide variety of community and regional languages, communicating with one another was very difficult and when the French, English and a few Portugese, as well as some Indians and a variety of other peoples from southern Asia, joined the Cape community, the language barrier was a little ridiculous. Afrikaans is basically watered down Dutch, very simple to learn and understand (there are only three tenses) and combined with words and influence from the above mentioned languages. At one point near the beginning, the Afrikaaners (used like an ethnic group) believed that they were the chosen people of Africa and that God had given them this land… a sentiment that surely contributed to the loss of native peoples and the subjugation of the colored Africans in later centuries. Therefore, Afrikaans is a colonial language and even though it is the first language of much of the community in South Africa, black, white, colored or otherwise, some people are offended by its use because of its roots. Oh and “colored”, though unfashionable in the US (and it is fashion) is the correct adjective as “black” doesn’t cover all of the bases in some cases.  Colored people may have a diverse ethnic background including all of the aforementioned oppressors, participants and natives of the Cape’s past.


Interesting things I’ve learned recently:


Stellenbosch is fairly conservative by world standards but is in a state of transition. Something like 1 in 5 men believe that if a woman wears revealing clothing, it is her fault if she is raped. However, that number is down from 33% a few years ago, so progress is indeed being made.


Avocado is on everything!


In addition to wines, South Africa also has awesome juices (or so they keep telling me)- today I tried litchi and bought a few others.


Things are cheap. Sheet sets run about R49, a good lunch is R29, a big container of yogurt is about R10. I got a few things at the grocery store today for breakfast tomorrow and nothing was more than R15. I haven’t been to a pub yet, but apparently shots run about R7 and a pint of beer is R10 or something. There are either 7 or 8 Rands in a dollar depending on the day. Prices on shampoo and cosmetic stuff seem pretty much the same, but only if you’re using an American brand product. I’m excited to go grocery shopping tomorrow— at Woolworths. Are those around in the US anymore? Did they have a grocery section when they were? They have really nice produce here. I’d like to go to the market but it is held on Saturdays and I won’t be in town.


There is no recycling program. But they do charge for plastic bags…


One of the reasons no one in South Africa was playing Halo is because you pay per MB here, not per month. The internet is sent underneath the Atlantic from either the US or Europe so the cost is based on the amount of usage.


Lastly, and MOST importantly… the kitties here don’t have tails! There are a couple of kitties running around and the first one I saw looked a little funny but I didn’t know why. I followed one last night and realized it didn’t have a tail, and I saw another today without one. I want to make friends with one and then make them do balancing tricks to see how it affects them.



Also- I wrote this a few days ago. Yesterday I did a massive shopping excursion and got the last of the things I needed, a cell phone and I went to the market and got some awesome food. An avocado here is about $.60 and pineapples are about $.70.


I’m actually a little bit homesick today- or maybe just a bit frustrated with the day. It’s kind of difficult to keep your mood under control. Like I said, the town is undeniably beautiful, but you turn a corner and are just hit with poverty and sadness. Today, for example, I “ordered” a bike and was walking home on the main street, and there were four people sitting on the side of the road. I saw them point at me, talk to one another, and then send this guy out to talk to me. He asked for money, as expected, but was super persistent about it, to the point of grabbing me and following me.


I’m collecting information and interesting points to make another “Helpful Info” thing… AIFS is doing a really great job, but of course there are things I would have liked to have known.