So irrelevant to this blog it isn’t even funny…but whatever

There are a huge number of really fascinating races and referenda on the ballot across the country this year, and many of the most interesting — and most important — remain too close to call. In this post I’ll be doing a state-by-state rundown of the results I’ll be looking for, and the ones friends have tipped me to on Facebook and Twitter. (If you’ve got others, please share in comments.)


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Okay, here’s a warning: this will be mostly a really mushy, feel-good post about love and life and whatever else is involved in Ubuntu. You see, we just had a lecture. This pretty awesome woman, Sonja Kruse, came to our class to talk to us about ubuntu and the love she found traveling alone in South Africa.


First, I guess I should explain what ubuntu is. It doesn’t really have a direct English translation, although the closest would be something like “humanity” or “humanness.” The Zulu definition is “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabuntu,” “I am because you are because we are.” Another common definition is “A person is a person through other people.” Our lecturer defined it as “exist, extend, expand.” So, hopefully that gives you a fair enough idea of what it means.


Anyways, Sonja decided to travel South Africa to discover the ubuntu. She took a backpack, a camera, and R100 (about $13, but it would go a little farther here than in America…maybe 2-3 meals, a night at a hostel, or taxi fare for a few weeks). She would hitchhike wherever, go to a random house, knock, explain herself, and ask if she could have a meal or a bed. Even if the family couldn’t take her in—she was denied 8 times in 351 days—they would usually direct her to another family. She had no destination and no time frame in mind. She went where she could whenever she could. She stayed in 150 homes, in all 9 provinces. All together, she lived with people identifying with 14 different cultures.


She told us some of her more fascinating stories. For instance, in one town the gogos (old women) had a soccer team. In fact, South Africa has a South African Gogo Soccer League. She also told us about Woo, a 10 year old girl who facilitates ARV workshops in Limpopo. She’s done this since she was 5. Once, a truck driver acted threateningly, saying she shouldn’t be without a man, and she calmed him by saying the trip was not about her or him, but “the people of South Africa.”A lot of her stories resonated with my own experiences here—how families would sleep on floors and give her the bed, the amount of food people stuffed her with, how much the mamas cared about her safety and wellbeing and just her.


Now, there are problems with her trip—or rather, the circumstances surrounding her trip. The idea worked well for her, but in SA, it wouldn’t have if her skin had been a different color (hint: she’s white). Still, her goal was to show the hospitality of South African people, and by sharing her stories, she is breaking some barriers. Or at least putting cracks in them.


Mostly, I was so enthralled with her courage and tenacity. I could never travel through a country through hitchhiking and bed surfing. Especially not with about $13. I would be terrified of being robbed, murdered, or left without a meal or a bed. Also, I’ve been living in other people’s homes for 2 months, and while I have been welcomed and treated like a family member in all of them, I am already ready for my own space that I genuinely feel is my own (4 more days until I move into my new place!). I can’t imagine crashing in people’s homes for a year.


The talk was definitely inspiring. It made me want to travel around, proving to everyone that we’re all human. Ubuntu is such a cool concept.

Glamping and First Impressions of Bo-Kaap

Earlier last week, my program went glamping at a San cultural center. Glamping, for those of you who don’t know, means glam camping…and it was pretty glam. Sure, we slept in tents…but they were surrounded by straw huts, had lights, and contained mattresses. The only food we made around a campfire were s’mores—the rest were in a nice restaurant. We did go on a few nature walks, but they were easy. I’d never been glamping before, but I think I prefer real camping. However, the stars and the terrain were gorgeous. Our first night, we even watched the sun set over the ocean. As our program director said, “In Africa, the sun doesn’t set…it disappears.” He was right. It was pretty awesome.

When we came back to Cape Town, we moved into our fourth homestay: Bo-Kaap. I’m pretty smitten with the place. It’s situated on a hill above Cape Town, so the views are unbelievable. A few streets of houses are vibrantly painted in all colors. It could not be more beautiful. It’s also near the city center, which means we can easily roam the city in the afternoons and on weekends—finally. Last night, we went to this awesome fundraiser with local musicians, dancers, and poets. The talent was incredible! This morning, I finally went to the Old Biscuit Mill, which is this intense market every Saturday. There’s a ton of food and unique shops. One store has essentially everything I would ever want for my future apartment, from patterned silverware to funky inspirational wall hangings. The food is also delicious.

My family in Bo-Kaap is also great so far! They’re so friendly and chatty. Apparently they love karaoke. My host mom makes these delicious donut-like things that everyone apparently has for Sunday breakfast. She taught me how to make them last night! That brings my count of fattening, bready, delicious recipes up to three: donuts, fat cakes, and steamed bread. Yho! I don’t know how I was so lucky with my host families. They’ve all been so nice, welcoming, and fun! Also, if any South Africans reading this would like to offer a recipe that is a little less bready and a little more dinner-like, let me know!

I can’t believe it’s my last 10 days before independent study (ISP). I know ISP will go by so quickly, especially since I want to live in the city. It’s funny. When I stayed in Langa and Stellenbosch, I didn’t mind being right outside a city’s limits and having to drive or take a cab in. When I was in Tshabo I liked roaming the fields and always feeling safe. But the second I come back to a city, I remember how incredibly obsessed I am with them. I just get really giddy and immediately want to explore. ISP is going to fly by. I’ll be in the city, busy with research (which I plan on doing on the beach, actually), interviews, and of course, exploring Cape Town more. I feel like the semester is winding down, and I am not happy about it. I miss home and Claremont, but mostly, I wish all the people I love there could transport themselves here forever and ever so I could always be here. I don’t like the feeling that the end is coming, even if it is still weeks away!

Also, I need to figure out what I want to do for my birthday, in case it requires planning in advance. I have a Cape Town bucket list, and I’m thinking either tea at Mount Nelson, a sunset cruise, or the beach…one is free (always nice!) but the others are a little more special I think. It’s the last exciting birthday I’ll have probably ever, so it needs to be fun! Thoughts?

First Impressions of Stellenbosch

Yho! Stellenbosch is very different from what I’m used to, both at home and in South Africa. It’s definitely a beautiful town. There are wineries everywhere, and beautiful old buildings. It’s a very cute town. The homestay coordinator likened it to Boston. I wouldn’t, really, but the amount of history and the number of cute, old buildings is probably similar.

It’s different from what I’m used to in South Africa in several ways. For one, it’s in an Afrikaner area, not a Xhosa area. This brings with it an entirely new narrative of South African history and identity.

We’re actually at a university this time, but Stellenbosch U. could not be more different from CMC. Firstly, it’s a casual 28,000 students…a far cry from 1,200, or even the 6,000 of the entire Claremont Consortium. Secondly, because of it’s size the actual campus is just not at all like what I’m used to. The campus student center is ridiculous. There is a full market, about 20 restaurants, a bookstore, at least three banks (WHAT), two coffee shops, a school store, an internet café, a salon, and a school supply store. It’s honestly a little overwhelming.

It’s funny, because our program director said we’d be more homesick in Stellenbosch than Langa or Tshabo because it would be more similar to the rest of our lives. Being on a campus does make me a little homesick for CMC, but my home here does not make me miss home much more than usual. In fact, I think my Langa life was more similar to what I’m used to at home—a few people sitting around a room watching TV, talking, and eating. The physical area around the house is similar from home I guess, as I’m staying in a suburb, but that’s about the extent of it.

It will be interesting to see how this homestay plays out! I think I’ll like it, but it will definitely be different.

Meat, Meat, Meat and the Sea

Sunday and Monday were absolutely lovely. Sunday was actually nasty—when I got back to Langa, it was pouring, so I laid in bed and watched reruns of what few shows I have downloaded on my computer—but to be honest, it was kind of nice to just veg out and watch HIMYM. Also, Sunday I had tripe for the first time (the last few days had a serious meat theme going on).


Monday was a national holiday, so I had NO SCHOOL. I woke up and did some homework, but then my sisi and her friend took me to Mzolis. It was quite the experience. You see, Mzoli’s is a famous braai place in Gugulethu. Braai is what South Africans say is barbeque, but it’s more like grilled meat drowned in delicious sauce, not the southern kind of BBQ. Gugulethu is another township. The place was absolutely bustling—it was overflowing, and someone told us it wasn’t even completely full. My sisi knows the owner, so we didn’t have to wait in line for long (although, in the 10 or so minutes we were there, I managed to get asked out by a guy older than my Dad…and his 15 year old son was there, ew). We struggled to find a seat, so we talked to some more of my sisi’s friends for a while. This guy was in a motorbiking club, which is pretty neat. After we found a seat, I went to the back to wait for our braai. The room was steamy and smelled delicious. I was handed our heaps of meat, and I took it back out to our table. While I ate, I was able to watch people from all over Cape Town eat, dance, and sing together. It had such a fun atmosphere.  I even met a guy from Durban who knew about the Claremont Colleges! They played a great mix of music, too, from American top 40 to local songs. I also saw a sign that Soil, a really good group from around here that my younger sisi showed me, is having a show on Nov. 2. I’ll have to look into it as a potential pre-birthday celebration! Anyways, after I was full to bursting with ribs, pork chops, and sausage, we left Gugs—or so I thought. Really we went to another braai place. This one was nameless and less famous, and sold chicken. We didn’t eat it yet, thankfully. I thought I was going to pop already!


Instead, we traveled to Sea Point and took a long stroll along the coastline. Sea Point is one of the really ritzy areas of Cape Town, and the views were beautiful. It seems to be the one place around where you can’t see Table Mountain, but you can see other hills. The water is gorgeous, too. My sisi and her friend started to talk business, so I let the sound of their Xhosa and the waves roll over me while I zoned out. It was just so nice! I hadn’t really had alone, contemplative time since leaving the States. It was exactly what I needed (even though I wasn’t technically alone).


After the rollercoaster that was Saturday, Sunday and Monday were just perfect, I think.

Igama lam nguCaitlin

That phrase means “my name is Sisipho (a gift).” Sisipho may be my Xhosa name, given to me by my new Xhosa homestay family, but that is more how I would describe the family and the last few days.

Before I describe my wonderful new family, I need to describe Friday night and Saturday morning. Friday night, we went out to a pub to celebrate my friend’s birthday. This pub experience exemplified to me how diverse and international a city Cape Town really is. Aside from the horde of 25 American college students that I was with, there was also the owner—an Irishman—and a table of people from all over the country and the world. One man was from Scotland, a few others from Josie, one from the Eastern Cape, and even a guy from Atlanta! One of the ones from Josie, Fidel, was telling me all about the differences between township life, rural life, urban life and life in other areas. It’s always intriguing to see how other people react when I say I’m about to stay in the township of Langa for three weeks—they are consistently horrified and terrified for my well-being! I had heard before coming that non-township South Africans had serious misconceptions about the townships, and these reactions—along with my initial experiences in Langa, which have been lovely—have completely proved the point.

Saturday morning, we woke up very early to climb Lion’s Head, which is a mountain just next to Table Mountain. The hike was gorgeous. I took so many photos, and I know words cannot do it justice, but I’ll try. The amazing thing about Cape Town—which this hike exemplified—is the incongruence. In the US, you never see a gigantic, sprawling city situated on pristine beaches, at the valley of gorgeous mountains. You may have small ocean-side cities, or cities situated in valleys or between mountains and oceans, or ugly beaches near a huge city, but you never see a beach, city as pristine, natural, mountainous, and gigantic all at once. Cape Town is just like that, however. It is indescribable, but I just think it’s the most beautiful city in the world.

The hike, however, was rough. I enjoyed every moment of it, mostly because of the view and because I haven’t been running as much as I should. It was great to get a workout in, although my arms and back are pretty sore. Why? Because Lion’s Head is more of a hike/climb than a simple hike, especially on the way down. At some points, you pull yourself up or down by chains and hooks. Going up was fine, but as some of you may know, I am genuinely terrified of heights when I am in charge of the motions I make. I am fine on a rooftop or in an airplane, but climbing down mountains or even getting on an escalator freaks me out. Until I was embarrassingly old, I refused to take escalators and would freak out if I needed to take one. So, the climb down was not very fun, although it was good for me. I did, however, enjoy how friendly the other hikers were. Whenever I would be paralyzed by fear, someone would inevitably instruct me on what to do and encourage me.

At one point, I was struggling on a portion with ropes and chains, when a really good-looking guy asked me if I needed help. I had just seen a ledge to step on, so I declined politely, all while noticing how he bore a striking resemblance to a certain handsome actor I wanted to marry in middle school. Seriously, guy was good-looking, but it seemed highly unlikely that Will Turner/Legolas/random dude from that awful movie Elizabethtown/Orlando Bloom would be in Cape Town, hiking Lion’s Head, asking me for help, just when I was there…so I continued on. Really, you never think the celebrity doppelgangers you see are the actual celebrities until, of course, your program instructor and a few other students reach the bottom of the hike with stories of how they got pictures with Orlando Bloom. New life rule: from now on, if I think I see a celebrity, I ask. On the other hand, I can now say I was totally nonchalant when speaking to Orlando Bloom, former man of my dreams. Just playing it cool, I guess.

Anyways, after the hike we moved into our homestays! My new family is so wonderful. There are five women (I’m trying very hard not to give names on this trip) plus myself. I’m still figuring out the family dynamics, since I’m not sure what is acceptable to ask. One of my sisis (sisters) is just a couple of years older than me. I haven’t quite figured out the others’ ages yet. My program gave me an info sheet on the family, but all I’ve been able to figure out is that the sheet is pretty much completely wrong. The sisi around my age works at a store owned by another sisi. She travels around the world, buying clothes and bringing them back. Family members also run an event service, hosting events mostly for the elderly. The mama (mother) unfortunately had a stroke recently, and is not doing well, so I think the others take care of her. I know a little girl, a cousin, (age 2!) is here all day weekdays until 5, and sometimes later. I hope she stays later soon, because I get home at 5:30 but I want to meet her! She’s a cousin’s daughter.

Last night, I mostly settled in and chatted a bit with the family. Today, everyone went to church. The family is divided into two churches, but I went to the one in Langa with one sisi. On the way, we talked about birthdays and I mentioned how funny it was to be turning 21 in a country where no one cares. She informed me that actually, people do care. She said families that are still traditional—whether Xhosa, Zulu, or Suthu—view 21 as the age where girls become women. They have a big celebration, with major gifts (often a car), and they slaughter an animal and give the woman the skin. You only get this celebration if you have been a “good” child. If you have been pregnant or have done anything else the family views as bad, you don’t get the celebration. Also, she told me more “Westernized” (her word) families tend to celebrate 21 the “Western” way.

The church service itself was an experience, to be sure. One thing I love about African churches is how engaging and spiritual they are. Everyone gets involved in some way. I have now been to I think 3, and that is a common pattern, although all have differences. Today, there were constant shouts of “Alleluia!” and “Amen!” and they often had you turn to your neighbor and say things like “Neighbor, I must go forth and spread the word of God.” The lesson was on bringing people into the church and into the word of God, and at the end they divided us into groups and gave each group a number of people to bring to the next service. The pastor said I specifically needed to bring one friend (Hey SIT! Anyone want to go to church with me on Sunday…? Maybe?) I feel like this adds an aspect to church life that many American churches don’t have—accountability. They did say a lot that I disagreed with, but it was fun and everyone was nice.

Cultural faux pas are the worst. The director told us that we would mess up something in the culture and everyone would laugh at us and we would be embarrassed. Yep, just happened. A friend of the mama came to visit and we’d been talking to her for a while when I realized I did not know her name. I asked as politely as possible, but she got on to me, telling me that I am a visitor and she has to be the one to ask me my name. Whoops. I apologized, thanked her for telling me, and told her I was still learning all the culture. Unfortunately, I understand just enough Xhosa to know that she is currently telling everyone else about it. She keeps repeating, “What’s your name?” and laughing. There was a long conversation between her and my sisi in which I never heard my name but I heard my program name. She doesn’t sound happy. I feel bad, but no one told us! Literally, the only conversation I can even have in Xhosa is asking someone how they are and what their name is. Ahhh cultural misunderstandings, I guess I have to get used to you.

I’ve already noticed so many misconceptions about the townships, or at least this township, and the families within them, or at least this family. It is clear to me that even if these prejudices and ideas tend to be true, they are not universal. I bet several of them aren’t even true at all. I may write more about those later, but for now, a sisi is cooking lunch and it smells way too good to keep writing! It’s considered rude to smell food here (the one thing they did tell us), but it is a struggle because everything smells so good!

Hamba kaluhle (go well!)