Tuesday, March 18, 2014

African Sunsets and Tracy Chapman

Hello, all!

I am currently in the town of Stellenbosch. It is essentially the wine capital of South Africa. It is a beautiful town, home of Stellenbosch University, and is known as the second oldest city in the country after Cape Town. It is very European looking, as it was settled by Europeans, and it somewhat reminds me of Charleston, South Carolina...and I really mean somewhat, haha! We just moved into our homestay last night, and I am staying with a wonderful woman, Ria. She lives by herself, along with three cats, and has a very beautiful home just outside the city. This homestay is extremely different from all the others we have had during our trip, yet it reminds me A LOT about the states and back home. It is playing tricks on me!

Ria is a free-lance translator, and specifically translates Afrikaans into English and vice-versa for individuals and groups. It is great staying with her, because she is very enthusiastic about my roommate Elizabeth and I learning the language as much as we can while staying here. I am not sure how much I will retain, and I actually REALLY miss our isiXhosa lessons. It's funny because Ria will say or ask something in English, and sometimes Afrikaans to play tricks on us, and I find myself answering in isiXhosa. My English has been challenged here, and as I always joke with my Thashy and NJ... "English is hard!" I have started to have my fair share of mix-ups with words and sentences, and the other day I asked a server at a cafe, "I have water, please," instead of "Can I have water, please" like I intended to say. YHO! Eish...these words...

It has been a long while since I have updated my blog, and I apologize for that. I will try to summarize as best as possible what I have been experiencing this past month or so.

We arrived back in Cape Town Sunday night after living for a full week in the Eastern Cape. We stayed in the rural village of Tshabo, located outside of King William's Town, which is where Steve Biko was banned during Apartheid. We were able to travel to King William's Town to visit the Steve Biko Center, his home, as well as where the freedom fighter is buried. At the center, we were able to visit with guides who spoke with us about Biko's life and legacy, as well as what the center does to keep his spirit and legacy alive. They offer community programming, education, and support, as well as a place for groups like SIT to come to learn as much as they can. I learned during this time that the TRC group from Luther visited in January, with Guy and Richard. This put a big smile on my face :D

During my time in South Africa, I have become more interested in the life of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness movement. Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned while at the center is that B.C. is not only for black individuals, but rather it is for any individual or group that is oppressed. Black Consciousness is becoming more studied and used as a way to first liberate the mind, in order to become conscious of just exactly "what is going on," so that individuals can then free themselves completely. What was most interesting was how Biko was a firm believer in black individuals freeing themselves from oppression. He  believed that they could not rely on anyone else to help them acquire this but themselves. Not only did the center help me understand these things, but reading Biko's "I Write What I Like" did as well. However, this book also challenged me and shook me in such a way because Biko set out to challenge the identities and beliefs of White Liberals - something I believe I was until Biko described how they were perhaps the biggest road block(s) blacks encountered, when becoming conscious about their possibilities of freedom from oppression. There have been a lot of things on mind since then, and I think it is a very good thing that I am trying to become more conscious of my political identity, especially while living in such a political country as South Africa.

King William's Town was a vessel to experiential learning, and so was the rural village of Tshabo. I believe I left a piece of my heart, spirit, and mind in Tshabo, and I don't think I will get it back. It is hard to speak or write of Tshabo without getting emotional. It is one of the most beautiful places I have been to: the environment and natural surroundings, the people, the culture, the rhythm of life people seem to live by, and that seems to keep them going..... I and another student, Niki lived with a Mama, three sisis, and two bhutis in a one room house. All eight of us lived in the same space, ate in the same space, gathered in the same space, and slept in the same space. There was no such thing as privacy, and this was a GOOD thing. It made me learn the value of being with people, but it also helped me understand South African culture better. Families are dependent on each other, and the members of a family are a person's entire world, and gives meaning to their being. It made me reflect on how my four-member family sometimes doesn't spend all that time together because we are privileged with privacy and our own "me-time." Although this is seen as a positive necessity in American culture, it is not in South African. Mamas think something is wrong with you if you are by yourself, alone in your room, or in some kind of confined space. They think you are sad and lonely, and this concerns them. In the states, we don't think this is the case. We value our privacy, and believe it is necessary to staying sane. However, I have learned through my different family experiences that just as much value should be given to spending time with family, or other people in general. While Americans may think privacy helps a person stay sane, I have come to believe through my experiences that being with people and family helps keep individuals' emotions stable, while giving value to experience(s) with other humans. So, mom, dad, and Tristan...if you are reading this and understand what I am trying to say....I think we should go camping this summer.

I saw the most beautiful sunsets in Tshabo, and I actually witnessed my first, legitimate sunset. A sunset in which I literally watched the sun sit on the horizon... it then began to set in a matter of 30 seconds. It sat right on the top of a mountain, and I watched it take its time lowering itself behind the body of land. This experience made me think of the American author, Kent Nerburn, and his book "Small Graces." A memorable quote in the book reads: "We do not all live holy lives, but we all live in a world alive with holy moments." This quote spoke to me at this time, and I think I understand it in a different, maybe better, way after watching a memorable African Sunset.

I have to also share that I have really been enjoying the different bus drivers SIT has used for our semester-long program. They are always so friendly, so fun, and always play the best music during our bus rides. One driver in particular played Tracy Chapman for the whole day, while we were bopping around King William's Town and back to Tshabo. I couldn't help but think of Kelsi and my Mama Mary :D It made my heart happy, and although listening to her music made me miss these two particular people, at the same time it also eased my homesickness which I was feeling all throughout Tshabo. There is just something about hearing or seeing a part of your culture that makes you miss it, but also that makes you appreciate it much more. I guess I just need to give some credit to the African Sunset and wonderful Tracy Chapman. They encouraged me to be emotional and reflexive with myself. There has certainly been a lot of those two things during this trip, but I really would not have it any other way. After all, I AM an emotional creature living in a very diverse world. It creates interesting experiences, neh? ;)

I hope everyone reading this is in good spirits and health back home. If not, I wish these things for you.


Monday, February 10, 2014

First post! How do you title a blog?

Molweni from Cape Town, South Africa! Ninjani? That means 'hello' and 'how are you' in the language we are learning while here. It is called iXhosa, and it is one of the eleven official languages of the country. It is also the language Nelson Mandela spoke, as well as my sisi Thando aka Miss May! It is a fun language to learn, and it is probably more fun that I have a host family to speak it with. Before I get ahead of myself though, I would like to somehow trail all the way back to the beginning of my trip, so as to fill ya'll in!

The trip started in Johannesburg, or how most people refer to it Joburg. My friend Lydon is from there, and I am sad I did not get to meet up with him and his puppy PIPPIN! Joburg is a hustle-and-bustle city, and it is where many people go to work. My Mimi says people go to Joburg to hopefully become rich, but people come to Cape Town because it is a more relaxed place where one can work and make a living, but also value other things in life besides those. The first full day we were in Joburg our academic director, Stewart, and program assistant, Thabesa, took us to the Apartheid Museum where we were able to re-count and re-live history that is very recent to the country. The museum strives to allow visitors to have an 'in-another-person's-shoes' experience, and we were able to do this by receiving an entrance ticket that specified whether we were 'white' or 'non-white.' After finding out your identity, you were to walk through the entrance that matched your color of skin. I had to walk through the 'non-white' entrance, and once in the museum there were panels of text and images mounted to the wall which were specific to the history of the person you were. There was a heaviness to this, and I could tell we were all internally thinking about what it meant to be allowed to do this or that, or be this or that, based solely on the color of our skin.

This heaviness continued a day or two after when we visited the Hector Pieterson museum which focused on the history of youth action and uprisings during apartheid. This experience was more emotional for me because I was able to see how power-hungry, racist, and quick-to-follow people can be when they think a 'good cause' or the 'right cause' is at threat. Not only was it an emotional experience because of those realizations, but to know that I would have been right along Hector and all other youth was a heavy and emotional thought as well. It showed me how far people are willing to go on both ends of the spectrum. Black youth were willing to die, and whites were willing to kill. On a lighter note, though.......... the day we went to the HP museum was the first day we all had a real, authentic South African meal in the country itself: steamed bread, pap, chakalaka... ooooweeeee!! I've made it a goal to learn to make these things so I can make it back in the states. So get ready Ma, dad, Tristan, and Buppa!

After getting a good background of Apartheid, and in different ways, we packed our bags and flew down to Cape Town. We left behind the backpacking lodge that hosted us, which provided wonderful meals for us, all the museums, the beautiful train that was constructed for the 2010 World Cup, Constitutional Hill, and locals who were friendly enough to learn about us and why we all chose to study in South Africa. Joburg was a wonderful experience, but I think we were all eager to get down to Cape Town to get the party started!

Cape Town is certainly a party and it is a city that has such a relaxed and chilled vibe. I feel at home here, and almost everyday I entertain the idea of moving here. Not only is it beautiful with the ocean and mountains, but the sunshine really makes it. Within the 10 days that we've been here there has only been a half day of cloudiness, and one rainy night. Summers are incredible here, and I think Wisconsin and the Midwest could learn something from Cape Town :)

The first four nights in Cape Town we spent at a hostel called 'Once in Cape Town' on Kloof St. It was a nice location, and it was convenient for those who were eager to go out and enjoy the night life, as it was an eight minute walk from Long St. That place is something in itself. Long St. is lined with bars and restaurants, and at night sticks out like a sore thumb with all its light and noise. People and cars crowd the area, and it is easy to sometimes lose sight of groups/friends you go with. Especially when you want to stop to chat with someone who is asking for your attention on the street. This was probably my favorite experience of being on Long St. I didn't have to go into a bar or restaurant, because the party was out on the street with all the people who were there. It was easy to stop and chat with people you didn't even know because you knew the conversation would be interesting and worthwhile. This is what I did most of the time, and I met some pretty k00L people by doing this. I hope to meet up with them again when doing my ISP in CPT during April. Other fun places I visited in the city included County Gardens and Marco's Restaurant up near Bokaap. County Gardens was maybe my favorite place I went to during our four-day stay in the city because it is quiet and kind of a secret location. I feel like you need to know where it is otherwise if you blink you will miss it. There is a large park/open area to the gardens which has a KILLER view of Table mountain. I walked there with my friend Lucy S. and we just sat on a bench and looked at the mountain talking about how much we both wanted to climb to the top. An entertaining aspect of this visit was the commercial for European clothing that was being filmed in front of us. We sat and watched this too, and two of the guys in the commercial biked over to us and sat down and visited. One of the guys said the people wouldn't miss him or notice he was gone, and the other just didn't care period, hahaha. It was a good time, and we learned a lot from them; they gave us good pointers on climbing Table Mountain for when our time comes. Yeehaw!

Our stay in the city went quick, and it was the BIG DAY before we knew it: HOMESTAY DAY!! Yili! On Saturday we moved into our homestays in the township of Langa. Langa was the first township in CPT to be created for segregation reasons, and I think you can see this in the homes just by looking at them. I am excited to tell you all about my family and homestay! I have a mimi, a mama, and a little sisi. My mimi works in the city, my mama stays home, and my little sisi, who is 3, goes to preschool during the day. My family is very kind and loving, which makes my adjustment into their home easy. My mimi calls me 'my darling' and my sisi calls me 'Evi.' Evi was a girl from last year who lived down the street; Sesi (sisi's name) thinks I look like her, so she constantly calls me by her name, and I constantly have to respond 'Hayi, Sesi! Igama lam nguLilli! Eish!" Hahaha I don't mind, though, because Sesi is very cute and very sweet and VERY loving! I think she does it to get a kick out of me too :) She is fun to play with, and we like to draw together. She draws pictures of me, and I draw pictures of her. I have yet to hang her pictures up in my locker in the classroom here in Rondebosch. Mimi and I cook dinner together, and I am her sous chef. She is a wonderful cook, and she says she tries to cook like the people on FoodNetwork. She likes how they just seem to throw things into pots and pans, so she does the same, and the food turns out DELICIOUS! Last night she baked chicken wings with veggies, and we had steamed bread with it. We typically eat a lot of meat and veggies. Pork, chicken, beef with carrots, onions, potatoes, peppers, and any other veggie we think will taste good with it. She says she will teach me how to make chakalaka soon, so I am excited for that!

So, that has been my experience here in South Africa so far. I obviously haven't covered every experience, down to every detail, because then this blog would be 10 pages. HAH! Eish! I wouldn't want ya'll to get tired from reading a novel! Class has been good, and our location in Rondebosch is nice. We are right next to the train station, and a five minute walk from Main St. We walk there to eat lunch each day, drop off laundry, exercise at Zone Fitness, and do shopping if it's needed. I really love it here, and I always remind myself to take each day as it comes. I have gotten rid of all expectations I may have had when I arrived here, and I allow myself to be surprised by what comes up. I find that I am less stressed from doing this, and I have better and more carefree moods. I hope that all is well back home in the states, and if you are reading this know that I miss you and ndiyakuthanda. If you are interested in sending post from home my address is:

PO Box 45
Cape Town

I am collecting post cards here so that I can send them to the states! Class is about to start soon, so I will say sobanana, salani kakuhle for now!