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.

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!

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.