Saturday, May 29, 2010


Alright here’s a synopsis of my week in Mozambique (I apologize for the length):

On May 21st the nine of us took a taxi to the bus station to catch an 8am bus to Maputo. Unfortunately Evan left his passport at the hostel so he had to stay behind, buy a new ticket, and take the 10pm bus that night. Our ride was uneventful, although the situation at the border was weird and time-consuming. We had to get out of the bus, wait in line to get our departure stamp from the South African side, and then walk across the border to get our arrival stamp from the Mozambican side, and then walk another quarter mile to find our bus in a long line of busses, trucks, and cars. After all this nonsense and a total of 10 hours on the road we reached Maputo, the capital. We checked into our hostel, went out for dinner, and once again got into bed pretty early.

The next morning we took a taxi to the bus depot where we’d depart for Inhambane. Luckily the guy we’d booked everything through, Dennis, was there to help us out because this was a chaotic experience. As soon as we pulled up in our taxi a dozen men ran over to the car and tried to get us to take their bus to our destination. Dennis had already arranged a ride with one of them, Mario, so the others eventually gave up. So we got on the bus ready to go, and then sat there for over an hour until it was full of people. While waiting to leave tons of people, including men, women, and teenagers, came on our bus trying to sell things. Others would walk around the outside of the bus and tap on the windows to get your attention. They sold everything from water bottles to fruit, shoes to q-tips, cashews to children’s clothing. It was certainly one of the crazier things I’d seen in Africa. We finally departed, but the bus made frequent stops to pick people up or drop them off in, what seemed to me, totally random places. It was a little after 7am when we left and we arrived at Dennis’ backpackers around 3pm. We had a late lunch of delicious seafood pasta, hung around for a couple hours, and then went out to a hotel bar to watch the Inter Milan vs. Bayern Munich football game. On our walk back home afterwards we found Evan and we’re very excited to see that he’d made the long journey in one piece. He had taken a 10 hours Intercape ride to Maputo, went directly to the bus depot, sat on another bus for 14 hours, then took a 20 minute ferry ride in order to catch up with us. Needless to say, we were all tired from the travelling and the rainy day seemed to make us even drowsier.

The next morning it was still pretty gloomy outside. We had breakfast, stopped by a little market in town, then drove to the beach. Dennis has a camp directly on the beach and it’s absolutely beautiful (the one we were sleeping at is across the street from the waterfront, but there’s no beach). The sand is soft, the water is crystal clear, and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. The sun began poking out of the clouds and we all walked along the beach, collecting cool shells and playing in the warmest ocean I’ve ever experienced. This was exactly what we’d come to Mozambique for. Evan and I went for a short run down the beach before we all sat down for a seafood stir fry. We ate barracuda, calamari, shrimp, and prawns served over rice. After spending the rest of the afternoon/early evening at the beach, we headed back to town. Once there, we went out to the only bar we could find. The weirdest thing about the trip was that the town felt so empty, it felt almost deserted. The one bar we did find was extremely small and didn’t have much to offer, so we eventually went back to the hotel bar we’d visited the night before. Now that we were all accustomed to early bed times, no one stayed out too late.

the view from the beach camp
The next morning we had breakfast before taking a short bus ride to a marketplace by Tofo Beach. We did a little shopping and just perused for a bit. Then we took a minibus up the road to meet with a guy who was taking us out on his boat. We rode out for about an hour before stopping on a little island in the middle of the water. All we could see was the clean blue ocean and forests of palm trees. We stayed there for a while to snorkel and swim. I saw tons of sea urchins, the biggest starfish ever, some sand dollars, and quite a few snake-like animals that hung out on the ocean floor. This was another highlight of my whole vacation because it was absolutely beautiful and I could have stayed in the water for hours. But we eventually had to get back in the boat and head to the mainland. Once there, Dennis picked us up and took us back to the beach camp where we hung out and ate dinner. We had a kingfish and a snapper salmon that had been caught that day and cooked over a fire. It was the first time someone had placed an entire fish in front of me, completely intact, and just told me to go at it. Once the skin/scales were peeled off I didn’t have a problem digging in, although one of my vegetarian friends was a little unsettled by it. What did freak me out was watching three of my friends eat the fish eyes.
the market at Tofo Beach
we were sitting in the boat as the truck towed it to the water

After dinner we had a bonfire down on the beach for a couple hours. We listened to my friend Beth sing and play guitar with the sound of crashing waves in the background. Around 10:30 we drove back to town so we could get to bed. The next morning we boarded the bus to get back to Maputo and we arrived there around 2pm. We checked back into the hostel, went out for a late lunch, and then walked around town for a while. Eventually we ended up at the hostel sitting in front of the TV. In the last four months I had probably sat on a couch three times and the only TV I watched was Red Sox games online, so it was nice to just lay down and watch some meaningless television. Once everyone was hungry again we went out for Chinese food at a family style restaurant. It was a great way to spend our last night together, sharing food and stories. I’m very excited to come home in a few days, but it will certainly be strange not living with all these new friends anymore. (Below is Adrienne eating from our family-sized bowl of soup).

After a good night’s sleep we hopped on the Intercape bus en route to Joburg. It was smooth sailing for a while, until the bus broke down 3 hours outside the city. After an hour of who knows what they fixed whatever was leaking and we hit the road again. But 30 minutes later they informed us that we could not proceed. Normally this wouldn’t bother me at all, but we had to make sure we’d get to the airport in time for our flight to Cape Town. So the driver called a minibus for us and, after some pretty fast driving, we made it to O. R. Tambo Airport in time to get a quick dinner before boarding our plane.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last 2 weeks! Now only 5 days until I take off again!

Friday, May 28, 2010


Hello Friends,

So here’s a recap of the short time spent I spent in Johannesburg after returning from Botswana:

Me, Evan, Casey, and Pablo arrived at the Joburg Backpackers on the night of May 18th, ordered some pizza from dinner, and passed out before 11pm. After 6 nights of camping without pillows we were all eager to sleep in a nice bed; plus our new routine of waking up before 6am had worn us out. The next morning Casey and Pablo set out to get visas for Mozambique because all visitors need one (I already had mine). So Evan and I went for a walk to an undetermined destination and eventually, after almost 3 hours and a couple stops along the way, ended up downtown (we had been staying in a nice neighborhood to the west of city center). Once we got to an area that didn’t seem too safe we decided to call a taxi and get a ride to the Hector Pieterson Museum. Musa, our taxi driver, took us to one of the World Cup stadiums, Soccer City, and let us take some pictures (although the picture below isn't taken by me). The day before the 32 buses for the teams had arrived and they looked really cool. Each one had the country’s name and flag on it, and it said “It’s time for a new champion” in their language. Then he drove us through his neighborhood in Soweto. Soweto is a section of Joburg that was established during apartheid and designated for all the blacks that were forcibly removed from their previous neighborhoods. Its name is cleverly derived from South Western Townships, and it’s now home to 4.5 million people. Some live in tiny shacks while others live in sturdy houses that cost over 1 million rand. Musa continued on to the other part of Soweto, known as Orlando, where the museum is located. But first he drove us by the house that the community built for Nelson Mandela to live in once he got out of prison, the house where he lived after he stepped down as President, the house Desmond Tutu lived in, and the Hector Pieterson Memorial.

Hector Pieterson, a 13 year old boy, was the first person to be shot and killed during the peaceful protest in 1976. Thousands of students had organized themselves to protest the new law that required school to be taught in Afrikaans, which wasn’t their native language and caused everyone to get horrible grades. So on June 16, 1976 they peacefully marched through Soweto until the police through tear gas bombs and started shooting into the crowd. Some witnesses say that students began the violence by throwing rocks at police cars, but most argue that this never occurred. Regardless, several students were killed and many more injured during the uprising the followed. For days afterwards the police would just drive through the streets of Soweto, shooting and killing random people just because they could. The Hector Pieterson Museum had so much interesting information about the terrible education system during apartheid, the events in 1976, and the impact it had on the liberation struggle. Below is the famous picture (taken by Sam Nzima) that appeared in newspapers around the world and helped raise awareness about the cruelty of the apartheid regime. Eighteen year old Mbuyisa Makhubo is carrying Hector away while the young boy's sister, Antoinette, runs beside him.
After spending a couple hours in the museum, we walked through the town to see some of the schools that participated in the march, the Mandela House, and the street corner where Hector was shot. Most white South Africans would never think of walking around Soweto, but Evan and I felt much safer there than we had in Joburg earlier. Musa explained to us that the crime rate in Soweto is extremely low because everyone living their holds their neighbors, friends, and family accountable for their actions. Because the government is fairly corrupt, they work hard to keep their town safe. After walking for a bit we stopped at a small restaurant next to the Mandela House where Winnie Mandela, Nelson’s ex-wife, happened to be eating as well. She was there with her eldest daughter and a few other people who had just planted something in the garden at her former house next door. Despite the fact that she’s widely believed to be an accomplice to a murder, among other crimes, we decided to have our picture taken with her. Lots of people started coming into the restaurant to get a look and take a picture, so we headed back to the museum to meet Musa. Touring Soweto, surrounded by so much important South African history, definitely made this one of my favorite days of the whole semester.

The next day we just walked around the neighborhood then took a taxi to the Backpackers Ritz where we’d be spending the night. We got lunch at a delicious bakery and waited for our other friends to arrive. In the afternoon Chris and Lydia returned from their trip to Kruger National Park, Chobe National Park, and Victoria Falls (South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe), and then Beth, Adrienne, and Kelly arrived from Stellenbosch that night. We made some frozen dinners at the backpackers and swapped stories about our trips until those of us that had been camping couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. At this point my internal clock had shifted so I was exhausted each night by 10pm and couldn’t sleep past 7am. The next morning would be another early one as we had to catch an 8am bus to Mozambique. Check back tomorrow for my final vacation post!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I’m back! After 16 days of travelling and living out of a backpack it’s nice to be home and sleeping in my bed. But it’s crazy to think that this is only my home for another 7 days. So below is my attempt at a relatively short summary of my week in Botswana...

I left Stellenbosch on the morning of May 11th and headed to Johannesburg with my friends Evan, Casey, Pablo, Chris, and Lydia. We ate at a delicious bakery near our backpackers, explored the huge mall down the street, and relaxed a bit. The next morning me, Evan, Casey, and Pablo were picked up at 6:15am and began our journey to Botswana. It took us 14 hours of driving to get to Elephant Sands in Nata where we ate dinner, pitched our tents in the dark, and spotted an elephant by the watering hole. More than half of those 14 driving hours were spent in Botswana, and the landscape remained the same the entire time. We drove through only 3 towns during that time and saw hundreds of donkeys, goats, and cows on the side of the road. Sometimes a small village of mud huts would appear, but the majority of the country is just vegetation.

When we woke up on day 2 we were lucky enough to see 4 wild dogs drinking and playing by the watering hole. They are really cool looking, kind of a cross between domestic dog and hyena. Once they scurried off and we’d eaten some breakfast we drove another 5 hours to Delta Rain in Maun. We pitched our tents, had lunch, visited the crocodile farm, took showers, ate dinner, and hung out at the bar. The next morning we packed up our things and hopped on an overland vehicle that drove us to the Okavango Delta. This is the biggest inland delta in the world and it's water comes down from Angola, Botswana's northern neighbor. After about 2 hours of driving out into what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we reached the water of the delta. A group of local men and women were there waiting for us with their mokoros, or dug out canoes. The ‘polers’ helped us load up the canoes and, using our mattress pads as seats, we all got comfortable in the little boats. These people are called ‘polers’ because they use a really long pole to navigate the mokoros through the shallow water. This 90 minute ride was one of the highlights of my entire vacation. After spotting some hippos in the water we arrived at our campsite. The ‘polers’ quickly built a fire, helped us pitch our tents, and dug a hole that would act as our toilet for the next 2 days.

While in the delta we went on four bush walks (just after dawn and just before dusk) where we saw zebras, impalas, wildebeest, hippos, and baboons. We also saw buffalo and zebra skulls, the entire skeleton of a giraffe, and tracks from hyenas and elephants. We spent the days hanging out at camp, practicing our own ‘poling’ skills, and bonding with our group. Besides us there were 2 Germans, 1 American, and 3 Canadians on our trip, along with our South African guide, David (sitting in the mokoro above), who was fabulous. He worked so hard driving us around and making delicious meals, and he speaks 9 of the 11 official languages in South Africa. In addition to David and our fellow tourists, the ‘polers’ camped with us and led the bush walks. The male ‘polers,’ Seven, Carlos, John, and Kevin, spoke English well despite Tswana being their native language. The four women didn’t speak English but they were friendly as well.

One night we went out in the mokoros for a sunset cruise around the delta which was beautiful. We were hoping to see some hippos out of the water during the cruise since we had been hearing their distinct noise all day and night, but we didn’t. They stay submerged in water, aside from their eyes and ears, from around 5am to about 8pm because their skin is too sensitive to be exposed to the sun. They make this noise that sounds almost like a cackling laugh and are extremely aggressive. It was neat to see them in the water, but I would have liked to see their full bodies because they’re absolutely huge (over 2 tons). You'll have to turn your head to see these hippos in the picture below because my computer won't let me rotate it

On day 5 of our trip we took the mokoros back to the mainland, then the overland vehicle back Delta Rain. After a much needed shower and nap we had a nice braai (barbeque) and got to bed early. The next morning we drove to Elephant Sands where we played some soccer, relaxed by the watering hole, and enjoyed our last night together as a group. Just before dinner a massive elephant came up and drank from the pool just 30 feet away from me. Later on another 2 came up to the pool while 13 others drank from the watering hole. We all went to sleep soon after dinner, but me, Evan, and our new friend Bob woke up around 2am because we heard a noise outside our tents. It didn’t take long for us to realize that an elephant was eating leaves off of the tree directly above our tents. We stayed up and listened until he silently walked away. It’s amazing that such a massive animal can move so quietly. The next morning, before we embarked on our 14 hour journey back to Joburg, we found elephant footprints a few feet away from our tents.

Thanks for reading and check back soon for an entry about the second half of my trip!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Beginning of the End


Things are really winding down here and I have some mixed emotions about it all. This past Monday was our last day in the classroom with our learners. We played capture flag, had a dance party, ate lots of ice cream, and taught them a little bit more about the World Cup. We gave our supervising teach, Mrs. Adams, a card and some flowers that she was extremely appreciative of. We gave each learner a note from me, Jeff, and Andie and told them all what their new email address were. We made an email address for each learner so they can stay in touch with us independently and become more familiar with technology. Two of our students read a note from the class, one in English and one in Afrikaans, thanking us for all we’d done. We gave the learners time to write us notes because Grant suggested that it would be a good way of helping them deal with goodbyes and it would give us something to physically take away from here. So many of them wrote amazing notes to us and I was so impressed with them. They've become much more confident in their own abilities since we arrived and it was really apparent as they didn't hesitate to write notes in English. Before they were so worried about making a mistake that they were reluctant to write even in their school workbooks. I can't wait to put all the notes together in a frame to hang in my room next year. It was sad to think that this was our last opportunity to teach the learners, but because the day was pretty chaotic and we knew we’d be back at Lynedoch on Friday it wasn’t an especially difficult goodbye that afternoon.

On Wednesday I went into Cape Town with 4 of my friends to get a visa for Mozambique. After 7 days of camping in Botswana and 3 days of sightseeing in Joburg, we’re going to spend 2 days in the capital of Mozambique and 4 days on the beach. Thanks to some early birthday money from my Aunt Eileen and Uncle Donn (thank you!) I can now afford to join my friends on this extra excursion. So the 4 of us going to Botswana will be meeting up with 5 other friends in Joburg and the 9 of us will get to spend a week together. After lots of meetings with our lovely travel agent at Stellenbosch’s Adventure Center, a trip to Health Services to get Malaria pills, and a few hours at the Mozambican Consulate we’re finally all set for our big trip. The US dollar got a bit stronger so now $1 is equal to R7.60, and one Metical (Mozambican currency) is equal to roughly R5, so our money should go a long way while we’re there. And the trip itself was extremely cheap as well, so I’m really excited about the whole thing.

Yesterday was our last official day at Lynedoch Primary as we had to give our final presentations and hand in our portfolios. Because of several hours in the computer lab and an unnecessarily late night I only had about an hour of sleep, but I was really looking forward to the day and was quite energized. Each group of 3 presented in any format they chose for about 15 minutes. It was just our classmates, Grant, the principal (Mr. Jansen), and 5 guests from the International Office at the university. Me, Jeff, and Andie had written a story that went back a forth between the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk and our own personal experiences. We were really pleased with how it came out and I think the audience enjoyed the story. It was really nice to see each of our friends present because even though we talked about our general experience at Lynedoch every week, we didn’t always know exactly what went on in their classrooms. Once all the presentations were over and a few people made short thank you speeches, my classmates and I performed a song for everyone. On our first day at Lynedoch back in January Grant introduced us to the song ‘Shosholoza’ and it had an immediate impact on us, so we decided to sing it as a thank you to him, Mr. Jansen, and all the classroom teachers that had joined us in the room. I think we sounded pretty good considering less than half of us have decent voices, and I know Grant appreciated it. As we were singing, we had a slideshow going that included pictures and quotes from Grant that we’d gathered throughout the semester. Hopefully I can get a copy of the video that was taken and post it on here for everyone to watch soon.

Once I got back to campus I passed out and took a 2 hour nap before I had to get ready for our final AIFS group outing. We hadn’t been told where we were going so it was a pleasant surprise when we pulled up to Hestea’s, our resident director’s, house in the big bus. We got to meet her husband and two adorable sons, Francois (age 4) and Johannes (age 2), and enjoy some champagne for a bit. Her house was so nice and had a beautiful view of the mountains from her backyard. We only got to stay for a little while before we had to move on to our dinner destination. We ate at a restaurant called Wynhuis in downtown Stellenbosch and had a lovely time. Hestea gave a speech, along with Angelo her assistant, and a few of my friends announced the superlative winners. The food was fabulous, especially because we didn’t have to pay for it. Afterwards a big group of us went out to a couple bars for some serious dancing. It was sad to acknowledge that this was the last night everyone would be together, but we all had an absolute blast.

Tonight I went out to dinner with 14 of my service learning classmates, and that too was bittersweet. We had a delicious meal at a restaurant called Beads and really enjoyed each other’s company. Most of us were too tired from last night to go out again, so we all headed home. I had to say goodbye to Eva and Aafke, the two Dutch girls in my class. We pretended it was a temporary goodbye, because it’s really sad to think that I may never see them again. It kind of hit me tonight that it really is ending so soon. With everyone going on their trips and some people going home early, our days together are dwindling fast. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m ready to come home, but I definitely don’t feel ready to say goodbye to the people that I’ve met here.
Here are some pictures from our last day in the classroom...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cheese Festival and Signal Hill

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for my long hiatus. I can’t believe May is here already. This semester, and especially the last month, has flown by. In 9 days I’ll be finished with my school work and in 11 I’ll be taking off on a trip to Botswana! I’m going on a 7 day tour with Evan, Casey, and Pablo up to the Okavango Delta. We’ll be camping and hopefully seeing tons of animals. My friend Lydia did a similar trip in January with her parents and they saw lions, elephants, leopards, water buffalo, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, and more. She was there during Botswana’s rainy season whereas we’ll be there during the wet season (we assumed these two names referred to the same season, but they don’t), and we’ve heard that the wet season is even better for animal encounters. Needless to say I’m really excited. Special thanks to mom and dad for funding my trip!

So as for the past week, there were two outings that I’d like to update you on. Last Saturday we went on our final AIFS excursion to the South African Cheese Festival. The entrance fee was covered by our program and we got to spend the entire day tasting all the delicious foods and drinks that vendors were offering. There were hundreds of different wines and cheeses, along with a wide variety of breads and olive oils. There were so many things that I wanted to buy from various companies, but I narrowed it down and left with just a few things. As I’m not a big fan of wine, my favorite samples of the day were basil pesto by Pesto Princess, any of the avocado oils from Westfalia, cranberry cherry ice tea from Frutea Ice Tea, Pecora Africana cheese from Ovis Angelica Divine Sheep’s Cheese, and the raspberry brownies from Yummi Brownie. As a bonus, I also got to see a pregnant cow and a baby goat at the festival.

On Wednesday there was a full moon, so some friends and I took the advice of the man at the Cape Town Planetarium and headed to Signal Hill for the evening. When we had visited earlier in the month he told us that Signal Hill is a beautiful place to watch the sun set into the water as the moon rises over the city. So five of us rented a car for the day (another five friends had rented one for the week already), and drove to the hill right next to Lion’s Head in Cape Town. There were some low clouds that prevented us from seeing the sun melt into the water, but the sky was beautiful to look at as the sun set. Once the sky turned from pink and orange to dark blue and black we walked the short distance to the other side of the hill to look at the moon. It was so big and bright as it sat above the city. There was a huge cloud that completed covered Table Mountain, but as we sat on the hill looking at the moon it began breaking up and small puffs of cloud flew quickly from the mountain, over the hill, and out to the ocean. We stayed up there watching the clouds fly past the moon until we were too cold to enjoy it anymore. It was a really great night, but I’d love to go back to Signal Hill again before we leave and try to see a sunset on a clear day.

The mountain on the left is Lion's Head and Signal Hill is to the right. I took this picture last month when we hiked Table Mountain. I'll add some pictures of the sunset once I put them on my computer so check back here in a few days if you're interested.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hiking and Lynedoch


I have just two things to update you on today – a beautiful hike that I went on last week and this past Monday’s trip to Lynedoch.

So there’s a big mountain behind the rugby stadium and athletic complex on our campus and many of us had been eyeing it since we arrived, so five of us finally set out to hike it last Wednesday. There was no clearly marked trail in sight, but we found what may have been the path where water runs down the slope and followed it up most of the mountain. Then there was some rock climbing and improvisation, but Dustin, Evan and I made it to the top (our other two friends, Terry and Jeff, didn’t feel well so they turned around early).

The view from the top of the mountain was absolutely incredible. Below us we could see every single part of Stellenbosch and everything else that exists around it. In the distance we could see False Bay, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head. Because of the fog and the air pollution we weren’t able to see the actual city of Cape Town, but I think it was better to just see the water and mountains emerging from the low clouds. Behind us we could see endless layers of mountain sticking up into the bright blue sky. The three of us spent a long time just sitting on the top, eating lunch, and soaking in the amazing view.

the mountain from just above the rugby stadium
me and nearly all of Stellenboshthe rest of Stellies and Table Mountain in the backgroundmore mountains in the distance

In other news, Monday was another enjoyable day at Lynedoch. After a fun class on Friday in which we participated in some team building activities and watched the movie The Guardian, we were all excited to get back in the classroom with our kids. Our morning lesson was about volcanoes, earthquakes and plate tectonics. As part of our lesson we did a simple science experiment and exploded our own clay volcano using baking soda and vinegar. Not surprisingly, none of the students in my class had ever seen this experiment done before, and neither had their teacher. This served as another reminder of the contrast between my educational opportunities and theirs, because every student that I went to school with has seen this experiment done at one time or another. From there we moved on to earthquakes and plate tectonics. We taught them the very basics in a way that was hopefully easy to understand. Then we talked briefly about Pangea, the single continent that used to exist on earth. None of the learners had ever heard about this concept, but I think the pictures on our worksheet helped them see that the continents could fit neatly together. In the last few minutes of class we let the learners do an earthquake drill and hide under their desks, which they seemed to enjoy.

For the afternoon we had a fun lesson planned about sound and music. We began by teaching our learners about vibrations and sound waves, the structure of our ears, and the concept of frequency. Then we shifted from the process of hearing to the magic of music by playing clips of several songs from a variety of different genres. We played jazz, blues, hip hop, rap, R&B, bluegrass, country, and techno, while interrupting some songs to teach them a little bit about each genre. Even though they still prefer hip hop to jazz, I think it was good to introduce them to other types of music that they’ve never even heard of before. As our final activity for the day the whole class sang along as Jeff played guitar. He’s been practicing a couple songs that are popular in South Africa right now so the learners knew the words and could sing along with us. It’s absolutely crazy that we only have one day left with our learners before we leave. Grant wants us to do fun activities in order to celebrate our time together, so we have an exciting schedule planned for our last day with the kids on May 3rd.
I’d also like to send a thank you along to some important people. The first is my Aunt Kaye who, at 90 years old, may be my biggest fan and most avid reader. She’s been extremely supportive of my studies and my work here, and has also paid for some new educational resources at Lynedoch. Secondly, thank you to Sandy O’Sullivan who made it possible for me to purchase new maps, soccer balls, and art supplies for the kids. And another thank you to Diana Potter for all the construction paper that she's donated for Lynedoch! Lastly, thanks to everyone who follows my blog and to anyone that has taken an interest in my life here in South Africa!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Weekend in Cape Town


Again I'm apologizing in advance for the long post, but I promise it's interesting!

Yesterday was our first day back in the classroom at Lynedoch after five weeks without the kids. It was great to see them again, but it’s crazy to think that we only have one more day of lessons and then one day of ‘termination activities’ as Grant calls it. I prefer ‘goodbye party’ though. We had the kids write about what they wanted to be when they grow up and then we had a discussion about the steps they’ll have to take to get there. It went really well and I think the sixth grade teacher really liked our lesson about self-respect. We talked to the kids about using the word ‘baas’, which is Afrikaans for boss. Many black and colored people use it when addressing white people, but it denoted inferiority. The kids understood that it’s a term left over from the apartheid era, but it’s a word that they began using as young children so it’s a tricky thing. There’s still two or three farm owners in the Stellenbosch area who insist that the black farmers call them ‘baas,’ but most have moved beyond that term. I’m sure some of the kids will still throw the word around when talking to white people, and specifically Boers (literally translated means farmer, but was used to refer to all Afrikaners during apartheid), but hopefully a few of them will think twice about it in the future.

In other news, I spent last weekend in Cape Town and had a lot of fun. On Saturday morning we left Stellenbosch for our AIFS excursion to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela served the majority of his 27 year imprisonment, alongside thousands of other political prisoners. After our 20 minute ferry ride from the waterfront, we arrived on the island that sits about 8 miles from the mainland. All of the tour guides are ex-prisoners which adds a really meaningful dimension to the experience. Our guide’s name was Benjamin and he had spent 11 years on Robben Island, from 1980 to 1991. Early on in the tour he gave us a chance to ask questions and someone inquired about the charges that had been placed on him in 1980. He first briefly mentioned that he’d been a part of the Soweto Uprising on June 16, 1976, which we all found to be absolutely incredible because it was such a critical event in the anti-apartheid movement. For those who don’t know about it, on this day a group of 15,000 school children decided to peacefully protest the government’s new policy which mandated that 50% of classes be taught in Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor. The police began shooting at the kids and by the time things settled down 23 students had been killed and hundreds more injured. Many children never returned to school after that, thus this so-called ‘lost generation’ missed out on an education. Pictures of the violence appeared in newspapers around the world and drew international attention to the anti-apartheid struggle. But, back to Benjamin our tour guide, the very next day he sadly witnessed his pregnant girlfriend’s murder and decided that he needed to play a bigger role in the movement. He joined the military arm of the ANC and fled to Germany where he was trained in explosives. In 1980 he was set to bomb a government building in Pretoria, but he miscalculated and the mission failed. Benjamin and eight others were stopped by officials who searched their truck and found enough evidence to try them all for high treason. Two of the nine men were put to death and the other seven received between 10 years to life in prison. Eleven years later, in 1991, Benjamin was a member of the last group to be released from Robben Island.

During the tour of the prison we saw the communal houses where 30-40 men shared a big room as well as the single cell houses. Beds weren’t introduced to the prison until the 1980’s, which means Mandela slept on the cement floor for the first 20 years of his imprisonment. Speaking of, we also got to see Mandela’s cell (see the picture below). After walking around the prison we parted ways with Benjamin and got on a bus for our tour of the rest of the island. Before serving as a home to political prisoners, Robben Island was a place of banishment for anyone in the country suffering from leprosy so there’s a big Leper Graveyard nearby. There are roughly 200 people who live on the island today, so there’s a small village with houses, a church, a supermarket, and a school that has 18 students and 2 teachers. I would never want to live on the island, though the views of Cape Town and Table Mountain are spectacular.

We drove by the Robert Sobukwe House, named for a former prisoner. Sobukwe founded the Pan African Congress, which called for ‘South Africa for the Africans.’ He had originally supported the ideas of the ANC, but split with them and rejected any model that suggested blacks working with whites to form a non-racial society. On March 21, 1960 he led a nationwide protest in which blacks turned their pass books in to the police and asked to be arrested. The pass books were a form of identification that all non-whites was required to carry at all times as they stipulated where in the country you were allowed to go. Sobukwe was charged with incitement and imprisoned for three years. When those three years were expired though, the government still feared the power that this man had, so they passed the General Law Amendment Act (or ‘Sobukwe Clause’) that stated an imprisonment could be renewed annually. From 1963-1969 he lived in a house by himself on Robben Island, where he was allowed to read and eat as he pleased, but communication with anyone was forbidden. He had seven prison guards and seven dogs watching his house 24 hours a day, and the guards were changed every 3 months so that no one developed a relationship with him. A once intelligent and articulate man, Sobukwe became mentally ill after years of only talking to himself. It was clear that his health was declining and government officials didn’t want him to die in their care, so in 1969 he was released on house arrest but was required to live far from his family. He died in 1978 at the age of 53, and while most accounts say that he had lung cancer there’s speculation that he was slowly poisoned. The house that he lived in on the island is shown below, and the row of cells behind the house were for all the guard dogs.

Lastly, we also got to see the infamous lime quarry where the prisoners were forced to do meaningless hard labor for 10 hours a day in the summer and 8 hours in the winter. There’s no protection from the heat in the quarry and the men were not allowed to wear hats or sunglasses. As a result of the sun bouncing off the limestone, many of the prisoners suffered from serious eye problems. Mandela underwent several surgeries after being released and to this day he cannot shed a tear because his tear ducts were destroyed. There’s one small cave in the quarry where the men were allowed to sit and eat their lunch, and this was really their only chance to talk to one another because most were kept in single cells and no talking was allowed while working. They often discussed politics during lunch and many of the ideas/policies that the ANC enacted in the 1990’s were formulated inside that cave (on the left side of the picture).

After stopping for some picture opportunities by the water, we headed back to the ferry and left the island. The tours of both the prison and the island were really interesting and thought-provoking. It felt like I was actually seeing the history that I’ve been learning about for the past ten weeks.

Once we got back to the mainland, some of us took a taxi to Long Street where we checked in to a backpacker’s for the night. Nine of us had decided to stay in the city and attend the under-20 national team’s soccer tournament in the new World Cup Stadium. For less than $5 we got to watch South Africa vs. Nigeria then Ghana vs. Brazil. Both games were a little more sloppy than I was expecting and, unfortunately, Nigeria and Brazil were victorious. It was really awesome to see the inside of Green Point Stadium though – everything is so new and clean and the games seemed to run smoothly. There will be one more event in the stadium before the city of Cape Town hands it over to FIFA in May.

After the games we walked about a mile back to Long Street and got dinner at Mama Africa. I had a headache all afternoon/evening and at this point it turned into a bad stomachache and the chills so I went to bed right after dinner while most of my friends went out to a few bars. In the morning we packed up, got some delicious breakfast, and headed to the Planetarium for a show about the night sky and constellations. The 40 minute show was really cool, but the museum that houses the Planetarium was even better. There were tons of interesting exhibits about animals, but my favorite part was the collection of photos from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. It’s an international competition that yields dozens of amazing photographs of both nature and animals. Below are a few of my favorites that I took from the website, but click the link above if you want to see the rest. After exploring the museum some more we caught the train back to Stellenbosch.