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.


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.

Week of Freedom Numero Uno

I can already tell I’m going to love ISP time. Even while keeping myself busy with work, I’m still finding so much time to relax and enjoy myself! I feel like I’m finally seeing the city I’ve technically been in for two months and I’m loving it (with two exceptions: it’s not quite safe, and I miss DC/NY/Boston public transportation)!


Let’s see, what have I done…


Well Wednesday was my birthday! And the election! And Obama won! So it was the best birthday ever! Exclamation points galore!!!! But really, Obama winning was the best 21st birthday present a girl could ask for…and spending it in Cape Town was a close second. The girl I’m living with and I went to the V&A Waterfront in the morning. The Waterfront is essentially a beautiful area on the water (obviously). It has a mall, an aquarium, a craft barn, a clock tower, another mall, another mall, restaurants, boats, more boats, another craft barn, a scratch patch, and more. On Wednesday we really only went to the mall and then wandered outside. It was beautifuuuuul outside. After the Waterfront, we went to the Frat House—aka the house with 12 people from our program currently living in it—for a little fiesta. It was, of course, a blast.

Thursday was also wonderful. I just kind of hung around in the morning, and in the afternoon I went to see some old friends from the last time I was here! It amazes me how much the kids have grown. Not all of them remembered me—some were about 2 years old the last time I was here—but it was still nice to catch up and see how things have changed. Their new home is awesome. It’s a beautiful space. I’m looking forward to going back this week.

Friday I had my first interview for my ISP! I think it went well—she was so nice and helpful. It was nice to see someone who totally gets the 5Cs too (I feel like even if you’ve heard of them, you don’t totally get them…). Sadly, afterwards, I got a bit sick—a bug was going around our program—and I stayed in bed until Sunday morning. No me gusta.

Sunday was absolutely lovely. I woke up and the girl I’m living with and I went to the Waterfront again. She was meeting her host mother, and I really, really wanted to see the aquarium. It was so cool! I thought the ATL aquarium would spoil me, but it hasn’t. Every aquarium is awesome, and this one had a ton of cool information. As I was leaving V&A, I saw the scratch patch—I hadn’t noticed it before—so I went in, because if I was going to act like a 5 year old all morning (why yes I was the only non-parent-or-child in the aquarium), I was going to act like a 5 year old all morning. It was also pretty awesome, because who doesn’t love getting 10 beautiful minerals for R15 (less than $2)? After I finished at V&A, I went to meet some girls on the beach. The weather was not so great when I got there, but it cleared up, and I got a lot of ISP reading done.


It’s A Small World/VOTE

Sooo it’s ISP time! Today, we moved into our new home and started our research (or rather, pretended to). I’m living in this awesome, artsy suburb of Cape Town in a house with 4 other people–one from the program, 3 from the area. The three seem pretty cool, although the house was disgusting when we walked in this morning. They had a party last night and I have no idea what they cooked, but it was everywhere. Either way, the area is awesome…young people and students, jazz bars, comedy clubs, etc etc. Super awesome.

It’s election day, so of course I’m freaking out…when I wake up tomorrow (aka my 21st birthday) I will know who the new President is! Yikes. This will either be the best or worst birthday present of all time… As a side note, everyone in SA seems to be for Obama. And everyone cares. Honestly, I think more people in SA care than in America…everyone has an opinion! After all, as woman said, the President of the US affects most countries.

Speaking of the President affecting most countries, I’m doing my ISP on PEPFAR, the US’s global AIDS relief program, and today I received an email from the Western Cape (the province Cape Town is in) about meeting up. She also mentioned she went to a Claremont College for undergrad. Between that and running into a girl I met over the summer last week…it’s a small freakin’ world. I am across the world, 10 hours ahead of the CA time zone, 7 hours ahead of the US…and people from Claremont or my summer are popping out of the woodwork? Yho.


Anyways, now it’s time for my voting plee…vote vote vote vote vote! No matter what you believe or who you’re voting for or how strongly your state leans, VOTE. Be happy you can and be happy there’s real competition (no matter how petty that competition may be). You may not care if you affect politics, but they’ll still affect you, so VOTE. On EVERYTHING you understand. Your state may be red as a rose but some ballot measures etc may be contentious. The same goes for blue states…and my goodness if you are in a swing state and don’t vote, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?





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.

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.

In the Countryside

I had an incredible experience in Tshabo. It is beautiful, with rolling hills and grass and animals everywhere. The houses are all beautiful colors. Cows, chickens, goats, and dogs roam the hills. There were six puppies that were only a few weeks old in the house next door. It was rainy the entire time we were there, but it was also the best place possible for downpours, because it was still gorgeous—although the mud on my shoes was no fun. One night, I had to make a phone call at 11 o’clock at night. Afterwards, I stayed outside for a few minutes and I had never been in such complete, beautiful silence.


I had little siblings this time, too—and I adored them. One was six and another was 7 months. We also had a few young neighbors and cousins who were constantly in and out of the house. They were all adorable! My Xhosa isn’t very good, and neither was their English of course, but we were able to communicate through miming, and my partner and I just asked easy Xhosa questions frequently. We also had a sisi around our age, who was the nicest.


Our mama was also the most incredible woman. Even though we couldn’t communicate well always, we were always able to get the point across. She taught us so much Xhosa, how to cook fat cakes and steamed bread (Google them! Delicious!), and how to make beautiful beaded jewelry. She also gave us some on the first day. Mostly, she fed us so much delicious food Mama called us her twins, her children, and told us that even though we had different skin colors, we were made of the same heart and blood. She loved us like a mother does, even before we formed a connection. I will never, ever forget her.


Leaving Tshabo was so hard. It amazes me that I’ve had two such amazing homestay families. They welcomed me even before they knew me. I hope I can visit Tshabo during ISP (I know I can visit Langa easily!) or at least some time in the future. I miss it already. Don’t worry, I still prefer cities to the country always and forever, but just getting away was so lovely.