Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Namibia here I come...

Hi all! Just want to give a heads up that I'm heading to Namibia for the next couple of weeks!
Three of the other Ambassadorial scholars and I are renting a car on Friday, and driving up into Namibia, which is North of South Africa along the West Coast. It is one of the least populated countries in the world, and is high desert. Go to this link and just check out the photographs to get an idea of the terrain - it is unbelievable!: They speak English, Afrikaans (it was occupied by South Africa for many years), German (it was German colony) and many African languages. We're taking our camping equipment as there are long distances between major cities. Between the four of us, only two can drive a manual car (I'm not one), so I'm in charge of keeping the drivers happy.

Along the way we are stopping by Cape Town to visit with Victor and Jeannie (and see penguins again), and then we are heading to the capital city Windhoek (pronounced Vind-hook) because we are giving a Rotary talk there on March 20th. The Rotarians here have been wonderful, giving us advice and letting us borrow camping gear, maps, and

Here are a few photos - my internet situation is less that great here, so I've only been able to upload a few. Enjoy.

That said the real purpose of this message is to wish you all a beautiful and blessed Easter. I will be spending Easter weekend in Sossusvlei - My goal is to watch the sunrise from the top of a sand dune in the middle of the desert on Easter morning. We'll see how that works out.

I love you all and hope that this Easter season is bursting with love and filled with new beginnings!
Much love,

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My crew

There are 3 of the dearest people in the world - my fellow Rotary scholars in Grahamstown.

Rosa (far left) - working on Masters in Philosophy, native of Pennsylvania, passionate about ethics and philosophy, maybe has the best vocabulary of anyone I have ever met, lived in a house without electricity for 6 years, tells it like it is, has the ability to make anyone feel like they are the most interesting/amazing person in the world, fellow road-tripper to Namibia.

Eben (the only boy)- working on Masters in Politics and IR, native of Smyrna, Tennessee but transplant to Mephis, can play a mean "bluegrass fusion" on his guitar, can impersonate ANY given person and/or animal, tortures dogs in the best way possible, has an extreme affinity for babboons even though he's never seen one, does an AMAZING job of being the only male with three girls, can and WILL make you laugh within the first 10 minutes of knowing him... also fellow road-tripper to Namibia
Alicia (far right)- working on Masters in Politics and IR, native of Minnesota, transplant to Chicago, passionate about social justice and conflict resolution, my church buddy and also betrothed to an engineer, doesn't really understand sarcasm but works hard at it ;), lived in Zambia for a year, can lead a dance better than any man, is passionate about helping people and will throw herself 100% behind you if you need her help, amazing at making things happen.
And together, we are one solid Rotary Ambassadorial team - I love them all dearly and can't imagine being here without them.

My Room and THE HILL

This is my humble abode. It's small but cozy. I live in a house with 6 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms a living room and a faux-kitchen. Notice that my window is open in the background. This was taken before I learned the hard way what happens when you leave your window open.This, my friends, is THE HILL. I hesitate to put this picture up, because it doesn't give it full justice. You cannot see the agony of hiking up it in 100 degree heat, or the joy/fear of running/sliding down it in the rain, or the pain the cars trying to shift gears to get up it. My house is at the very top on the left (not visible).

Monday, March 10, 2008


For all of you in the US ---- you should read this:
Prescription drugs found in drinking water across U.S..

Meanwhile, over here in South Africa, we have the cleanest water in Africa. Sparkling pure. And I mean that seriously- the water is excellent, people can drink from the tap with no problem. Except in Grahamstown, where we have the highest feces and iron content in our water in all of South Africa. Mmmmm. I have a moral dillemna with drinking bottled water when I live in places where the water is potable. Grahamstown its a bit sketchy, so I err on the side of being safe. However, whenever I run out of bottled water, I face the dillemna: do I drink the tap water, or do I dehydrate? After walking up THE HILL, this is especially daunting. I usually roll the dice and drink the water, and so far I've been fortunate. This morning though, I filled the sink with water to wash my face and it was BROWN. So I'm getting myself back to the store and buying a huge jug of water tonight.

The Xhosa word for water is amanzi.

Sad today

Last night I watched Last King of Scotland with my room mates, and this morning for our anthropology class we watched Hotel Rwanda.

Its ironic that two American-made movies (both of which I watch in the US) have become so much more relevant to me in South Africa. The horror of genocide becomes more and more real the more I understand what ignites it.

I have also found that I have become incredibly sensitive to violence in movies - it didn't used to faze me - but the more I learn about the reality of violence, the less I am able to watch it being simulated. Last night when I went to bed after watching Last King of Scotland I laid there for about an hour feeling sick to my stomach.

I am riding an emotional roller-coaster, some days feeling exuberent, amazed and hopeful about how this country is coping with its oppressive past, and then days like today, just overwhelmed and sad.

Not exactly the most happy beginning to a new week.

In the news...


Times Topics: South Africa
Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

A worker from the video at a news conference last month. She and others were shown being humiliated by the students.

In the next scene, motherly black women in maids’ uniforms kneel in the dirt courtyard of the Reitz student residence complex, awaiting their mock initiation into the all-white house. Rowdy students tell the women who mop their floors and scrub their toilets to swallow the stew. Gagging, the women spit it out.

“Whore, drink that whole glass!” shouts one student.

This incendiary video, made with casual cruelty, recently leaped from the small, enclosed world of the Reitz residence to the World Wide Web. The four Afrikaner students who made it in September for a “cultural evening” at Reitz are now under criminal investigation. Two of them are barred from the campus; the other two completed their studies before the inquiry.

The university, concerned that Reitz has become synonymous with racism, is considering shutting down the residence. On Friday, the university’s governing body condemned the video as racist and an insult to women and poor working people.

A lawyer for the students, Nico Naude, said the video had been made “in the spirit of fun,” that the women had participated willingly and that the student did not urinate in the food but had squeezed a drink from a bottle.

Fusi Nchabeng, the provincial secretary for the women’s union, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union, said the women did not know the video was made to protest integration, nor that, as they now believe, the food was urinated on. He declined to make the women available for an interview because the case is under criminal investigation, but he said they had worked at the residence for years and felt betrayed by the students and degraded by the video.

As the video and postings about it spread to YouTube and Facebook, it has provoked ever more bitter racial division on the campus and soul-searching across the country. “It’s bigger than the university,” said Billyboy Ramahlele, who heads the university’s diversity office. “It’s bigger than the four students. It’s really a challenge of the project of nation-building and reconciliation we started in 1994.”

That was the year white rule finally ended in South Africa. The University of the Free State has come a long way since the heyday of apartheid, when it was a training ground for the Afrikaner civil servants who became cogs in a racist political order.

Like many South African institutions, the university has undergone a transformation that is sweeping, but still incomplete. A majority of the university’s 25,000 students are now black. They are taught in English as well as Afrikaans, the language of the Afrikaners.

The hostels where students live, however, were still segregated after an earlier effort at integration ended in violence a decade ago. Then in January, after months of debate, the university moved again to integrate the residences, assigning black first-year students in white, Afrikaner hostels and whites in black residences. The white students generally did not take the spots allotted to them in the black residences, university officials said.

Eight black first-year students were sent to live with 128 white male students at Reitz.

“They seriously don’t want us here,” said Buzwe Tsawu, 19, an aspiring architect whose painterly self-portrait hangs on the wall.

At 3 o’clock one morning in mid-January, the eight black students were awakened with a bang as firecrackers were tossed through the open windows of the four bedrooms of their bungalow, they said. In the weeks that followed, they said, their windows were repeatedly broken as they slept. One weekend, as the seniors gathered at the social club next door to drink and party and braai, as barbecuing is called in South Africa, the newcomers were subjected to verbal abuse.

“They were trying to scare us, make us leave,” said Kulani Mngadi, 19.

But the black students made a pact to stick it out. “We’re going to change this place,” said Ruddy Banyini, a 19-year-old who is studying bioinfomatics, using computer tools to search genetic databases. “We’ll prevent next year’s black first-years from feeling what we felt.”

Many Afrikaners see what they call “forced integration” as a threat to the cultural identity of their embattled minority, descended from Dutch settlers.

Symbols of the apartheid-era past are still to be found in the Afrikaner hostels. The Hendrik Verwoerd residence, named at its opening in 1968 for the assassinated architect of apartheid, was given a new name, Armentum, two years ago. Armentum is Latin for herd. A bust of Mr. Verwoerd, a white supremacist, remains in a meeting room, and his portrait and memorabilia line the walls of the senior social club.

The hostel now has 18 blacks among its 160 residents, and its leader, Van Aardt Cloete, a 21-year-old senior, acknowledged the need to change the name because it “was sensitive for black people.” But he also said Armentum would keep a room in the hostel as a museum to showcase the Verwoerd past.

Pieter Odendaal, a 23-year-old senior who is the head of Reitz house, said: “There’s a fear, especially among young white South Africans, that there isn’t a future in this land anymore, that there’s all this black empowerment. We don’t have anything to do with apartheid. Why must they take away our job opportunities? Why must we give up our language? People just want to hold onto the last thing we still have: our Afrikaans-speaking hostel, playing rugby, braaiing, listening to Afrikaans music.”

The Reitz student video was made last year as the integration debate raged. “Once upon a time,” one student says in the opening frames, “the Boers had fun living on Reitz Island up until a day when the previously disadvantaged found the word ‘integration’ in the dictionary.”

Frederick Fourie, the rector of the University of the Free State, heard about the video on Feb. 26 and watched it that morning. An Afrikaner whose father was a professor here, Mr. Fourie said he wept when he reached one scene.

It showed a muscular white student starting a race of four hefty black cleaning women, set in slow motion to the theme music from “Chariots of Fire” — a scene Mr. Fourie felt humiliated good-hearted women who deserved better from students they had looked after.

When he saw the urination scene, he knew he had a public relations disaster on his hands.

The next day, he met with the tearful cleaning women. “My heart was sore,” he said. “They’d trusted these boys as their own sons. I apologized for what had happened to them at the university. I told them: ‘My heart is broken. I cry with you.’ ”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

More about last night

I arrived early at the talk I went to last night (mentioned in depth below). I was warned that they may run out of seating as many people would want to hear the speaker. I arrived approximately 1/2 hour early.... and along with my friend were the first people there. By 7, when the event was to start, the auditorium was only half-full, which was a good thing, because the speaker was not there.

After 20 or so minutes, the MC announced that the speaker was caught in a roadblock and would be arriving late. As soon as she stepped away from the mic, one of the students in the back stood up and called out a song at the top of his lungs, and within seconds, dozens of students joined in the song clapping and swaying. It was beautiful - again, South Africans have an AMAZING ability to harmonize. The funny thing was that only the black students sang, with a couple of exceptions. The white students either just ignored it or looked around uncomfortably.

It was a very interesting interaction, and the singing continued on and off until the speaker arrived, and then picked up again after he was announced until he started speaking.

I hear that PAC has some of the most radical and passionate followers of any of the political parties - I am now getting a glimpse of what that means.

The members of the speaker's entourage wore shirts that said: Eliminate poverty before poverty eliminates you. ((which he referenced in his talk when speaking about how poverty is a breading ground for terrorism - he said that during the struggle, when he had to rally support behind the idea of violent revolution, he just had to speak in an impoverished area.))

A different perspective..

Last night I went to a talk by Mr Letlapa Mphahlele, the president of the PAC - one of the openly militant political parties that was outlawed during apartheid. He was a Freedom Fighter (the apartheid government called him a terrorist), responsible for ordering dozens of 'operations.' (aka - bombs, assassinations and roadblock killings of apartheid officials) His talk was just mind-blowing. I still cannot get my mind completely around it.

There were different groups who opposed apartheid. In the West, we most commonly hear about the non-violent movement headed by Nelson Mandela and his counterparts. However, there were huge amounts of people who did not believe that a non-violent revolution was going to achieve anything, and so opted for a violent revolution. Mr. Mphahlele was among the believers in a violent revolution.

What was so novel to me about his speech was the fact that he fully admitted his role in the killing of hundreds of people. He did not express regret for it. Nor was he proud of it. He presented it as something that had to happen in a time of war, but also said that just because it had to happen did not mean that everyone did not need to heal from it. Since he was able to return from exile, he has spent years going from family to family of the people who he was responsible for killing and talking to them. Again, not apologizing, but explaining why it had to happen that way. He said that the vast majority of the time, the families understand, and some even express that if they had been under oppression as he had been, they would have done the same.

Interestingly, he refused to participate in the Truth and Reconcilation Commission, which gave both Freedom Fighters and members of the apartheid regime a chance to confess their transgressions and be given amnesty (official 'forgiveness'). While the Commission has been widely praised world-wide and replicated in many different countries, he said that in fact it was not a true representation of the 'truth' as it gave amnesty to almost all apartheid officials, but not to all Freedom Fighters. (a far simplification) Here is an excerpt from a news article outlining some of his points:

Mr Letlapa Mphahlele, PAC President

Monako Dibetle, published 02 October 2006

It was a result of a prevailing political situation. People must remember
that the attacks happened at the time of the Boipatong train and taxi
massacres of the African people.

I had a problem with the whole set-up, because it equated the violence of
the aggressor with the violence of the oppressed. Another major flaw of the
TRC was that 80% of amnesty applicants were Africans and only 20% were
white. The figures reflect that Africans were responsible for their own
oppression, which is a fallacy. Also, you applied individually and were
granted amnesty individually -- overlooking the collective nature of the

No, because you can't legislate for or against forgiveness; it's an
individual choice. My involvement with the people who were hurt because of
my orders has no cut-off date -- it is an unfolding process. I think it is
the right thing to do because after hurting each other we must become agents
of healing, spiritually and practically.

African is more than geographical. It is identification with Africa, her
aspirations and her dreams, and the willingness to be part and parcel of a
broad struggle to liberate her from domestic and foreign domination. Which
means skin colour does not exist.

Outrage over video

This week, university campuses all over South Africa are posing protests in response to the release of a racist video made by university students in the Free State (one of the northern provinces of South Africa). The video, in which several white male students made black domestic worker women perform a series of tasks (as in Fear Factor) such as playing rugby, and eating some sort of food in which it had been made to appear as if the students had urinated.

The university where the video is made is just recently integrating its dorms (in other words, they are still segregated) and the video was made addressing the integration. At the end of the video, it said something to the effect of - this is what we think of integration.

This hit the international media and is an ugly example of the racism that is still deeply ingrained, even in the younger generations here. Marches are planned at all of the major universities to show that this is not something that will be tolerated.

This week is also human rights week at Rhodes - and outrage over the video is being used to discuss issues regarding all types of human rights violations.

Barefoot... in the library?

There is an abnormally high number of people here who do not wear shoes. I am not talking people who cannot afford shoes, but instead people who choose not to wear shoes. These barefooters are almost exclusively white and well-dressed. I would say I see at least 2 people a day who are walking around barefoot - to class, to the grocery store, to the movie house, you name it.

This is going to require further examination.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Update Email #3

Hello hello hello!!!

First arriving in Grahamstown was an emotional let-down after the dynamicism of living in Cape Town. In Cape Town I was under a constant barrage of social justice issues. Grahamstown was painfully silent upon first arrival. Or rather - maybe deafening would be a better word. It was "O-week" - Freshman orientation, and the campus was under attack by a giant herd of drunken 18 year olds playing very loud 2 year old bad American hip-hop. So I spent the better part of my 1st week here avoiding every orientation activity that I could (I know, not very ambassadorial-like of me) and searching for the passion I had felt from South Africans in Cape Town (and I don't mean the passion of a 19 year old boy who just got out of all-boys boarding school, because we certainly had enough of that to go around). It has taken a while - but I now realize that Grahamstonians live in a constant battle with social justice... that becomes increasingly apparent the longer I am here.

I live in a house, a great house actually. I live with 5 other South African post-grad (aka graduate) students. We are quite the diverse group - 2 Afrikaners, a Coloured** girl, a black Xhosa-speaking girl, and English girl, and myself. We have our own little Rainbow house...

**During Apartheid, all people were demarcated by race. I think there were something like 7 categories, but the main ones were White (Afrikaner or English), Native (black Africans - all of the different tribes were lumped into one category), Indian, and Coloured. Coloured was taken to mean anyone of mixed descent or of Asian descent. Today, the terms are still in use, though instead of using "Native", people in general refer to black Africans as African (which gets confusing and is disputed by some people). People still refer to people of mixed racial background as Coloured. It does not have the negative connotation here that it does in the states.

Anyway, the 6 of us live in a house on the top of THE HILL. The hill and I have an extreme love-hate relationship. It definitely is helping my leg muscles, and for that I am grateful. For every other reason, I hate it with a passion that burns deep and wide. Especially at night. Especially when it is raining. And especially, especially especially when it is hot. Today it is hot, which is why I am in the computer lab, because there is a fan in the computer lab (I don't have one in my room). AND it does not require walking up a hill.

We don't have a kitchen in our house - correction: we do have a kitchen in our house, it just doesn't have kitchen things like an oven. Or a stove. We do have a microwave, but we are told we can't cook in it unless it is popcorn.... which is a rule I definitely break. Shhh. We also have rules like we have to sign boys in and out, no guests after midnight, no candles, have to check out if we are leaving overnight, etc. etc. Their end of the deal is that they will provide electricity, water, and internet. So far, I have water and electricity. Until they get the internet going, I am going my soup in the microwave. :)

Our dining hall puts on events frequently where we have to get super dressed up (as in formal ball gowns - did I BRING a ball gown? No. Someone failed to tell me that when I moved to Africa I was going to need a ball gown) and we drink white wine and talk about intellectual things. Our dining hall has high ceilings, colonial architecture - it is kind of surreal - sometimes I feel like I am in a strange Harry Potter movie.

But then I walk into town past dozens and dozens of beggers who walk in from the townships that surround the city, and I remember that I am in Africa.

Grahamstown is a funny little place. It is this quaint little town nestled between hills with an amazingly reputed university with beautiful buildings and an Arts festival every summer that is known throughout the world. HOWEVER, as I mention below, it is in the poorest province in South Africa. The lovely hills that surround the city are covered with informal settlements - townships, or as they call it here - the Location. From the manicured lawns of the university, you can look up and see the horizon saturated with poverty.

I have a really hard time just not thinking about that. Perhaps I will become more inoculated as the months go on, but so far, I can't do it. Fortunately, the community here is mobilizing around the issues, and I am able to join the the wave. Here are some of the projects I am involving myself in:
  • SHARC - a student group dedicated to issues surrounding HIV/AIDS - and connected to the nation-wide TAC (treatment action campaign)
  • Rotaract - in conjunction with the Rotary clubs, working on all sorts of community issues
  • Amasango - a school specifically for street children
  • the Raphael Centre - a treatment center for people who are HIV+, specifically women and children
  • Rotary - my Rotary club involves itself in the community in a variety of ways. Right now I am going to work with them on a literacy project aimed at township schools.
Speaking of Rotary, I am treated like a queen here. The Rotarians have been BEYOND amazing to me. I rarely have 2 nights go by without an invitation for dinner at a Rotarian's home. A couple of nights ago Geoff Antrobus, the Rotarian who is in charge of the incoming scholars to Grahamstown, took all of us on a game drive to the game reserves right around Grahamstown. We saw zebra, wildebeast, wart hogs (pumba!), all sorts of bok (deer/elk type animals), a giraffe!! and maybe... an elephant (it was really far away). Pictures will follow shortly. I am also going camping with the Rotary club in a few weeks to Addo elephant park.

We had our Rotary orientation last weekend in Cape Town - which was INCREDIBLE. I will update more about it on my blog, but suffice it to say, it was the most thoughtfully planned, incredible weekend I could have ever hoped for. The Rotarians here truly are some of the most gracious and welcoming people I have ever met. I feel so fortunate to have a Rotary district at home that supports me as much as they do AND a Rotary club here that supports me as much as they do - I am truly sandwiched in the best way possible!!

And not to be forgotten, I'm in school! I am taking 3 courses (which is a lot for here, most Masters students only take 1 or 2 - which I still do not understand --- maybe I will at exam time)
  • Post-colonial Identities - An anthropology class, which is AMAZING - the first half has been focused on construction of identity since colonialism, and the second half of the class is how that plays out in Africa - namely in incidences of genocide, war, and conflict. Next week we start the Rwandan genocide.
  • IR Theory - a true Political theory class, but it is so interesting to look at it from an African context. The theories play out very differently if you are talking from the perspective of one of the "periphery" states.
  • Cold War Studies - Again, interesting mainly because we focus on the non-US/USSR relations, but on how the Cold War played itself out in the developing world. This class is exciting because at the end of the semester we are presenting our research at a seminar, with the option of publishing.
In addition to those three lovely classes, I am starting my Master's thesis, on the Politicization of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. I'll update more about that as it gets going better, but it is such a relevant topic here, as I live in the poorest and most-AIDS infected province in the most AIDS-infected country in the ENTIRE WORLD.

Needless to say - I am very busy.

Preview for next update: ---- Road trip.... TO NAMIBIA! :)

Much love.

PS - I LOVE hearing from you, it makes me feel so much more grounded and makes living abroad seem easy. Please keep the emails coming and update me on your life!!

Internet Frustration

So remember how I was going to get internet in my house "just now"?
Just now just got extended 4-8 more weeks. WEEKS. (Just so you know it was supposed to get put in 4 days after I moved in)

So I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I may just not have internet super-accessible this year.

As of now, my internet access is in the computer lab, which is only about a 10 minute walk from my house. Not bad. Not ideal, but not terrible either.

Anyway, sorry for the delay on postings and update emails. Usually when I am in the lab I am (gasp) doing school work. But now that I am accepting the fact that this may be as good as it gets, I'll be much more deliberate with postings.

I LOVE hearing from people, even if its just one or two lines, it means so much to know that people are keeping up with me back home. So forgive my tardiness in communication, and please keep the emails and comments coming. :)

Much love!