Tuesday, January 29, 2008


On Saturday Wezi took us to Khayletshia, the largest township in Cape Town (more on that later). The occasion was an Umgidi - a coming of age party for a boy. When Xhosa boys reach about 18 years old, they are circumcised and then sent to live in the bush for about 4 weeks. This can be very dangerous --- they face the risk of attack by people or animals, infection from their circumcision, and so on. Some do not make it back. While they are away they are both healing and learning to be a man, and when they return, they are considered men. The Umgidi is the acknowledgment and celebration of this rite of passage. The parents throw the party, inviting as many guests as they can. However, even if you are not invited, you can show up, and the family has to prepare for that as well. It is considered good fortune to have "party crashers" show up because it makes the party more lively, and, as Wezi noted, "the people who are not invited sing the loudest." I was one such party crasher.

Well, not exactly - we were technically invited by Wezi, who was invited by her friend, who was invited by the family... practically family. That's how it works among the Xhosa culture - there is a very blurred line between family and friends, and friends and acquaintances.

Anyway, we showed up. And though we stood out a bit (ha!), we were greeted with open arms. No, much more than that... we were actually welcomed with about 20 large aproned women running at us, shrieking at the top of their lungs and pushing/pulling us into the house in a blur of apron strings, large bottoms and hugs. They immediately pulled two older women off of their plastic chairs so that Jeannie and I would have a seat, and then asked us to give a speech.

After a smiley speech about how happy we were to be there, we presented our gift of a bed comforter to the mom of the young man who had recently come of age, and then settled into our plastic chairs to enjoy the show. And a show it was - everytime a guest arrived with a present (usually of some sort of alcohol) they were ushered in with the same excitement and robust singing. There is something very special about South African singing - I swear they are born with some natural ability to harmonize on queue to absolutely any tune and make it appear that they had been practicing the last 6 months straight - but I digress.

Needless to say, it was amazing. The pictures above are of some of the women - the women and men are separated for the entire party (the women have waaaaay more fun, trust me.) The top picture is of the oldest women who sit along the back. They have probably 6 teeth between them, but grinned at me with the warmest toothless smiles I have ever seen, and held my hands tight when I greeted them.

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I have decided that if I am still dancing like this when I am old, I will have led a happy, happy life.
Trying the traditional beer - which is supposed to be drunk while on your knees (bare-footed matriarchs are exempt, apparently) - I don't know much about how it tastes because when I tried it it very unfortunately all went up my nose. I need to work on my bucket drinking skills like the lady on the left.

Sitting and chatting with our new friends. Wezi is the one sitting on the floor.
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Umgidi dancing - Women

This was one of those moments I couldn't believe I was actually living.
Here's a video of dancing/singing at the Umgidi- its a bit long, but watch until the end, the lady dancing is worth it. Hope it works!!!
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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lights Out

South Africa is currently facing a power crisis.
Because of this, they have rolling blackouts all over the city.
The night before we went up to the top of Table Mountain, the power went out and people were stranded IN THE CABLE CAR for hours and hours. 500 people were stuck at the top. FORTUNATELY, we went the next night and everything was fine. My logic: if it was broken yesterday, they will fix it to ENSURE that it won't be broken today. It worked with this, but I'm not going to push my luck.

The power problem is a big issue for the World Cup in 2010 - people are afraid they will lose the bid because they don't have reliable infastructure. Eek.

Xhosa lessons and school readiness

My Xhosa teacher, Wezi, is amazing. Her normal occupation is a primary grade teacher, but she teaches English and Xhosa (she is a native Xhosa speaker) on the side. <> Jeannie and I have been in classes now for two weeks, and have gotten to know her very well. Yesterday, she was telling us that she is leaving formal teaching because she has discovered that her life's passion is to create a "school readiness" program for children in the township where she lives. She says the main problem with township schools is that the children are not adequately prepared for school (they don't speak English at home) which results in shockingly low literacy and numeracy rates. She is planning on creating the equivalent of a "head start" program that would be free of cost to the children, and would allow them to learn the basic skills they would need to be successful in school. This of course is a project near and dear to my heart, and Jeannie and I about jumped out of our chairs when we heard her talk about it. I love it for so many reasons:

1. She thought of it, not us, and it is a program that will be addressing a specific issue that is greatly affecting South African schools
2. It is realistic - she just needs a space and some donated school supplies

Jeannie and I are going to get started looking for grants and whatnot to provide the basic of what she'll need. Next Friday, she is taking us to the township schools so that we can have a look for ourselves. Wezi is spending this weekend writing a business plan, which we will hopefully be able to go over with her next week.

I am very, very excited.

Sunset on Table Mountain

On Tuesday Victor, Jeannie and I took the cable car up Table Mountain - one of the "to-dos" of Cape Town. It was an utterly perfect night - very little wind (an anomily in Cape Town), great company and the best views imaginable. To make it even better, the night we went up was a full moon! Cape Town is truly an outdoor lover's paradise.

Overlooking Cape Town just before sunset.
View of sunset overlooking the ocean

The one on the right is ME! I say this to prove how amazingly well my leg is doing lately - I can even jump (though it looks higher than it actually was)! Jeannie is on the left and Victor is in the middle. A group of Germans gave us the idea for the picture. Cool, no?

Cape Town at night

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Robben Island

Limestone quarry where Mandela and other prisoners worked during their incarceration. Our guide called this ground a "university of peacemaking" because it was here that Mandela would preach forgiveness and unity to the other prisoners.

Looking into Nelson Mandela's prison cell.

A former prisoner of Robben Island gave us our tour. He spent 6 years incarcerated at Robben Island for "treason." He was wonderful.
* * *
When Jeannie and I arrived in South Africa, Victor surprised us with tickets to Robben Island. He wanted to make sure that we went there and saw it as soon as possible. I am so, so glad he did. We went on Saturday for the better part of the day, and it was so far my favorite experience in South Africa. I have so much to learn from this country and its leaders.
Robben Island is a small island that is roughly a 45 minute ferry ride from Cape Town. It has been used for many, many purposes over the years (such as an isolation center for lepers curing the 19th century) but has been made infamous for being the detention center for political prisoners (most famously Nelson Mandela) during apartheid. Political prisoners were held in a maximum security prison on Robben island beginning in 1961. The last prisoners were released in 1991.
Our guide talked a bit about Nelson Mandela's experience at Robben Island. I am not usually one to idealize public figures, but the more I have learned of Nelson Mandela, the more I realize that he is a true hero, and a true peacemaker. Our guide told us that in the limestone quarry, where the prisoners were forced to work for years on end (many of the prioners of Robben Island are now snowblind because they had to work in the limestone with no protective eye-wear) <> Nelson Mandela would teach the other prisoners about reconciliation and forgiveness. He would tell them not to fight the white guards, because those guards were simply victims of a sick society.
Jeannie asked a South African man the other day what happened to all of the perpetrators of apartheid who were not incarcerated. The man told her that they were able to go home and live in their communities. We wondered, how could that be? How would they be able to live free of fear in a society in which they were the overthrown oppressors? I think much of this can be contributed to Mandela and others like him who promote forgiveness over retaliation.
Our guide told us that Mandela borrowed the idea of reconciliation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who is being celebrated in the United States this weekend. I am celebrating here with a renewed sense of the meaning of reconciliation, peacemaking, and forgiveness.
* * *
Some selected quotes by Nelson Mandela:
A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people, I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if it needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.

After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.

If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness. Posted by Picasa

The animal life of Robben Island

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On Saturday we took a ferry to Robben Island. I was shocked to find that the island was chalk-full of animals! We saw an ostrich (pictured), several botenbok, and the bok that looked like miniature reindeer (I haven't learned their name yet). We also saw hundreds of birds and rabbits. It was most surprising because the island is nearly entirely bare - we were told that there is no accessible fresh water because imported eucalyptis trees have drained any reserves that there were. However, they cannot cut down the eucalyptis trees because it would alter the bird life. All water for people living on the island has to be shipped from Cape Town. While there were prisoners on the island, they had sharply rationed drinking water.

Cape of Good Hope

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Here is a picture of my partners in crime and me at the Cape of Good Hope.

Cape Point

Posted by PicasaCape Point was a powerful experience, more powerful than I expected. We bought tickets to ride to the top of the hill facing Cape Point, where the lighthouse is located that looks over the Cape of Good Hope. From the top, you can see forever in every direction. They have a post at the top that points to Antarctica, New York, Jerusalem, etc. This is the point where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, and the rocky turbulent waters created by two oceans of different temperatures and different depths are the waters that were so dreaded by sailors traveling from Europe to India. I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if it had not been possible to navigate those waters and the spice trade had not begun - is it naive to wonder if maybe then the slave trade would not have begun, or colonialism as we know it? How much of our history was determined by being able to pass ships by the Cape of Good Hope? I don't know. But it is a historic point, and strikingly beautiful.


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On our way to the Cape of Good Hope, we ran into this family of baboons. Supposedly, you can really separate the tourists from the locals if you watch how they react to baboons. Here, they are seen a a huge nuisance (they really like to jump on your car and steal purses) and the locals avoid them at all cost. For tourists (aka, ME) baboons are the coolest thing we've seen since, well, the penguins down the road. So I took about a 120 pictures of them. Fortunately, the baboons were much less interested in the pink VW bug than they were the bus load of Chinese tourists who decided to get OUT of their cars and walk right up to them. We made it through without incident.


Posted by PicasaOn the map, Cape Town is situated near the most southwestern tip of Africa, only about a 30 minute drive from the Cape of Good Hope. On Thursday, Victor, Jeannie and took off after our Xhosa lessons and drove (again in the pink Bug) to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. On the way, we took a stop at St. James beach (where the colorful beach houses line the beach) and Boulder Beach (where the penguins live!). At the first beach we attempted to swim, hearing that it was one of the warmest beaches around (my legs went numb), but quickly gave up and headed for the penguins. I cannot describe to you how excited I was to see real, live, in the wild penguins. I talked about it so much that everyone I was with was rather sick of me. It was worth every bit of the excitement. (this is my opinion, others I was with disagreed) They have to be one of the strangest animals ever. I'll spare you paragraphs of detail about the penguins, but do look at the pictures - they are fascinating.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Talking politics... oops.

I must preface this with saying that as Rotary scholars, we are advised to avoid such topics as politics and race if it is possible. We are here, after all, to promote understanding and goodwill, not become involved in decisive political debates and such.

However, after being in South Africa for about 1.5 seconds, I realized that avoiding either of those topics would not be possible, as politics and race are the 2 most talked about topics in the country (or so it seems after my entire 3 days of living here). After about half an hour of trying to avoid the topics, I indulgently gave in and have been relishing ever since in the deliciousness of South African opinions about their president (very controversial), race relations (discussed surprisingly openly), our president (not their favorite person), our presidential candidates (they are FASCINATED with Obama and can't get enough of him - "Why do the American people like him? Is it because he is running against a woman? What IS it about him they like so much? And so on.) And so on and so forth.

I love it. I can't get enough of it. Every little opinion and eye roll that they give while filling me in on the political situation from the South African perspective is like a little puzzle piece to the enigma of this fantastic and complex country. Moreover, people WANT to talk about it, I never ask, they just offer, and I soak up everything I can.

In a strange twist of events two nights ago, my friend, roommate and fellow Rotary Scholar, Jeannie, ended up having dinner with a well known filmmaker and his friend, who is one of the more controversial authors in South Africa. The author friend recently wrote a book Fit to Govern, a biography about current South African president Mbeki. At some point during the evening, the filmmaker and the author got in a lively debate over current South African politics.

Jeannie and I spent hours that evening squealing like schoolgirls over every detail of the encounter, with me salivating over the details like they were steamy descriptions of a first date.... or something. We found out that the author has had a real live editorial cartoon drawn of him... !

Here at last!!!

I am - at long last - officially in South Africa.

My first impression of Cape Town is something like this:
1. Imagine the most beautiful mountain scenery you have ever imagined.
2. Multiply it by 100.
3. Now, add the most beautiful, turquoise green ocean right below the mountains.
4. Imagine utterly perfect weather, and then add a lot of wind.
5. Add more wind.
6. Sprinkle in people of every color, with fabulous accents.
7. Imagine the most charming colonial city you have ever seen, and then surround it by squatter settlements.
8. Give it a good dash of bad techno music and great jazz.
9. And there you have my first impression of Cape Town.

Xhosa day one.

Today was the first day of Xhosa class. Jeannie and I showed up really hoping that the Language Training Center was a real place, and sure enough, it was!

There are three types of "clicks" in Xhosa -
x - the sound you make when you are trying to get a horse to speed up
c - the "tsk tsk" sound, or the sound someone makes when you are giving a little attitude (my students would be experts)
q - the "cork" pop noise

My tongue is tired.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What's between Burley and Cape Town?

On the afternoon of January 8th, after several rather frantic packing days, (By the way, it all made it in the bags rather successfully) my travels began. So did a blizzard that took over southern Idaho and northern Utah. My dad drove my mom, me and 2 highly strategically packed 70 pound bags from Burley to Salt Lake City, going about 45 miles an hour through the blizzard. Fortunately, we made it to Salt Lake about 5 hours later with little incident. Here is a picture of the roads at around 4:30 as we were traveling through Idaho:

Here's my last pic with the padres in SLC :( Miss you!

The next morning, I flew from Salt Lake to New York, said a passionate goodbye to my cell phone, looked for a hot dog (come ON New York, no hot dogs in the airport?!) and boarded the plane for London.

London was a bit of zinger - a 14 hour layover.
I was a bit worried about being able to get the news about the U.S. election results - the New Hampshire primary had just turned everything upside down the night before and I was disappointed I would be missing out on all of the juicy post-analysis and projections. So I wandered into a coffee shop as soon as i got into London hoping for a little tidbit of news on the matter. HA! EVERY single news paper in the store had the eleciton news sprawled across its front page. I picked up a copy of the times and there were fifteen - FIFTEEN articles covering the elections in even better detail than I could have hoped from CNN. I was laughing to myself so much I decided to take a few pictures while I drank a delightful chai tea latte.
The Brit perspective on the role of race in the election was fascinating and they committed pages upon pages analyzing why race and/or gender was the reason or not the reason for Obama's loss and Clinton's. Sorry for the crass language in the last photo - I just thought it was so interesting that they decided to use that quote on page 2 of the newspaper, and then highlight it. They didn't seem nearly as interested in the Republican race, and I only saw one article on it in the entire newspaper.

Fortunately, I wasn't left to take pictures of the newspaper for very long (who KNOWS what would have happened), because Victor's cousin Peace picked me up from the airport and took me in for the day. We had a lovely time getting to know one another. I decided I wasn't going to sleep so that I could beat jet lag, but after an accidental 5 hour nap, I just embraced the jet lag and went with it. She cooked me a wonderful Nigerian meal, and I got to play with her kids Victor (godson of my Victor) and Vanessa. Here's a picture of little Victor:

I again boarded the plane, and after a small averted crisis regarding number of bags allowed (long story), I was on my way to Cape Town. I was fortunate to sit next to a guy about my age on the plane who is from Cape Town and gave me a few pointers before I became entirely engrossed in the online entertainment package. I watched approximately 3.5 movies, slept for about 1.5 hours, and before I knew it 12 hours had passed and I was landing in Cape Town!!!

Victor, Jeannie and Trevor (Cape Town Rotarian) picked me up from the airport and we were on our way.

SO - it only took 4 days of travel (a little less, actually), to make it from Burley, Idaho to Cape Town South Africa. :)