Round the Bend: Team Building Your Last Week in South Africa

Okay, so the last few days, we were at this team-building place near a town called Swellendam in the Western Cape Province. It was really nice—cool cabins (more glamping!), good food, fun activities. We went rappelling (also known as absailing?) and white water rafting. We also talked about returning back to the States—something I was definitely not nervous about until this session! Now I’m freaking out, because apparently everything will have changed and I will hate everyone for not understanding my semester. Cool. I promise I’ll try to not hate you all and stuff…and I’m sure I won’t!


We also did program evaluations, watched a slideshow, and wrote down what we love about everyone. I felt like I was back at the last few days of middle school/high school nerd camp. It was fun, a nice way to unwind and bond and whatnot, but I really wished I were in Cape Town. It seemed such a waste to spend my last few days here doing things I’ve done in the States millions of times.


It still seems unreal that I will be home in just a couple of days. For some reason, it seems far stranger than it does at the end of a semester at MX or CMC. I guess home is just farther away, less accessible this semester. Either way, I’m prepared for a culture shock! I’m going to download ALL THE THINGS, aka use up more wifi than I’ve seen in three months. I will probably be an unlimited-texting machine too…get excited, friends with finals! And allll the hot water I will be using…sorry environmentalist friends. And oh my goodness the amount of filter coffee I chug will be ridiculous. I don’t even care about Starbucks or the Motley, I just want the convenience of filter coffee IN MY HOUSE.


But I will miss even more things—minibuses/taxis, spaza shops, how cheap everything is, my new ZA friends and host families, my favorite restaurants and coffee shops, people understanding my Xhosa, people understanding my experiences (PLEASE TRY GUYS, IT’S ALL I ASK). Markets, like the Biscuit Mill. Seeing Table Mountain no matter where you are. Long Street. Obs. Everything being in 5003983092302 languages, so that I can, for instance, say “Cape Town” in three (Cape Town, Kaapstaad, Kapa).


So essentially, my last few posts have been GIANT FREAKOUTS OF NOSTALGIA. This will probably be a theme until this blog ends in approximately 3 days. Yho.


Last Weekend in Cape Town

Currently, I am winding down my last full 24 hours in Kapa (we’re going to some riverside town, Swellendam, until Wednesday, and I leave Thursday). They have been too much fun, and I am not happy that the end is here. It’s funny, because I REALLY thought I would be for awhile–when I moved out of Obs, where I lived for ISP, I was kind of not looking forward to this week. I really do miss my family and friends and home. Still, I’ve had such a wonderful time since classes ended yesterday that I just want to stay for awhile longer.

Class ended at 5:30 PM yesterday, and all of us went to this great little Mexican restaurant called Panchos in Obs.  I know, I know…good Mexican food all the way in South Africa? Must be a joke. Nope, it was genuinely pretty delicious–not California good, and DEFINITELY not as good as my new roommate’s mom’s cooking but wayyyy better than I expected. After months of no Mexican food, I was impressed. It was a fun atmosphere too. Definitely a good start to an awesome night.

Then we came back to our favorite backpackers, near Long Street, and got ready to go out. Last night was definitely in my top 3 nights out in Cape Town…I don’t even know why it was so fun! We went mostly to our usual spots, although we added in this super corny but fun place called Dubliners, where they played ridiculous music like “All the Small Things” and “Proud Mary.” Still, and maybe I’m just getting nostalgic for a semester that hasn’t even ended yet, but I just had so much fun.

This morning, I woke up and went to the top of Table Mountain! We didn’t hike–we had a ton we wanted to do and there just wasn’t time–but we took the cable cars up. I really wanted to hike it this semester, but I did hike it the last time I was here, so at least I don’t feel as though I missed out. I planned it a few times, but either the rain was bad, or I was sick…hopefully, I’ll hike it again some time in my life! It is now officially one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Also, it’s super touristy but the views are just breathtakingly beautiful. Lion’s Head looked so small from the top. I remember hiking that just three and a half months ago…it really made the semester seem to come full circle.

After Table Mountain, my friend and I made it to the Old Biscuit Mill JUST in time to grab some food. I bought myself this kind of expensive necklace I’ve been eyeing all semester–I figure if I’ve literally wanted to buy it almost every Saturday for three months, I probably deserve it. You’ll all see it the next time you see me–since my great-grandma’s old necklace that I used to wear all the time broke, I plan on replacing it with this. The Old Biscuit Mill is probably the yuppiest thing ever, but it was definitely one of my favorite parts of Cape Town, without a doubt…delicious food, awesome clothes and jewelry and home decor…I hated leaving for the last time today.

When I came back from the Biscuit Mill, we went to the beach! Clifton is one of my favorites, and it was so nice. The water was FREEZING though, but I read a bit, and napped, and chatted…and generally freaked out about going home. Honestly, I am anticipating so many questions that I just don’t have answers to (“How was Africa?” “What was your favorite part?”). Africa is a diverse place, yo, but South Africa was excellent, although it is a complicated place with so much possibility and hope but also a lot of problems. My favorite part? I don’t know, do you want to hear about my favorite nerdy thing, my favorite homestay or experience, my favorite tourist memory? I should honestly just type up a form answer, the length of a novel, for the questions and hand them out…that isn’t to say I don’t want people to ask me! I do! I want to share my experiences, but they were just so multifaceted and intense…it would take me days and days and days to explain it all! And even then, I’m not sure you can understand ZA (or probably any place) without really experiencing it…do  even understand ZA? I’ve been here for 3 1/2 months, a total of 4 months in my life, and I’ve seen such a wide range of people and places and things…but I have always been able to place myself in a context of not living here, and being transient. Also, a month or so ago someone asked me if I could live here, and I answered with an emphatic no. I think I’ve since changed my mind…I absolutely could live here. I really do love it, for all of its faults and complexities.

A Dictionary So You Can Understand Me When I’m Stateside

So this semester, I have actively worked to pick up the best of South African lingo. I have a few more hours of work left on my 50-page research paper on PEPFAR in the Western Cape, so obviously I am going to procrastinate by posting my new favorite words and terms, along with their meanings, here:

Howzit? Kind of a catch-all for “Hi, how are you?” This is one of my faves…

Izit? Really? Also one of my favorites. ex. “I am going to bomb this ISP because I’m not motivated at all!'” “Izit?”

Sorted: figured out. As in, “well that’s sorted, we’ll go via taxi!”

Yho!I use this one a lot on here and in emails/Skype/Facebook, so if you haven’t figured it out yet…that’s a little embarrassing. Either way, it is basically a sound of exasperation or exhaustion, and kind of a catch-all for a lot of things. Like “oh my goodness!” It literally could not mean anything farther from “yo” or “YOLO,” as has been suggested to me. Nope.

Molo/Molweni, sisi/bhuti! This is Xhosa, but I now say it as frequently as “Hola, chica!” It pretty much means the same thing, although “sisi” & “bhuti” literally translate to “sister” and “brother.” “Molweni” is just if I’m speaking to more than one person; “molo” is for one person only.

Enkosi: Also Xhosa, it means “thank you.”

Sharp: Basically, “awesome.” For example: “How are you?” “Sharp sharp!” But it sounds more like “shorp” with the softest “r” you can manage than “sharp” like we say in America.

Now now: Now I know what this looks like. It means “so incredibly right at this moment that I must emphasize the nowness of it,” right? Nope. Really it means “soon,” which could mean anywhere from 30 seconds from now to hours and hours. Seriously. I used to think “Africa time” was a kind of derogatory term because people are laid back. Then I spent three months in South Africa and realized that, nope, it’s a thing, and time is meaningless here. MEANINGLESS!

I have also seriously increased my use of the words “quite,” “NGO,” “bursary,” and “university.” Because in ZA, CMC would be a university, not college, but at home, I go to college.

PS I wish this had taken more than 5 minutes to write, as I now have to return to my ISP…meh. Two days until I’m done with academic commitments? Yayyy.

PPS I’m so impressed with my ability to keep up this blog all semester.

Thanksgiving Abroad

So I’m super impressed with the people on my program right now. We decided that all 24 of us would have Thanksgiving together, at the frat house (the house where 12 people are currently living!). I think most of us made something, and we had a pretty impressive amount of food–about 6 pies plus various other desserts, two turkeys, sweet potatoes (which aren’t orange here??), cranberry sauce, stuffing, etc etc. A lot of people put a lot of effort into what they did (like the girls who had to mash pumpkins because they don’t sell it right here) because, as I’ve said 37120391290 times, a lot of things are just sliiiiightly different here.


Like I said, I’m super impressed with the SIT family. The food was delicious, and we all went into a food coma afterwards…it was definitely not as awesome as Thanksgiving in the States would have been, but it surpassed my expectations by an absolutely INCREDIBLE amount. That said, my parents are sending me photos of all of my cousins including THE BABY at Thanksgiving near my grandparents’…now I’m super jealous, and I kinda wish I were there.


OH well, I am still so in awe of our cooking abilities, abilities to feed 30ish people (we invited some SIT staff too), and the fact that while I missed my family more than I thought possible, I still enjoyed myself!


Happy Thanksgiving (because it still is Turkey Day in most of the States, even though I’ve already gone to sleep and woken up?!)

Too Close to the End

The last week has gone by SO quickly. I can’t believe I only have just over three weeks left in SA! There are definitely some things I won’t miss though. Like my house running out of WiFi on the 19th of the month, so I always have to pay for an internet café now (again! except that every morning we get just a little…). Or the catcalls. Or running out of electricity in the middle of the day. Or running out of airtime (cell phone minutes) in the middle of an important call. Or the blatant racism (which exists in the US too! But to a lesser degree. Or maybe a less obvious degree). Or being dependent on other people to get where you’re going in certain places or certain times of day. I miss being able to walk around by myself! (Note: I still can, during the day, in most areas…but not all areas and not at night. Sigh).

BUT for everything I won’t miss, there are about 378320102932 things I will miss. For instance:

  1. The beaches. Oh my goodness I love Cape Town beaches. This past week alone, I went to, um, a few….Camps Bay, Clifton, Muizenberg, St. James, and Kalk Bay. To be fair, the last three were all in one day. It was a lovely walk between them! And Kalk Bay was more shopping than beach. Also, I am paying for it very dearly in sunburns.
  2. The mountains and hills. I may have complained about Bo-Kaap’s hills when I was running on them, but they offer gorgeous views and nice exercise. I’ve loved all my hikes and walks this semester. Also, Table Mountain? Have you seen it? If not, look at my Facebook where I have approx. 784878978971 photos of it. On Saturday, we hiked Signal Hill…it wasn’t much of a hike, but it offered gorgeous views.
  3. The people I’ve met. There are a lot of not-so-great people here—kind of like in everywhere. Crime is high, gender violence is super high, violence in general is through the roof, and I already mentioned all of those awful catcalls (side note, if you want to feel terrified, get catcalled by an ENTIRE train at 5 PM on a Thursday…a train so packed that people are literally falling out the door). However, I have been fortunate enough to meet the best people in the world here. All four of my homestay families have been so incredible. My housemates now are the coolest people ever. Most people you meet on the street or in shops or wherever are really nice too. Everyone has an opinion on what I consider the important things (society! Politics!) and everyone wants to share and also make sure you learn.
  4. Public transportation. It’s hectic here. You have three options: cabs (RIDICULOUSLY expensive relative to everything else, although super cheap when you convert it to USD, but I still never take them), taxis (minibuses), and trains. My favorite is the minibus. They’re hectic and slow sometimes, but they’re cheap, and some drivers bump good music. The craziness of them is half the fun, anyways. People constantly hopping on and off, passing money around, moving seats…it’s wild. I hate the train (bad memories!) but it’s nice for longer journeys. It’s more predictable, too, so I try to take a train when I need to be somewhere fast.
  5. Going out. Kapa has a lot of cool scenes. Now, I stayed true to myself this semester and didn’t go out TOO much (not very CMC of me), mostly because it was often a hassle to get places,  but I’ve liked everywhere I’ve been, from the beach, to house parties and jazz clubs in Obs, to this kinda crazy street called Long Street. Every place has a cool vibe, and there’s something fun every night…
  6. Markets. Oh goodness do I love markets. I try to visit as many as possible as frequently as possible. The classic one is the Old Biscuit Mill, but there were also a few good ones in Stellie, and I’m hoping to see one in Hout Bay this weekend. I may visit one in Kalk Bay, too…These markets aren’t farmer’s markets, exactly. They sell food, sure, but through restaurants that set up carts. They also sell clothes, the best jewelry I’ve ever seen, and home décor stuff. I literally want to buy it all and just decorate my future home in Cape Town designs. There’s also Green Market, which is where you buy the stuff that everyone thinks is all they sell in Africa (hint, it isn’t. Also, Africa is a biiiig continent): carved animals, gorgeous beaded necklaces, cool fabrics, etc.

I could go on, BUT you get the gist. Going home will be a lot of bitter mixed with a little bit of sweet…kind of like a fat cake with raspberry jam. The good news is, I still have 16 days of ISP and 8 days after that to enjoy myself! Albeit it, I need to do some SERIOUS work on my independent study project…

As a side note, Thanksgiving is Thursday. It will be super weird to celebrate abroad…you can barely find turkey in Cape Town, and honestly, I care much less about the food than the family-time aspect of it. My parents are going to Indiana, where they will meet my new cousins, and I am super jealous. Maybe not that they’re going to Indiana, but everyone knows how obsessed with my cousins I am…and I have to wait another month to meet them? Boo.


Oh well, I guess we’ll have to celebrate Thanksgiving in our own way this year!


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?